NY Times: "Argentinines often appear in a sour mood"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Jun 9 16:41:17 MDT 2000

New York Times, June 9, 2000

Argentina Paralyzed by Strike Over President's Austerity Policy


BUENOS AIRES, June 9 -- Several million workers joined or were forced to
acquiesce to a one-day national strike today to protest President Fernando
de la Rúa's economic austerity policies and Argentina's 14 percent
unemployment rate.

As the largest work stoppage in four years, the strike represented a rare
show of unity by the fractious labor movement and the most serious
challenge to Mr. De la Rúa's orthodox deficit-cutting policies since he
took office in December.

The actions came at an inopportune time for the Argentine president. He is
planning a trip to the United States early next week to see President
Clinton and promote Argentine investments to Wall Street executives who
have cooled to the country's prospects in recent years.

Today, Argentina's major cities and much of the countryside were paralyzed
as thousands of railroad, subway, bus, truck and airline personnel joined
the workout. Bonfires were set, bridges blockaded, and buses and taxis
dented or otherwise damaged by workers attempting to maximize the impact of
the protest.

More than 50 people were arrested, and thousands of stores in Buenos Aires,
Cordoba, Rosario and Mar del Plata were shut closed as thousands of people
decided to take a long weekend off.

Courts closed down, and hospital emergency rooms were down to skeletal

There were small demonstrations in which workers beat drums, set off
firecrackers, and in a couple of incidents threw rocks at police.

"What the people want is work," said Rodolfo Daer, head of the General
Labor Confederation, the nation's largest workers' group. "What the
government needs to understand is that the people are demanding a change in
policy direction."

The Government attempted to limit the damage by offering to open talks with
the unions and the Roman Catholic Church, which backed the strike, to reach
a consensus on economic and social policies.

"In place of violence we need dialogue," President De la R'ua told
reporters, "but in order to have dialogue we need not have violence."

The strike was planned to protest a government belt-tightening of $938
million, representing a cut of 2 percent of the government budget,
announced two weeks ago in order to meet International Monetary Fund
deficit guidelines and retain access to the fund's $7.2 billion emergency
line of credit.

The austerity package included cutting salaries of national government
workers by 12 to 15 percent, reducing retirement plans and prohibiting
public workers from earning a public salary while receiving a state pension
from a previous job.

The latest round of cuts came on top of $1.4 billion in cuts initiated by
the De la Rúa Administration during its first weeks in office. All told,
the spending cuts and a $2 billion tax increase are designed to bring down
interest rates and keep the federal fiscal deficit under $4.7 billion this

But so far, the economy has responded slowly to Mr. De la Rúa's medicine,
and Argentines often appear in a sour mood over a recession that has
already lasted nearly two years.

Louis Proyect
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