Healthcare Workers, Stand up: Silence is Not Health
Thousands of public sector workers across the country went on strike yesterday, with the largest concentrations in Buenos Aires Province. Among them were faculty and professors, judicial employees, and healthcare workers. In several cities, their voices could be heard as they marched through the rain, shouting, “Unity and struggle for victory!”
April 21, 2016
Image from Izquierda Diario
State employees have faced months of unabated, massive layoffs in numerous provinces (a “Resistance Map” depicting the layoffs and conflicts can be viewed here). Across the board, provincial governors like María Vidal in Buenos Aires Province, Alicia Kirchner in Santa Cruz, and Rosana Bertone in Tierra del Fuego have shut down workers’ demands for wage increases that would loosen the chokehold of rocketing inflation and President Macri’s peso devaluation, and hikes in gas and electricity fees. Instead, the government has offered workers ludicrous poverty-level agreements (“paritarias”), sparking mass indignation.
After months of dragging their feet and failing to advance a plan of struggle against the ongoing austerity attacks, officials of the State Workers’ Association (ATE) were compelled to call for a national strike on April 19. Since February 24 – that is, approximately once a month. This unspoken truce between the union bureaucracy and the austerity government went on despite workers’ demonstrated willingness to put on a fight.
As stated by ATE-Labor and ATE-Agriculture, “Unfortunately, ATE National and Capital leadership have been unable to create unified instances to strike back with one blow at Macri’s continuous buffeting. This division, which weakens us, should be overcome by prioritizing the interests and needs that we have as state workers, with the aim of strengthening the union response that must be advanced in order to gain reinstatement, prevent layoffs, and win battles.”
In the wake of the most recent wave of massive layoffs on March 31 by the Ministries of Labor and Agriculture, the union has stepped up the fight. Since then, the ministries have been thrown into dysfunction by strikes, roadblocks, periodic assemblies, and workplace organizing.
In the process of mobilizing for #19A, the Bordó Workers’ Unity Caucus (ATE and CICOP) in La Plata, Buenos Aires Province released a statement (below) describing the particular conditions they face in the public hospitals and healthcare setting. Here, the workers describe their methods of struggle, unifying demands, and call to action on April 19 and May 1 – International Workers’ Day.
STATEMENT: Healthworkers, Stand Up: Silence is Not Health
We are workers from various hospitals and sectors forming part of the Bordó Workers’ Unity Caucus. We believe we should organize ourselves from the bottom up in order to fight for all our demands and push for assemblies – the most democratic organ for workers to debate and resolve our problems together. We want to put an end to the divisions imposed upon us from above, which separate the contracted from the precariously employed; the tenured and untenured; the affiliated (union members) from the unaffiliated; nurses, doctors, administrative workers, cleaning services, and subcontracted workers. We fight to unite all healthcare workers, to fight for what we deserve.
We trust in power from below – the power of workers, and not the bureaucratic union leadership that allows austerity policies of the current government to pass. Thus, we propose the recuperation of shop-floor committees (comisiones internas) and labor unions in order to defend our interests independently of the governments of former President Cristina Kirchner and current President Mauricio Macri, along with Governor Maria Vidal of Buenos Aires Province, who are deepening the austerity attacks.
With these aims, today, we are part of the opposition within the State Workers’ Association (Asociación Trabajadores del Estado – ATE) and the Health Professionals’ Union of Buenos Aires Province (Asociación Sindical de Profesionales de la Salud de la Provincia de Buenos Aires – CICOP).
Our group represents the convergence of different experiences. We share the common objective of advancing a health workers’ caucus that is based on democratic methods of struggle, with the aim of becoming a space for coordination and unification that will allow us to organize ourselves for upcoming battles: to confront austerity measures and prevent the crisis from beating down the workers and the poor.
We invite you to join this space. Your participation makes a difference!
Organizing resistance against austerity and layoffs
We have watched with indignance as the officials, politicians, and corporations plunder, evade, money-launder, and get away with billions. Meanwhile, Macri has implemented fee hikes in electricity, gas, transportation, as well as inflation, which has caused a record increase in the cost of food.
Governor Vidal has negotiated an agreement with the National Civil Employees’ Union (UPCN) and the Public Health Union of Buenos Aires Province (SSP) of a wage increase of 15% for state employees, which amounts to about $8000 Argentine pesos ($555 USD), docking 70% of salary from workers who refuse to accept these miserable conditions and continue to fight, as in the case of educational auxiliary workers.
