Trans­porta­tion strike in Ar­gentina shuts down na­tion

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY PETER PRENGAMAN

Trans­porta­tion unions brought Ar­gentina to a stand­still on Tues­day with a one-day na­tional strike to protest in­come tax rates and high in­fla­tion they say is erod­ing their earn­ings.

Flights were can­celed, schools shut down, banks closed and thou­sands of busi­nesses were shut­tered along largely empty streets.

While trans­porta­tion work­ers rep­re­sent only a small part of the South Amer­i­can coun­try’s work­force, shut­ting down trains and buses cre­ated a domino ef­fect be­cause many Ar­gen­tines have no other way to get to work or school.

Most do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional flights were can­celed be­cause trans­porta­tion unions rep­re­sent many air­port work­ers. Some schools can­celed classes and oth­ers an­nounced half-days as teach­ers had trou­ble get­ting to work.

Even driv­ers with their own cars had a hard time get­ting into the cap­i­tal be­cause mem­bers of the So­cial­ist Work­ers party blocked the prin­ci­pal routes into Buenos Aires.

“To­tal im­pact,” said Roberto Fer­nan­dez, leader of the Auto- mo­tive Tramways Union, one of the main or­ga­niz­ers, told Ra­dio Mitre. “But for us there is no hap­pi­ness here be­cause the coun­try loses. Un­for­tu­nately, the gov­ern­ment re­fuses to be rea­son­able.”

The unions ar­gue that high taxes and in­fla­tion, which pri­vate econ­o­mists put at around 35 per­cent, have eroded wage gains. They also want to raise the mini- mum in­come on which taxes are ap­plied.

Top of­fi­cials in Pres­i­dent Cristina Fer­nan­dez’s say the tax rates are fair and af­fect only a small per­cent­age of work­ers, those who earn more than 15,000 pe­sos (US$1,765) a month.

Cabi­net chief Ani­bal Fer­nan­dez told re­porters that the gov­ern­ment be­lieved 95 per­cent of peo­ple who stayed home wanted to work but had no way to get there.

“# YoNoParo,” or “I don’t strike,” was a trend­ing hash­tag on Twit­ter, where Ar­gen­tines joked about hav­ing to stay home and de­fended job cre­ation un­der Fer­nan­dez’s gov­ern­ment.

The strike comes dur­ing Holy Week, a time when busi­ness gen­er­ally slows down and some peo­ple take days off from work. It fol­lows the re­cent col­lapse of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the unions.

Unions hold great in­flu­ence in Ar­gentina, rep­re­sent­ing an es­ti­mated 30 to 40 per­cent of the 11 mil­lion reg­is­tered work­ers across all sec­tors of South Amer­ica’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy.

More than try­ing to ex­tract con­ces­sions from a lame- duck pres­i­dent, the strike was a way to send a sig­nal to can­di­dates be­fore the Oc­to­ber elec­tions, said Pa­tri­cio Giusto, direc­tor of Po­lit­i­cal Di­ag­nos­tic, an Ar­gen­tine think tank. Fer­nan­dez is barred from run­ning for a third term in Oc­to­ber.

“Who­ever wins, the next pres­i­dent is go­ing to have to deal with this sit­u­a­tion,” Giusto said. “It’s un­avoid­able if they don’t want to have con­flicts” with a large sec­tor of the pop­u­la­tion.

AP

Demon­stra­tors shout slo­gans at a block­ade on the Pan-Amer­i­can high­way dur­ing a trans­porta­tion strike in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina on Tues­day, March 31.

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