Argentina: piqueteros press wage, service demands

Protesters tied up traffic in central Buenos Aires for more than five hours on Feb. 25 to press their demands for the center-left government of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to increase pay and benefits in government antipoverty programs. Police rerouted traffic around the demonstration, which blocked cars and buses at the Obelisk in the Plaza de la República. The action was organized by several groups, including Barrios de Pie ("Neighborhoods Standing Up"), Polo Obrero ("Workers' Pole"), the Federation of Grassroots Organizations (FOB) and the Labor Association of Self-Managed and Contingent Cooperative Workers (Agtcap). Protest leaders held a meeting with government representatives during the protest, but these were "second-level functionaries," according to Barrios de Pie national coordinator Daniel Menéndez. "[T]he government is turning its back on the complaints of the lowliest people," he said.

One focus of the demonstration was Argentina Trabaja ("Argentina Works"), a program that provides employment through government-funded cooperatives; the protesters complain that the monthly salary of 2,400 pesos (about US$304.30) is only two-thirds of the legal minimum wage. Another focus is the Universal Allocation by Child (AUH), which provides 460 pesos (about US$58.32) a month for each child of workers who are unemployed, work in the informal economy or make less than the minimum wage. The groups say this hasn't risen to match inflation; Barrios de Pie estimates the annual inflation rate at 35%, much higher than the official figure.

Some of the same groups have been holding similar actions in other cities. During the last week of February hundreds of people from Barrios de Pie closed off streets around the municipal government's Centers of Community Participation (CPC) in Córdoba, the country's second-largest city. These groups generally developed out of the piquetero ("picketer") movement, which came to prominence by blocking roads as the 2001 economic crisis was growing. Some are former supporters of President Fernández's administration and of that of her late husband, Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007); there were leaders of Barrios de Pie in government position in the early 2000s. But Fernández can no longer count on their support as the country faces new economic problems. March is likely to bring more protests, since parents will face added costs when the new school year starts in the Southern Hemisphere. (InfoBAE, Argentina, Feb. 25; Terra Argentina, Feb. 25, from Noticias Argentinas; Adital, Feb. 27; Perfil, March 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 2.