— Updated January 24, 7:52 p.m.
Thousands of workers in Argentina downed tools and marched against President Javier Milei’s broad economic reforms on Wednesday, in the first national strike since 2019. Unions for workers in public transport, airlines, gas stations, hospitals, hotels, banks, and public administration participated in the strike, and services were disrupted throughout the day.
Just 45 days into Milei’s government, the strike is protesting his proposals for state reform and economic deregulation, including sweeping labor changes and the privatization of state-owned companies. These are included in a massive presidential decree and a 523-article bill currently being debated in Congress.
The general strike is taking place between noon and midnight, although sectors including state workers will strike for 24 hours.
Trains, buses, and the subway only ran until 7 p.m. After that, transport workers also went on strike until midnight. Banks and public administration offices closed at 12 p.m. Several airlines have canceled or rescheduled flights.
In central Buenos Aires, Avenida de Mayo and the surrounding streets were flooded with people marching to Congress, most carrying banners or wearing T-shirts with the logos of unions and social movements.
Argentina’s General Confederation of Labor (CGT, by its Spanish initials) is the driving force behind the strike, adopting the slogan: “Our homeland is not for sale.” Both branches of the Argentine Workers’ Central, CTA-A and CTA-T, also adhered to the work stoppage, giving it widespread support from Argentina’s powerful labor movement.
“They want to destroy the state, unions, and culture,” said Héctor Daer, one of the three CGT leaders, during a rally on a stage on Entre Ríos Avenue, in front of Congress. “They devalued [the peso] and doubled food and fuel prices, and now they’re saying pensioners won’t get a raise.”
“They came to cut down on everything, eliminating the Land Protection Law, selling national heritage, natural resources. It’s an assault on our sovereignty and homeland,” said Valentina Aburruza, a psychology student from the UBA. She told the Herald she was particularly affected by the repeal of the Rental Law.
“Deregulation ruined us all,” she said, saying that landlords are increasing prices and charging rentals in US dollars. “It’s impossible to encompass everything that they’re against.”
Jorge Sola, a spokesman for the CGT, told the Herald that 500,000 marched in Buenos Aires and 1.5 million across the country, while a spokesperson for the City Police said that the protesters numbered between 80 to 100,000.
Sola said that Milei’s austerity measures are not against the caste, as he promised, making people who voted for him lose hope.
“They are transferring people’s income to major power groups, who were the ones asking for the omnibus law and the mega-decree,” he told the Herald.
Sola criticized the fact that the omnibus bill was discussed the night before, saying legislation of such magnitude should not be discussed “burning the midnight oil.”
“It changes all of the Argentine social contract,” he said.
“The repercussions of this decree and the omnibus bill they’re trying to pass, puts us in a more vulnerable situation,” said José María Di Bello from the feminist organization Mala Junta, carrying a sign that says “I live with HIV, I die with Milei.”
National Security Minister Patricia Bullrich’s anti-protest protocol, which bans roadblocks, is in force, and the minister said it is being enforced in the area. “We said we would guarantee circulation, and we will,” Bullrich said at noon, adding that protesters were only walking on sidewalks. But two hours after the strike began, 9 de Julio Avenue was blocked by protesters gathering to march to Congress.
An extensive police operation was deployed in response to the protest, with lines of officers with shields moving towards the protesters in a bid to keep them off the roads. News channel C5N showed Buenos Aires Province Infrastructure Minister Gabriel Katopodis being pushed by police as he gave an interview at the junction between Avenida de Mayo and 9 de Julio.
Those surrounding Katopodis, including the C5N reporter, were also pushed. “They are hitting me!” a woman screamed into the station’s microphone. Other protesters said police had used pepper spray against them.
Minister Bullrich took to X to criticize the strike. “Mafioso union leaders, administrators of poverty, complicit judges and corrupt politicians, every one of them defending their privileges, resisting the change that society democratically decided on and that is led with determination by President [Javier Milei]. No strike can stop us, no threat can intimidate us,” she wrote.
Later, she told the press that Milei told her he is “calm, trusting that most Argentines are working.” Sola, the CGT spokesman, said that between 70% and 80% of workers adhered to the strike.
Presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said in a press conference Wednesday morning that the strike “makes life harder and is a waste of money for many Argentines.”
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