BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Mauricio Macri has come back from his trip to Spain to news that teachers nationwide, accompanied by large sectors of the General Confederation of Labor of the Republic of Argentina (CGT), are planning a strike for March 6 and 7 in the largest work stoppage since Macri assumed the presidency in December of 2015.
In Spain, Macri spoke before the Cortes Generales (houses of parliament), led an investment fair and received praise from like-minded Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Now, back in Argentina (but on yet another vacation near the beach resort city of Mar del Plata), Macri has come back to reality as teachers across the country prepare to strike on March 6, the first day of the school year.
The following day, March 7, the teachers will be on strike for the second scheduled day in a row. The nationwide stoppage that day, however, will be more profound as many sectors of the General Confederation of Labor of the Republic of Argentina (CGT), the largest and most historically important labor union in the country, will join the strike.
The Union of Argentine Educators (UDA), the Confederation of Education Workers (CTERA) and the Unified Education Workers of Buenos Aires (SUTEBA), three of the largest teachers’ unions in the country, will strike in March in response to the economic policies ushered in by Macri.
The leader’s policies have led to an economy heavily slowed by a drop in industrial production and rising inflation, an increase in joblessness and poverty, a sharp loss in purchasing power and a growing level of inequality.
As a result, teachers warned earlier this year of strikes at the beginning of the school semester due to the “Macri government’s cutting of education budgets and the freeze in salaries of education workers in the face of a full-on economic crisis.”
“It cannot be that this government is giving all sorts of tax breaks and financial loopholes for the wealthiest and most powerful companies and sectors of Argentina while the workers suffer from salary reductions as part of a plan of harsh economic austerity and massive rate hikes in vital services,” said Roberto Baradel, the head of SUTEBA, late last year.
While statistics released in January showed that the rich in Argentina grew their wealth since Macri’s inauguration, the poor have become poorer.
Macri has removed the subsidies instituted by his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), and went a step further by adding higher taxes on vital services like public transport fares, electricity and water. The costs of these services increased between 200 percent and 700 percent and Macri has warned of even higher price hikes in 2017.
In August, Macri’s government sought to raise the price of gas by 1,000 percent in the middle of a severe cold snap in the austral winter but a series of protests against the measure led to an initial halt to the increase by a federal court. Weeks later, Macri said that a more “moderate” and revised raise of “only” 700 percent was being instituted.
The wealthy businessman-turned-politico born to an Italian billionaire construction tycoon who arrived in Argentina in 1949 has also removed currency regulation (which has led to a 30 percent depreciation in the Argentine Peso), laid off over 150,000 public workers (and warned of more layoffs) and agreed to pay the New York-based vulture funds that have refused to accept restructured loan payments.
An oft-repeated slogan of Macri’s has been to reach “zero-level poverty,” the catchphrase description of his plans for economic growth and security in Argentina.
Statistically speaking, however, his neoliberal economic plans have done just the opposite as all indicators (including GDP growth, inflation and unemployment) have worsened significantly since his term began.
Macri has repeatedly said that the measures he has taken would be painful initially, but the situation would improve. He said foreign investment should start flowing in, inflation and unemployment would go down and salaries would rise by April. Then, he said that these positive developments would happen in June and then in the latter half of 2016. Now, his government is saying that the situation will improve in 2017, but no indicators thus far have shown this to be true.
With no improvement in their economic situations in sight and their purchasing power nearly halved since Macri assumed power (in what was already Latin America’s most expensive nation in which to live), the teachers have decided to strike and, joined by the CGT, their actions will bring more attention to the national leadership with important legislative elections due later this year.
Throughout 2016, Macri reiterated his aforementioned public calls for patience with a special eye on the labor unions. In fact, Macri met with the several syndicates repeatedly and sought to reassure them that the economy would improve and that he would offer better pay and benefits so that the unions would not strike and place him in their crosshairs.
Many of those promises, however, were not fulfilled and commitments were not kept and the CGT is acting accordingly. The teachers specifically decided to strike once the government suspended their participation in the “national partnership” program, the medium in which the annual cost-of-living increases are discussed.
Not surprisingly, Fernández de Kirchner supports the strike as a way to “make sure that the government sees the people of its nation.”
“People are in very difficult situations. It is very serious what is happening to the Argentine people, there are many that cannot reach the end of the month. Go and march with the workers on March 6 and 7,” she wrote in a message posted to her Twitter account.
Fernández de Kirchner’s message did not sit very well with the CGT who said they “do not want to politicize or associate with any political party the march and strike.”
Indeed, the CGT also marched against Fernández de Kirchner during her 8 years in office but typically on a smaller scale and mostly involving the agriculture and farming sectors opposed to the export tariffs she signed into law as a way to significantly lower prices of necessary foodstuffs in the domestic market.