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The Fight against Javier Milei Has Set The Stage For a Whole New Wave of Struggle

The defeat of the Omnibus Law is a key victory for the movement against Javier Milei’s austerity plan and attacks on democratic rights. It shows that the working class and oppressed have the power to fight against the advance of the Far Right in Argentina and across the world.

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Photo: Luigi Morris

The working class in Argentina just dealt a powerful blow to the Far Right. After a one-day national strike that brought 1.5 million people into the streets across the country and a week of protests bringing together wide sectors of the working class and social movements, a pillar of newly-elected president Javier Milei’s austerity program, popularly called the “Omnibus Law,” was just struck down in Congress. After this setback for the government, the struggle to take down Milei’s entire neoliberal agenda is just beginning. 

The movement in Argentina is paving the way for the fight against the Right internationally. The struggle presents unique opportunities because of three — potentially explosive — characteristics. First, workers, students, and retirees are organizing themselves from below to intervene in the struggle and debate the path forward, both in neighborhood assemblies and workers’ assemblies. Second, the organized working class is poised to play a decisive role, with the national strike — which occurred as a result of rank-and-file pressure — drawing wide sectors into the streets.

Finally, the revolutionary socialist Left is a key player in the struggle. An important coalition of socialists in the Workers Left Front (FIT-U) is denouncing the attacks in the congress and amplifying and joining the struggle in the streets. Organizations like el Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS) — which over decades of participating on the front lines of class struggle, has gained significant insertion in important sectors of the working class as well as in the workers movement more generally and in Argentina’s strong feminist movement — are taking an active role in the struggle against Milei, gaining influence as a force that will take the fight against the Right all the way until victory.

The Right’s Plan of Attack 

Even before officially taking office, Milei began advancing an aggressive neoliberal program aimed at “shocking” Argentina’s economy out of an acute crisis by slashing the rights and living conditions of the working class and poor, gutting social spending and opening up Argentina to imperialist interests. The government’s plans have already resulted in severe cuts, depreciation of wages, and layoffs in a context of soaring inflation and poverty that has only worsened since Milei took office. 

At the core of these plans is the “Decreto Nacional de Urgencia” (DNU), what is popularly called the “Omnibus Law,” and the “Security Protocol.” Together, these plans marked a drastic rollback of rights in almost every aspect of life for the millions of people living and working in Argentina.

The DNU, which Milei implemented in December, includes hundreds of provisions — it devalues the Argentine peso, strips price caps, slashes tenants rights, attacks the right to protest, targets environmental protections, and cements Argentina’s semi-colonial status and subservience to U.S. imperialism. It also proposes to make changes to labor law, increasing informal labor, severely limiting the right to strike for workers deemed “essential” and “critical” to the economy, and giving employers the right to fire anyone who occupies a workplace or blocks an entrance.

Further, the Security Department, headed by former presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich, has also tried to advance additional “security protocols” which criminalize blocking roads, force protests onto the sidewalk, and give impunity to the armed forces to intervene against protests. This protocol was already deployed against the protests that took place as the Omnibus Law was debated in the congress.

The now-withdrawn Omnibus Law would have taken these attacks even further, including hundreds of changes to Argentinian law that threatened to target workers rights, privatize key sectors of the economy, and reduce retirement and public services. To impose these unpopular attacks, it would have also consolidated power in the executive branch and limited the right to protest. The top-down nature by which Milei’s government is operating expresses elements of a “civic dictatorship,” which strengthens and expands the authoritarian nature of the executive branch.

Milei is proposing bills that will allow him to entirely bypass congressional approval for future legislative changes, a maneuver that reveals the fundamentally Bonapartist nature of his regime and his plans to rule by decree. Milei — who alongside members of his cabinet celebrate the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 and murdered thousands of activists, communists, and civilians — is attempting to use the pre-existing anti-democratic institutions of the bourgeois state to rule in the interests of Argentina’s capitalists and international corporations.

The bulk of Milei’s proposals were tied to the wide-reaching Omnibus Law; consequently public opposition to the bill as it was voted on in the congress organized the resistance to Milei’s program. Last week the bill received enough votes in a first round which approved the law in general, but left the question of the individual articles — which contained the majority of the most drastic attacks — for subsequent sessions. 

As protests roared outside for four days, the congress debated the bill, with the five revolutionary socialist members of the Workers United Front (FIT-U) denouncing each and every maneuver by the government and the politicians negotiating with the far-right government. After sessions resumed this week, Congress ruled to scrap the bill completely and send it back to commission.

