BRASILIA, BRAZIL - ALREADY confronted with the impact of a global economic slowdown, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's government is now having to cope with its first major wave of public sector strikes.
"It is virtually a general strike of the Brazilian public sector," the Confederation of Federal Public Sector Workers (Condsef) said Monday, pointing out that 350,000 of the 500,000 federal employees have now joined the work stoppage over higher pay and a career plan.
But government officials say only 80,000 are involved.
The strike, which was first launched by university professors in May, has now spread to other sectors and is beginning to wreak havoc.
The work stoppage by federal police officers triggered long lines at airports and roadways last week, and exporters are railing against losses caused by striking health inspectors.
Now justice employees are also on strike.
Running counter to the leftist tradition of her Workers Party, Rousseff has refused to bow to the strikers' demands. She has even ordered that the striking federal employees be replaced by state workers if necessary.
"Dilma Rousseff has hardened the positions. Clearly this is not a government willing to negotiate, contrary to (former president Luiz Inacio) Lula (da Silva), her predecessor and political mentor who was a born negotiator," said Sadi Dal Rosso, a striking labour sociology professor at Brasilia University.
Over the past decades, Brazil has pulled millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class.