Thousands protest in Buenos Aires against Argentine austerity measures

Global Business

Thousands protest in Buenos Aires against Argentine austerity measures

There was a massive turnout on the streets of Buenos Aires Wednesday, part of a national strike called by Argentina’s unions.

They oppose a series of austerity measures pushed by President Mauricio Macri.

He said the measures are necessary to fight inflation and turn around a flagging economy.

Argentina’s unions are traditionally powerful, but wage negotiations are just part of the tension between trade union leaders and the government.

CGTN’s Joel Richards reports.

It is carnival month in Argentina but the hundreds of thousands who filled the streets of Buenos Aires on Wednesday afternoon were not celebrating.

They were protesting austerity measures.

The traditionally powerful trade unions were divided and not all unions took part in the anti-government demonstration. Nevertheless, the Argentine capital was brought to standstill.

“This a march with many sectors” said Teachers Union Leader Roberto Baradel. “The majority of people who are affected by austerity measures of the government.”

Author Nicolás Damin has written extensively about Argentina’s powerful unions. He says wage negotiations that are taking place this month have led to tension as the government is looking to make Argentina more competitive.

“The government wants to reduce some costs of transport in Argentina in order to be able to export with a better price and in a way the government believes they need to reduce cost of labor.”

The Argentine government is trying to drive down inflation. Consumer prices were up 25 percent last year, the second highest inflation rate in Latin America after Venezuela.

“Argentina has had many years and decades with inflation,” said President Mauricio Macri recently. “It is part of why we could not develop and why we have a large part of the population in poverty.”

Unions said they have already lost spending power because of utility tariff hikes.

But while this was a protest about the government’s economic policies, it also comes in the context of tension between trade union leaders and the government.

In recent weeks, some union leaders have been detained on corruption charges. The country’s most powerful union leader, Hugo Moyano, faces allegations of money laundering.

“They (the government) are trying to convince Argentines that we are all criminals, mafiosos and millionaires. But that is not true,” says Pablo Micheli, who leads a union with an estimated one-and-a-half million members. While he publishes his tax returns, Micheli says there are corrupt leaders. But he says most union leaders fight for workers rights, and he believes the unions still have a vital role in Argentina.

“We are at a critical time for workers, and that is with strong unions. Imagine if we didn’t have unions. We would be even worse off,” he said.

The Argentine government has targeted a 15 percent inflation rate this year, but tariff hikes are already pushing up prices this year. As wage negotiations stall, leaders are now considering a full national strike for next month.