On January 31, thousands of Argentine citizens, workers and social activists carried out more torch marches in Bariloche and different parts of Buenos Aires against the increase in the tariffs of basic public services such as water, electricity, gas and transport. These increases were imposed by the administration of ruling Cambiemos party in order to fulfill the demand of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce national fiscal deficit.
This mobilization was the fourth torch march carried out on consecutive Thursdays in the country. The series of marches began on January 10 in Buenos Aires. It continued on January 17 in Rosario, on January 24 in Mar del Plata and will end on February 7 in Mendoza. The call for the marches was given by the Trade Union Front for the National Model, an umbrella organization of several trade unions of Argentina.
On January 3, Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA), Truckers Trade Union, Argentine Workers’ Central Union-Autonomous (CTA-A), together with other trade unions, social movements and SMEs, announced the formation of the Trade Union Front for the National Model and launched a national plan of resistance to the tariffs. The plan involves carrying out different kinds of demonstrations, such as, torch marches, ‘ruidazos’ or ‘cacerolazos’ [a protest in which people make noise by banging pots, pans, and other utensils in order to call for attention] and ‘people’s pots’ [community canteen] across the country.
“We are going to meet together and call for a national strike for the month of March, because it is important to mobilize against the looting produced by the government of Macri”, said Roberto Baradel, general secretary of the United Union of Education Workers of Buenos Aires (SUTEBA), emphasizing the possibility of taking other measures besides marches.
Argentines are continuously mobilizing in rejection of the increase in tariffs and growing inflation. As a result of these hikes, small-scale businesses are shutting down at an alarming rate. People are tired of price hikes and their resentment against Macri’s government can be experienced in all corners of the country. During the demonstrations, protesters can be seen with banners and placards with slogans such as “enough of price hikes, dismissals and adjustments”, “electricity, gas and water are not businesses, they are rights”, “enough of unpayable tariffs” “the country is mourning”, “Macri never again”, “inflation is a demonstration of your inability to govern”, etc.
“I’m only buying what is on sale because otherwise it cannot be bought, (…), it’s terrible”, said a woman at the protest. “It doesn’t allow you to eat what you used to eat. It doesn’t allow you to do what you used to do. (…) It is directly affecting the economy with respect to food, with respect to what one buys, with respect to everything”, said another protester.
On December 27, 2018, the national government announced the staggered increases in public services for the first quarter of 2019. On January 12, an increase of 40% in transportation was implemented and from February 1, rates of electricity services increased by 32% and residential gas by 35%. A 38% increase in water bills will also be effective in March. Drinking water and electricity tariffs are expected to further increase in the month of April by 50% and 55% respectively.
Amid all this, on January 22, over 300,000 households in the poor and middle class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires faced hours of power cuts on what was already an extremely hot and humid day. Edenor, the electricity distributing company, claimed the service was restored throughout the area. However, several areas remained without supply for days. It is said that the company effects the cuts to save money.
On January 23, workers demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Energy and Mining in Buenos Aires, denouncing poor electricity services and demanding the government withdraw the austerity measures that severely burden the working and low-income classes. The protest was called for by the CTA-A.
Earlier, on January 17, a people’s pot was installed outside the Secretariat of Energy by activists associated with social movement Barrios de Pie in rejection of the increases.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Argentina (INDEC), in 2018 Argentina experienced the highest rate of inflation in past 27 years, i.e. 47.6%.