Yesterday, January 24, a twelve-hour national strike took place in Argentina against the policies of President Javier Milei. Trade union organizations, students, cultural professionals and human rights defenders took to the streets to protest and show their rejection of the Omnibus law and the Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) of the new Argentinean government just 45 days after the presidential inauguration.
This was the first general strike in the country in five years, in a day without incidents that took place mainly in Buenos Aires and other capital cities of the country. Participation figures in the capital vary between the 600,000 people counted by union organizers, the 130,000 reported by the Police and the 40,000 counted by the Minister of Security.
For its part, the government has discredited the protests, alleging that they do not represent the sentiment of society in general, but rather that of Peronist politicians fearful of losing their privileges with the changes promoted by the new president.
“Stay in the fight”
The trade union confederation Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), the main organizer of the protest, promised yesterday to “continue the struggle” against the reforms and the important social cuts of the government. That was the central message launched in the speech at the Plaza del Congreso, epicenter of the protest in Buenos Aires.
“We are going to continue the struggle until the DNU falls and they reject the omnibus law,” proclaimed CGT secretary general Hector Daer in his speech to the demonstrators in the capital.
The organizers of the strike oppose the DNU, in force since December 29 and in judicial dispute in several points, and the bill for the reform of the State (known as “omnibus law”) which this same Wednesday achieved the support of part of the opposition in order to be debated in the plenary of the Congress.
The ministers of Javier Milei’s government criticized the general strike, dubbing the unionists who called it an “oligarchy” and accusing them of trying to defend their “privileges”. The governor of the province of Buenos Aires, Alex Kicillof, linked to Peronism, attended the demonstration.
During the strike the country’s air transport was paralyzed, affecting some 20,000 users due to the cancellation and postponement of more than 300 Aerolíneas Argentinas flights with a loss of some 2.5 million dollars, according to the government.
Doubts about the legality of the reforms
The so-called omnibus law, with 600 articles that would modify 20 laws, proposes to deregulate a great variety of economic sectors, from labor to commercial, real estate, aeronautics, health and even soccer clubs. However, these reforms focus on aspects which, according to the Constitution, can only be modified by the Congress, so the government’s law is being studied by the courts.
In this sense, the Peronist opposition criticizes the “way” in which the law has been elaborated, avoiding parliamentary debate and pretending the approval en masse of legislative packages of up to 500 articles by the fast track.
“Any Peronist deputy or senator who votes for this law is going to be betraying, first, the sense of their existence in Peronism and, second, the homeland,” warned Buenos Aires province senator Teresa García, of former president Cristina Fernandez’s Frente de Todos.
The Argentine judiciary is also studying the decrees closely and for the time being is suspending parts of them, while it rules on their constitutionality. This means that certain reforms, such as the labor reform which would extend the probation period of workers from three to eight months, reduce the compensation of severance payments, reduce pregnancy, maternity and paternity leaves and limit or almost annul the right to strike, are temporarily suspended.
Government plays down protests
For its part, the government played down the protests, putting the focus on the “economic losses” which, according to official sources, were caused by yesterday’s half-day strike, which, unofficially, was estimated at 1,500 million dollars.
For the Minister of Security, Patria Bullrich, “out of 21 million workers, only 0.19% mobilized, if we consider among the workers La Cámpora (a Peronist political organization) and the social organizations. 40 thousand people. Total failure”, commented the former presidential candidate of the traditional right wing, finally allied with Javier Milei.
The Minister also dedicated a few words of disapproval to the organizers, calling the unionists “mafiosos, managers of poverty”, but she also remembered the problems that the new laws face before the justice of “complicit judges and corrupt politicians”. Bullrich opined that all of them only defend “their privileges, resisting the change democratically decided by society and led with determination by the President”. Bullrich asserted that “no strike can stop us”.
For his part, President Milei retweeted the discrediting comments of his Minister of Security on social networks. Hours before the protests began, the president described the strike as “of political character, having nothing to do with the legitimate demands of the workers”.
The crisis in Argentina
Argentina ended 2023 with an inflation rate of 211.4%, a thirty-year record, and even surpassing the Venezuelan inflation rate, which at the end of last year stood at 189.8% per year. The situation, already complex during the mandate of the conservative Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), head of the party of today’s Minister Patricia Bullrich, worsened during the presidency of Alberto Fernandez (2019-2023), when cumulative inflation exceeded 1000%, salaries stood at about 300 dollars and there was an exchange rate gap with the dollar of 200%.
Precisely these disastrous economic data have been used by the current head of state to justify the need for his forceful reforms, aimed at diminishing the role of the state and liberalizing the economy, but also at dismantling social protection for the country’s most disadvantaged.
Milei has always justified the need for his reforms, claiming that previous Peronist governments only sought to protect markets and the businesses of “corrupt politicians” at the cost of curtailing individual liberties in Argentina. The president says that his DNU “returns individual liberties to citizens” by advocating more competitive market structures. The politician defends his reforms as “not pro-business, but pro-market”, while eliminating “dubious” aspects of politics.
Finally, echoing the words of his ministers, Javier Milei claimed that the only people in Argentina who oppose his reforms are those who have “privileges for being linked to politics”, what the President has called “caste”.