Strikes in Argentina Continue Into Tenth Week
Public officials in Chubut, Argentina are entering their tenth week of strikes over delayed and low wages. Even though the southern province is the largest producer of oil in the country, it has accumulated nearly one billion dollars in debt, stalling the payment of salaries to public employees. The strikes have paralyzed systems of justice, healthcare, and education; and they escalated into wider protests against the economic policies of the provincial governor, Mariano Arcioni.
The provincial government in Chubut failed to pay 61,000 public employees for the month of August. This number accounts for more than 10% of the provincial population. Teachers initiated the strikes on August 1 and do not show any signs of ending anytime soon. Since then, public schools have not held classes.
“There is no objective reason to lift the strike,” said Santiago Goodman, the organizer of the teachers’ strike and workers’ union. “Until the salaries are paid in full, and the school facilities are improved we will not roll back the measures.”
The healthcare system in Chubut has also suffered during the past few weeks. Staffing levels have fallen to a record low in the province's largest hospitals. Doctors have received late and partial payments because of cutbacks from the provincial government. The same cuts have left hospitals underfunded with broken and unhygienic facilities. In efforts to minimize public spending, the region has reduced the availability of union-assisted medical care, which many public officials and oil workers rely on.
"You have to calculate when you get sick, it's grim," said Gladys Díaz, a doctor who works closely with union workers.
While the strike organizers called for peaceful protests, mounting tensions led to fights between oil workers and protestors. The strikes and protests swelled after two teachers died after a protest on September 17. The protests that followed blocked major streets and prevented petroleum from reaching the plant. The oil workers then attacked the protestors.
According to new economic reports, the future looks grim.The Fiscal Responsibility Council in Argentina found that in 2019 Chubut’s expenses have grown by 93.4 percent. Many have blamed the government's policies for the current economic crisis. In order to gain re-election support, Arcioni gave 40% salary increases to teachers and state employees, and he subsequently ran out of funds. Arcioni has also been accused of misusing funds from the federal government and diverting money specifically intended for worker salaries to paying off the region's debt.
Economic experts suggest that the crisis in Chubut is a microcosm for increasing economic and fiscal tensions in Argentina as a whole. The country, faced with rising inflation and a weakening peso, banned foreign currency purchases. Moreover, reports illustrate that Argentina may defer its debt payments in order to maintain economic stability. This situation has created fear throughout the country that at any moment a crisis could erupt across the entire country.