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Argentina: Building the General Strike Against the Right-Wing Milei Government

Defeating the Milei government’s reactionary agenda will require independent working-class organization in Argentina.

Fredy Lizarrague

January 8, 2024
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People mobilizing in Buenos Aires against Javier Milei's right-wing government.

Editor’s note: This article is based on a summary of several articles from La Izquierda Diario, the Argentinian sister newspaper of Left Voice. They are the result of collective elaborations by the national leadership of the Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas (“Party of Socialist Workers,” PTS), which were published here, here, and here, among others.

Since taking office last month, Javier Milei, the new far-right president of Argentina, has announced a series of economic proposals and attacks on basic democratic rights that, if implemented, will devastate the working class. In response, labor unions and the Left have called for a general strike on January 24. The Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS), the sister organization of Left Voice in Argentina, is calling for the working class to take the general strike into its own hands to defeat these proposals and the entire neolibertarian regime.

Among the new proposals are changes to more than 300 laws that would weaken labor unions, limit democratic rights, repress protest through a set of new “security protocols,” and allow for the further modification of legislation without the approval of the Argentinian congress. These proposals reveal the Bonapartist nature of the new regime, which is already attempting to rule by decree and seeking even greater power for itself in the process. 

Now, the government has sent a so-called “Omnibus Law” to the congress to be debated during the month of January. The Omnibus Law includes an extraordinary “delegation of powers” ​​that would effectively remove legislative oversight of the congress while eliminating proportional representation (and therefore, all smaller oppositional parties) in the legislature. Several blocs within the ruling class itself have already voiced their opposition to the boldest aspects of the law, such as the practically unrestricted delegation of powers.

The situation has already increased social discontent and criticism of the government. Surveys show that the majority of the population thinks the country is going “in the wrong direction” and the new government’s approval rating is quickly falling. The demonstrations in front of the national courts on Wednesday, December 27, called by the CGT (Central General de Trabajadores, the most important trade union in Argentina) exceeded all expectations of their bureaucratic organizers by bringing together 20,000 people during the workday. The call for a national strike and street demonstrations on January 24 is a response to this change of mood in broad sectors of the working class, as well as to the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself.

Even many of those who voted for Milei are becoming dissatisfied and critical of the government, although the majority of the 56 percent of voters who voted for him say they are still “waiting to see the results.” Media outlets like Clarín, La Nación and Infobae — Milei-friendly outlets — are calling for patience with the government while criticizing the CGT for organizing the “fastest strike in history,” as if Milei’s agenda were not an enormous attack on working people and other sectors.

We believe that the strike and demonstrations organized for January 24 will express in the streets this anger and discontent of the millions affected by inflation, recession, and the attacks on democratic rights, and that it will begin to awaken the forces that have been dormant in recent years. 

Divisions in the Argentinian Bourgeoisie

Argentina’s working class is in the midst of a class war in which no side is yet well organized. If on the side of the “aggrieved” we have the union leaders ready to end the fight at the first opportunity in order to present themselves as responsible negotiators, there are many divisions on the side of the government and the bosses. The measures proposed by the government clearly benefit international finance capital and big business as a whole through harsh anti-worker attacks. 

However, within the Omnibus Law, there appear more specific benefits to the international financial, mining, and oil sectors but several undesirable provisions for other business sectors, including an increase of withholdings in the automotive industry and sectors of agribusiness. It also allows for the opening of imports and new tariffs on the sugar and lemon industries, among others. 

From the point of view of working people, the Omnibus Law sweeps away numerous democratic rights and historical gains of workers even as the incomes of wage earners and the self-employed are decimated by inflation. This is why it is key to organize an independent pole that strongly opposes these measures through an active strike on January 24, while rejecting the plan of the union bureaucracies to negotiate with the government for a more “moderate” austerity plan. The strike must be the first step to advance a counteroffensive that defeats Milei’s agenda as a whole: no emergency decree, no repressive security protocol, no anti-labor laws, austerity, layoffs, or fee hikes against working people.

The General Strike and the CGT’s Strategy

The government has already launched a campaign against the January 24 nationwide strike with the slogan “I will not strike.” Meanwhile the mainstream media is denouncing the unions for calling a national strike only 19 days after the government took office, despite not having called for any strike during the previous four years of the Peronist government of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In those years, the Fernández regime failed to fulfill all the promises it made to reverse the disaster of the Mauricio Macri government, in particular the massive cuts to salaries and retirement benefits. 

Left Voice and the PTS have always harshly criticized the major union bureaucracies for their complicity with the Peronist government and its agreements with the IMF. The PTS was at the forefront of each struggle, including the land occupation in Guernica, and all the conflicts during the years of the Peronist and Macri governments. The Peronist union leaders, on the other hand, are the same ones that, during the 1990s presidency of Carlos Menem (the most neoliberal president Argentina has ever had), accepted all the privatizations and “flexible” labor reforms in exchange for maintaining control over health insurance and pension funds. The majority of these union leaders are more businessmen than union members, and as a result, they do not represent or fight for the working class. 

Take the Strike into Our Own Hands

We do not have the slightest confidence in this union bureaucracy. Rather than follow these bureaucrats, we are calling on the working class to take the strike of January 24 into our own hands, not only to make it truly massive but to defend our right to mobilize, defying the repressive security protocol of Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and Milei. To defeat Milie’s proposals we must mobilize hundreds of thousands, organize pickets and road blockades, while putting forward independent working-class politics. We are ready to “strike together” with the CGT and the social organizations that were part of the Peronist government, demanding the repeal of Emergency Decree and the Omnibus Law, but we will “march separately” because we know that their strategy is to extract a few concessions while letting the bulk of the attacks pass. This is why we propose an independent organization and program to confront the attacks.

