Tens of thousands fill streets as unions, Church leaders criticize national administration
Highlighting growing unrest at a recession-wracked economy, high inflation, widespread layoffs and rising unemployment, tens of thousands of people descended on a packed Plaza de Mayo yesterday to demand the government take action to create jobs in a protest that drew together union leaders, Peronist figureheads and representatives of the Catholic Church.
The march, referred to by its organizers as the “Caravan for Dignity,” kicked off from San Cayetano Church in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhood of Liniers. Though nominally organized by the left-wing Corriente Clasista y Combativa (CCC) and the Workers’ Confederation of Popular Economy (CTEP) — a grouping with close ties to the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis — the rally earned the support of political and social leaders who pushed for demonstrators to actively protest against the Mauricio Macri administration.
The rally, which happens every year in the name of San Cayetano — the patron saint of workers and the unemployed — saw the iconic church swamped with people yesterday ahead of a high-profile Mass, celebrated by Archbishop of Buenos Aires Mario Poli, who himself criticized the government.
Protesters marched along the 13 kilometre route, singing and shouting slogans, and holding placards demanding an “universal complementary salary” for cooperatives and informal workers.
The mobilization was led by the CTEP, whose leaders are pressuring Congress to declare a “state of social emergency” in the face of rising unemployment and poverty figures in Argentina.
The leaders of the protest stopped briefly at Plaza Flores, in the heart of Buenos Aires City, at noon. They were joined by textile workers and resumed the march before stopping again at the corners of Avenida de Mayo and 9 de Julio. In the early hours of the afternoon, the group reached Plaza de Mayo, the iconic square located in front of the Pink House. Some protesters holding placards, others wore T-shirts demanding the immediate release of Milagro Sala, the leader of the Túpac Amaru activist movement who this week marked 200 days in prison.
Organizers said the goal of the protest was to move toward “the unity of all workers” and to help place “issues related to those less well off” on the agenda. The marched focused on unregistered workers and on mounting concerns about the closure of neighbourhood markets and small businesses such as local bakeries and butcher’s shops.
Union leaders such as Sergio Palazzo (banking workers), Hugo Yasky (CTA), Eduardo López (UTE), Roberto Baradel (from the Suteba teachers’ union) and political leaders such as Parlasur lawmaker Jorge Taiana and Buenos Aires province lawmaker Fernando “Chino” Navarro also spoke and voiced their demands to the Let’s Change (Cambiemos) administration.
“The government needs to understand that people are demanding a change in the economic programme. (Macri) is only governing for the rich and for financial speculators,” Yasky said. “Unemployment is on the rise and workers cannot make ends meet with their salaries.”
Taiana, for his part, hoped the mobilization would work as a wake up call for Macri and other PRO party leaders.
“This massive rally is exposing the critical situation of the ‘popular economy’, which is made up by self-employed informal workers, and we all know that these kinds of informal temporary jobs are the first ones to take the hit during a recession,” he said.
The Parlasur lawmaker also warned political leaders that these kinds of rallies are here to stay.
“This is an example of how workers are taking to the streets to defend their rights, telling the government: stop with the austerity policies,” he said. “Unions will be society’s activists in August.”
Buenos Aires City legislator Gustavo Vera — a close friend of Pope Francis — and activist leaders Jorge Ceballos (Libres del Sur), Víctor De Gennaro (Unión Popular) and Emilio Pérsico (Evita Movement) also attended the rally, while former Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, writer Osvaldo Bayer and the president of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo-Founders Line Nora Cortiñas joined the protest as well.
The demonstration took place as the latest official and alternative figures reveal a worsening economic crisis for the public as a consequence of austerity measures adopted by the Let’s Change administration since taking office in December. Unemployment figures, including those published by ANSES, showed tens of thousands of fresh layoffs in the private sector through April and May.
Last week, a report published by the Indecom consultancy agency revealed that more than 20 percent of people taking place in this year’s San Cayetano festivals are newcomers.
As part of the study, Indecom — led by former business chamber leader Miguel Calvete — interviewed people at 72 churches across the country, from Buenos Aires to Córdoba, from Rosario to Mendoza, who had the intention of attending the traditional San Cayetano celebration.
It turned out that for 23.5 percent of attendees yesterday’s was their first visit to the church located in western Buenos Aires City. Apart from the thousands of people asking for a job, 43.7 percent of interviewees said they attended San Cayetano because they are afraid of losing their position.
According to Indecom, some 500,000 people attended San Cayetano this year — a figure that, inf verified, would be the highest since 1991.
Herald with DyN, Télam