A month and a half after coming to power, the Argentine president, the ultraliberal Javier Milei, was confronted, on Wednesday January 24, with a general strike and his first major protest. Several tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the capital, Buenos Aires, as well as in Cordoba, Tucuman and La Rioja, to protest against his austerity reforms.

The immense Parliament Square in Buenos Aires filled over the hours with thousands of demonstrators, at the call of the General Confederation of Labor of the Argentine Republic (CGT, which claims 7 million members), proponist center (close to the previous government), which was joined by other unions, radical left movements and social organizations.

While the start of Mr. Milei’s mandate is marked by an avalanche of deregulatory bills, a 54% devaluation and actual or planned austerity measures, “we come to defend forty years of democracy, to defend the homeland”, said the co-leader of the CGT, Hector Daer, to the crowd. “Walking around with a chainsaw is one thing, governing is another,” which requires “being measured,” he said, targeting the head of state.

The executive defends its bill

In Buenos Aires, the strike lasted from noon to midnight. Transports circulated until 7 p.m. to transport and bring back the demonstrators, before a total stop until midnight. Air traffic was severely disrupted. Aerolineas Argentinas announced the cancellation of 295 flights, including international flights, “affecting more than 20,000 passengers,” at a cost “that will exceed $2.5 million.”

“The country is open, the country is not shutting down! », trumpeted the Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich. “The mobilization is low compared to the number of people who have decided to go to work,” she assured, denouncing “mafia unions, managers of poverty (…), who resist change democratically decided by society “. For the executive, “there is no alternative” to reforms and austerity, while the country is structurally indebted (budget deficit at 2.9% of GDP in 2023, one point beyond of the target), and in order to stabilize an economy strangled at 211% annual inflation.

The government is currently pushing to pass an imposing package of reforms known as the “omnibus law”, but the balance of parliamentary power – Mr. Milei’s party, La Libertad Avanza, is only the third force in both Houses – is forcing the executive to compromise.

In recent negotiations with the opposition, the head of state proposed withdrawing 141 of the 664 initial provisions. Privatizations (41 state-owned enterprises initially targeted), the indexation of pensions, the delegation of powers to the executive in the name of “economic emergency”, the resources of the provinces are the main points of friction. The House of Representatives must examine a first version of the text on Thursday, with the start of social protest in the background.