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 labor sociology professor at Brasilia University.
Over the past decades, Brazil has pulled millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class.
But now, with inflation reaching more than five percent and GDP growth that could be less than two percent this year, authorities are faced with the limits of this expansion and prefer to use public spending for productive investment, infrastructure work and assistance to industry and consumers.
The government has its hands tied, caught in a "trap" of salary disparity in the public sector, said Rosso.
He cites as an example starting salaries of more than $6,700 or $7,400 for tax auditors or Central Bank employees.
"A university professor starts earning less than $2,500 and his students $7,500," Rosso noted.
The highest salaries have come under fire from critics.
The economic daily Valor wrote Monday that "the constant readjustments meant that the main public sector categories got starting salaries incompatible with the national reality."
Condsef maintains that more than 80 percent of public sector employees earn low and inadequate salaries.
On Tuesday, the government will meet with the strikers.
The country's main labor federations issued a statement Sunday in support of the strikers and slammed the government for its "authoritarian" stance in the negotiations.