Argentina strike halts flights, trains, buses

BUENOS AIRES — Much of Argentina came to a standstill Wednesday as a strike to protest government austerity measures grounded hundreds of flights, halted bus and train lines and forced the closing of banks, courts and many schools.

The country’s main grains ports were also shut and hospitals offered only emergency services during the 24-hour strike organized by labour unions to protest the policies of President Mauricio Macri, who is seeking re-election in October. Those include the firing of workers and the slashing of government subsidies that have shot up the costs of transportation and utility rates. Argentines are also fed up with a stubborn recession, a devaluation of the currency and one of the world’s highest inflation rates.

Authorities estimated that about 330 flights from the country’s flagship carrier, Aerolineas Argentinas, were cancelled and some 37,000 passengers were affected by the walkout, which also forced the ‘Recopa’ final between soccer clubs River Plate and Brazil’s Atletico Paranaense to be postponed to Thursday.

Union leaders said it was the largest strike that they had organized since Macri took office in 2015 promising to end poverty and tame high consumer prices. They say government policies have led to the closing of some 14,000 small and mid-size companies while Argentines continue to lose purchasing power to an “alarming” inflation rate of about 50% a year.

Unions and left-leaning organizations cut some roads leading into the capital city and distributed food to show what they say is increasing hunger.

“We’re sick of the low salaries, the halt of activity in the industry,” said unionist Ruben Garcia.

The government rejected the strike, saying it only affects Argentina’s economy and that the stoppage is a political measure by union leaders who aspire to public office.