Post-Election Argentina: Unions Respond to Privatization
Argentines weary of annual inflation soaring above 140% and a poverty rate that reached 40% have elected right-wing libertarian economist Javier Milei. On Sunday, November 19, 2023, Milei defeated Economy Minister Sergio Massa by a wide margin, 55.7% to 44.3%, winning all but three of the nation’s 24 provinces. He had campaigned on the promise to privatise state-owned enterprises, slash government spending, dollarise the economy, eliminate the Central Bank, and close key ministries, among them health and education.
Milei is making the privatisation of the Argentine state-run oil company, YPF, a top priority. The first thing to do is to restructure it so that YPF can be “sold in a very favourable way for the Argentinians.” He added, “Everything that can be in the hands of the private sector will be in its hands.” Milei said he would also privatise Public TV, National Radio, and the National News Agency (Telám). New York traded shares in Argentine YPF soared more than 40% following the announcement.
Commentators have pointed out that such a radical program of privatisation will require constitutional reforms and, in some cases, new laws from a Congress where Milei does not yet have a majority.
Argentinian Trade Unions Call to Action
Hugo “Cachorro” Godoy, Secretary General of CTA-Autónoma, offered a first analysis of the factors behind the results. “We voted against this government [of Alberto Fernández], which did not fulfil any of the objectives and commitments made, and which were initially the antithesis of Macri’s policies and the IMF’s impositions. We ended four years of government being worse off than when it began, particularly in the economic and social spheres. Milei arrives on the back of the fragmentation of the popular camp [working-class base] and the fragmentation of labour relations, where precariousness has produced economic and social damage, including 43% poverty [and] 10% hunger. Regarding [Milei’s] … denial of the state as an instrument of equity and balance in a society, it is indispensable to build an alternative program to reconstitute the popular sectors and working-class base.”
The General Confederation of Labour of the Argentine Republic (CGT), the country’s largest trade union confederation, gathered its unions and warned that it will not accept any rollback of rights or delays in bargaining negotiations. He also rejected Milei’s threats concerning the paralysis of public works and the privatisation of the railways and Aerolíneas Argentinas.
“Many people voted for Milei knowing what he was going to do, but they thought he would not touch them. If it does, the CGT will be there. (…) We are not going to allow the stripping of rights and much less the payment of salaries,” said Héctor Daer, representative of the health sector in the CGT.
The Metallurgical Workers’ Union (UOM) announced that the drastic measures announced by Milei “are not good for the workers, such as the paralysis of public works being developed throughout the country.”
Pedro Wasiejko, Secretary General of the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) participating union, the Federation of Energy, Industry, Service and Allied Workers’ Unions (Fetia), pointed to a recent federation summit which concluded in the unanimous understanding that “without autonomous productive development, there is no possibility of social justice or national sovereignty. (…) The [summit] highlighted the enormous potential of our state-owned companies as well as the deep knowledge and capacity of their workers that clearly emerged, in clear contrast to the proposals of those who claim that the only way out is to privatise and close them down.”
Julio Acosta, General Secretary of the Federation of Energy Workers of Argentina (FeTERA) shared reflections on the need to build a Public Pathway in Argentina. The following text was written just before the elections when FeTERA joined TUED:
“The denationalisation of public companies made Argentina lose its sovereignty, in this offensive of capital over labour, it brought our country to its knees to the point that currently economic policy is dictated by the IMF, and every three months, a delegation from the fund arrives in our country to check whether the objectives proposed by them are being met, which means more adjustments for the working people, more dependence, more backwardness.
“The only way out for Argentina is to regain sovereignty. To undo the structural transformations of neoliberalism, to recover energy sovereignty, food sovereignty (we are a country that produces food for more than 450 million inhabitants, and there are millions of people who go hungry), as well as financial and economic sovereignty.
“Recovering sovereignty means decommodifying the energy sector, nationalising it, re-nationalising essential services, changing the privatisation model for a model of state ownership with the participation and control of users and workers, and thus recovering rights for workers, users and society as a whole.” [Read Acosta’s complete text here.]
In response to Milei’s privatisation announcements, social movements grouped in the Union of Workers of the Popular Economy (UTEP) and the Association of State Workers (ATE) called to “avoid the destruction of the State proposed by Milei” and affirmed that they will not allow “the new attempt to privatise public companies.”
“We will not step away one millimetre from the mandate given to us by our members. Before leaving, the current government has to guarantee the increases promised for November and December. And to the next one, we want to say that we will defend with all our strength the jobs and public policies we have won,” said Rodolfo Aguiar, General Secretary of the Association of State Workers (ATE).
“We must be strong and united because the way out is always collective. We need a strong and sovereign state, and it is clear that half of our country is not able to value the importance of this. It is very distressing because those of us who are aware of the history of our country know what has happened with privatisations and dismantling,” added Mercedes Cabezas, Deputy Secretary of ATE.
The Buenos Aires Press Union (SiPreBA) called for assemblies this week at Radio Nacional, TV Pública, and Télam, respectively, under the slogan “Without Public Media, There Is No Democracy.”
CUT Brazil: Rebuilding After Bolsonaro Presidency
Without minimising the important differences between Argentina and Brazil, the latter faced similar challenges under the Temer and Bolsonaro administrations with the privatisation of important state-owned companies such as Eletrobras and Petrobras. The fight against these privatisations and the struggle now, under Lula, to reclaim and restore the companies may offer valuable insights into strategy.
CUT Brasil addressed the Argentinean labour movement in a post-election statement. “Our history of solidarity between the CUT Brasil and the Argentinean trade unions is marked by hard struggles and resistance to authoritarian and neoliberal governments that for decades have worked to hand over public goods, strategic sectors of our economies to multinational companies and, under the pretext of reducing spending, destroy our public systems of social and labour protection. The result, we already know, is that millions of workers will be abandoned by the minimal state, pushed into hunger, violence, and unemployment. (…) We will be together in this period of resistance, but also of organising the struggle to defend a sovereign project of regional integration…” The photo above is from an Argentina solidarity panel with Argentine trade union leaders at CUT Brazil’s National Congress last month.
The reclamation of state-owned industrial policy and the restoration of democracy, the labour movement, and public services were among the central themes of the 14th National Congress of CUT Brasil (CONCUT14) held in October 2023. Over two thousand Brazilian delegates and 150 international delegates, including TUED, participated in the historic Congress that marked the first since the defeat of Bolsonaro.
In the days leading up to the CONCUT, TUED participated in the third edition of the International Trade Union Forum for a Social and Ecological Transition, organised by CUT Brasil, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RSL), the General Confederation of Labour of France (CGT), Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), and TUED. Following the Congress, TUED also participated in the Industrial Global Union Brazil’s convening of the country’s industrial sector unions, including the Brazilian Oilworkers Federation (FUP), National Confederation of Metalworkers of the CUT (CNM/CUT), National Federation and Confederation of Urban Workers – FNU/CNU, and the Energy Workers Union (Sinergia CUT), among others. •
This article first published on the TUED website.