Workers led by transit unions in Argentina launched a 24-hour strike Tuesday, bringing much of the capital Buenos Aires to a halt and suspending flights in a dispute over income tax thresholds.
Roadblocks erected at the city's principal access points stopped all trains and buses. The Constitucion railway station, where hundreds of thousands of commuters arrive daily, was completely closed Tuesday morning with little sign of activity.
A few taxis and private cars were on the capital’s roads, but many employees had little choice but to walk or ride bicycles to work. Workers in the medical, banking and food sectors also joined the strike. A trail of trash was starting to pile up in the city of three million as garbage collectors have also stopped working.
Because of the strike, the airlines LAN of Chile and TAM in Brazil canceled most flights to and from Argentina. An online departure board for Aeroparque Jorge Newbury, the capital's main domestic airport, showed that all flights were canceled.
The main issue in this strike is a demand by transport unions to raise the minimum threshold for income tax as part of salary negotiations with the government. Argentina's unions complain that more workers will have to pay tax if salary hikes designed to keep pace with inflation are awarded without lifting the lowest tax bracket threshold.
The government said inflation was 24 percent in 2014, but private economists estimate it to have been around 35 percent.
"The government has to listen to the demands of workers," 35-year-old bank employee Claudia Ferretti said. "Inflation is eating into what we have left in our pockets after taxes."
The government has warned that unions should provide a minimum service level under collective bargaining agreements or face punitive consequences. Government insiders have expressed concern that the unions sympathetic to the opposition will intensify their demands and strike actions in the months ahead.
One source familiar with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's thinking said earlier this month that the government was considering altering the lowest tax bracket. But over the weekend, Economy Minister Axel Kicillof said no changes were planned.
Chief of Cabinet Anibal Fernandez said on Tuesday that only 7 to 8 percent of workers from the key UTA transport union paid income tax, and that union bosses were holding workers hostage by stopping them from getting to work.
"This strike is hurting many people who want to get to work," Cabinet Chief Fernandez told reporters in a daily briefing. Asked if there was a political undercurrent to the strike, he replied: "We're in an election year."
It is the fourth major strike against the Argentine president since she took power in 2007 and completes her second term at the end of this year. Elections will take place on October 25.
The government averted a similar strike last year by announcing that a Christmas bonus paid to workers would be exempt from income tax.
Al Jazeera and wire services