One of Argentina’s largest unions, the State Workers’ Association, or ATE, has announced that it will strike on Jan. 4, 2018 to protest the non-renewal of 15,000 contract jobs set to be eliminated in a few days and the likely reduction of additional jobs in the coming year.
ATE Secretary General Hugo Godoy said the union is striking to “confront the layoffs and the reductionist policy … that the (President Mauricio) Macri government is putting forth."
The Jan. 4 strike will include a march on Buenos Aires to end at the Department of Modernization. Godoy added that he wants to “dialogue” with Minister of Modernization Andres Ibarra about the extreme reduction of jobs.
"The minister hasn’t had the sensitivity or the responsibility to talk with our union to inform us about the conditions or methods of the national staff reduction," Godoy said. He claimed the government is eliminating jobs as an excuse to cut spending.
The Santa Fe and Rosario branches of the ATE are marching in their respective cities in central Argentina to protest the government not paying workers at the childcare center since the beginning of November.
Macri has been on a crusade to install neoliberal, pro-market reforms since he took office in December 2015. Since then, more than 108,000 public workers have been laid off, inciting numerous national protests over the past year.
Along with the elimination of jobs, the government has eliminated several energy and gas subsidies, resulting in a 500 percent price increase for electricity and a 300 percent jump for natural gas. Public transportation costs are up 100 percent in some areas.
Macri is also eroding the nearly 70-year-old universal health care system in Argentina by reducing public hospital services, forcing patients to pay in private clinics or hospitals.
In the past week, legislators have passed controversial tax laws and pension reforms which are a part of Macri’s annual budget.
The new policies will increase the Argentine retirement age to 70 years for both men and women. It was previously 60 for women and 65 for men. In addition, special allowances to retire before the official age would be eliminated from police, prisons, teachers, taxi drivers, rural laborers, workers in areas declared unhealthy, masons and bus drivers. The pension changes affect around 17 million people around the country.
Furthermore, the Greater Buenos Aires Fund that used to pay for infrastructure projects across the region will be eliminated.
The tax law reduced by 20 percent tax contributions to the country’s pension system: the National Social Security Administration. It will also exempt investors residing outside of Argentina from paying income tax and reduces the rate of income tax paid by companies that reinvest their utilities in the country from 35 percent to 25 percent.
Axel Kicillof, opposition legislator and former economy minister, criticized the tax law, saying "it eliminates taxes for the rich and transfers it to the poor."
Reuters reported that Argentina increased its target inflation rate for 2018 to 15 percent, up several percentage points from its original range of eight to 12 percent. It’s expected to rise to 16.6 percent in 2019. Consumer prices rose 21 percent in the first 11 months of 2017, and interest rates rose to 28.75 percent.
Major protests against the slew of neoliberal economic reforms have broken out in Buenos Aires since Dec. 19. Since then, 70 people have been arrested and 160 people injured. Among them, 26 journalists and teacher Daniel Sandoval, who lost his right eye after being shot with a rubber bullet.
A new report by Argentina's Coordinator Against Police and Institutional Repression reported that this is the worst police repression enacted on citizens since the dictatorship of 1983.