The heavy-handed nature of Milei’s government in its first few months expresses both an attempt to strengthen the state but also the relative weakness of the regime to impose its attacks, as is evidenced by the failure of the Omnibus Law. Now Milei and his allies face considerable challenges to their program in a context where there is not consensus among the capitalist class for exactly how to resolve Argentina’s crisis. Defeating the Omnibus Law was just the first step; Milei and his government are still resolved to implement austerity and rollback rights. Just this week Milei’s party, La Libertad Avanza, just sent a bill to the congress that would repeal the legalization of abortion that was hard earned in the streets in 2020.

In this scenario, class struggle is decisive. If the movement is able to expand and the unions are forced to act, the government will have a hard time passing its immediate agenda, let alone ruling peacefully for the next four years.

Resistance Built from Below

After Milei took office, there was fear from sectors of the masses to mobilize. This was reinforced by the so-called “opposition” of Argentina’s traditional center-left Peronist movement, which controlled the government for many years, including the four years preceding Milei; it has a long history of influence in the social movements and leads sectors of the workers movement. Even as the extent of Milei’s attacks became clear, the official policy of this sector has been to “wait and see” what his government does and to try to defeat the worst of his policies in the courts and in the congress.

But as they sat twiddling their thumbs, Milei’s policies began to take effect, exacerbating an already-dire economic and social crisis (which was worsened by the conciliatory policies of the previous Peronist government). The organized Left and more militant sectors in the labor and social movements called an action against the Omnibus Law in mid-December, bringing together a small but combative force putting forward the perspective of fighting Milei’s attacks in the streets. 

But the tides changed later in the evening when hundreds of thousands came out to the streets and in their neighborhoods across the country to participate in “cacerolazos” in protest of Milei’s program. Above the din of banging pots and pans rose a clear demand on Argentina’s largest labor union, the CGT: “paro general!” or general strike.

From the cacerolazos developed small but significant neighborhood assemblies that promised to mobilize to stop the attacks and to work together to organize the struggle. Faced with this pressure and pressure from the rank-and-file of the unions, the CGT was forced to call a national strike for January 24. 

The strike itself mobilized over a million people. In Buenos Aires, where the mobilizations have been the largest, many people met in these neighborhood assemblies or their workplaces and marched to the center of the city. Despite the unions’ refusal to organize unorganized workers, hundreds of arts and culture workers organized themselves to unite their efforts and plan the resistance against Milei’s policies.

The mobilizations and the national strike went beyond what the CGT had anticipated or mobilized for. The strike was massive despite the leadership of the CGT, not because of it. The leadership of the CGT has largely been parroting the line of the Peronist politicians, their traditional allies, making a show of meeting with the government and putting up a fight against attacks on labor through the courts. They called a limited national strike of 12 hours, keeping public transportation running so that non-union sectors would be forced to go to work. 

Their politics has been one of containing the struggle, not expanding it to actually defeat all of Milei’s attacks. In their hands, the national strike was meant to be a pressure campaign on the congress to get a seat at the table to negotiate slightly better conditions for the exploitation of the working class, not to use the collective power of a strong working class to shut down the economy until Milei’s program is defeated. But the rank-and-file and the assemblies continue to push for the unions to take up the struggle; a common refrain in the protests has been “where is the CGT?”

In the absence of further action on the part of the unions and Unión por la Patria (the Peronist political coalition, UxP), the resistance to the government’s austerity measures continued on the streets. Thousands of people gathered in front of the congress as the politicians debated the Omnibus Law and made their voices heard. Though these protests were smaller — since the big unions and sectors of the social movements refused to mobilize — the Left, militant sectors of the labor movement and social movements, as well as the neighborhood assemblies refused to let the law pass without a fight.

With these smaller numbers, the state ramped up repression. This operation — which is both undemocratic and expensive despite the government’s assertion that “there is no money” for social programs — are essential to cut off the movement at the knees and scare people into accepting the austerity and further impoverishment and suffering that the government’s plans entail. With echoes of the repression during the Chilean uprising of 2019, the police aimed rubber bullets at people’s eyes, targeting the press and protesters even as they stood on the sidewalk.

But this struggle against the Omnibus Law was decisive, showing that after years of relatively low class struggle, Argentina’s working class and poor are once again rising up to defend their rights. Even in the face of repression a vanguard of the movement is sowing the seeds for the organization necessary for the battles to come.

The neighborhood assemblies and workers organizations in particular have become crucial structures of self organization that bring together different sectors — employed, unemployed, students, precarious workers, and retirees.

As Eduardo Castillo explains in La Izquierda Diario:

[The assemblies] have become a vanguard political actor on the national scene. They are a genuine expression of a tendency towards self-organization that rejects verticalism. They return to a tradition of organization that was born in the great rebellion of December 2001. They express, to a certain extent, a response to the crisis of political representation. This rejection of the “old politics” is not anti-political, but rather represents a new form of active and conscious participation in political life. Today they are focused on defeating the Omnibus Law, the DNU, and the security protocol; however, the assemblies are deeply opposed to Milei and the model he represents. This fuels the prospect of their expansion in the heat of the economic crisis.

