Labor Unions Strike, Demonstrate Against Austerity Measures
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Tens of thousands of Argentines converged on a central plaza in Buenos Aires, waving banners and shouting slogans condemning austerity measures demanded by foreign creditors.
Argentine labor unions organized the giant demonstration, which drew at least 65,000 people by police count, and also staged a 13-hour general strike Thursday to oppose the measures.
″The people can’t eat, the people can’t live and the people can’t get healthy on promises,″ Saul Ubaldini, one of four leaders of the General Confederation of Labor, told the vast crowd in the city’s Plaza de Mayo, in front of the presidential palace.
″Democracy with hunger is not a democracy,″ he said, cheered by workers and youths beating drums and chanting.
The organizers estimated 250,000 people took part in the demonstration. The local news agency Noticias Argentinas estimated that slightly more than 100,000 people took part.
The nationwide strike, lasting from 11 a.m. to midnight, was the second since the country replaced its military leadership with an elected civilian president, Raul Alfonsin, in December 1983.
It halted factory activity in the industrial zones ringing Buenos Aires but did not seem to affect the city’s middle class suburbs or the interior provinces, according to local news agencies and eyewitnesses.
Argentina’s foreign debt of $48.4 billion is the third largest among developing countries. Inflation runs at more than 900 percent annually.
In an effort to gain control of the economy, the government has limited monthly wage increases to 90 percent of inflation, frozen hiring and ordered a 12 percent cut in public spending from last year’s levels.
Alfonsin has claimed stiffer measures would spawn widespread labor unrest and threaten democratic rule.
The confederation is the country’s main labor organization with 137 affiliated unions representing about half Argentina’s 10 million workers. It is controlled by the opposition Peronist Party.
Labor Minister Hugo Barrionuevo denounced the protest, which was seen as an attempt by the Peronists and unions to ″outrally″ Alfonsin, who drew more than 200,000 people to a pro-democracy rally April 26.
Subways and buses operated normally in the capital. The unions exempted them from the strike as a way to mobilize demonstrators.
The demonstrators shouted slogans denouncing Alfonsin’s administration and the International Monetary Fund.
Activists passed out leaflets which said, ″The IMF equals unemployment and hunger.″
The IMF suspended a vital $1.4 billion loan in March because of Argentina’s failure to do more to curb inflation. An Argentine negotiating team left Thursday night for talks with the IMF in Washington, in hopes of lifting the suspension.
The loan is needed to pay the interest on debts now in arrears.
The IMF and the Argentine government have already agreed on new economic targets, but not the belt-tightening measures needed to reach them.
″The negotiations are moving ahead,″ Economy Ministry spokesman Jorge Elorza said in a telephone interview. ″We calculate that toward the end of next week there will be an accord.″