Argentina: Kirchnerism begins to lose its grip on the workers’ movement

April 09, 2013

During November and December 2012, there was a series of demonstrations in Argentina which graphically expressed the loss of hegemony of the Kirchner government and the depth of its crisis of succession. There were several ‘cacerolazos’ - demonstrations in which kitchen pots and pans are banged together - similar to the one which had taken place on September 13th, expressing the high level of discontent among the middle and upper middle classes with the government. These demonstrations were encouraged by big corporations and the church, and had the support of right-wing opposition politicians like Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri, the Peronist governor of Córdoba province, José Manuel de la Sota, former MP and leader of the liberal ARI party Elisa Carrió, and current right-wing Peronist MP Francisco de Narváez.

With the government priding itself that the only opposition to its policies was coming from the right, the first national workers’ strike against the Kirchner government took place on November 20th. The last general strike in Argentina was on December 13th, 2001, a week before the government of Fernando de la Rúa fell during the uprising.

The strike was called by Hugo Moyano of the CGT and Pablo Micheli of the CTA. The CGT is the trade union confederation covering industrial, service, retail and transport sectors. However, during recent years there have been splits and there are now three CGTs. One of them, led by the metalworkers’ trade union leader Antonio Caló, supports the government. The second is the CGT Blue and White, led by the trade unionist/entrepreneur Luis Barrionuevo, which opposes the government but is allied with the right-wing of Peronism. The CGT led by Moyano, which controls the lorry drivers’ union, has moved into opposition after supporting the government for ten years. The CTA is the main confederation among public and service sector workers, and is divided into two parallel confederations, one that supports the government, led by Hugo Yasky, and one that opposes the government led by Micheli.

Support for the strike went beyond the oppositional trade union confederations, extending to trade unions which are part of the pro-government grouping - in workplaces with members of Yasky’s CTA and Caló’s CGT, the level of absenteeism was very high. The empty streets of Buenos Aires were testament to the high level of support. As well as showing the dissatisfaction of broad sectors of the working class, the strike exposed the weaknesses of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government. which was put on the defensive. The result has been to deepen the fight within Peronism over the presidential succession .

Following the strike there was a call by Moyano and Micheli for a rally in the Plaza de Mayo on December 19th which provoked discussion among left-wing parties that are part of the Left and Workers’ Front (Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores, FIT) about the character of the proposed demonstration and whether or not the left should participate in it. In this regard, the first thing to say is that it makes no sense to discuss December 19th without putting the national strike of November 20th at the centre of the debate.

Groups of workers are distancing themselves from the Government

The strike was the major political event of the year and showed, in contrast to Kirchner’s claim that the only opposition was coming from the right, that there is what we in the PTS have been calling an ‘opposition from the left’. Dissatisfied with its policies, workers are beginning to break with the Kirchner government, although this doesn’t mean that they are joining the ranks of the bourgeois opposition. The central demand of the strike was against a new tax on salaries, cynically called a “tax on profits†by the government, which will affect 25% of workers. This is deeply resented, especially since inflation is running at 20-25%.

The strike allowed a significant fraction of the working class to speak with its own voice, which frightened the entire bourgeoisie, mainly because of the movement’s potential rather than the strike itself, which was limited in its scope by the cowardly leadership. The reason that workers are beginning to break from Kirchnerism can be found in the combination of the crisis of the so-called “Kirchnerist economic model†due to the fiscal deficit and rising inflation, and the crisis of the presidential succession. The importance of this lies in the fact that if the government can’t guarantee its own continuity, it is certainly the case that the bourgeois opposition cannot guarantee its superiority either because it is fragmented and without significant political personalities.

A very important aspect of the strike was that it showed the increasing influence of the left, in particular Trotskyism, inside the workers’ movement. The left is representing sections of the working class through its leadership of works councils and shop stewards’ committees. These sections of workers participated in the strike with their own demands. The high profile of the left in the strike was noted by the mainstream media and recognised by the trade union bureaucracy itself.

On the morning of the strike, TV stations showed pictures of anti-bureaucratic and class conscious workers’ delegates from the nearby factories blocking the Pan American Highway with placards reading: “We are not with Moyano†. This event didn’t fall from the sky as some currents of the left who are not active in the workers’ movement claim. It was part of a political struggle to defend the correctness of the demands of the strike: against the tax on salaries, for an increase of pensions to 82% of the basic salary, and for a rise in family benefits. We fought for these demands even among those workers whose pro-government union leaders were calling for the strike to be boycotted, while differentiating ourselves completely from the Moyano/Micheli leadership which called the strike.

The PTS took this struggle into every workplace were it holds leadership positions. At 6am, workers from Kraft, PepsiCo, Stani foods, Fate tyres, teachers of the April 9th current inside the teachers’ union, alongside comrades from the Number 60 bus line and the Rioplatense cold storage plant, blocked the Pan American Highway. Not long afterwards, a combative column of more than 200 graphic workers from Donnelley, Word Color and Printpack arrived from the north and joined the picket line. In total, there were 700 workers on the picket when comrades from our North Buenos Aires branch, a delegation from the PTS youth, telephone workers and public sector workers from the left grouping in their unions, delegations of the FIT and other left-wing groups joined them.

