Buenos Aires Food Industry Responds to Nationwide Strike

By Estefania Luraschi (Buenos Aires).

Argentine unions organized an enormous, 24 hour nationwide strike which brought the country to a grinding halt for the entirety of April 10th, 2014. According to an article in the Buenos Aires Herald published on the day of the strike, over one million workers joined the movement in what was described by the media as a protest against inflation, rising crime, and economic instability.

Despite widespread media coverage before and during the strikes, however, more than half of the respondents to a survey carried out by Infobae in the days leading up to the strike seemed unsure as to the reasons for the nationwide protest, reflecting a lack of clarity which fuelled speculation in the media and social networks that the measure was politically motivated in a direct rebuke of, and show of discontent with, the current government under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Whatever the reasons for the strike itself, the demonstration heavily affected the nation’s transportation system. Because many of the unions joining the protest belonged to the transportation sector, a standstill in both public and commercial transportation occurred. Pickets were set up on major highway arteries and iconic city avenues such as Avenida Corrientes.

Commuters could not travel unless they had private cars, and no truck deliveries were made to supply gas stations, supermarkets, stores, or other commercial establishments with goods. The collection of trash was also suspended – which in Buenos Aires is placed in plastic bags on street corners for garbage trucks to collect – leading to piles of waste accumulating all over the city.

As reported by a Buenos Aires Herald article published on April 13th, unions joining the strike were led by the CGT umbrella union (General Confederation of Labor, which includes truck drivers) and the Restaurant and hotel workers’ union, and also included the UATRE (Rural workers) and UTA (Bus drivers and motormen). Those who did not join the movement were the UOCRA (Construction workers), Ctera (Teachers), shop workers, bank clerks, and the auto and metal industry workers.

Even though the Restaurant and hotel workers union supported the strike, some eateries opened anyway. There were reports of intimidation such as appeared in the newspaper La Nación, against bars and cafes that did not join the strike. Still, thanks to media reports announcing the protest measures leading up to April 10th, supermarkets, stores, and those restaurants that did not join the protest were prepared with extra supplies.

Sandra, the vegetable and fruit store owner from our story last month, decided to open. She said Thursday was uneventful. “Nothing much is happening. It’s very calm,” she said, pointing out that she had been to the Central Market the previous day and so was able to avoid any supply problems. The market did seem “busier than usual,” Sandra added.

Supermarkets were also teeming the day before. “Everyone was buying yesterday – the supermarket was packed” as shoppers prepared for possible shortages, said Agustín, a resident of Buenos Aires who had bought supplies at the local Coto supermarket in Barrio Norte, one of the capital’s central neighborhoods. Camilo, who was shopping with Agustín, said they had no problem finding the products they needed.

Neither did Gustavo, who commutes from Monte Grande in the province of Buenos Aires. “There were no missing products,” he confirmed, although the strikes “really affected” him. “I work until late. The strikes began at midnight last night and I missed the last bus so I couldn’t go home. I spent the night hanging out in the city,” he shrugged and laughed.

Milagros, a student at the University of Buenos Aires, agreed with Gustavo that there were no empty supermarket racks, except she noted that “most restaurants seem closed” in the city.

One restaurant, “Pablin’s,” remained open in defiance. “We did not join the strike,” said the owner, Pablo. He explained that since the restaurant receives deliveries every Thursday, the strike “affected the delivery of soft drinks, flour, all of our basic materials. The trucks didn’t come today. But we prepared in advance.” Inquiries about intimidation were waved off.

Even with prior notice and preparation, how did employees make it to the restaurant without public transport? “Oh, luckily we all live close,” Pablo said with a triumphant smile.

Estefania's diagram of the strike. Includes conflicts causing the strike (at top), the halting of trucks, and the uncertain and mixed affects the strike would have on the food sector.

Estefania’s diagram of the strike. Includes conflict’s causing strike (at top), the halting of trucks, and the uncertain and mixed affects the strike would have on the food sector.

Posted in Buenos Aires