A nationwide strike protesting Argentina's economic austerity program failed to win broad support today, two months before crucial parliamentary elections, but gave opposition political and labor leaders enough of a boost to claim victory.
Recent polls showed a sizable majority of Argentines supporting the anti-inflation austerity plan announced last June. But the mobilization, one of the biggest yet against President Raul Alfonsin's 20-month-old elected government, was supported by parties across the political spectrum except for Alfonsin's Radicals and the rightist Union of the Democratic Center.
Political observers said the protest amounted to something of a do-or-die effort, particularly by the badly fragmented Peronists. A recent Gallup poll showed the Radicals besting the Peronists, historically Argentina's most popular party, by better than two to one.
The protest included demands for a moratorium on payments on the $48 billion foreign debt and an increase in wages, which have been frozen along with prices.
In a toughly worded speech before tens of thousands, Saul Ubaldini, the country's most popular labor leader, warned, "Today, the eroded word 'democracy' sounds like authoritarianism."
Local news services said most factories in the huge industrial cordon around the capital were shut down by midday, while most banks and shops stayed open. Most transportation services were unaffected, and reports from the provinces said the strike received only partial support, with more than a dozen people wounded in related violence.
The job action ranged from 11 to 24 hours. More than 150,000 people turned out here for a rally called by the General Labor Confederation and about 40 other groups.
"Do we have to put our demands in English before the government listens to them?" Ubaldini asked the crowd, which responded with a lusty cheer.