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All Eyes Are on Argentina Ahead of Its January 24 National Strike

Since the night of his acceptance speech in November, far-right President Javier Milei has mounted an all-out attack on the rights and living conditions of working people in Argentina. Thousands of people across the country — organized in unions and workers’ organizations, the feminist movement, the student movement, and neighborhood organizations — are preparing to fight back. They are mounting a national strike to defeat austerity and authoritarianism.

Madeleine Freeman

January 23, 2024
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AFP/LUIS ROBAYO

Most politicians have a “honeymoon” period when they enter office. Not Argentina’s far-right Javier Milei. He faces a national strike against his entire political program less than two months after taking office. On January 24, thousands are organizing a national day of action against Milei’s reactionary agenda, which promises to gut social spending and leave Argentina to be picked clean by the imperialist vultures of foreign investment and international financial institutions.

January 24 will draw a line in the sand, determining the path forward for the fight against the Right and for the interests of the working class and oppressed in the context of a deep economic and social crisis. The center of this struggle is the so-called “Omnibus Law,” a series of measures Milei and his advisors have proposed to push through Congress. With more than 300 changes to labor and tax laws, proposals for layoffs, and massive privatization, this law represents a sweeping neoliberal attack on the rights and historical conquests of working people. Both the content of the law and the authoritarian methods by which Milei is trying to impose it are brutal attacks on the democratic rights of millions of people, limiting the right to protest and strike and attempting to consolidate power in the executive branch.

Milei’s rise to power is indicative of a massive multi-layered crisis facing Argentina that the ruling class is maneuvering to foist onto the shoulders of the working class and oppressed. This crisis is a local expression of a convulsive world situation in which the global capitalist economy is in flux and geopolitical tensions are at a fever pitch, and as the imperialist hegemony of the United States faces multiple challenges. Posturing as a Trump-style right-wing populist, Milei is Zionist, anti-worker, ultra-neoliberal, a climate-change denier, an enemy to the rights of women and queer people, and yet another expression of a suffocating capitalist system. As such, the resistance against his policies take on international dimensions that require the active solidarity of all those who are fighting against the Right and against imperialist exploitation and oppression. 

That’s why unions and political organizations across the world are holding solidarity actions in dozens of cities on January 24 against Milei and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and in solidarity with the working class and oppressed in Argentina who are taking the fight into their own hands.

Join us in NYC in front of the Argentinian embassy on January 24 at 4p.m.

Israel Has a New Friend in Power

One of Milei’s first acts after his election in December was to signal his intention to move the Argentinian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following the example set by far-right politicians Donald Trump in 2018 and Jair Bolsonaro in 2019. 

Milei has aligned himself with the most rightward elements in the Israeli government, cozying up to Netanyahu’s government and going so far as to say that the “forces of heaven” support Israel in its quest to drive Palestinians out of their lands. On the campaign trail, and in his public appearances, he often drapes himself in the Israeli flag, professing his love for the Zionist project. Just days after Milei took office, Argentina withdrew its vote in favor of a UN ceasefire resolution and voted to abstain, showing a closer alignment with U.S. foreign policy and support for the genocide.

Of course, Argentina’s ruling politicians have always kept up a friendly relationship with Israel. Indeed, Milei’s opposition in the election — the centrist candidate Sergio Massa, who was the representative of the incumbent center-left Peronist coalition — is also a dedicated ally of the state of Israel. In that sense, Milei’s zealous support is more a difference of degree than of kind. However, in a context in which Israel is waging its deadliest offensive against Palestinians — with over 23,000 people murdered by IDF forces and settler violence, and millions displaced and lacking basic necessities — Milei positions himself staunchly against the millions of people mobilizing in the streets for an end to Israel’s attacks and for Palestinian liberation. Posturing as an admirer of Judaism, he follows in the footsteps of other far-right figures, many of whom are professed antisemites, to legitimize Israel’s settler colonial project and Israel’s standing in the world as the United States’ strongest ally in the Middle East.

This is key: what lurks behind Milei’s support for Israel and his foreign policy is an attempt to align Argentina’s capitalist interests with those of the United States and its allies, at the expense of the working class and Indigenous communities across Argentina. This would serve to bolster the United States’s imperialist hegemony as it faces challenges from China and other world powers.

