The Two-Way
12:25 pm
Fri June 6, 2014

Striking Train Workers Add To Brazil's World Cup Woes

Originally published on Fri June 6, 2014 3:05 pm

First came the bus strike. Then came the teachers. Now it's the train workers' turn.

Sao Paulo will see the kickoff to the World Cup next week, but with only a few days to go, it's chaos on the streets of South America's biggest city.

Subway and overland train workers are the latest to go on strike for higher wages in advance of soccer's biggest tournament, which is being hosted by Brazil.

At one station, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at striking workers. A few metro stations were open, and they had a massive crush of passengers.

But many stations were shuttered, forcing commuters onto overcrowded buses or into cars. According to local media, there were 125 miles of snarled traffic in the morning commute, the third-worst jam since 1994.

Earlier in the week, it took three hours for officials from FIFA, the world soccer governing body, to get to their hotels from the airport. Nonetheless, a top FIFA official sounded an optimistic note in a news conference on Thursday.

"We are in control. We are not afraid of the next days," Secretary General Jerome Valcke said.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter called on the Brazilian people to get behind the tournament.

"We need the support of the people, of povo of Brazil, and it is very important," Blatter said. "I'm sure when the kickoff will be done, just in one week, the whole country will be backing the fever which is football."

Analysts say public sector workers are using the World Cup to ask for raises and the government is being forced to give them to avert even more problems during the games. The federal police threatened to go on strike and were given a 16 percent raise; bus drivers were given 10 percent.

The homeless movement is the latest to see a bonus. It's been behind some of the biggest anti-World Cup protests, but they have called off their demonstration on Friday after saying they are coming to a deal with the government for free housing.

This World Cup is the most expensive ever staged — stadiums have cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, and many of them are in cities where there is no local football team who can maintain them after the tournament. One report calculates that the stadium in Brasilia — the most expensive one to construct, at $750 million — will take 1,000 years to pay itself off.

A new poll released Friday shows support for President Dilma Rousseff slipping to 34 percent from 37 percent. She is up for re-election in October. Analysts say her political future may depend on how well the World Cup goes.

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