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VICE News

São Paulo Police Break Subway Strike With Rubber Bullets and Tear Gas

Military police fired at striking metro workers with rubber bullets and tear gas grenades as Brazil's biggest city ground to a halt.

by Eva Hershaw
Jun 6 2014, 5:05pm

Photo via AP/Nelson Antoine

This morning, just six days ahead of the World Cup kicking off in Brazil, military police detonated tear gas grenades and fired rubber bullets onto a group of striking metro workers in São Paulo.

As part of a city-wide subway strike demanding higher wages and better working conditions, an estimated 30 employees arrived at the Ana Rosa metro station at 3.30AM with plans to block the entrance. Military police entered the station at 7.00AM, firing into the crowd, which had effectively kept the station from opening.

In a video posted by one of the protesting workers, the police can be seen approaching the small gathering. The demonstrators repeatedly ask the officers to lower their guns, insisting that they, too, are workers like them. Seconds later, shots are fired, an explosion rings out, and the strikers scurry backwards as the video cuts.

In photos: Inside Brazil's largest marketplace before World Cup raids shut it down. See here.

One of the workers was detained by police and taken to a nearby police station for questioning before being released.

“We were surprised by the entrance of the Tropa de Choque [riot police]. They attacked us in a closed environment,” subway worker José Carlos dos Santos told Folha. “I've been working for the metro for 30 years this year, and look what I have earned,” he added, pointing to a wound on his leg.

After failing to reach an agreement last night in a meeting with metro authorities, workers announced that the strike would continue today. They did, however, offer to work under the condition that passengers be allowed to use the subway without paying. Authorities didn't accept.

This marks the second day that workers have closed down 31 of the 61 metro stations in Brazil’s biggest city. The Secretary of Metropolitan Transport of São Paulo estimated that the strike affected 3.9 million passengers on Thursday.

A massive traffic jam covered São Paulo on Thursday as FIFA President Sepp Blatter arrived in the city that will host the opening match of the World Cup on June 12. “We at FIFA, we are confident,” Blatter told reporters. “It will be a celebration.” Yet this is the second time in two weeks that the city has endured record-setting traffic jams in the face of public transit strikes.

Brazilian police strike again and might walk out during the World Cup. Read more here.

In response to worker demands for a 10 percent pay increase, the metro authorities have insisted that they cannot increase wages by more than 8.7 percent, a concession that has not satisfied striking workers who cite a rising cost of living that has not been met by salaries. Currently, the base wage for metro workers is just under $590 a month.

Authorities have taken a hard line against protesting workers, promising to fire the staff that failed to meet legal requirements by keeping a minimum of 70 percent of public transport services running.

Sacking staff is a reality that they already appear to be preparing for. At 10.30AM, three hours after police violently dispersed the protesters at Ana Rosa, a group of new metro workers lined up for training at Marechal Deodoro, a metro station across town.

“There are those who want to work and those who don't,” one of the trainees told VICE News. “We think this whole problem is going to be solved today.”