BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Many businesses were shuttered and streets were mostly empty Tuesday as transportation unions brought Argentina to a standstill with a one-day nationwide strike to protest income tax rates and high inflation.
While transportation workers represent only a small part of the South American country's workforce, shutting down the subways, trains and buses created a domino effect because many Argentines have no other way to get to work or get children to school.
Many domestic and international flights coming into the country were canceled, as transportation unions represent many airport workers. Some schools canceled classes and others announced half-days, as many teachers had trouble getting to work.
Members of the Socialist Workers party blocked the principal routes into Buenos Aires, making it difficult even for people with their own cars to get into the capital.
The unions argue that high taxes and high inflation, which private economists put at around 35 percent, have eroded wage gains the last couple of years. They also want to raise the minimum income on which taxes are applied.
Top officials in President Cristina Fernandez's say the tax rates are fair and only affect a small percentage of workers who earn more than 15,000 pesos ($1,765) a month.
The 24-hour strike was called for Tuesday during Holy Week, a time when business generally slows down and some people take days off from work, after weeks of negotiations between the government and the unions recently collapsed.
"Total impact," said Roberto Fernandez, leader of the Automotive Tramways Union, one of the main organizers, told Radio Mitre. "But for us there is no happiness here because the country loses. Unfortunately, the government refuses to be reasonable."
Unions hold great influence in Argentina, representing an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the 11 million registered workers across all sectors of South America's second-largest economy.
More than trying to extract concessions from a lame-duck president, the strike was a way to send a signal to candidates before the October general elections, said Patricio Giusto, director of Political Diagnostic, an Argentine think tank. Fernandez is barred from running for a third term in October.
"Whoever wins, the next president is going to have to deal with this situation," Giusto said. "It's unavoidable if they don't want to have conflicts" with a large sector of the population.
Associated Press writer Debora Rey contributed to this report.