Workers stage general strike in Uruguay

The main bus station of Montevideo stands empty during the country's first full-day general strike in seven years, August 6, 2015 (AFP Photo/Miguel Rojo) (AFP)

Montevideo (AFP) - Workers in Uruguay staged a general strike Thursday to demand wage hikes and more government spending.

As heavy rains drenched the capital city Montevideo, cars clogged the streets because there was virtually no public transport.

Civil servants, teachers, workers in the banking industry and in hospitals -- save for emergency care -- were also on strike.

It was the first such stoppage to hit the government of President Tabare Vazquez since he took office in March.

The labor federation PIT CNT, which organized the strike, said it expected a million workers -- out of a total population of 3.4 million -- to honor the strike.

The economy of this small South American nation is struggling as exports fall and trading partner neighbors Brazil and Argentina endure woes of their own.

Over the past 12 months inflation has run at nine percent, far above the government's target range of three to seven percent.

Prices of basic consumer goods are rising steadily. The government increased fuel prices by as much as seven percent last month.

"This fight is aimed at generating conditions so that the weakest do not end up paying for an economic slowdown," said PIT CNT president Fernando Pereira.

The strike comes as unions are starting wage increase negotiations with industry groups.

The government, worried about inflation, has appealed for unions to be moderate in their demands.

But workers say they need significant raises to keep up with inflation.

Meanwhile, civil servants want higher government spending in the next budget. Once approved by Congress it will cover five years and, as things stand now, is expected to be leaner than in the past.