At the same time, Macri’s austerity is being meted out alongside thousands and thousands of layoffs in the public sector, as company heads do the same in the private sector. Dismissals in construction, metalworking, auto, and commercial industries, among others, are the order of the day. In our region [in La Plata, Buenos Aire Province], more than 150 TEC Plata portworkers are fighting for reinstatement after being laid off suddenly a few weeks ago.
Since January, Buenos Aires Province Governor Vidal has made several attempts to cut jobs, but has largely failed due to workers who responded with great resistance and won their reinstatement. Therefore, the government has developed a series of instruments (degrees, laws, ministerial resolutions) that together build a scaffolding to advance a “lawful” program of cuts and austerity policies. These tools echo the past [Menemist] neoliberal governments of the 1990s of the Vidal administration.
Today, thousands of workers find themselves in precarious conditions as a result of Daniel Scioli and the Victory Front (Frente para la Victoria – FpV) holding the Governor’s seat [from 2007 to 2015]. Today, these workers are the variable for the austerity of Vidal and Let’s Change (Cambiemos Coalition).
The new 230/16 Decree has frozen the passage from precarious status to permanently-employed, opening the door for any Minister or Secretary to make dismissals at will. In addition, this legal project will allow public entities to employ workers without regulation or obligation to adhere to 10.430 [Buenos Aires Province Public Administration Employees Bill].
At the same time, the Macri administration has let loose the “freedom of enterprise,” utilizing public resources without restraint or auditing in order to hand over contracts to corporate friends and colleagues.
Altogether for the ATE National Strike on April 19: Unite and Organize the Fight from the Bottom
The disturbance grows deeper day by day, spreading across the ministries, delegations, and offices throughout the province. Almost inversely proportional is the quickly deflating ideological campaign against “ñoquis” [priviledged layer of government employees who were given their positions through favoritism] that laid blame on “lazy” state workers.
At each roadblock and picket, we have begun to see the support of pedestrians and drivers who raise their firsts and honk their horns in solidarity.
There is also a growing commotion against the trade unions like the UPCN and the SSP, who during 12 years of Kirchnerist government were pampered and ensured low paritarias [yearly industry-wide negotiations between employers and trade union representatives that determine wage increases] with Cristina as well as Scioli. Today, these are the same unions that agreed on the miserable 15% increase with Vidal and allowed the layoffs in the national, provincial, and municipal sectors.
We, the Bordó Caucus of the ATE insist upon the necessity of assemblies that channel the rage and combative disposition of hundreds of compañeros beyond union affiliates.
On April 19, we must strike and mobilize massively. We must make this demand of all the trade unions of the CTA (Central de Trabajadores de Argentina – national confederation of labor unions), to unite all government employees, healthcare workers, teachers, and judicial, aeronautic, and metro employees and come together at the Plaza de Mayo [in Buenos Aires City]; because if we, public sector workers win, then all workers win!
In order to end the austerity program, we must advance this national plan of struggle in all of the unions – united and resolved in the workers’ assemblies as well as the plenaries of union delegates and activists
International Workers’ Day, May 1st is approaching. From the Bordó, we want to invite you to join us at the Left and Workers’ Front (Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores – FIT) at the Plaza de Mayo, to fight together with hundreds of workers for an independent political alternative, against Macry and the Kirchnerists.
For a May 1st of struggle, of workers – socialist and internationalist.
Permanent employment for all workers!
Full, direct government employment of all subcontracted workers. Common boss, common struggle!
In many hospitals throughout the province, cleaning and cooking services continue to be subcontrated. This directly affects the compañeros (co-workers) that we see every day. It affects those we work alongside, who carry out indispensable roles, but who are relegated to the category of second-rate employees who do not have the same rights as permanent employees.
For us, it is an essential task to unite all healthcare workers.
The subcontrated make up the most exploited sector of hospital workers, with a modality of labor precaritization that is inherited from a decade of Kirchnerist rule. Today, our subcontracted co-workers suffer under temporary contracts, months of “probationary period,” the loss of retirement benefits, reduced days off and vacation time, longer work hours, arbitrary firings, persecution of union delegates, and decreasing wages in relation to the meager salaries of public employees.
Therefore, it is fundamental that we put forward a real plan of struggle for the full and direct government employment of all subcontracted workers. So that there will be no more “first-rate” and “second-rate” workers! No more labor precaritization!
For the unity of all workers.