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Thousands demonstrate in Argentina against labor reforms, job cuts

Thousands of Argentinians have taken to the streets to protest labor reforms imposed under President Mauricio Macri's economic reforms. Those work hit by surging inflation are struggling to pay for food and gas.

Major labor unions, the CGT and CTA, joined forces on Friday as they called upon private and public sector workers in Buenos Aires to protest against the conservative president's cuts to spending and public sector jobs.

"The whole workers' movement is going to mobilize against layoffs, cuts and poverty, which are deepening under Macri's government," said Jose Rigane, leader of one of the branches of the CTA.

Since taking office on December 10, Macri has passed a series of economically liberal reforms, vowing to strengthen the economy over the long term after 12 years of leftist rule.

Poorest hit hard by cuts

According to Argentina's government, some 11,000 public workers were laid off in the first quarter of 2016, prompting teachers, doctors, banking employees and civil servants to stage several protests over recent months. Unions, however, say 100,000 workers have lost their jobs in the public and private sectors since Macri took office. The opposition estimates that up to 150,000 people could be left unemployed this year in the public sector alone.

Mauricio Macri

President Mauricio Macri has implemented a string of reforms since entering office five months ago

By sharply devaluing the peso, loosening price controls and ending utility subsidies, the president has also sent inflation surging, leaving those at the bottom of Argentina's economic heap struggling to pay food and gas bills. Analysts forecast the rate will be 36 percent this year.

"We are losing buying power in a significant way," Pablo Micheli, the secretary general of the Argentine Workers' Union said on Friday.

"We are hoping that the government will come to the table to talk. If not, we could call a general strike for the end of May or the first half of June."

Opposition digs its heels in

In a bid to curb job losses, the opposition is already trying to push a bill through Argentina's Congress that would guarantee generous redundancy payments. Macri, however, has vowed to veto such a law, despite the likely political costs. The president already suffered his first defeat early this week when opposition senators approved legislation that aims to bring an end to the layoffs.

Whilst demonstrations were taking place in the capital on Friday, Macri scheduled the launch of a water production program in northern Argentina, which Buenos Aires says will generate 200,000 jobs.

A second demonstration against the cuts and job losses is planned on Sunday to mark International Workers' Day.

ksb/gsw (AFP, Reuters)

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