Workers' Movement Response to Worsening Neo-Liberal Crisis
The streets of Buenos Aires are empty during the May 29, 2019 general
strike against the Macri government's neo-liberal anti-social
On Wednesday, May 29 workers in Argentina waged their
fifth general strike against the neo-liberal administration of
President Mauricio Macri since it took power in 2015. The strike, which
lasted 24 hours, was called by the country's largest union central, the
General Confederation of Labour.
Public transportation was shut down all day and no domestic or
international flights took off or landed at the country's main
airports. Classes at elementary and secondary schools and universities
were interrupted, as were banking and public health services as workers
in all these sectors joined the strike. Members of social movements and
others joined workers from the 70 participating unions in the streets,
with some activists giving out free food from big pots to show that
people are going hungry because of the harsh austerity measures imposed
by the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In a country like Argentina, which has such a strong history of trade
unionism, general strikes are considered to be a clear warning to
incumbent presidents, although a significant reduction in unionization
in recent years means the impact is clearly less than it used to be. As
well, despite these general strikes, the workers' movement is far from
united as a result of divisions and leadership factions with different
aims and agendas. Nonetheless, because the situation is so serious, the
unions have managed to act in concert and unite to strongly protest the
austerity pushed by Macri's government and the IMF. Now the government
is looking to negotiate with various leaders of the General
Confederation of Labour and the
Argentine Workers' Central, the second largest union umbrella
organization, to try and head off another general strike before the end
of the year.
An Unsettling Scenario
Demonstration by teachers and students, May 16, 2019, against cuts to
Argentina is currently going through an appalling
economic situation, with economic activity dropping by 6.8 per cent
March 2018 to March 2019 and there is no sign of recovery or
improvement in the
foreseeable future. Argentina's public debt already amounts to
approximately U.S.$332 billion and represents 86.2 per cent of the GDP,
according to the Foreign Debt Observatory of the Metropolitan
University for Education and Work. Foreign debt makes up the
lion's share, with over $187 billion in foreign debt issues having been
undertaken since Macri took office in 2015. According to resolutions on
the Ministry of Finance's books, the government has shamelessly
surrendered sovereignty over the nation's natural resources by putting
them up as collateral to guarantee foreign debt holders their pound of
flesh -- one way or another.
Meanwhile, there is a general election coming in October and both
foreign and local eyes are on Argentina and its debt. There are two
main possible outcomes discernible for that election at this stage,
according to different polls. One is the re-election of the current
administration and continuance of the disastrous economic model Macri
and the oligarchs behind him have imposed on the country. The second
one would seem to be that the opposition, led by the Peronist movement
with the ticket of Alberto Fernandez for President and former President
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for Vice-President, takes office and
tries to change that model into one more focused on the revival of the
domestic market and industrial activity.
The preoccupation of the financial oligarchy is that Argentina will not
make its debt payments, despite assurances from prospective candidates
that they will be made. In order to get a U.S.$56 billion IMF bailout,
Macri's government committed to achieving a balanced budget in 2019 and
a surplus in 2020 by imposing harsh structural adjustment measures. In
spite of the rosy scenario painted by the government to try and sell
its anti-social, anti-national agenda, economic pundits are predicting
that the IMF austerity measures will remain in place for at least ten
more years. Of course this assumes that the working people are not
going to succeed in organizing to realize their own demands based on
their stand that enough is enough, and organize to put an end to the
situation whereby all the resources of the nation are appropriated to
pay the rich.
Streets of Buenos Aires during twenty-four hour general strike, April
6, 2017 against neo-liberal policies of Macri government, which
coincides with the opening of the World Economic Forum on Latin America
being held in the city.
Since the creation of the Cambiemos (Let's Change)
electoral alliance between Macri's Republican Proposal Party and the
Radical Civic Union in the lead-up to the 2015 election, the social
situation has grown increasingly worse, as different indicators have
shown. For example, in the past year, poverty has risen 32 per cent and
employment has decreased by 2.2 per cent.
Another indicator of the worsening situation is the successive large
protests and marches, the most recent being the May 29 general strike.
Work stoppages and demonstrations are likely to continue in different
sectors of the economy.
In recent years, the
Argentine people, workers and trade unions have taken to the streets to
protest not only the economic model based on austerity
followed by Macri and his government, but also to call for the
re-establishment of collective bargaining and a reduction in
income taxes for workers whose purchasing power has plunged in the face
of 54 per cent inflation, unceasing utility rate hikes and strong
currency devaluation. To give a broader view of the problem, protests
have also extended to sectors like the scientific community, which has
been forced to suffer a brutal adjustment, with scholarships and
grants for research having dropped dramatically since 2015.
"The [tactic of a general] strike has been followed because there has
been no response, no government reaction to our demands," said Hugo
Moyano, leader of one of the General Confederation of Labour branches.
"There's a huge amount of
discontent with the government. Many workers voted for this government
because it was going to get rid of income tax. They trusted it but this
time they won't make the same mistake," said Moyano, referring to the
upcoming elections on October 27.
Other union leaders expressed themselves on this topic as well. Hugo
Yasky, General Secretary of the Argentine Workers' Central said that
"the [May 29 strike]
consolidates the hope that in October we are going to vote and defeat
this government that is a testimony to a failed experiment of the
He said Macri's Cambiemos alliance sold itself initially "as an
expression of modernism, but ended up taking us back to the same
disaster and the same destruction of the neo-liberalism of the '90s."
1. Peronism refers to the Argentine political
movement based on
the ideology of former President Juan Domingo Perón, that dates
back to 1946, when Perón was elected to office for this first of
three tenures. The "three flags" of Peronism are said to be social
justice, economic independence and political sovereignty.
This article was published in
Volume 49 Number 21 - June 8, 2019
Argentina: Workers' Movement Response to Worsening Neo-Liberal Crisis >