Argentina paralysed by strike action : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Friday, 24 November, 2000, 14:38 GMT Argentina paralysed by strike action

The transport system in Argentina has been severely disrupted by a thirty-six hour strike against the government.

Almost all industrial and public sector workers have stayed at home.

Buses that tried to continue running were attacked by protesters, and roadblocks have been set up.

Argentina's largest union the CGT has now joined the stoppage which began yesterday,Thursday.

A spokesman for President Fernando de la Rua said the strike would make it difficult to present Argentina as a serious and reliable country, capable of attracting capital and investment.

The unions are protesting at harsh economic measures which have made the government increasingly unpopular. It's trying to contain public spending and to secure new loans from the International Monetary Fund.

From the newsroom of the BBC World Service

-- Martin Thompson (, November 24, 2000


November 24, 2000 With No Hope for Economy, Many Argentines Are Leaving By CLIFFORD KRAUSS Horacio Paone for The New York Times Valeria Devicenci, 28, waited recently in the long line outside the Italian Consulate in Buenos Aires. Many descendants of Italian immigrants to Argentina are seeking passports to return to the land their ancestors left.

---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------- UENOS AIRES, Nov. 19 — Half a century or more ago they came here by the hundreds of thousands. They were immigrants lured from Italy, Spain and other European countries by a vast new land that symbolized hope and offered dreams of boundless pampas graced by fat grazing cattle, and of cities with bustling factories and lively tango clubs.

Now many of their descendants, worn down and shorn of that optimism, are thinking about going back.

This year, thousands of young Argentines of Italian descent have lined up at the Italian Consulate in downtown Buenos Aires seeking passports to return to the place once left behind by their ancestors.

In the first six months of this year, the Italian Embassy here gave Argentines 7,000 passports, the same number as in all of 1999. And the lines for visas at the Spanish and United States Embassies are getting longer all the time.

"I don't see the same future that my grandparents saw when they came here after World War II," said Estanislao Hernández, a 20-year-old accountancy student at the University of Buenos Aires. "There is no work. Politicians are corrupt and can't manage the economy. Worse still, you can't walk the streets anymore without getting assaulted."

The preparations for a reverse tide underscore the foul mood and collapsed hopes here in Argentina. Psychologists say their patients are growing increasingly anxious over job uncertainty and the rise of cutthroat competitiveness in the office. Waiting lists for appointments at public mental health clinics are climbing, as incidents of suicide, drug addiction and family violence rise. Church attendance is up.

When Argentines worry, they stop buying. Apartment prices have dropped by 10 percent in Buenos Aires in the last year, as sales in shopping centers have been reduced by 14 percent. Anxious consumers are buying less shaving cream and shampoo, washing their hair and softening their whiskers with soap instead, according to recent market surveys. Sales of cars and other durable goods are down, depressing the manufacturing sector.

Farmers are leaving large tracts of land fallow, believing that world commodity prices will not revive anytime soon.

Many economists say such behavior is only natural in times of economic stress, as unemployment has edged up from an already high 14 percent at the end of last year to nearly 16 percent today. The economy this year is projected to grow by at most 1 percent, after dipping 3 percent last year, in a performance well behind that of neighboring Brazil and Chile.

Government officials and some business executives are beginning to say this funk is self-fulfilling, and they blame it for the country's inability to recover from its deep two-year- old recession. With foreign trade a mere 9 percent of the economy, these experts note, Argentina depends on the spending of its own consumers to grow.

"We are in a trap of pessimism that is stopping the economy," said Eduardo Elsztain, chairman of IRSA and Cresud, the country's largest real estate and farm companies.

In a recent speech trying to rally public opinion to support his economic policies, President Fernando de la Rúa spoke of the crisis of confidence as a product of "adolescent hysteria."

Thomas Reichmann, a senior official at the International Monetary Fund, was recently quoted in an I.M.F. publication as characterizing Argentina as a country that is "totally unable to lift the sentiment of its own people."

"That is something that is not in my tool kit," he added. "We don't know how to deal with that kind of social psychology."

A nationwide survey of 1,303 people conducted by Mora y Araujo Asociados last month showed that 32 percent of the population believes that they will be worse off in a year than they are today, compared with 19 percent who believe things will get better for them. The finding was almost exactly the opposite found by the same polling group only six months ago.

"The future looks very grim," Cecilia Desimo, 57, a housewife in northern Jujuy Province, said the other day. She added that her husband, a worker in a sugar factory, had not been paid in two months because his company is going bankrupt.

Mrs. Desimo was standing among a hundred protesters blocking a major highway leading into the city of San Pedro. They were burning tires while listening to doleful tango cassette tapes, and they demanded that the government nationalize the La Esperanza sugar plant.