The picket was addressed by our comrades Javier “Poke†Hermosilla and Lorena Gentile, both delegates at Kraft; Eduardo Ayala, delegate at Donnelley; Luis Medina, delegate at PepsiCo; and by Christian Castillo, a leading member of the PTS. In a live link from the Jorge Newbery airport, LAN delegates Charly Platkowky and Eduardo Saab explained why they were on strike despite the leadership of their trade union APA. The TV screens were divided into two parts so they simultaneously showed the blockades on the Pan American Highway and at the intersection of Callao and Corrientes avenues in the city centre called by the PTS youth.

Simultaneously, the “B†subway line was in the news because the service was paralysed. Our comrade Claudio Dellecarbonara explained to the media that the subway workers had held their own assemblies and were joining the strike despite the fact that their trade union - which is loyal to the government - did not support it. He explained that the methods of the “B†subway workers were opposed to those of Moyano.

In the southern province of Neuquén in Patagonia, the day began with the blocking of Route 7, the main trunk road linking Buenos Aires with Santiago in Chile, by workers from the textile, ceramic and paper industries, along with hospital workers, teachers and students. Also present was our comrade Raúl Godoy, a leader of the ceramic workers’ trade union of Neuquén (SOECN) and a worker in the Zanon factory, which recently celebrated ten years under workers’ control. On December 10th, Godoy took office as a FIT deputy in the provincial parliament. It is the first time that a Trotskyist workers’ leader has become a deputy in Patagonia.

These actions, and many more throughout the country, in which the PTS also participated, opened a day in which the working class showed its strength in its first big confrontation with the government for over a decade.

The change in the political situation represents an historical opportunity for the Left

November 20th marked a change in the political situation. Between 2003 and 2009 the national situation was clearly not revolutionary and was characterised by the efforts of the Kirchner government to re-establish the authority of the state and the political regime, which had been in crisis since the 2001 rebellion. These were years of solid economic growth based on increasing demand in the world market for Argentinean exports. But in 2008 the agrarian bourgeoisie held back food from the cities, blockaded main roads and mounted demonstrations in an attempt to force the government to reduce the tariffs on agricultural exports. These actions weakened the government, whose Justicialista party fared badly in the mid-term elections. However, the government soon recovered ground after it introduced ‘child benefit’ for unemployed families.

Today, there is a new situation. The world crisis is making its presence felt and the Kirchner model is looking increasingly exhausted, which means that the revolutionary left, with its deeper penetration into the working class, has an historic opportunity: the possibility of constructing a workers’ left in Argentina which would prepare the basis for a revolutionary party. We are calling for a National Worker’s Assembly to discuss how to achieve ‘trade unions without bureaucrats and a workers’ party without bosses’. We want to discuss the building of a workers’ left with all anti-bureaucratic and class consciousness forces.

This is the context in which the call for the December 19th rally took place. It had many limitations: it did not build on the November 20th strike and neither was there any attempt to initiate a democratic debate in the workers’ movement on the way forward - although there were discussions in those workplaces where the left has a presence. Moyano and Micheli raised the same demands as on November 20th plus a call for the state to return the money it owes which had been paid into social security plans. The aim of the bureaucracy was to back up the bourgeois opposition rather than strengthen its hand in negotiations with the government.

But there is a huge gap between the aims of the trade union bureaucracy and the needs of the working class. Discontent with the bureaucracy, which has been growing since the 90s, has reached the point were a fissure is opening up between the workers and their trade union leadership, thus creating an opportunity for the left to mount a challenge. December 19th saw the masses take to the streets, placing a great responsibility on the left to provide a political alternative. Not to have taken part in the demonstration because it was not accompanied by a strike or because it was called by the trade union bureaucracy would have been sectarian.The PTS proposed that the groups that are part of the FIT march together to make a greater impact. This column, headed by dozens of workers’ leaders, would enter the Plaza de Mayo as a combative, anti-bureaucratic, class consciousness left alternative.

The FIT, an alliance between the PTS, the Partido Obrero and Izquierda Socialista, has an important responsibility because in the last presidential elections in 2011 it obtained almost 600,000 votes and gained two provincial deputies in Neuquén and Córdoba. This was on a class struggle, anti-capitalist and class independence programme, as against other left unity campaigns which have adopted reformist programmes in an attempt to win seats.

However, the PO oscillated between the sectarianism of calling for non-participation in the December 19th march and the opportunism of only participating in order to get publicity for the FIT. These two positions have a common denominator: a pronounced electoralism which stresses media coverage but gives very little importance to building the left inside the workers’ movement. This also explains their limited influence inside the combative trade unions. The attitude of PO is becoming an obstacle to using the FIT as a springboard for the building of a revolutionary left in Argentina. For its part, Izquierda Socialista refused to form a unified column and ended up on the platform with Moyano and Micheli.

To ensure that combative trade unionism and the left had a strong presence in the Plaza de Mayo, the PTS marched behind a column of hundreds of workers carrying banners which read “Neither the Kirchner government nor the bosses’ opposition†and “For a plan of struggle to be voted in assemblies†.

We are now faced with the need to discuss the fight for political independence among sections of workers that are beginning to break with the government. We should also discuss with them the necessity of building our own workers’ party in order to make the capitalists pay for their own crisis, and the longer term aim of establishing a workers’ government.

The Left and Workers’ Front is a considerable achievement. With a view to future elections, its programme must be developed through a debate that clarifies and reaffirms its policy for the independence of the working class. But the tactical conquest that the FIT represents needs to be part of a strategic battle for the political independence of the working class.

27/02/2013