BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) -- Truncheon-wielding police arrested
dozens of demonstrators in front of Argentina's Congress early on Wednesday
after a union protest against a new labor bill turned violent.
Television images showed five police officers clubbing one protester who
sprawled on the sidewalk with blood pouring from his head. Radio reports said
43 people were arrested.
Another television station showed a police officer pulling a knife from
protester who had been wrestled to the ground and then slashing him across the
back with it.
A police spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the incidents.
"This was a savage act of repression. They were beating young people who
nothing to do with the demonstration," said Juan Manuel Palacios, a spokesman
of Argentina's main labor body, the General Worker's Confederation (CGT),
which organized the early morning protest.
The center-left Alliance government of South America's second-largest nation
sent proposals to Congress in February to reduce the cost of hiring and firing,
ditch outdated contracts and reduce unions' influence on wage negotiations to
wrestle decade-old double-digit unemployment.
Unemployment peaked at 18.4 percent in the mid-1990s and now stands at
percent. Employers are often reluctant to take on full-time staff because of high
severance packages required by law.
Economists have labeled the relatively higher cost of dismissing workers
"Argentine cost" which puts the nation at a competitive disadvantage to its top
trade partner Brazil.
The reforms have been bogged down in the opposition dominated Senate where
union pressure to block the changes has mounted.
Opposition and government party senators reportedly negotiated some of
final amendments to the labor code reform Tuesday night. If passed Wednesday
or in the coming weeks, the bill would return to the lower house where it
originated for final approval before being signed into law by President Fernando
de la Rua.
CGT leader Rodolfo Daer opted to negotiate labor reforms with the
three-month-old government while the head of a dissident wing, truckers' union
leader Hugo Moyano, has organized big rallies against the legislation.
"If they insist on pushing this bill through, they'll have to do it by
beating us with
nightsticks," Moyano told reporters.
Copyright 2000 Reuters.