Workers protest against Brazil’s sports circus

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

On 15 May protests again erupted against the Brazilian state’s huge spending on the FIFA 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic projects. Police attacked demonstrators in 12 main cities, and teachers were joined by bus drivers and street cleaners seeking wage increases in a broader wave of strikes and protests around Brazil. The current demonstrations started on 26 January, with the Anonymous group’s ‘Operation Stop the World Cup’ campaign, when 2,500 protesters marched in Sao Paulo, of whom 100 were arrested. Then on 6 February a cameraman was killed by a police smoke canister in a separate protest in the city. On 22 February, police again fired tear gas and stun grenades at over 1,000 protesters against World Cup spending, making over 230 arrests.

The 15 May events

On 15 May Rio de Janeiro saw a protest at spending the equivalent of the cost of 200 new schools on the Maracana stadium. It was joined by striking workers. In Brasilia, some of the 2,000 demonstrators stormed the headquarters of Terracap which runs the $630m Garrincha stadium, Brazil's most expensive. In Recife (Pernambuco), the impoverished youth took advantage of a three day police strike to ransack stores. The federal government sent in the military: 234 arrests were made and at least 17 people were reported dead. Other militant protests took place in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Fortaleza, Natal and Porto Alegre. All are scheduled to host matches for the World Cup between 12 June and 13 July.

In Sao Paulo tear gas and rubber bullets were used against some 1,500 protesters calling for homes for the poor. 5,000 members of the Homeless Workers' Movement blocked one of the city's main streets with burning tyres, marching to the Corinthians Arena, where the World Cup's opening match between Croatia and Brazil will be held on 12 June. Other groups of teachers and fast-food workers carried out separate street actions across the country throughout the day. Transportation workers and security guards all left their posts or engaged in demonstrations. Police demanding higher pay have threatened to stop work during the World Cup.

Brazilian cities are tinderboxes in a country where capitalism constantly deepens poverty and misery. Daily conflicts between police and the masses have been intensified by the slum clearances and ‘slum pacification’ – demanded by World Cup and Olympic-led investment. The British Foreign Office has announced that ‘further protests could occur without warning’. Activists in the 12 football cities estimate that up to 170,000 people will eventually be evicted for the World Cup and the Olympics. In Rio, evictions are taking place in slums across the city, including the Metrô favela near the Maracanã stadium, where 4,000 residents who refused to move, live amid the rubble of bulldozed homes.

The Brazilian workers face an expected bill of over 32 billion Reais (£8.5bn) for the World Cup, equivalent to three times South Africa’s total in 2010, as well as paying for the 2016 Summer Olympics. All this has run over budget, exposing gross overcharging and other financial scandals as capitalists fight over the tax trough. Half of the 12 host stadiums failed to meet the 31 December deadline. Delays have a knock-on effect on hotel, airport and road building. 14 workers have been killed on the games construction sites. The commitment to clean up Rio de Janeiro’s sewage-filled Guanabara Bay for the Olympic sailing cannot be met.

Alvaro Michaels


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