Protests hit Argentina ahead of national strike

Unions demand higher wages and tax breaks as inflation surges.

Protests hit Argentina ahead of national strike

World Bulletin / News Desk

Argentine workers began picketing and blocking roads Wednesday ahead of a 24-hour national strike Thursday to demand higher wages and tax breaks in a country that is experincing one of the world’s fastest rising inflation rates.

Groups of protesters marched along main access roads to Buenos Aires and on avenues in the downtown area, carrying posters and blocking traffic.

Protests will continue later Wednesday with a march on Plaza de Mayo, that fronts the government’s headquarters. Wednesday’s protests were largely concentrated in the capital city.

Demonstrators are upset with the failure of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to contain inflation as it eats into spending power and increases layoffs in Latin America’s third-largest economy. Workers want higher wages and tax breaks to compensate for inflation that is surpassing 40 percent annually, according to private estimates.

“The strike will be overwhelming,” said Hugo Moyano on Radio Continental. Moyano is a trucker who runs the General Labor Confederation, the country’s largest labor umbrella group.

The strike will ground air traffic, subways and trains and shut down banks, cargo transport, gas stations, ports, restaurants, trash collection, hospitals and schools.

The government slammed the unions for the looming strike, saying the unions are working for opposition politicians.

“Without a doubt, the strike is political in nature,” Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said Wednesday in a televised press conference.

“Most of the unions that have called the strike are aligned with the political opposition,” he said, adding that such politicking should be reserved for the presidential election in 2015.

Protests and roadblocks have been common for years in Argentina, yet authorities of the current government and that of Nestor Kirchner, the president’s late husband and predecessor who ruled from 2003 to 2007, have rarely used force to break them up.

The police and National Guard generally monitor the protests to keep order.

However, Sergio Berni, secretary of national security, said the forces could be called in to break up pickets to allow those not involved in the strike to get to work.

“We will see tomorrow,” Berni told reporters in a televised press conference after being flown in by helicopter to a protest on the Pan American Highway outside the capital.

“Striking is a constitutional right. But so is the right of everybody else who wants to go to work and wants to do so with tranquility and peace,” Berni said. “We do not want to break that right with pickets, threats and coercion.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 28 Ağustos 2014, 10:08