Argentina: unions call general strike

Argentina’s largest union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), and the more radical Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) sponsored a nationwide general strike on Nov. 20 to protest President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s economic policies. The majority of the country’s unions supported the strike call, as did leftist parties and the leftist Classist and Combative Current (CCC), but the CGT section led by Antonio Caló, representing 33 industrial and service unions, ignored the strike call. Organizers called the action a success, while President Fernández dismissed it as “a phenomenon limited to some service unions and to the area around the federal capital.”

The strikers blocked the main highways into Buenos Aires and other major cities. Schools, courts, banks and gas stations were closed in Buenos Aires province, where about a third of the country’s population lives, and hospitals only accepted emergency cases. In the central province of Santa Fe, the strike shut down Rosario, the main port for the export of agricultural goods; oil production was affected in Río Negro, Neuquén and La Pampa provinces. Airports remained open but had many less flights than usual.

In addition to blocking roads, strikers reportedly threw stones at buses and punctured tires to keep people from going to work. CTA Pablo Micheli leader said strikers had blocked roads at 300 points; the media estimated that the number was 160. While claiming that hundreds of thousands of workers supported the strike, Micheli admitted that without the blockages “the strike wouldn’t have had the rate of observation that it had.” “[I]n Argentina there’s no right to strike,” he said. “We were forced to have piquetes [militant road blockages] so that the workers could justify not having gone to their work places.”

The strikers’ demands included an increase in the minimum wage and in social assistance programs; the elimination of a tax on workers’ incomes; and an increase in retirement pensions. The groups supporting the strike protested the loss of purchasing power by much of the population; some private economists claim the annual inflation rate will come to 25% this year.

The Nov. 20 action was Argentina’s first general strike since December 2002, and it marked the end of a long-time alliance between CGT general secretary Hugo Moyano and the faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) formed by President Fernández and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007). (, Spain, Nov. 21, from Europa Press and unidentified wire services; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 21, from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 25.