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Brazil workers protest nationwide for better conditions

12 july 2013, 17:59
0
Striking workers blocked key highways and staged mainly peaceful marches across Brazil Thursday in a day of industrial action called by major unions to demand better work conditions and tougher government measures to contain rising inflation, AFP reports.

The "National Day of Struggle" was called by the country's top five labor federations during last month's nationwide street protests for better public services and an end to endemic corruption.

The unions are demanding better wages, shorter working hours, job security, improved public transport, steps to bring down inflation and more investment in public health and education.

Demonstrators blocked 50 highways in 18 of the country's 26 states, as well as access to several ports, including Santos, Latin America's biggest.

Although the protests were largely peaceful during the day, after dark in Rio de Janeiro, black-clad, masked protesters threw Molotov cocktails and flares at police, who pushed them back with tear gas.

The masked group sparked the clashes in a side street and then took refuge in a peaceful march in which union leaders called for calm and sang the national anthem.

Because of the violence, the march was dispersed before it reached its final destination, and at least 12 people, including two minors, were arrested.

In the huge Sao Paulo metropolitan area, home to 20 million people, less violent clashes erupted when some 1,500 protesters burned tires to block a highway.

Police used tear gas and sound cannons to disperse them.

Earlier in the day, marchers hoisting flags and banners blocked traffic on several thoroughfares, with an estimated 5,000 people thronging the central Avenida Paulista.

"We want things to improve in the country. We are marching because health and education are in crisis in Brazil. There must be a change," said Rosely Paschetti, a 49-year-old Sao Paulo municipal employee.

"More taxes for the rich, fewer taxes for the poor," read a huge banner.

Across the country, strikes and demonstrations affected major companies -- including General Motors, where a 24-hour strike was in effect, and Embraer, Brazil's top planemaker -- as well as schools, ports and public transport.

In some hospitals around the country, only emergency services were operating.

Wednesday, Santos port activity was also disrupted for several hours when stevedores went on strike, complaining that Embraport, the largest Brazilian private multi-modal port terminal, is not hiring through the state-run labor management agency OGMO, which places union members in jobs.

The workers fear that bypassing OGMO will make it possible for private companies to recruit non-unionized workers who will accept lower wages.

Top unions meanwhile appeared divided on whether to support President Dilma Rousseff, who last month vowed to hear "the voices of the street" and pledged to boost investments in public transport, health and education.

The country's biggest labor federation, the Unified Workers' Central, commonly known by the acronym CUT and founded in the 1980's by ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), backs Rousseff's proposal for a popular plebiscite to usher in broad political reform.

But the Forca Sindical union chided the government over rising inflation, which reached an annualized 6.7 percent in June, above the 6.5 percent upper limit of the government target.

"Workers' salaries are being eroded by rising inflation," said its president, Paulo Pereira da Silva, in a statement.

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