Unions and social movements in Argentina are spending Christmas Eve on the steps of Congress to prepare a holiday dinner for those without a home in protest of government austerity measures that are driving up poverty and joblessness.
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Members of one of Argentina’s largest unions, the Confederation of Workers for the Popular Economy (CTEP), the Excluded Workers Movement (MTE), The Association of State Workers (ATE), along with several other education and transportation unions are setting up on Monday to feed some 2,000 people on the lawn in front of the national congress located in Buenos Aires.
"What we want is to end this year that was filled with a lot of struggle and was very hard for the Argentine people by sharing this feast,” said Rafael Klejzer, head of the Buenos Aires branch of CTEP.
The year 2018 has become known in Argentina as the year of the "new poor." Inflation now hovers around 50 percent, after staying at around 40 points for nearly a year. The peso devalued to 40 to the U.S. dollar, that’s a 50 percent decline since April when the economy began its dramatic down spiral.
President Mauricio Macri says he’s trying to bail out the economy with a US$57 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed up last June and renegotiated in September.
However, IMF leaders insist, and Macri agrees, that with the loan comes decreasing the fiscal deficit to zero. With that, the president increased his austerity measures in the second half of the year laying off over 20,000 public workers between September and October and in November he and his Cambiemos party slashed 2019 funding for the education, health and housing departments by 48 percent in some cases.
A just released study by The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reports that the IMF has had a “fantastically over-optimistic view of how fast the Argentine economy would be turned around” with introduction of the 2018 loans. In June fund officials said that consumer price inflation would decrease to 27 percent by October, but by that time the IMF realized consumer prices would end at 43.8 percent by the end of the year.
CTEP and the country’s unions have been fighting these measures every step of the way, including Christmas.
“We know we have another year of fighting ahead, but we have the hope that this government will leave," Klejzer added, referring to the 2019 presidential elections.
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"In CTEP we are survivors. ... Today we feel very powerful,” the union leader said on Monday. “We have to get rid of this neoliberal government," said Klejzer.
With the slogan "Christmas: Land, Housing and Work" the union leaders are preparing to serve a dinner of chicken, pork, cold meats, salads, and vegetables to members and non-members starting at 9:00 p.m. local time. Local media reports that an inter-religious prayer and music will also take place at the feast.
"We also invite politicians, but … we ask them to put on their aprons and help serve those who come to eat," Klejzer said.
The National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) says that unemployment among those under 29 is now 15.8 percent for men and 22.5 percent for women on average across the country. Nearly 20 percent of young people in Buenos Aires are out of work.