Will a teachers strike in Argentina impact the next elections?

Will a teachers strike in Argentina impact the next elections?

The teachers’ strike in Argentina is the result of a stagnating economy and raises questions over Mauricio Macri’s popularity.

Mauricio Macri was elected the President of Argentina in 2015, ending the 12 years of the Kirchner family in power. His victory can be interpreted as a rejection of the corruption that had plagued the Kirchner’s presidencies. He was lauded on the international stage as he implemented a number of policies early in his term including removing currency controls and addressing the Argentinian default with its creditors.

However, the Argentinian economy has not kept up with the expectations set forth at the beginning of Macri’s tenure. The country’s GDP fell by 2.3% in 2016 and had an inflation rate of over 40%. This put over 1.5 million people below the poverty line. Other policies to reign in the rampant government spending such as the reduction of state subsidies on electricity, water, and gas, proved to be wildly unpopular with prices increasing dramatically for consumers and adding to inflation. With the next legislative elections coming in October, Macri will need to maintain public support in order to secure favourable electoral outcomes.

On March 6, 2017, the five national teachers’ unions went on a strike which has lasted in some provinces for the better part of the last month. Teachers are demanding a 35% increase in salary to keep up with the rate of inflation and want negotiations at the national level instead of with the provinces where they currently take place.

While some provinces have reached an agreement with their local unions, Buenos Aires, the most populated province with approximately 39% of the Argentinian population, has not. Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal, a close ally of Macri, has offered a wage increase of 18% with additional inflation triggered salary increases. The unions in Buenos Aires have rejected the government proposal and have held a series of strikes and demonstrations since the start of school on March 6 resulting in the average public school student missing 14 days of instruction.

The state of the public educational system in Argentina

Argentinian public schools have had both their enrollment and their PISA scores fall since 2000. According to researchers Mauro Moschetti and Mariano Norodowki, between 2003 and 2012, public schools in Argentina saw a decrease in graduating students by 6.9% while private schools saw in increase of graduating students by 24.7%.

In 2000 Argentina had the highest PISA scores in Latin America but as of 2012, its scores fell below both Chile and Brazil. This is especially problematic as at the same time spending on education has grown and Argentina now spends approximately 5% of its GDP on education.

This teacher strike, like the general strike that occurred on April 6, is protesting the Macri administration rather than the state of the public school system. Many of the leaders of the teachers’ unions, and the leaders of other unions as well, are more politically in line with the Peronista movements, which are a group of political parties that claim to defend the principles set forth by Juan Domingo Perón, a charismatic populist leader who was president in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and then again in the 1970’s.

The use of strikes has been a historical tactic for the Peronistas as a way to hamper those in power and prevent them from implementing their policies. For example, when former President Fernando de la Rúa was in power from 1999 until 2001 he faced 9 general strikes during his time in office.

The strikes can be interpreted as a power struggle between former President Cristina Kirchner and Macri.  Kirchner is currently being investigated for numerous charges including money laundering, corruption, and protecting the perpetrators of the AMIA bombings against Jewish institutions in the early 1990s. Kirchner and other upper-level staff associated with the former administration are widely believed to want popular support and a weak Macri government, as that will likely have a positive effect on their investigations and trials.

Popular opinion and the general strike

Union leaders of many industries called for a general strike which occurred on April 6. The general strike impacted many of the country’s major cities, particularly Buenos Aires where all forms of public transit were affected by the strike. It is estimated that the strike cost the country $970 million.

The many strikes may have had an impact of public opinion. In mid-March during the teacher strikes and a few weeks prior to the general strike, Macri received the first negative polling numbers of his term with 44.2% surveyed disapproving of the job he was doing while just 40.2% approved.

However, on April 1 Macri supporters took to the streets in the “Marcha Por La Democracia.” In cities throughout the country, thousands of people demonstrated their support for the government. Furthermore, more recent polls have also shown Macri’s support recovering.

While the general strike did make an impact on the country, this was the first general strike of Macri’s term as he has previously been able to negotiate with many unions. General strikes have been quite common in Argentinian history with 77 general strikes between 1979 and 2002.


In order to keep a relatively supportive public, Macri needs to address some of the workers’ issues while still carrying through reforms. Despite some economic setbacks in 2016, in the third and fourth quarter of 2016, the GDP grew by .1% and .5% respectively and 25,000 jobs have been created each month since October. S&P, the credit rating agency, slightly increased Argentina’s rating to B from a B- while Moody’s has raised Argentina to a positive outlook.

Additionally, a recent fiscal tax amnesty program brought in US $116 billion in previously undeclared assets. A number of industries are also recovering with car sales improving over last year by 20% and asphalt sales, a good indicator of the execution of public works, the highest ever recorded.

Importantly, the October elections, while not likely to impact the overall lay out of congress because of the number of seats up for election, will instead serve as a symbolic consent or dissent with the direction where the country is heading. Opposing political parties imply that the “people suffer the Macri government” but an increase in the number of seats for his political coalition will serve of a popular validation of his mandate. Similarly, a decrease in the number of seats will strengthen his political opponents and result in a diminished political position even though it will not widely impact the distribution of seats.

In the October elections, people will likely vote with the economy in mind and expectations for the future. A recovering economy without high inflation will likely end in a potential victory for Macri while an economy in further recession will likely see poorer results for Macri’s party. Investors should keep a close eye on how the Argentine people perceive the economic recovery as October approaches.

Heather O’Hara is GRI’s Social Media Manager. She holds a Masters degree in Empires, Colonialism, and Globalization from the London School of Economics and a Bachelors degree in International Relations and Anthropology from Bucknell University.

Categories: Economics, Latin America

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