Milei’s overtures to the U.S. and Israel give fuel to the United States’s unyielding support for Israel’s onslaught in Palestine. The fight against Milei’s reactionary domestic and international agendas is an international undertaking, not separate from the movement for Palestinian liberation in city streets across the world, and the struggle of all working and oppressed people to get free of the web of imperialist exploitation. Especially for those of us in the heart of the empire, it is necessary to fight all attempts to profit off of the murder and displacement of millions of Palestinians in order to better exploit and oppress working and poor people in other corners of the world.

The Struggle Against Imperialist Oppression, in Argentina and Across the World

Milei’s authoritarian austerity measures aim to make Argentina even more dependent on the biggest world powers, especially the United States, even as Milei walks a careful line to avoid alienating China. The fact that Milei clinched a victory in November’s elections is primarily an expression of the deep anger of millions of people against a political establishment that has overseen the impoverishment of 40% of the population, not to mention rapid inflation rising close to 200%.

Despite his bombastic rhetoric, his “solutions” to poverty, inflation, degradation of wages, and the precarization of labor amount to nothing less than a wholescale attempt to bail out capitalist interests with an aggressive neoliberal agenda, and saddle working people with the burden of external debt.

Touting his allegiance to billionaires like Elon Musk, Milei’s slate of measures mean to repeal laws against foreign investment and foreign ownership of property in Argentina, opening the gates to the country’s lithium stores needed by the likes of Musk for electric vehicles. Milei supports Argentina’s inclusion in trade “partnerships,” like the Free Trade Agreement, that have historically proven to result in nothing more than subordination to the United States and the corporations that dictate its policies. 

U.S.-backed companies have already moved in to take advantage of this new ally in Argentina, claiming one of the world’s most coveted resources for leverage in the competition with China. The same companies that exploit workers in the United States are those that will hyper-exploit workers in some of Argentina’s poorest regions and devastate the environment, controlling the land that thousands of people depend on for their livelihoods. And that means a direct attack on the Indigenous communities in the region that have fought for decades to protect their land from capitalist plunder.

No one is happier than the IMF, which has sunk its claws further into Argentina. The U.S.-backed financial institution rewarded Milei’s austerity plan with a new agreement concerning Argentina’s $44 billion loan program that would unlock $4.7 billion in funds. Yet the only ones who pay this debt are the working class and poor, who have felt the burden of the IMF loan for decades and are struggling even more under the weight of Milei’s “chainsaw” program to eliminate the debt while keeping taxes for corporations low. 

Paying this debt means firing workers, devaluing incomes, and slashing labor laws to make labor more precarious than ever before; it means cutting funds for education and healthcare and the arts which Argentina’s working class fought for and won over many decades of harsh struggles, amid organization and repression. It means an increase in poverty and precarity and a decrease in the living conditions of millions of people across the country.

Milei and the entire political establishment in Argentina — from those who endorse his agenda to those who stand in the way of fighting against it — have the whole-hearted support of the United States, which is salivating over new markets and resources and the potential for increasing its influence over Latin America in an attempt to dispute China’s growing presence in the region.

The U.S. is happy to turn a blind eye to the most reactionary abuses of Milei’s government as long as it means its companies can turn a profit then used to exploit workers in the United States and across the globe. Biden rushed to congratulate Milei on his election, “applaud[ing] the conduct of the election as a testament to the strength of Argentina’s democratic institutions.” Biden talks about democracy but says nothing about the authoritarian measures Milei employs to push his plans through. Milei is a Trump devotee and campaigned on slashing through the very rights that Biden and the Democratic Party claim to be protecting here and across the world. But as we know, the rights of the working class and the oppressed are nothing but a bargaining chip to the bourgeoisie. The United States protects and encourages authoritarian governments as long as it eases the way for imperialist penetration.

Fighting the Right, and for an End to Exploitation

Hand-in-hand with the fight against imperialism, the struggle against the Right is developing across the world in various forms. Milei and his administration have declared war on basic democratic rights, including the right to protest and strike. Echoing Trump and Bolsonaro, Milei attempts to make “socialism” into a boogeyman, redbaiting and encouraging violence against his political opponents.

