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Revolt against 'neo-liberalism'
A SINGLE horse and cart was the only transport moving in La Plata, Argentina, on Friday of last week as the country was almost completely paralysed by a general strike. The strike was in protest at government cuts in public spending and wages. These policies are designed to placate bankers and the International Monetary Fund.
The leaders of the country's three rival union federations united for once to back the call, and between 85 and 92 percent of employees backed it. School teachers, lorry drivers, bus workers, engineering workers, local government workers and construction workers all stopped work. Pensioners and unemployed people joined the movement, blocking bridges and motorways.
The government "adjustment" programme slashes services, increases unemployment and cuts wages by 15 percent. Even the country's Catholic church appealed to the International Monetary Fund to show compassion in the face of rising hardship and hunger.
But the bitterness goes deeper than the immediate issue. The country's president, De La Rua, was elected only a few months ago on a wave of dissatisfaction with his predecessor, Menem. But De La Rua has continued with the free market "neo-liberal" policies of his predecessor.
The resulting bitterness forced the rival union leaders to call for Friday's action. Unfortunately, no sooner had they made a show of strength with the strike than the union leaders agreed to enter once more into a dialogue with the government.
Historically Argentine politics has been dominated by the divide between the Peronists, who hark back to the rule of the military leader Juan Peron after World War Two, and the Radicals, who opposed Peron. Each got the support of different sections of Argentine business, but the Peronists got the support of the unions as well.
In recent years both parties have followed essentially the same economic policies as all sections of business have looked to link up with foreign multinationals, and to make Argentine workers suffer as they do so. Union leaders have continued, however, to encourage the illusion that one is better than the other.
The strike showed that the real division in Argentina, as elsewhere in Latin America, is one of class. It comes after similar strikes, demonstrations and riots against "neo-liberal" policies in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Guatemala. In them all, there is a reawakening of class-based protest movements.
Protest rises in Ecuador
A MOVEMENT of indigenous people and workers came close to overthrowing Ecuador's government in January. But people were fobbed off by promises from the country's generals.
Now attempts are being made to revive the movement. Health workers, oil workers and teachers called for a national strike on Thursday and Friday of this week.
It was in protest at the replacement of the country's currency by the dollar, and increases in the prices of electricity and gas. Meanwhile the government has been attempting to break a four week long strike of 113,000 school teachers.
On Thursday of last week it seized two leaders of their union and threw them into prison, at the same time as offering a small salary increase in an attempt to weaken support for the action.