Federal public workers across Brazil are currently involved in what is one of the largest industrial disputes in the country's history, presenting a major challenge for President Dilma Rousseff.
Recently described as the world's third most powerful woman by Forbes magazine, President Rousseff is finding plaudits from abroad do not necessarily make life easier at home. As many as 400.000 federal officials from some 30 government departments and public bodies - half the total federal public workforce - have been staging strikes and protests.
The disruption started in May, when teachers stopped work, demanding higher pay and better career prospects. Their protest was followed by other state employees, including police and customs officers. The result has been disruption on the roads, in public hospitals and at ports and airports. In the hospitals, concerns have grown over shortages of essential medicines and delays in scheduled operations.
The industrial action has also strained traditionally strong relations between the trade unions and the governing Workers' Party, and placed growing pressure on President Rousseff's administration, just weeks ahead of important local government elections.
At Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo, the largest in Brazil, a single queue for immigration has on occasion been taking four hours to clear as a result of action by Federal police officers.
A large protest sign on the main road connecting Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil's two main cities carried the message: Federal Police station closed - free passage for drug trafficking and arms.
The sign was later taken down, but similar controversial messages have been seen elsewhere.
The Ponte de Amizade Bridge in Foz do Iguacu, a city on the Brazil-Paraguay border, sees daily traffic of around 35,000 people. It is usually a key location for police to stop drugs and smuggled goods from entering Brazil. But even here police officers theatrically tied their hands in a sign of protest over what they see as the government's slow response to their demands.
There have been also clashes between protesters and non-striking police outside Congress and the Planalto, the presidential palace, where Ms Rousseff has her office.
But while the potential for embarrassing the government grows, Ms Rousseff has made it clear she is only prepared to go so far to meet the strikers' demands.
Brazil is currently one of the most expensive countries in the world, and the cost of living has helped to create a large gap between what the strikers want and what the government is ready to pay.
University teachers were offered a 45% pay rise, while for other federal public sector workers it was a more modest 15.8% over three years. Other striking public officials have been holding out for demands going up to 78%.
Even if the governments take it or leave it stance has not yet persuaded striking workers' to end their protests, President Rousseff does not appear willing to throw in the towel soon. She ordered cuts in the wages of more than 11,500 protesters and also asked for what she regards as specific abuses - such as the provocative banners - to be investigated.
The Brazilian government argues that public sector workers enjoy secure, well-paid jobs and the priority should be to protect private sector employees as the country's economy slows down.
After growing 7.5% in 2010 and 2.7% in 2011, Brazil's GDP growth is expected to dip below 2% this year. President Rousseff, facing the prospect of less money to share around, has to set the 2013 federal budget by Friday.
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As important as upgrading Brasil's teachers' salaries is the de-politicising of its teacher-training. Educating a nation's young and adults is too important to be left to the politicians in power at any particular moment.Aug 29th, 2012 - 01:24 pm 0
I bet President Rousseff never thought this was going to happen to HER government.Aug 30th, 2012 - 08:53 pm 0
She did after all, go to prison for her country.
She should remember though this modern tale: when union negotiators asked one of my companies for an outragious rise and were reminded by the company negotiator that last year they had the biggest single rise in the history of the company on the back of increased profits he was told - yes we did, but what have you done for us since?
President Rousseff is learning what it is like to be 'The Boss'. Being a good freedom fighter does not mean a thing to 'modern society'.
Fair comment, Chris, but she was leader of one then another of the world's *international* terrorist cells.Aug 31st, 2012 - 07:46 am 0
She was imprisoned by the Brasilians but her killing involved US citizens. That's the reason why her history is down-played, especially when state visits between Brasil and the USA take place.
.... which doesn't stop her being right for Brasil in 2012.