BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Much of Argentina came to a standstill Wednesday as a strike to protest government austerity measures grounded hundreds of flights, halted bus and train lines and forced the closing of banks, courts and many schools.
The country’s main grains ports were also shut and hospitals offered only emergency services during the 24-hour strike organized by labor unions to protest the policies of President Mauricio Macri. Those include the firing of workers and the slashing of government subsidies that have shot up the costs of transportation and utility rates. Argentines are also fed up with a stubborn recession, a devaluation of the currency and one of the world’s highest inflation rates.
Macri will seek re-election in October and center-left former president Cristina Fernández will try to return to power running as vice president on the ticket with her former chief of staff, Alberto Fernández .
Many workers stayed home Wednesday because subway lines were closed.
Authorities estimated that about 330 flights from the country’s flagship carrier, Aerolineas Argentinas, were cancelled and some 37,000 passengers were affected by the walkout, which also forced the “Recopa” final between soccer clubs River Plate and Brazil’s Atletico Paranaense to be postponed to Thursday.
Union leaders said it was the largest strike that they had organized since Macri took office in 2015 promising to end poverty and tame high consumer prices. They say government policies have led to the closing of some 14,000 small and mid-size companies while Argentines continue to lose purchasing power to an “alarming” inflation rate of about 50 percent a year.
Héctor Daer, a leader of the CGT union, demanded that Macri take “immediate actions to stop the economic decadence.”
Many union leaders and left-leaning organizations also oppose Macri’s decision to strike a record $56 billion financing deal with the International Monetary Fund because they blame the IMF for the country’s worst economic crisis in 2001-2002. During the stoppage, some held banners that read: “Out with the IMF regime” in reference to austerity measures ordered by the IMF as part of the deal.
Unions and left-leaning organizations cut some roads leading into the capital city and distributed food to show what they say is increasing hunger.
“We’re sick of the low salaries, the halt of activity in the industry,” said unionist Rubén García.
The government rejected the strike, saying it only affects Argentina’s economy.
“We’re fed up with strikes,” said Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. “This is what happens when a government is not in the party of the union leaders.”
The government says the stoppage is a political measure by union leaders who aspire to public office. Most union leaders have backed Cristina and Alberto Fernández.
Associated Press journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.