BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Tens of thousands of Argentines joined a demonstration on Wednesday organized by truckers and other labor unions in the first major protest so far this year against President Mauricio Macri's austerity measures.
Argentines continue to lose purchasing power to a high inflation rate and many are frustrated with layoffs, increases in fuel and transportation costs and the slashing of subsidies for utilities.
Macri, a conservative, came into power in 2015 promising to cut government spending. He says the measures are necessary to attract foreign investment and boost Argentina's economy. But he has faced labor unrest.
Bank workers recently staged a strike to demand higher salaries amid galloping consumer prices, and the government struggled to contain violent protests in December over a pension overhaul that triggered a general strike by labor unions.
"Stop carrying out policies that starve the most sensitive part of our society - our dear retirees and ... that starve the future of our children," Hugo Moyano, the leader of the powerful truckers union, told a crowd that gridlocked traffic in several streets and avenues of Buenos Aires.
Moyano and other unionists asked Macri to stop the layoffs in the public sector and end plans to set a limit on salary hikes at 15 percent, which they say is not in line with the inflation rate.
Before the demonstration, Macri had asked Argentines to remain open to dialogue without "extortions."
Some government officials have accused Moyano of organizing the demonstration because he is being investigated in a case where he is accused of money laundering. Moyano has denied any wrongdoing. He said Wednesday he's not afraid of going to prison, and that he'll continue to defend the rights of workers.
Although the protest was large, some unions did not adhere because they said it was motivated by Moyano's personal conflict with Macri. Other union leaders have threatened to hold other protests throughout the year, and even a nationwide strike, if the government doesn't back down on its measures.