No end for Brazil federal workers' strike

Aug. 29, 2012 at 5:56 PM
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BRASILIA, Brazil, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's political standing is coming under threat from an unlikely quarter -- more than 400,000 federal workers on a war path to push their pay claims.

Rousseff's international diplomatic conquests and glowing coverage in global media seem to have left little impression on workers who are in the fourth month of one of the largest industrial disputes in Brazil's history.

No part of the federal services has escaped disruption. There have been strikes, go-slows, sit-ins and other protests in support of demands for higher pay and improved employment terms.

The protesters from more than 30 government departments and public bodies make up half the federal work force and have effectively disrupted services including hospitals, air, land and water transport, police and security operations and day-to-day operations of the government in Brasilia.

Visitors arriving in Brazil were greeted with protesters' signs at airports and ports and founded their entry into the country couldn't be processed.

Officials sent to resolve labor disputes found that trade unionists traditionally loyal to the ruling Workers Party couldn't be persuaded to return to work.

Instead, government officials found strikers ignored warnings of security risks to the country resulting from disruption and go-slow protests at border points.

Defiant strikers put up banners on roads announcing "Federal Police station closed -- free passage for drug trafficking and weapons."

Clashes between rival police groups took place outside Congress and the presidential palace and near some other government buildings.

Brazil's public sector employees are bearing the brunt of the country's inflationary spiral as the cost of living exceeds gains in salaries and wages. As the living costs soar the government finds it has less cash in hand after a dramatic slowdown in growth from 7.5 percent in 2010 to less than 2 percent this year.

The biggest risks now facing Rousseff are from what analysts see her headstrong early reaction to the protests. More than 11,500 protesters face wage cuts and Rousseff's orders to the security forces have piled up pressure on strikers, many of whom face investigation or prosecution for putting up strongly worded street banners.

Some of the strikers' demands, although made in reaction to consumer price rises and rents, are so high that they are unlikely to be met. University teachers rejected a 45 percent pay rise offer and there's no telling they'll get even that amid the government's hardening attitude.

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