Defending The Right To Strike In Argentina

Argentina came to a virtual standstill on Tuesday, 25 September 2018, due to a nationwide strike. The strike was organised by The General Confederation of Labour (CGT), The Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA), and The Trade Union Front for a National Model. The country’s top seven workers’ unions, including all public transport unions, adhered to the action of protest. The motive behind the labour unions’ mobilization was to show their discontent towards a deal between Argentina’s President, Mauricio Macri, and the IMF. The deal is meant to produce further cuts to social spending. The strike took place on the same day President Macri was scheduled to meet the IMF leaders in New York. Macri’s intention was to request for a more substantial loan and an early release of funds.

This was the fourth general strike since Macri assumed his presidency in 2015. According to the newspaper El Cronista, the first strike took place on April 6 2017. During that time, the strike was against Marci’s economic policy and his changes to the redundancy law. The protests were held during the Business Economic Forum of Latin America. The second strike happened on 18 December 2017. It challenged the pension mobility bill that was approved by Congress. The third general strike was called on 25 June 2018. The main concern of the strike was aimed at the government’s decision to reopen wage bargaining talks and to remove income caps. The proposed maximum implies an income cap of only 15% of the annual increase in salaries, while devaluation is already at 35%.

According to the CGT, the fourth general strike took place to oppose the economic adjustments that the IMF agreement represents. Daniel Catalano, who is the union leader of the Trade Union Front for a National Model, condemned the budget agreement of 2019 as “the starvation budget”. Not coincidentally, the protests were held at the same time when President Marci was in New York trying to regain the confidence of investors and to forge a new agreement with the IMF.

A general strike has a great economic impact. According to the news agency Infobae, the events of the 25 September 2018 resulted in a loss of $ 31,600 million Argentine pesos. This figure, according to calculations made by the Ministry of Finance, represents 0.2% of national GDP. Minister of Finance, Nicolas Dujovne, told Infobae that the public sector would be directly affected by the general strike “since part of their income comes from taxes on the production of goods and services. When less taxes are collected, it impacts the balance of income and expenses of the national government.”

Possibly, the most tangible consequence of a general strike is the obstruction of daily activities of millions of individuals and businesses. People who have no union affiliation were unable to go to work, make purchases, and travel by public transport. The impact of this tends to turn the public and most of the mainstream media against strikes. That can be used by the Argentine Government as a distraction of the public from its activity. Moreover, many believe that the economic losses outweigh any progress that could result from a general strike.

Nonetheless, general strikes are a necessary inconvenience. Even though a smear campaign was put forward by the Argentine Government and like-minded media agencies to portray a negative image of the protesters, the strikes are not only legal in Argentina but also a human right. Article 23, section 4, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “every person has the right to form trade unions and to organize for the defence of their interests.” Furthermore, the existence of unions and social movements is a key aspect of democracy. A good government allows its people to express their opinions in order to ensure responsible management of public affairs.

Increasingly, the Argentine Government seems to detach itself from the interests of the majority, while making structural changes that affect the entire population. Calling for a general strike on the same day as an international event occurs is a clever way to capture the attention of all the Argentine people and the world. It is an opportunity to make demands reach beyond one’s own union. In this case, unions are especially interested in calling the attention of the Bretton Woods Institutions and financial managers of Citi Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

As such, the strike in Argentina was necessary to demonstrate the disconnect between what President Marci sees as a necessary “build up [of] confidence”, and what most people really need to survive. Daniel Menendez, the coordinator of the Union “Barrios de Pie” commented to the TN news agency, “People need to understand that this Government has the responsibility to guarantee social peace. There must be an emergency law passed to curb this policy of looting [the central bank].”  There are two main issues that underpin all the recent general strikes. First, there are claims against Macri’s politics of exclusion. Second, there are concerns about his administration’s response to the economic recession that the country is suffering – measures such as the agreement with the IMF, cuts in social spending, and labour “liberalization” policies. As one of the union’s leaders, Hugo Yasky, said that the objective of these protests was “to combat the deepening adjustment policies, the caps in wage negotiations, the firings, the breaches of rights and cuts of salaries.”

A key question to consider is, If social mobilizations were illegal or did not have the power to generate political and social change, what kind of society would one be living in? For example, what would be the purpose of prohibiting mobilizations for human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ or climate change? Certainly, without public participation political life would be impoverished. And not only politics but also social integrity. As Sonia Alesso of CTERA Union states, “When they repress any social leader, they are trying to prevent something as basic as human solidarity.”

To conclude, Yasky makes a potent point when he says, “We are not going to be a colony again, nor are we going to be managed as if we were the spoils of war. We are going to claim our rights.” Leaving aside the discussion of colonization, the recent experiences of Argentina and other “periphery”, regions show that adjustment policies repeatedly favoured by the IMF and the World Bank have terrible social consequences, especially for the most vulnerable sectors of the population. The fact that Macri’s government see this route as the only viable option for economic development, further indebting the country, makes the name of his party, “Cambiemos” (let’s change), sound sadly ironic.