Argentina’s strongest unions brought thousands of people into the streets Friday to protest high inflation and job cuts in the biggest demonstrations against President Mauricio Macri since he took office in December. Demonstrators waving blue and white Argentine flags flooded the main avenues of Buenos Aires, blocking traffic in a protest that brought together rival unions that put aside differences to protest Macri’s policies.
”This is a historic gathering ... We understand that the interests of the workers come before the interests of the union leaders,” said Hugo Moyano, who heads the truckers union and a branch of the influential CGT labor federation. “Macri is against the workers.”
An hour after the massive demonstration, Cabinet chief Marcos Pena said that the administration of President Macri understands the concerns of the unions, and will celebrate Workers Day, but it does not believe that a bill passed by congress freezing firing for six months will help in the creation of jobs or attracting investment.
Thousands of state employees have been fired since Macri came to power in December promising to cut bloated spending curb government deficits and tame one of the world’s highest inflation rates.
The job cuts and the recent elimination of subsidies, which have led to sharp increases in everything from bus rides to light bills, have stoked unrest in a nation with a long tradition of providing generous state jobs and benefits.
Pro-business Macri has said measures are needed to revive Argentina’s stagnant economy, attract foreign investment and end economic distortions that have led to years of consistently high inflation.
His government says the layoffs are justified because many employees hired during previous administrations never showed up for work. The unions say workers are being indiscriminately fired.
Argentines continue to lose purchasing power to an inflation rate estimated at over 30%.
A recent report by an opposition think tank, the Argentine Center for Economic Policy, said 141,542 workers lost jobs between December and March, most in the private sector.
The labor secretary has contested those figures, but the government acknowledges that about 10,000 state workers have been laid off
Argentina’s opposition has passed a bill that would ban laying off workers “without just cause” and that would allow those who lose their jobs to get double compensation.
Macri has said the plan would scare off badly needed investment and has anticipated he would veto it. The measure has been approved by the Senate and is to be debated by the lower house of Congress, where Macri lacks a majority.