BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's unions brought tens of thousands of people into the capital's streets Friday to protest government job cuts, the elimination of subsidies and other policies of President Mauricio Macri.
Closing out three days of demonstrations that included road blockages across the country, columns of protesters waving blue and white Argentine flags converged in front of the presidential palace to voice their anger at Macri's government.
"If they don't hear our clamor, if they don't give us answers, there will be a social conflict," said Pablo Micheli, secretary general of the Argentine Workers' Union. "If they don't listen to us, sooner or later, there will be a nationwide strike."
Thousands of state employees have been fired since Macri came to power in December vowing to cut bloated spending. The job cuts and the slashing of utility subsidies have stoked unrest in a nation with a long tradition of providing generous state jobs and benefits.
Macri says the measures are needed to revive Argentina's frail economy and end economic distortions that have led to years of spiraling consumer prices. But unions and human rights groups, which organized Friday's protest, say workers are being indiscriminately fired while Argentines continue to lose purchasing power to one of the world's highest inflation rates.
"This is the response of social sectors that feel harmed," said Mariel Fornoni, who heads the Buenos Aires-based Management & Fit consultancy. "The poverty and the economic recession can be seen on the streets."
Inflation remains stubbornly high and is one of the biggest concerns for Argentines. Private economists estimate consumer prices are rising 47 percent a year.
Labor unrest could be worsened if Argentina's top trading partner, Brazil, plunges even deeper into its worst recession in decades. Argentine exports to Brazil fell more than 50 percent last year and the forecast for 2016 is similar.
Argentina's inflation numbers have been in doubt since 2007, when the late President Nestor Kirchner had political appointees change the agency's methodology
Macri's government revamped the questioned national statistics agency earlier this year in an effort to encourage investment and regain lost credibility in South America's second-largest economy.
"This is a key moment to regain trust in the economy," said Work Minister Jorge Triaca. "It's a transition and we hope it happens as briefly as possible."