Massive crowds of protesters, a major police operation, and traffic jams have flooded Argentina's capital Buenos Aires as protesters march against a controversial pension reform that will affect around nearly 20 million Argentines.
According to the Workers' Federation for a Popular Economy, CTEP, over 250,000 flooded the streets, braving blockades maintained by police and facing hundreds of heavily-armored crowd control officers who deployed water cannons and non-lethal weaponry to ward off protesters.
At stake is the state pension system, which is set to be overhauled by the right-wing government of President Mauricio Macri. His government has promoted a pension reform that will reset the system for calculating pensions for around 17 million people. According to opposition figures, the government will save around $US5.6 billion by slashing the pensions.
In 2008, the government of then-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner introduced reforms to the pension system that updated pensions semiannually while taking tax revenue and average wage increases into account. Critics say the new system, which takes into account tax revenues and inflation rates, will reduce allotments for pensioners.
"No need to do any sophisticated reasoning to realize that this affects the food access rights of vulnerable groups because this pension is essential to the income of retirees. This is an elementary law of human rights," said constitutional lawyer Daniel Sabsay.
Carlos Bianco, a leader of the Argentine Workers' Central Union, accused the Macri government of serving the interests of multinational corporations and Argentina's ultra-rich.
"Sadly, the proposed agenda, supported by Macri's government, is an agenda that has nothing to do with development," Bianco said.
"It is an agenda for corporations."
In social media posts, the CTEP accused riot police of launching “brutal repression” and a harsh crackdown against protesters headed for Congress, where a draft of the pension reforms will be further discussed beginning Thursday.
The National Confederation of Labor, CGT, has already pledged to mobilize its base for major actions on Thursday followed by a 24-hour national general strike on Friday if the provisional bill moves forward.
The CGT has not only rejected the pension reform schemes but also demanded emergency increases in payments to alleviate the “misery and hunger” of pensioners, according to CGT Secretary-General Juan Carlos Schmid.
"You can not stop having social conflict if you want to continue implementing these policies of hunger and misery," Schmid warned.