EFEMontevideo

More than 1 million people, in a country of 3.2 million, joined the general strike Thursday called by Uruguay's PIT-CNT labor federation, the labor organization's secretary-general, Marcelo Abdala, said.

After a rally in Montevideo, Abdala told reporters he believed Thursday's labor action was more extensive than the Aug. 6 strike that unions up to now considered the biggest demonstration in the South American country since democracy was restored and labor unions were legalized in 1985 following 12 years of military dictatorship.

The strike affected "virtually all labor activities in the country and activities were suspended in industries, construction, the government and public offices, education, ports and transportation," Abdala said.

PIT-CNT president Fernando Pereira told the El Observador newspaper earlier in the day that participation in the strike had been "formidable."

"We toured different areas of Montevideo and have been in contact with people in the rest of the country, and what we have is a forceful stoppage," Pereira said. "It's powerful to see the (bus) depot in Cerro empty, and the few buses driven by their owners without passengers. It's been formidable."

After a four-hour work stoppage on July 29, the PIT-CNT called for a 24-hour strike to press the same demands, in particular a change in wage scales and pegging salaries to inflation, which hit 10.94 percent over the past 12 months.

Unions want wages adjusted for inflation each year and not every two years as the government proposes.

The postponement of some government spending and tax changes adopted to reduce the budget deficit, now equivalent to 4 percent of the gross domestic product, are among the other policies opposed by the unions.

Pereira estimated that 900,000 people joined the strike and said those participating in the labor action did so out of conviction rather than due to discipline.

Workers support the strike "for jobs, wages, public spending, to create better conditions for retirees and low-income retirees ... I believe people understood our proposals and the proof is here, there's less activity than on a Sunday," Pereira said.

President Tabare Vazquez's administration must understand that the strike "is a signal pointing to negotiations to change wage scales, to prevent delays in government programs and to tend to social security," the labor leader said.

"If we don't find a solution, there will be extensive conflicts because I know how the unions are preparing," Pereira said.