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Strike preview hints at transport headaches

Pickets anticipate today’s strike. A demonstrator shouts anti-government slogans next to riot squad policemen during a protest staged by state-run workers who were seeking to block a road in Buenos Aires yesterday.
Moyano refuses to condemn leftist groups that are planning blockades, pickets today

Long lines at check-ins, roadblocks, protests, and slow-moving public transport were just some of the headaches that characterized yesterday’s lead-up to the 24-hour strike set to unfold today across the country, as the anti-government CTA union led by Pablo Micheli kicked off its own 36-hour industrial action at midday.

Despite the early start, today’s national strike is not expected to be as effective as its predecessor on April 10, since most public bus -drivers — who are grouped under the UTA public transport union — are not expected to be walking off the job. But union representatives did warn buses could end up stopping operations if faced with any violence.

Protesters cut off Pueyrredón and Saavedra bridges and General Paz avenue near Constituyentes avenue yesterday in this capital, while dozens of protests took place across the country at strategic locations in the provinces. Commuters moving about downtown Buenos Aires City encountered slow-moving traffic and longer rides on public transport yesterday, as pickets popped up near the Obelisk and Plaza de Mayo.

Unlike the last national strike on April 10 when they made attempts to appear more independent, left-leaning groups have this time expressed greater solidarity with the organizers of today’s strike — Moyano’s CGT Azopardo and Luis Barrionuevo’s Blue and White CGT. And what was perhaps a nod at the pickets, Moyano yesterday did not distance himself from those planning roadblocks as much as he had in April. In fact, he suggested he understood their motives.

“Those sectors act in the way that they think is most effective for the strike action,” the teamsters’ union leader told Radio Continental.

“There are sectors who have made decisions and we’re respectful of each sector’s decision,” he added, all the while making sure not to condone what was surely a headache for commuters. “I don’t approve or disapprove anything.”

No UTA

The CGT and CTA are demanding improved labour conditions like increases to the minimum wage as well as to the tax floor and pensions, and that provincial governments and the national administration return to the negotiating-table for a second time this year for collective wage bargaining. Workers across the board say spiralling inflation is eating into their purchasing power.

However, today’s strike is likely to lack the impact of April 10 when the anti-government unions were able to secure the participation of Roberto Fernández’s UTA public transport union which groups together the majority of bus-drivers and forms part of the pro-government CGT led by Antonio Caló.

Despite “agreeing with almost all the demands” of today’s striking workers, the UTA’s press secretary Mario Calegari said yesterday they wouldn’t take part since “the country is experiencing external aggression” in reference to the ongoing legal battle with vulture funds.

Frustrated strike organizers have criticized the UTA’s decision, claiming it came about as a result of a closed-doors deal with the national government.

However, UTA’s counterparts in the train-drivers’ union, La Fraternidad, took a softer tone with bus drivers yesterday, with La Fraternidad leader Omar Maturano saying they would respect the UTA’s decision.

“It’s difficult to measure the compliance (of the strike) with the pickets. Now, with our colleagues in the UTA, it’s a shame that they’re not accompanying us but we have to be respectful,” he told Nacional Rock radio. “We live with the rule of law, in a democracy, and we must respect those who want to work.”

In separate statements to La Red radio, Moyano claimed some bus-drivers would in fact be walking off the job in solidarity with other workers, though he did not provide further details.

For his part, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich yesterday denied there had been any deal with the UTA involving a government offer to increase subsidies to the sector. He said that “despite the pressure (placed on UTA members), they’ve made an autonomous decision.”

Airlines reschedule flights

Buenos Aires airports were abuzz with people yesterday, as airlines tried to offset the impact of today’s national strike by rescheduling flights.

National carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas said yesterday it was rescheduling its flights “in an effort to minimize the impact and inconvenience caused to passengers as a result of the strike action,” free of charge and with the prospect of offering full refunds until September 7. Two flights — one to Miami and another to Madrid — were brought forward several hours yesterday, while others have been rescheduled for tomorrow.

Private carrier LAN Argentina was offering similar conditions to passengers, with the prospect of changing flights until September 10. All of its flights in and out of Jorge Newbery Metropolitan airport for today are cancelled, while some of its flights will be operating in and out of Ezeiza International Airport.

Herald staff with Reuters

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