Millions of workers in Argentina have walked out after the country’s three major labor confederations—the General Confederation of Labor, the Argentine Workers’ Central Union and the Argentine Workers’ Central Union—called for a general strike against recently-elected President Javier Milei. The strike began on Wednesday in response to Milei’s proposed national legislative and economic reforms.
The protests stem from Milei’s attempt to carry out his reforms through his controversial Decree 70/2023, titled “Bases for the reconstruction of the Argentine economy,” in addition to the “Bases and Starting Points for the Liberty of Argentines” omnibus bill. Milei, a self proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” pledged to reform the Argentinian economy through shock therapy, severe austerity and privatisation.
Decree 70/2023 is what is known as a “Necessity and Urgency Decree,” which allows the president to change and revoke laws unilaterally in cases of justified national urgency. The decree is comprised of 366 articles seeking to change or revoke existing laws and decrees. Milei’s Decree 70/2023 is aimed at “deregulating” the Argentinian economy.
The decree attempts to deregulate major sectors of the Argentine economy, including the energy and transportation sector, in addition to allowing for the privatization of state companies. It also imposes severe fines for piqueteros, or protesters, who blocks roadways. Similarly, the decree labeled healthcare and education as essential services, meaning employee’s right to strike will be curtailed. Another controversial portion of the decree abolished article 958 of the Civil and Commercial Code which required that contracts “[followed the] limits of the law, public order and morals.”
Constitutional legal scholars in Argentina have raised concerns that the decree may be unconstitutional, citing article 29 of the Argentine Constitution. Article 29 reads in part:
Congress may not vest on the National Executive Power acts of submission or supremacy whereby the life, honour, or wealth of the Argentine people will be at the mercy of governments or any person whatsoever. Acts of this nature shall be utterly void, and shall render those who formulate them, consent to them or sign them, liable to be condemned as infamous traitors to their fatherland.
There are also concerns that the situation in Argentina does not reach the “justified national urgency” requirement. The Buenos Aires Press Union (Sipreba) rejected the decree, describing it as “illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional.” Sipreba went on to claim that Milei has exceeded his powers, encroached on Congress’s privileges, and not received approval from the legal system. The statement goes on:
[T]he precautions required by article 99, paragraph 3 of the National Constitution have not been met, as exceptional circumstances have not been verified that would make it impossible to follow the ordinary procedures provided for the sanction of the laws, and while the Executive Branch does not may in no case issue provisions of a legislative nature, the decree suffers from absolute and irremediable nullity.
The omnibus bill has also faced criticism. Article 1 of the bill requested that the Argentina legislature declare a state of national public emergency and subrogate its legislative powers in regards to economic, financial, tax, social, pension, security, defence, tariffs, energy, health and social issues.
A separate provision of the bill, Article 326, modifies Article 194 of the Criminal Code, which could limit the freedom the freedom to strike found in the Argentine Constitution and would impose sentences of one to three years and six months prison for protesters. The same provision could see organizers sentenced to up to six years prison.
Concerns have also been raised with Article 344 of the bill, which modifies the Criminal Code and expands the justification of the use of lethal force for security forces to include “self-defence.” Article 535 of the bill has also been criticized for changing Law N° 27.499, which would change language within the law from “training on the issues of gender and violence against women” to “training on the issues of family violence and against women,” which detractors believe would increase abuse towards LGBTQ+ groups.
The bill has continues to face challenges despite clearing the lower house committee in the Argentinian Congress. Milei’s government has pushed back the vote on the bill until next week as it scrambles to seek support from other political parties. Milei’s right-wing alliance only has 15 percent of the seats in the lower house and 10 percent in the Senate—but the party has allied itself with other right-wing groups. Minister of Economy Luis Caputo issued a dire warning to Congress last week saying that, “[if the] law does not pass, the measures [cut to subsidies] will be harsher and Argentines will suffer more.”