July 17, 2014 Buenos Aires Herald
From Lear, Gestamp conflicts emerge left-wing, independent groups
July 18, 2014
By Mariano Parada LÃ³pez
For The Herald
From Lear, Gestamp conflicts emerge left-wing, independent groups
Around 650 workers at the car-parts company Lear are pressuring their bosses to respond to the dismissal of 100 of their colleagues. They have organized several demonstrations in the past two weeks, as well as a picket that was eventually countered by security forces last Tuesday. So far the firm has not allowed the shop stewards to enter the factory.
A similar situation is playing out for the workers of Gestamp, which also manufactures car parts. They have demanded that the company rehire 70 dismissed workers. Meanwhile, employees of the printing firm RR Donnelley joined Lear workers at a recent rally to protest the layoff of 123 of their colleagues.
Early in the year, SUTEBA â€” a Buenos Aires province teachersâ€™ union â€” staged a lengthy strike against what they regarded as an insufficient pay hike (i.e. below the official inflation rate) offered by Governor Daniel Scioliâ€™s administration. Roberto Baradel, the head of the teachersâ€™ union, denied that left-leaning parties had been behind the conflict, despite some observers having considered the strike to have been propelled by left-wing activists within SUTEBA.
These labour conflicts follow a common trend: new union organizations emerge, rejecting old leadership, before rallying for support from nervy businessmen. The result has been the renaissance of leftist trade unionism, which has also absorbed so-called â€œindependentâ€ workers.
â€œThe working-class is waking up,â€ said Silvio Fanti, a Lear worker and member of the local union representing the 650 employees. While he admits there are some union members in Lear who are part of left-wing parties, he said he himself is an â€œindependent.â€ Fanti has worked at the car-part manufacturer for 15 years and became a regional shop steward in 2011, when his group won the internal elections against the pro-government SMATA auto workers union led by Ricardo Pignanelli.
Fanti accuses SMATA officials of turning their backs on Lear workers in their demands for better working conditions. â€œTrade unions donâ€™t want independent members, and even less so left-wing activists,â€ Fanti told the Herald. â€œWe work with a lot of different people, but it doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™re all left-wing,â€ he added. â€œThere are local committees which are claiming their independence from the trade unions. The working-class is waking up and demanding fairer working conditions,â€ he said.
Fanti says heâ€™s certain there will be more â€œdemocraticâ€ trade unions as a consequence of the emergence of these regional committees, and accused SMATA of sharing the same interests as the company.
Roberto Amador from Gestamp largely agreed: â€œThe union wouldnâ€™t listen to us. They told us in April that nothing was going to happen but then the firm fired 23 people, all of whom were opposed to the union.â€ He said the unions claim theyâ€™re powerless, suggesting that anyone with a critical opinion of them is considered a â€œleftist.â€ A PTS party activist, Amador told the Herald that a committee member was threatened: â€œOne of the shop stewards received a letter which said he would be killed.â€
Local delegates have been operating within Gestamp since 2007. The committee was comprised of pro-Pignanelli activists until 2012, when three â€œindependentâ€ shop stewards were voted in. According to Amador, the election came as a result of a new generation of workers: â€œThere were lots of young people hired by Gestamp who didnâ€™t trust the ruling bloc. Itâ€™s not a case of the leftist parties agitating for change, but because of our own colleagues within many SMATA factories who are expressing their anger.â€
The relationship between the union and the local committee is quite different at RR Donnelley. â€œThe union has declared that it is opposed (to the dismissals). Union support is really important for us,â€ stressed Jorge Medina, a shop steward.
The eight members of the local committee at Donnelley, who form the â€œBrown List,â€ are against the ruling â€œGreen Listâ€ linked to the Buenos Aires Province Graphics Union, still led by Raimundo Ongaro, a long-term union leader and the founder of the CGT de los Argentinos in the 60s. Despite their political differences, Medina has not criticized Ongaro: â€œWeâ€™re permanently in touch with the union. Theyâ€™ve publicly denounced the dismissals and called on the entire union to be on the alert.â€ Both Lear and Donnelly workers recently held a protest in front of the US Chamber of Commerce in Buenos Aires.
If the increasing mistrust of unions is one of the pillars of local committees, the countryâ€™s current economic situation is another.
Romina del PlÃ¡ is the delegate of the La Matanza section of SUTEBA and the niece of Claudio del PlÃ¡, a Workers Party politician in Salta province. She shared her views on why some long-standing union leaders risk losing support: â€œLeaders who follow sitting governments and give up on (traditional labour) demands are likely to lose workersâ€™ support. Workers feel fed up with fake nationalism. Peronism has been a serious burden for workers for the last 40 years, which has resulted in the emergence of a new generation of workers who see leftist parties as an exit strategy.â€
From the business perspective
Business leaders, meanwhile, are sensing the emergence of these new trade unions, though they see them as a temporary phenomenon.
â€œItâ€™s drawn our attention to the yearâ€™s economic problems,â€ said Juan Cantarella, General Manager of car-parts industry group AFAC. â€œThere are shared problems among (workers of) the entire industry, and theyâ€™re usually employment problems, like dismissals and the desire to work fewer hours.â€
Unless Gestamp and Lear conflicts appear on the front pages of newspapers any time soon, AFAC doesnâ€™t see the phenomenon turning into anything bigger. â€œThey (the conflicts) are concentrated in northern Greater Buenos Aires, where many leftist groups are headed. They donâ€™t have the sufficient structure to expand across the entire industry. It is true that their task is made easier when the economic situation worsens,â€ Cantarella suggested, admitting the relationship between SMATA and his industry is â€œgood.â€
AFAC, like workers in the industry, have stated that the conflict has escalated on occassions: â€œThey canâ€™t take over a plant and threaten those workers who want to work as usual. There have been acts of sabotage.â€
The Herald was able to determine that some in the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) see the conflict as a consequence of economic stagnation and the high rate of inflation. The UIA also does not expect the new organizations to expand, but is â€œawareâ€ of their existence. â€œThese are times of uncertainty,â€ a senior UIA source told the Herald.