But his ability to impose his agenda is not going unchecked, and he is not governing in ideal conditions. The resistance that is beginning to grow in Argentina in the weeks since Milei introduced his reactionary agenda has a bearing on the fight against the Right internationally, showing that the way forward is through the efforts of the working class combined with the student and social movements. The struggle to put an end not just to Milei’s economic and social onslaught, but also to years of economic crisis and uncertainty, emerges and will develop from below in workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools.

The traditional center-left Peronist movement in Argentina, whose waffling policies and deference to capitalists and imperialism were rejected in the last election, now paint themselves as the “lesser evil” solution to Milei’s attacks. Prizing the rule of order above all else, and ensuring that the cost of the economic crisis will not be paid by the capitalist class, they throw up their hands and tell people to wait until the measures are passed to then fight them in Congress, the courts, and in the next elections. This classic line of “lesser evilism” is touted by the likes of Jacobin Magazine, who says that it’s up to the courts and Congress to decide, the same institutions that passed similar attacks on the working class since the new constitution was established after the dictatorship. It’s the same tired refrain they repeat about the Democratic Party here in the United States. Meanwhile, each day more people struggle to make ends meet, the rights of the most marginalized are threatened, and working and living conditions become ever more precarious.

As Left Voice’s sister sites in the La Izquierda Diario international network show daily, the real fight is being waged by teachers, doctors, rail workers, students, retirees, the feminist movement, students, and socialists who will not let their futures be discarded to save capitalist profits.

Though Argentina’s biggest union federations put out the call for a national strike on January 24, they did not do it without immense pressure from below. The union bureaucracy aims to funnel the outrage at Milei’s agenda into support for the political establishment and contain the independent organization of the working class. But the masses are the ones spending their days and efforts preparing for this national day of action, and many of them will put their jobs and security on the line to participate in the strike and future actions.

Argentina’s legacy of the cacerolazo protests has been reignited in neighborhoods across the country. People are coming together in emergency assemblies in their workplaces and neighborhoods and schools to discuss how exactly the policies Milei and his administration are putting forward will affect their lives, and how to organize the fight to put a stop to severe austerity. It is from these assemblies that the seeds of independent organization can take root, grow, and bring more sectors into the struggle.

In this context, the Left is playing an extremely important role relative to its small size. Organizations like Left Voice’s sister organization, the Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS) and the electoral coalition in which it takes part, the Workers Left Front (FIT-U), have won important space through years of participation in the most important fights facing Argentina’s working class and oppressed communities. 

In the assemblies, socialists can fight for the working class to take a central role in carrying forward the struggle against the Omnibus Law, bringing the capitalist operations that prop up the state to a grinding halt. It is from these assemblies that the PTS is fighting for an active national strike, one that does not stop with a single day of national action but continues until the austerity measures are struck down.

And these struggles are taken up and amplified by the small but powerful group of revolutionary socialists who hold positions in the national Congress and across local governments. Rather than being the left cover for “lesser evilism,” toeing the line of the establishment, they are using their positions in Congress to defy the Omnibus Law. They are challenging each and every authoritarian move made by Milei’s cronies in the government. Facing bureaucratic maneuvers to silence them, red-baiting, and even death threats, they fight to show exactly who Milei’s measures will benefit and the effects austerity will have on the working class and poor. They use their positions to call for organization in the streets and for the necessity of the working class to take up the mantle of struggle with both hands.

From these positions, both in the Congress and in the assemblies, there is space to show how necessary it is to expand the struggle beyond just Milei’s government to a fight against the whole system that brought it to power and which ensures the exploitation and oppression of the entire population. As Milei made clear during a speech given at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the capitalist class is terrified of the ideological ground that capitalism has lost in the last decades, and of a revitalized and combative working class that is waking up to fight for its interests.

The organization and the outrage that will be expressed on January 24 in Argentina has the potential to serve as an example to the world of how the working class and oppressed fight back against the Right, and the vital role a small but combative Left can play in helping that happen. In that sense, the struggle in Argentina is the struggle of all those who fight for the rights of the exploited and oppressed — and that fight requires active solidarity across the world. 

Join Left Voice and its sister organizations in the Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International in mobilizing to the Argentinian embassy on January 24 in dozens of cities across the world to unite our struggles and fight back against U.S. imperialist intervention, the Far Right, and all attacks against the working class and oppressed. 

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Madeleine Freeman

Madeleine is a writer and video collaborator for Left Voice. She lives in New York.

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