Thousands of people took to the streets of Argentina this week to decry the government’s economic policies and stage a general strike, in what was the fifth such walkout since Mauricio Macri took office in late 2015.
Opponents of the government launched a 24-hour strike on Wednesday to protest austerity measures and the government’s inability to reduce inflation that has reached 55 percent over the past year.
The strike has paralysed public transport while all flights to and from the country’s airports were cancelled. Authorities estimated that about 330 flights from the country’s flagship carrier, Aerolíneas Argentinas, were cancelled and some 37,000 passengers were affected by the walk-out, which also forced the “Recopa” final between River Plate and Brazil’s Atletico Paranaense to be postponed to Thursday.
Banks, schools and universities remained closed too. Hospitals were only attending to emergencies while many shops kept their shutters down due to the lack of buses and trains to bring employees to work.
Union leaders said it was the largest strike that they had organised since Macri took office in 2015 promising to end poverty and tame high consumer prices. They say government policies have led to the closing of some 14,000 small and mediumsized companies.
The strike came after a partial walk-out in late April when tens of thousands of Argentines demonstrated, and transport services and businesses were also affected.
“The strike has been followed because there has been no response, no government reaction to our demands,” said veteran union kingpin and teamster leader Hugo Moyano, one of the country’s most influential union leaders now heading the so-called ‘Union Front for a National Model.’
With prices rising, Argentina’s 44 million people have been hit with a drop in their spending power, and unions are demanding an increase in salaries to keep up.
“There’s a huge amount of unhappiness with the government. Many workers voted for this government because it was going to get rid of income tax.
They trusted it but this time they won’t make the same mistake,” declared Moyano, referring to the upcoming elections on October 27.
“These strikes don’t happen because people enjoy them, they happen out of necessity,” he added.
“The strike was unanimous in the industrial sector and this has to do with the economic policies of this government,” Food and Beverage Union secretary-general Rodolfo Daer told the opposition El Destape radio.
The strike was aimed at “changes the course of the economy” and sending a “strong” message to Mauricio Macri about his government’s performance, Bank CLerks union general secretary Sergio Palazzo explained.
However, Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich complained people have been left “hostages” to public transport during this strike.
“Last time there was a general strike, some transport operated and the people went to work,” he said.
Seventy unions adhered to Wednesday’s strike, with dozens more political and social groups adding their voice to the protest. It was organised by the CGT umbrella union confederation.
For her part Security Minister, Patricia Bullrich, lamented the general strike saying “we are sick of strikes.”
“The motorways are totally unblocked and people can come to work. What is amazing is that at some supermarkets and petrol stations there are pickets of workers who are not letting other workers in,” she lamented, speaking to La Red radio.
“We’re sick of strikes. We know already that when the government is not the party of the unions [Peronism], then this happens. It is undemocratic but we have to put up with it,” she lamented.
Unions and left-leaning organisations cut some roads leading into the capital city and distributed food to show what they say is increasing hunger.
“We’re sick of the low salaries, the halt of activity in the industry,” said unionist Rubén García.