Argentina’s public transport was disrupted, grain shipments interrupted, flights grounded and the major road across the Andes into Chile shut as unions held their first general strike against the leftwing government of Cristina Fernández.
The stoppage was led by a former government ally – Hugo Moyano, whose role as leader of the country’s main union confederation CGT has been challenged by the government. It came two weeks after hundreds of thousands of Argentines took to the streets banging pots and pans in a protest against crime, a worsening economy, stubbornly high inflation and controls on dollar purchases. That was the second such street protest in as many months.
Tuesday’s strike closed banks, post offices and some petrol stations; many public hospitals were only dealing with emergencies; postal and refuse collection services were halted and traffic on Buenos Aires’ usually clogged main roads was light in the first nationwide strike in a decade.
Some 160 roadblocks were reported around the country and farmers, who blocked roads in 2008 in protest at planned changes to the export tariff regime, again joined the demonstration. Workers, whom the government considers its top constituency, want a tax threshold changed. They say rising real inflation – estimated at 25 per cent a figure denied by the government – has unduly boosted the tax burden on them.
“The strike is a success nationwide,” said Pablo Micheli, head of an opposition faction of the CTA union. “There are hundreds of thousands of compañeros up and down the country facing a government that closes its eyes to those of us who think differently,” he said.
The government dismissed the strike as the work of “picketers”. Florencio Randazzo, the interior minister, said it was not directed at the government but at “Argentines” and nothing good would come of it.
Ms Fernández, via Facebook, called on “my compañeros, the workers” to defend government policies that she said had generated 5.5m jobs.
Her late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, had been close to Mr Moyano but after his death in 2010, relations with Ms Fernández soured. The CGT and CTA have split into pro- and anti-government factions, which could stoke wage demands that the government will be keen to keep a lid on in the run-up to midterm elections next year.
The International Monetary Fund’s board meets on December 17 to discuss whether to impose sanctions on Argentina over official statistics widely considered to have underreported inflation for almost the past six years.