Neighborhood assemblies are already being called in various cities and municipalities. In the workplaces, the leaders of the bureaucratic unions will surely not call for any meaningful debates or meetings. In the best of cases they will gather their delegates and hire a bus to go to the protest. But the call for a strike with mobilization in the streets requires widespread discussion and debate within the rank-and-file of the working class, a working class that has suffered defeats for years without any response. 

In each city, municipality, and neighborhood, there must be common work and organization between unionized and non-unionized workers, the employed and unemployed, students, the self-employed and all working people facing attacks. In each union, we propose that the doors be opened to other sectors, and that coordination committees be organized. In some provinces there are “multi-sectoral” groups (such as in Jujuy) that should call for open meetings or assemblies, with the participation of all organizations that defend workers and maintain independence from the bosses. 

There will be union leaders who are Peronists or even members of the (center-right) Radical Party, which is logical if we are talking about a truly massive movement, but this should not be confused with giving support to the employers’ parties themselves. Parties like the (Peronist) Partido Justicialista have been managing the state in the service of big business for years, even though they find themselves in the opposition today. We have in common with them our opposition to the Emergency Decree and the Omnibus Law but we do not share their objectives: they want their party’s politicians to negotiate the status of these laws and extract a few minor concessions. 

A major challenge is to organize the fight in those zones and municipalities like Greater Buenos Aires, where informal work is widespread and there is little union representation, and where the Right has managed to gain a foothold among sectors hit hardest by the austerity policies of recent years. Piquetero (unemployed people’s) organizations can play an important role if they promote assemblies open to all political tendencies, together with union, student, and political organizations.

It is also necessary to organize the women’s movement by showing how the Omnibus Law and the entire government policy seeks to open the way to reverse the gains that the women’s movement has won through years of struggle, particularly since girls and young women are those most affected by poverty, as pointed out by our comrades, Andrea D’Atri and Myriam Bregman.

The youth, despite the holidays, must also be encouraged to rebel against these severe attacks on working conditions, public education, and free higher education (the Omnibus Law would implement tuition fees for foreign students). In fact, young people are already beginning to organize in several cities in the country to mobilize alongside workers and popular sectors. 

The honeymoon period of the right-wing “libertarian” government is coming to an end. But a way out will not come from the politicians who seek conciliation with big business (like the Peronists) but by resuming the traditions of struggle in the streets and socialist perspective that the Cordobazo generation, who cut their teeth in the 1969 uprisings in Córdoba, had, drawing lessons from both their potential and mistakes. Every young worker or student who organizes and fights this summer could multiply by hundreds or thousands within a few months.

In each assembly it is necessary to begin discussing an independent, working-class program that fights for the defense of jobs, salaries, and pensions, and which demands that the crisis be paid for by the biggest economic powers and a break with the IMF agreements. Such a program must also call for an emergency increase in salaries, pensions, and the income of self-employed workers so that they are not harmed by inflation, as well as the immediate defeat of the omnibus law and the emergency decree in order to close the way to reactionary negotiations. We must also make permanent all temporary job contracts, and be prepared to occupy and relaunch production under worker control of any factory that closes or lays of massive numbers of workers, following the examples of Zanon and Madygraf

In the face of skyrocketing inflation, we must also demand an immediate freeze in the prices of food and other necessities, insist that the accounting books of the large food companies be opened so that the people can see their tremendous profits, and call for the expropriation of any company that speculates on the people’s hunger, under the control of its workers.

Special Call to the Other Organizations of the Left Front and All Combative Sectors

The mobilization of December 20, which was the first challenge in the streets to the Milei government and the security protocol, involved a common bloc of combative unemployed workers’ and union organizations, along with the parties of the Left and human rights organizations. In the mobilization of the CGT on December 27 at the national courts, that same bloc marched demanding a nationwide general strike and a plan of struggle. Now, we propose to continue and strengthen that unity in action and that independent political pole of the union and social movement leaderships linked to Peronism in the preparation of the mobilizations on January 24, in the marches themselves, and after the strike.

By building combative unity from below, promoting assemblies, coordinating committees and other methods of worker and popular unity at the city, regional, or provincial level, with a pole that raises an independent program and mobilizes on a mass scale on January 24, we can promote the idea of a mass assembly or of a combative national plenary for February, which would allow the voices that are independent of the union bureaucracy to multiply. This meeting could take place in a large stadium to strengthen the organization from below and a program so that the crisis is paid for by big capital.

An Exceptional Summer

This will not be a “normal” summer. Preparing for the strike and mobilizations on January 24 requires that we put all our energy into organizing meetings, fliers, graffiti, and days of debate and coordination. The PTS will publish a national flier and all kinds of regional and local materials. Each neighborhood assembly and coordination meeting must produce its own materials and slogans to initiate debate on a massive scale, preparing a large mobilization with all road blockades that are necessary to guarantee its effectiveness. La Izquierda Diario has already been reporting on and promoting the entire process of neighborhood demonstrations and assemblies that have been organized and which we believe will multiply. The government and employers are betting on the demobilizing effects of the summer months. Let’s give them a surprise.

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