Argentinians stage strike over ailing economy

Union members and radical activists barricade major roads into capital over rising unemployment and inflation.

    Argentinians stage strike over ailing economy
    Workers joining the strike include train drivers, bankers, port workers and public hospital employees [AFP]

    Argentinian workers have launched a general strike to protest rising unemployment and runaway inflation, adding to President Cristina Kirchner's problems as her government deals with a new debt default.

    Union members and radical activists barricaded the major roads into Buenos Aires on Thursday and blocked buses and taxis whose drivers were not observing the strike, the second in less than five months.

    Three of the country's five main union federations joined the 24-hour strike, but the government insisted that only 75 percent of workers were taking part.

    The strike appeared to be only a partial success.

    The streets of Buenos Aires were quiet but not empty, with buses and taxis running, as well as half the capital's six subway lines.

    But the walkout shut down key sectors including banks and domestic flights.

    The strike was called in protest over rising joblessness which stands at 7.5 percent, up 1.1 points so far this year. Annual inflation has also wiped out workers' salaries.

    Tumbling peso

    Unions are also calling for a one-year embargo on layoffs and protesting an income tax they say has added to their financial woes at a time when the value of the peso is tumbling.

    Officially, the peso is worth about 12 US cents, but on the black market that determines Argentinas' real import power it fetches just seven.

    Workers joining the strike include train drivers, bankers, port workers, public hospital employees and truckers.

    But unlike the last general strike on April 10, which paralysed much of the economy, the key bus drivers' union did not take part.

    "We are making the same demands we made on April 10. But now the situation is worse," said Pablo Micheli, leader of anti-government union CTA.

    "Four months later, buying power has fallen sharply."

    Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich called the strike a political stunt.

    "There's not a shadow of a doubt that this strike is of a political nature, with opposition objectives. A large number of these union members are part of the opposition political alliance," he told journalists.

    The strike comes as the government finds itself mired in its second debt default in 13 years after failing to reach a settlement with two US hedge funds refusing to accept less than full payment on their Argentine bonds after the country's 2001 default.

    The funds won a US court ruling blocking Buenos Aires from repaying creditors who accepted a write-down until it settles the $1.3-bn dispute.

    Unable to service its restructured debt, the country entered a new default on July 30.

    Analysts had warned a new default could deepen Argentina's recession and fuel inflation and unemployment.



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