"My family has given up beef for cheese and bread, and my children have to leave high school to find work to help our family survive," she added.

Roadblocks by unhappy farmers and unemployed workers have sprung up around Argentina in recent weeks and may yet have a serious impact on the economy.

"From what I see on television, everything is bad," said Daniel Salvador Gutiérrez, an 18-year-old field hand at a dairy farm in Los Noque, a village in the northern province of Salta. "The politicians promise the world, then don't do anything."

Polls show that the pessimism ranges across class and age lines. But the sector of the society that feels most negative, according to the recent Mora y Araujo poll, is the lower middle class.

"Historically, Argentina has been a country in which every generation believed that the next would be better off than the last," noted Graciela Romer, a leading political consultant. "But the middle class is now suddenly faced with great limitations. That is creating a general sense of dissatisfaction and pessimism."

There is plenty of self-criticism, and recent interviews with dozens of people around the country reflected a broad sense that Argentina is a nation that somehow has never been able to fulfill its potential. Many older Argentines said the optimism they felt when civilians replaced the military government in 1983 has long since wilted, and some even talk longingly of a return to authoritarianism.

Spirits picked up at the end of last year with Mr. de la Rúa's landslide election, after he promised to create jobs and end the corruption of the previous government of Carlos Saúl Menem. But President de la Rúa's poll numbers have since plunged — 72 percent registered their disapproval of the president in one recent survey — especially after a Senate bribery scandal led to the resignation of his vice president and a shake- up of the cabinet last month.

The general anguish seems strange in a country with the region's highest rates of literacy and life expectancy. But cheap Brazilian imports are flooding local markets and Bolivian and Peruvian laborers are migrating here and taking jobs away from Argentines.

"It's a rich country, but we just don't know how to exploit it," said Jorge Oscar Fillia, 55, a shoe factory worker who lives just outside Buenos Aires. In recent months Mr. Fillia's factory has come under enormous pressure because it is unable to compete with Brazilian footwear, and so his employers have cut his salary but made up some of the difference by paying him in shoes.

"I used to go to the movies and buy a pizza on Friday night, but now I can't even afford to go to the corner," said Mr. Fillia, who, in typical Argentine fashion, still manages to project a sense of well- being by wearing an ascot and knit beret.

Short on money, Mr. Fillia takes shoes from his factory and takes them to a barter market known as a trueque club in the town of Bernal, 15 miles south of Buenos Aires, where he exchanges the footwear for everything from bread to laundry service.

"If the country was in good shape, I wouldn't be standing on this line," Lucia Sastre, 51, a public health clinic administrator who lost her job two years ago, said as she waited for the trueque club to open its doors so she could sell her homemade meat pies. "We have so much land, so many minerals, so much of everything, and yet we are going down, down, down."

-- Martin Thompson (, November 24, 2000.

24/11/2000 23:26 - (SA) Argentina strike blocks roads

Buenos Aires - Argentina's third general strike against austerity measures in less than a year drew government fire on Friday. Union roadblocks choked movement throughout South America's second-largest nation.

Argentina's planned reforms include scrapping the public pension system and hiking women's retirement age to 65. The aim is to secure a multilateral aid package amid concerns that Latin America's largest foreign borrower may not be able to meet its debt obligations.

90% of Work Force on Strike

"This is a strike the people do not want, they reject it, this is being carried out under the pressure of threats," President Fernando de la Rua told reporters. "We will provide security to anyone who wishes to go to work."

But the unions which called the strike said more than 90 percent of the Argentine labour force walked off the job.

"We want the government to understand society's message," said Hugo Moyano, head of the dissident faction of the General Workers' Confederation (CGT). "It's hard to hold serious talks with the labour minister. You need a lot of experience and knowledge and I think the minister lacks experience."

After more than two years of recession and stagnation unemployment has risen to a three-year high of 15.4 percent. Many Argentines feel more cutbacks will just make them poorer.

No Magic Formula

"If anyone has another magic formula to solve unemployment, poverty and marginalisation, it would be good if they'd explain it," De la Rua's spokespersn Ricardo Ostuni said.

Some defied the union roadblocks and walked, cycled or drove to work but the streets of Buenos Aires were as quiet as on a Sunday. Barricades were reported in all 23 provinces.

Schools shut their doors, public hospitals offered only emergency services and many businesses remained closed a day after the stoppage began. Bus and air terminals were virtually empty.

Dozens Arrested

Interior Minister Federico Storani said the strike would not be declared illegal but added that the right to strike and the right to free movement are both enshrined in Argentina's constitution.

More than 30 protestors had been arrested on Friday for intimidating people on their way to work, Storani said.

The government had warned on Thursday it might declare the strike illegal and revoke the charters of the unions which called the strike should the situation turn volatile.,1113,2-10-33_945504,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, November 25, 2000.

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