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Argentina's Milei takes his chainsaw to the state, cutting 15,000 jobs and spurring protests

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LA Post: Argentina's Milei takes his chainsaw to the state, cutting 15,000 jobs and spurring protests
AP
ISABEL DEBRE
April 03, 2024

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina said Wednesday that it had cut 15,000 state jobs as part of President Javier Milei’s aggressive campaign to slash spending, the latest in a series of painful economic measures that have put the libertarian government on a collision course with angry protestors and powerful trade unions.

Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni announced the job cuts in a press conference Wednesday, describing them as key to Milei’s promised shake-up of Argentina’s bloated public sector.

“It’s part of the work we are doing to reduce state expenses,” he told reporters. The dismissed workers, he added, “perhaps did not have a very defined job.”

Hundreds of defiant employees — some notified of their termination last Wednesday and others fired in past weeks — stormed their workplaces in Buenos Aires and nearby cities Wednesday, beating drums, decrying their dismissal as unjust and demanding their reinstatement.

Despite the rain, crowds wearing the green t-shirts of the country’s biggest union leading the pushback, The Association of State Workers, or ATE, swelled outside national ministries. In some cases, scuffles erupted as police struggled to evict protestors from government buildings.

“These layoffs have a face, they have a family, they have real needs in this context of great change and great poverty in Argentina,” Mercedes Cabezas, a secretary-general of ATE, told The Associated Press outside the Ministry of Labor as protestors pumped their fists and chanted around her. “The impact runs very deep because it's combined with the reduction of social programs, so what we end up with is increasing poverty."

Milei campaigned for president while brandishing a chainsaw — promising to fix Argentina’s long-troubled economy by chopping down the size of the state. Determined to balance the country's budget, he has slashed energy and transportation subsidies, halted public works, cut payments to provincial governments and devalued the peso by over 50% to close the gap between the official exchange rate and the black market rate. Yet that has pushed up inflation, making it even harder for struggling Argentines to make ends meet.

Even before last week, when 41-year-old Hernán Silva still had his job at the National Road Safety Agency that paid a basic monthly salary of $250, he stressed about not having enough money “for anything" as the prices of fuel, meat and medication surged.

“I was barely making it to the end of the month,” he said. After 14 years at the road safety agency, his boss called last Wednesday to tell him — and 20 of his colleagues — it was their last day. On Wednesday they tried to force their way into their office but gave up when managers threatened to call the police.

“My only plan right now is to fight for my job because this is unfair,” he said.

Despite limited tussles with officers, Wednesday's protests were largely peaceful. Police were out in force downtown, a reminder of the government’s wider pledge to curb demonstrations that turn disruptive.

Those who burst into public buildings, presidential spokesperson Adorni warned, “will suffer the consequences.”

Argentina’s trade unions — among the sectors most hurt by Milei's overhaul — appeared undeterred. Some union officials pledged a mass general strike. Fired workers vowed to keep coming to their offices.

“We will continue carrying out forceful measures across the nation,” said Cabezas. “Our fight is just starting.”

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