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Buenos Aires City hit by strike, roadblocks, transport chaos

Transport workers and allied groups from both pro- and anti-government umbrella unions were holding a national strike that was affecting travel throughout the country, especially in Buenos Aires City and its suburbs.

Today’s measure, the fourth national strike against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, was ratified yesterday.
A last-minute warning issued by the national government against transport business chambers was not enough to dissuade workers to call off the measure.
“This situation was created by the government, it’s been 40 days since we said we wanted to sit down and talk about this problem in order to avoid an industrial dispute,” said Roberto Fernández, head of the UTA transport union.
“We’re only defending a right. It’s the government that must come up with a solution,” he insisted in conversation with Radio del Plata.
The walkout was being carried out by 22 transport unions that includes both those allied with the government and opposition forces. The anti-government CGT led by Hugo Moyano, the Azul y Blanca CGT led by Luis Barrionuevo, Pablo Micheli’s anti-government CTA and the ATE state workers union were joining the 24-hour walkout.
The pro-government CGT led by metal workers’ union Antonio Caló said its members were free to act however they see fit, remarks that were seen as a tacit endorsement of industrial action.
Unions have been insistently demanding a hike in the income tax floor, which is now set at 15,000 pesos (some US$1,700) but also an expansion of family benefits and more state grants for union-run health care schemes.
Last week, Economy Minister Axel Kicillof defended the official stance on the matter, saying the income tax floor “was fine,” recalling it was raised two years ago and that it only affects a small number of workers.
Emergency meeting for emergency service
Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández said the main unions staging today’s strike were hiding political intentions, noting that they have taken on “surprisingly harsh” methods.
“We’re unable to discuss” under these circumstances, the Kirchnerite official told reporters during his daily news conference at Government House.
Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo, meanwhile, said transport workers would be hurting “a lot of workers who earn less” than those staging the strike.
Hours later, the Cabinet chief and Kicillof held a meeting with representatives of transport business chambers. This attempt to force companies to put buses onto the streets of Buenos Aires was reportedly joined by threats of nixing subsidies if they failed to operate the service today.
“The meeting seeks no other thing but order,” the head of the ministers said. “Those who violate the law will be arrested.”
The conclave was still taking place when the head of UTA anticipated it would fall through.
“What (Aníbal Fernández) will tell them is that if their workers fail to show up to work, they won’t pay them a subsidy” for fuel use, the union leader said. “But he should have called us, too.”
After the meeting, the head of the FATAP chamber Marcelo Lischet said he will do “everything in his power to put buses (onto the streets) so that people can get to their workplaces,” saying that there could be a minimum amount of bus services available on an emergency basis.
Lischet, when asked by reporters, categorically denied talks about a potential hike in subsidies granted to the sector.
Businessmen from the CETUA, ACTA, CETRA and CUTUBA transport chambers (as well as executives from long-distance company Vía Bariloche) also took part in the meeting.
Kicillof, in turn, stressed that most of the workers staging today’s protest “do not pay the income tax.”
If all workers — not only registered ones — are taken into account, only six to eight percent of the country’s workforce is affected by the tax, he explained.
As a result of the strike, short, medium and long-distance buses are not expected to operate today. Commuter trains connecting the City with Greater Buenos Aires won’t run either. Even though workers from Unión Ferroviaria did not adhere to the strike, signallers and engine-drivers have both confirmed their participation.
Lines B and D from the subte underground train lines will be out of service, while the other lines will suffer delays, delegates explained yesterday.
The participation of Moyano’s teamsters union will mean logistics and waste collection services won’t be operating — and that many ATMs are likely to run out of cash throughout the day. Banks will not be open to customers.
Doctors and nurses grouped under the CICOP health workers’ union — allied to Micheli’s opposition CTA — have confirmed they will take part in today’s walkout.
The measure is expected to affect 78 hospitals in Buenos Aires province. Fesprosa, CICOP’s nationwide health union, also called to strike throughout the country.
“The income tax will take away a large chunk of this year’s wage increases,” the organization said in a news release.
SOURCE: Buenos Aires Herald