RIO DE JANEIRO -- Thousands of workers protested on Wednesday in Brazil's main cities to defend their salaries against cutbacks and expressing their rejection of companies' threats of massive layoffs that have put the unions in the industrial sector on a war footing.
"The National Day of Struggle" was organized by the CUT labor federation and its affiliates in the cities around the industrial belt of Sao Paulo, in Rio de Janeiro and in Curitiba, among others, while Labor Minister Carlos Lupi announced a packet of measures that could be adopted by the federal government in the face of the wave of job losses.
Hundreds of workers paralyzed the Volkswagen assembly plant for half a day in the city of Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo, where 11,000 people work, the CUT said.
The demonstration also paralyzed one of the city's main traffic arteries, while workers used humor and irony to protest against capitalism, the banks and high interest rates - more than 200 percent on consumer credit loans - that prevail in Brazil.
They also attacked companies that the unions accuse of using the crisis as an excuse to lay off huge numbers of workers to reduce their payroll costs.
Workers affiliated with the regional chemical industry, clothing manufacturing, civil construction, petroleum and banking sectors joined the protests in several cities.
These sectors, as well as mining, steelmaking and, especially, the automotive sector have been the most heavily affected by the sharp downturn in the Brazilian economy.
CUT president Artur Henrique and other labor leaders said that the protests reaffirm that defending jobs and salaries must be "the absolute priority" in Brazil in this moment of crisis.
In Rio de Janeiro, the country's second-largest city, hundreds of people gathered before the main headquarters of the Brazilian multinational Vale do Rio Doce to protest against the thousands of layoffs and salary adjustments that the mining firm has announced.
Henrique said that in 2008, the year in which the Brazilian economy peaked and during whose third quarter the economy underwent a rapid collapse, there were 15 million layoffs, compared to 16.5 million new hirings, a net increase of only 1.5 million.
Labor Minister Lupi, for his part, an "employment package" including a series of measures that the national government might adopt to help contain the crisis.
Lupi proposed increasing from five to seven months the period during which unemployment compensation would be paid and making more flexible workers' access to their savings in a federal fund that guarantees the payment of indemnities based on years of service.
The minister said he was confident that in January the hemorrhaging in jobs had been contained, after a massive wave of 650,000 dismissals the month before. EFE