Two months after libertarian firebrand Javier Milei was elected president of Latam basket case Argentina, pledging to overhaul the economy and openly warning a period of brutal austerity and pain is coming, the initial euphoria is fading fast and is being replace with the shock and horror of what comes next. And sure enough, in the biggest show of resistance to date against Milei, Argentinian workers on Wednesday took to the streets for a general strike, bringing swaths of downtown Buenos Aires to a standstill.
In what has been called an “unprecedented mobilization” never before in modern Argentinian history has a mass strike been called less than seven weeks into a new presidency. But leaders from Argentina’s largest labor union – the guys who are used to a steady drip of handouts from the government – said the nationwide protests reflect the urgency they feel as Milei pursues radical economic and political reforms he likens to “shock therapy”.
Thousands of (most labor union) protesters swarmed the square in front of Argentina’s Congress on Wednesday, denouncing Milei’s sweeping plans to overhaul the government, privatize public industries and slash spending. Some banged pots and carried signs accusing Milei of being a “traitor”. Other banners featured the portrait of working-class icon Evita Peron.
Elizabeth Gutierrez made her way to the gathering after working an overnight shift as a nurse. She explained she was motivated by steep increases in food prices since Milei took office.
“Before we used to have asados [barbecues] every Sunday. Not now. Even rice is very expensive,” Gutierrez said. “Rents have shot up. You can’t live off your salary any more: It’s not enough” she raged adding that “the people are here to defend their nation.”
Well, here’s the problem: the nation has been bled dry by corrupt politicians, and the only thing that can save it is the most aggressive belt tightening in decades. And while Milei is trying it, he is about to find out just how much pushback his plans will cause, and how impossible it will be for his ambitious plan seeking to end the government’s parasistism of the economy, to succeed.
Another protester, 63-year-old retiree Alicia Pereyra, voiced opposition to Milei’s efforts to deregulate the economy, including plans to “modernise” labour law and ditch rent regulation. “He wants us to be slaves,” Pereyra said.