Conflicts & War

Argentines march to demand stimulus instead of austerity

Buenos Aires, Oct 14 (EFE).- Thousands of members of leftist grassroots groups mounted protests in this capital and across Argentina on Thursday to press for a jobs program and expanded public assistance ahead of the Nov. 14 legislative elections.

The coalition behind the marches and roadblocks, Unidad Piquetera (Picketer Unity), said the mobilization was intended as a continuation of last week’s “national soup kitchen against hunger,” which in turn followed a series of demonstrations that began after Juan Zabaleta was named social development minister in August.

Organizers said Thursday that Zabaleta has yet to respond more than a month after they presented him with a plan to employ a million people in construction of housing and infrastructure, environmental protection and care work.

Some beneficiaries of social programs are already providing such socially necessary services, but those positions do not meet the legal criteria for formal employment.

Unidad Piquetera also wants to see an end to means-testing in social programs and the provision of more and higher-quality food to the soup kitchens on which many Argentines have come to depend.

Protests have been on the rise in 2021 as the economy endures a fourth year of recession with inflation running at 51 percent and the proportion of people living below the poverty line topping 40 percent.

The center-left administrations that have been in power for most of the last two decades launched an array of social programs to address the consequences of the depression of 1998-2002, when the Argentine economy shrank by a fifth, pushing both poverty and unemployment above 50 percent.

But that safety net, never perfect, has been strained by the slump due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We take to the streets in continuity with a plan of struggle that will deepen with encampments and even stronger actions in the coming weeks because the government has oriented its policy to the continuity and deepening of an austerity that brings not only the workers, but the whole country, to disaster,” Workers Center leader Eduardo Belliboni said in comments to website Prensa Obrera.

President Alberto Fernandez’s administration recently proposed creation of a mechanism that would give recipients of assistance engaged in infrastructure maintenance, care work and other tasks to be hired formally without losing their benefits.

But the groups who organized Thursday’s marches in Buenos Aires and other cities see the proposal as little more than a campaign slogan.

Belliboni said that by committing to austerity, the government has signaled its subordination to the International Monetary Fund, which extended a $45 billion loan to Argentina during the 2015-2019 government of right-wing President Mauricio Macri. EFE vd/dr

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