Strikes Continue As Elections Approach
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ About 50,000 members of the telephone workers’ union went on strike Wednesday, disrupting domestic and international telephone service and satellite communications.
The job action by the communications workers, who are unhappy over wages, was the latest walkout to hit heavily unionized Argentina. An estimated 100,000 workers are on strike.
Argentina has been beset by walkouts in the railroad and airline industry, the national mint, the Interior Ministry, immigration and civil registry offices, universities and the national Museum of Fine Art.
Meanwhile, about 33,000 workers from the state oil company returned to their jobs, ending the most serious strike this week.
A walkout by 8,000 striking train drivers and signalmen crippled the nation’s railway system and urban commuter trains for the second straight day. Many residents who depended on train service took buses instead, while others walked to work, pooled with neighbors to hire minibuses, or simply stayed home.
Jorge Gandara, undersecretary at the Ministry of Economy, said ″most of the current labor conflicts have political connotations linked with the proximity of elections″ on Sept. 6.
Labor leaders rejected the accusation, saying although most of the unions are controlled by the opposition Peronist Party, the strikes stem from low wages.
Half of the 254 lower house seats and all 22 provincial governors races will be decided in the elections, which observers say will determine the strength of President Raul Alfonsin and his Radical Civic Union Party.
Alfonsin came to power on 52 percent of the vote in 1983, ending seven years of harsh military rule and restoring democracy to this nation of 31 million people.
Under the former military regime, 9,000 suspected leftists vanished. Five military rulers, including two ex-presidents, have been convicted of human rights atrocities and are serving prison terms.
Inflation averaged 116 percent annually in the last 12 months and government and private analysts say there will be a 12 percent increase in the cost of living by the end of August.
Workers say wages have fallen far behind inflation and government-mandated pay increases have not caught up with price increases of basic commodities.
The price of beef, a popular and inexpensive item that cattle-rich Argentina considers a national right, rose 29 percent in July.
The strike by oil workers at the state-owned company began Aug. 20 and affected the delivery of natural gas, a cheap and plentiful fuel widely used for heating and cooking.
Argentina is now at the end of winter and entering spring. Natural gas supplies were critically low last weekend in Buenos Aires, where 10 million people live. By Monday, however, warmer weather had decreased demand.
As a precaution, the government ordered border guards to protect Argentina’s largest pipeline near Neuquen and administrative officers maintained operations at two strike-affected plants in southern Neuquen province.
The government was able to obtain most of its gas supplies elsewhere until the strikers returned to work without incident Wednesday.