Opponents of Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri launched a 24-hour strike on Wednesday to protest the government’s inability to reduce inflation that has reached 55 per cent over the past year.
The strike has paralysed public transport while all flights to and from the country’s airports were cancelled. Banks, schools and universities remained closed.
Hospitals were only attending to emergencies while many shops kept their shutters down due to the lack of buses and trains to bring employees to work.
The strike came after a partial job action in late April when tens of thousands of Argentines demonstrated, and transport services and businesses were also affected.
Macri’s popularity has fallen months before elections later this year, when he hopes to win a second term.
In an effort to reduce the state deficit, his government last year launched an austerity plan that has cut services to low-income Argentines in exchange for a $56 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to help the South American country battle its currency crisis and soaring prices.
‘The strike has been followed because there has been no response, no government reaction to our demands,’ said Hugo Moyano, one of Argentina’s most influential union leaders.
With prices rising, Argentina’s 44 million people have been hit with a drop in their spending power, and unions are demanding an increase in salaries to keep up.
‘There’s a huge amount of unhappiness with the government. Many workers voted for this government because it was going to get rid of income tax. They trusted it but this time they won’t make the same mistake,’ said Moyano, referring to the upcoming elections on October 27.
But transport minister Guillermo Dietrich complained people have been left ‘hostages’ to public transport during this strike.
‘Last time there was a general strike, some transport operated and the people went to work,’ he said.
This is the fifth general strike since Macri came to power four years ago. The center-right president has been praised by powerful allies for his reforms but widely criticised by ordinary Argentines feeling the pinch.
Former center-left president Cristina Kirchner was leading opinion polls to challenge Macri, but earlier this month made the shock announcement that she would run for the vice presidency instead, with her former cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez aiming for the top job.