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Argentina: Nationwide strikes over Milei's austerity reforms

January 24, 2024

Thousands joined a general strike over new President Javier Milei's austerity measures. The country is in the grip of rampant inflation and mired in debt — with a poverty level of more than 40%.

Aerial view of the protesters during Argentina's national strike
Ten days after taking office, libertarian President Javier Milei put forward a decree and a set of bills aimed at amending or reforming over 300 lawsImage: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

A general strike in Argentina on Wednesday is being seen as the first major challenge facing the country's new leader, President Javier Milei.

Thousands of people embarked on a 12-hour strike in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, protesting Milei's cost-cutting measures.

A man protesting outside the Argentine Congress with police standing in riot gear behind him
Argentine President Javier Milei faces the first national strike in just 45 days of holding officeImage: Luis Robayo/AFP

Protests countrywide

The strike organized by the largest umbrella union — the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) — has impacted various sectors, from banking through to transportation.

"People are angry... nobody can deny it," said CGT co-leader Hector Daer.

Protesters carried placards that read: "The homeland is not for sale" and "Eating is not a privilege."

The main rally in the capital took place outside Parliament, where lawmakers were discussing Milei's economic reform package, which some fear will leave them vulnerable to exploitation, and poorer.

Demonstrations have also been called for numerous other cities and towns, even abroad in Madrid, Paris and Brussels.

Police officers stand guard during a national strike
Thousands of people gathered on the streets outside Argentina's Congress to protest over President Javier Milei's economic reformsImage: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Why is the strike taking place?

Milei took office in December with a campaign in which he vowed to slash public spending and dollarize the economy.

Ten days after taking office, Milei announced sweeping reforms that lessened some worker protections, abolished a price ceiling on rent while raising price controls on certain consumer goods.

Mass strike tests Argentina's radical new president

Milei's administration argues that the country has been lumbered with huge debts and the cuts are necessary following years of overspending.

But at least in the short term, his entry into the equation is yet to turn the numbers around. Year-on-year inflation reached 211% this month, up from 160% in November ahead of the elections.

The new administration tried to put a brave face on its first major challenge.

"There is no strike that stops us, there is no threat that intimidates us," Milei's security minister and former election rival Patricia Bullrich wrote on social media.

"It's mafia unionists, poverty managers, complicit judges and corrupt politicians — all defending their privileges — resisting the change that society chose democratically."

Milei was an economist and former TV pundit who managed a surprise election victory last year. With the country's poverty rate running at over 40% his administration must now try and stabilize the South American country's economy.

Argentina has defaulted on its debt nine times, and three times since the turn of the century.

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kb/msh (Reuters, AFP)