Throughout the month of May, Brazilian workers have been staging strikes throughout the country, causing major disruptions daily. In Salvador, a recent public transportation strike brought the city to a grinding halt for two days. On the eve of the World Cup, public outrage towards the government for its mismanaging public funds for the games is intensifying
JIHAN HAFIZ, TRNN CORRESPONDENT: It’s less than three weeks before the World Cup kicks off here in Brazil, and workers have been staging strikes all over the country. Here in Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city, a transportation strike shut down the city for 48 hours.
I’m here at one of the main bus terminals that leads into the Historic District, where a number of World Cup spectators will be coming. And this place is completely deserted. It’s usually bustling with commuters in the middle of the week and in the midst of rush hour, but at the moment there’s nothing happening. This is an indication of what worker strikes have been capable of doing three weeks before the international tournament.
PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Social services are principal!
HAFIZ: The runup to the World Cup has been plagued by unrest throughout the country. In the spotlight, Brazilians are using this critical time before the opening games to hit the streets. Public transportation workers revolted throughout the month of May. In Salvador, bus drivers literally walked off their jobs, setting traffic into a frenzy as parked buses blocked major highways for hours.
The transportation syndicate is demanding a 9 percent increase in wages and a decrease in working hours. Public bus drivers make between USD 300 to 400 a month and work seven days a week, during all holidays, and some up to twelve hours a day.
GILSON DE SILVA PEIRRA, ORGANIZER/MOTORISTA, TRANSPORTATION SYNDICATE (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are striking because we have no quality of public transportation. We need to be constantly focused on our work, because for us on a daily basis, we face lots of violence, so much nonsense, the daily obstacles of life. It brings us stress, it brings us disease, we lack capacity to work.
This isn’t only about public transportation and our salaries; it’s about the quality of life.
HAFIZ: The strike immediately shut down all of the city’s main bus terminals. The Ônibus system in Salvador is the main source of transportation for 500,000 commuters daily. Suddenly, life in the city came to a grinding halt.
This is the effect of the strike. Typically packed streets on weekdays are deserted. Busy side streets and allies are without their venders and customers. Businesses stay closed without their workers.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Commerce is at a standstill. It’s been a complete hindrance to business. It has also been a hindrance to the security of people in general.
HAFIZ: Salvador, like all of Brazil’s major cities, has been rocked by endless worker unrest the entire month of May. Nearly all sectors have joined the strikes, from bank workers to university professors, sanitation, and mental health workers.
PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We have all been doctors, we have all been bus drivers, we have all been nurses!
HAFIZ: The strike is now passing by the Historic District on that end, and I can see the crowd’s very jubilant. On the other side, the military police is protecting the Salvador sign. It’s become a symbol of the World Cup being hosted here in Salvador, and a lot of the protesters are mocking the fact that the police are protecting the sign but they’re not protecting the people.
PATRICIA GOMES, PASSE LIVRE ORGANIZER, MENTAL HEALTH WORKER ON STRIKE (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are doing this to call attention to the politicians, because unfortunately we have to do this because it’s before the World Cup. It’s not exactly what I would like to be doing, but it’s our only chance to get the attention of the mayor and the politicians.
HAFIZ: When the military police walked out in April, the city was plunged into a security vacuum. Murder and crime rates tripled within hours. Nearly all divisions of Brazil’s police force are threatening to strike during the games.
SANDORAL BISPO DO SANTOS, STRIKING PUBLIC HEALTH CARE WORKER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are very passionate about football. But we are also passionate about health care, meaning the quality of public health care, the quality of public education, the collective quality of public transportation.
HAFIZ: Workers strikes have now become a daily part of life. Businesses use the word greve, or strike in Portuguese, to promote discounted items. Restaurants have strike specials.
Although the strikes have caused multiple disruptions in the city, Salvadorans support the workers demanding their rights.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Everyone is going on strike now because they are demanding their rights. When a country doesn’t have the formation or the culture to administer structure and then it fails to help the people, it is what makes the people go on strike.
HAFIZ: The worker disruption could not have come at a worse time for Brazil, far behind FIFA’s standards for the World Cup. Construction is being rushed through to ensure Brazil delivers the most basic requirements before the games. Three of the 12 major stadiums have yet to be complete. So far, eight workers have died on the job trying to complete them. The World Cup has already cost the country $15 billion, the most expensive on record.
But even as workers across the country went on strike and public outrage toward the cup intensified, for Brazil the show must go on.
Construction around the newly built Fonte Nova stadium has also gone into overdrive. All points of transportation within a one-mile radius of the Fonte Nova are experiencing extreme makeovers, like the Sete Portas bus terminal [Estação Aquidabã].
Sete Portas is a rundown bus terminal. It’s become a haven for crack addicts, and at any given time of the day it’s dangerous. But a 15 minute walk in that direction will take you to the Fonte Nova, and on the opposite direction, a ten minute walk that way will take you to the historic district. A number of World Cup spectators are going to be flocking to this particular bus terminal in order to get to the stadium. That is one of the main reasons why the government is rushing to ensure construction is taken care of before opening game.
This is Salvador’s non-functioning metro. It has been under construction for the past 14 years. But just three weeks ago, a private company was contracted to finish the job. CCR brought in over 100 workers. Even during the strikes, they are bused in by CCR. They work around the clock, seven days a week. Workers are rushing to finish two of the 15 metro lines by June 11, one day before opening game.
Although most workers are being paid overtime, they complain the government is suddenly prioritizing urban mobility for the sole purpose of the World Cup.
MELQUIS SHOWA, CCR CONSTRUCTION WORKER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): First, it has to benefit them. This isn’t to benefit me. They are not the ones working. They are only benefiting from it. They are trying to show they’re doing something. But it is not in our interest. For example, it says, [he points to a sign] “WE’RE WORKING”. Everyone understands we are at work. But what is not known is they are using us to make it seem like they are working.
HAFIZ: On the streets, opinions differ as to whether the World Cup will benefit the people.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Lots of things are changing around here because of the World Cup. And it will remain with us, so I think it’s a good thing.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The metro is about to start working too, even though we have been waiting for it.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think it’s a good idea that the World Cup will be hosted here.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There is a lack of everything. Everything. They make changes that are physical, but the reality is there is nothing, because who is this event for? They are building structures for what?
HAFIZ: The runup to the World Cup has also become a platform for the upcoming elections in October. The right-wing parties have seized on the public outrage and FIFA’s criticism as a means to campaign against the left, specifically the PT, or the Workers’ Party. As the ten-day countdown begins, soteropolitanos, or natives of Salvador, are preparing for the year’s most anticipated event.
A five-time World Cup champion–some suggest that Brazil has gone to extreme measures to appease FIFA, the international body governing the World Cup. Brazil implemented the General Law of the cup, which gives FIFA and its representatives and officials tax exemptions, as well as VISA requirement exemptions as a result of the international games. It also makes a number of changes to its commercial law and allows the sale of alcohol inside the stadium. Now Brazil is not only facing the lack of preparation and lack of construction before the World Cup, but it’s also facing a population in anger over the misspending of its public funds.
Jihan Hafiz for The Real News, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.