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 offensive.

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 education funding.

Argentina is currently going through an appalling economic situation, with economic activity dropping by 6.8 per cent from 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.[1]

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.

Social Response

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 Argentine right."

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.

(With files from TeleSUR, Trading Economics, AFP.)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 21 - June 8, 2019

Article Link:
Argentina: Workers' Movement Response to Worsening Neo-Liberal Crisis >


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