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Fernández calls on unions to monitor price controls in supermarkets and stores

Argentinean leader launches full attack on labor groups as economy slumps

Cristina Fernández de Kirncher during her address on Tuesday night.
Cristina Fernández de Kirncher during her address on Tuesday night.David Fernández / EFE

Faced with one of the most devastating economic crises in recent years, Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday night issued warnings to both unions and businessmen about the soaring cost of food and other goods, and called on both sides to ensure that price controls are being observed.

“Our union leader partners are offering an increase in salaries as a solution — period. They should instead be inside every supermarket to make sure that prices are being respected,” Fernández de Kirchner said, in reference to price-control agreements signed last year between her government officials and the owners of some of the country’s biggest chains.

It was the Argentinean leader’s first public spat with her rivals in the union movement since she returned to her official duties following surgery in October to remove a blood clot from her brain. It was also her strongest public attack against the country’s labor groups since she fell out with them and lost their support two years ago.

Argentina’s current tough economic problems have been fueled by soaring inflation, which stands between 25 and 30 percent, cost-of-living hikes, and the government’s move less than two weeks ago to devalue the peso — the biggest depreciation in 12 years.

Some union officials who are still close to the government, such as Antonio Caló, have publicly said that families don’t have enough food to put on their tables. Besides calling for wage hikes of no less than 25 percent, they are asking for subsidies for gas and electricity to be maintained. In the coming weeks, the unions will be negotiating collective agreements across the country.

“Listen up, boys, the world is very complicated. And it gets even more complicated in countries with emerging economies,” Fernández de Kirchner said.

“I would like for them to go to the pharmacies and small markets to see if prices are being and will be respected, because the people are doing it. The unions cannot be so unaware of what is going on, because it is the workers who are really running the show.”

The president spoke in a nationwide address to announce an 11.3-percent hike in pensions beginning in March and a 200-percent raise in education assistance grants awarded to qualifying families.

Fernández de Kirchner also reiterated her attack on certain businessmen for alleged price gouging. In recent days, she has accused them of capital flight, but on Tuesday night she called on them to reinvest their money in Argentina. “It is true that these great [store] chains have invested a lot, but they have also made a lot of money.”