In these democratic assemblies, people gathered together to discuss the direction of the struggle, including how to participate in the anti-Omnibus Law protests, and debating different strategies. These are active cells of political struggles, ones in which socialists have a key role to play.

Against the sectors that follow the line of Peronist politicians and union bosses who say that the protests are nothing but “vanguardism,” our comrades in the PTS have been putting forward the need to draw more sectors into the protests and against the repression, including uniting the assemblies with the organized working class and amplifying the call for a general strike and a national coordination of assemblies. 

So far, the struggle has been led by a small and combative sector who see that it is worth it to fight, but the challenge moving forward is to organize the widespread discontent with Milei’s policies and draw them into the mobilizations which continue each day.

Class Struggle and Revolutionary Organization Are an Explosive Combination

The fact that the congress was forced to withdraw the Omnibus Law is a key victory for the movement against the government’s austerity plan and attacks on democratic rights. It shows that the working class and oppressed have the power to fight against the advance of the Far Right, not by taking a “wait and see” approach and relying on the institutions of the regime to come to the rescue, but by organizing from below and taking the fight in their own hands.

Amplifying this perspective and organizing for it has been a crucial task of the Left in Argentina these last months. Even in a context of a long period of widespread adaptation to the unions’ refusal to fight back, deference to lesser evilism, and disorganization, a small but combative Left is making the difference and working to build the kind of force that has been and can be decisive in moments where class struggle resurges and the masses begin to see themselves as political actors who are not content with the leadership of the ruling class. A key player has been the PTS, which organizes thousands of people across the country and has been at the forefront of the struggle against Milei’s program,  arguing for the strategic necessity for the working class to organize itself independently to carry the struggle forward with a socialist perspective.

From the primary elections in 2023, our comrades in the PTS have been putting forward the perspective that the fight for the rights of the working class and oppressed are defended in the streets, not at the ballot box. It has been the work of many decades of political struggle to gain influence among the left sectors of the labor movement, feminist movement, in universities and schools, as well as among sectors of the masses.

One front of this struggle is the Workers Left Front (FIT-U), which is an electoral coalition of revolutionary socialists that has five seats in the national congress: Romina del Plá (from the Partido Obrero), and four members of the PTS — Myriam Bregman, Nicolás del Caño, Alejandro Vilca, and Christian Castillo. They are long-time referents on the socialist Left who are recognized by millions of people across the country for fighting for the rights of workers and oppressed people and against the attacks of the Right. Alongside other members of the FIT-U in local government positions, they gained over one million votes in the last election. 

They use their seats in the congress to denounce all the different aspects of Milei’s program, showing exactly how these laws will impact working and poor people. While every other member of the congress supports further opening up Argentina to imperialist domination in the form of the debt owed to the IMF, they openly argue against payment of the debt.

They showed the farce of the Omnibus Law negotiations for what it was, and railed against the sessions that continued, despite the intense police repression going on just outside. In fact, they left the session to join the protests in the street and were repressed alongside workers and the neighborhood assemblies. They use this national platform to amplify the struggle in the street.

Their example shows that socialists must make use of every tool available to us to carry the struggle forward; part of that means gaining influence far beyond the revolutionary Left, but that does not mean watering down a revolutionary program.

They are the voices that call most urgently for the defeat of the Right because they see the place that these reactionary forces play in upholding the capitalist world order. They show the whole country that the so-called Left will align with the Right to maintain law and order for the ease of capitalist profit-making. And so they link the Fight currently underway to the struggle against capitalism. These revolutionary socialist politicians openly discuss socialism on the floor of the congress; they say they are communists and Trotskyists who uphold the conquests of the Russian Revolution. In a context in which Milei openly fosters anti-communism, resulting even in death threats against these visible communists, they explain for the entire country how companies make a profit off of the exploitation of millions of workers who can’t afford housing and destroy the planet. Milei implements harsh austerity in the name of “liberty,” but this liberty exists only for capitalists. As Cristian Castillo said in a recent speech from the floor of the congress: 

The only society in which liberty and equality can be compatible is a socialist society. The capitalist world in which we live has made it so that the 80 richest people in the world have approximately the same income as the 3,500,000,000 poorest on the planet…. When we can all appropriate the social wealth that we together generate, then truly the word “freedom” will not be a campaign slogan to justify the inequality and despotism of the rich, but rather it will be an argument for a material reality that can actually be expressed.”

These revolutionaries take it as an essential task to push the struggle forward, not funnel people’s energy into the next election cycle. The night after the Omnibus Law was withdrawn, they came out to join the celebrations and to say that the fight is not over and that it  is necessary to expand the struggle to put an end to Milei’s program for good. Reality proved them right the very next day, when a new bill was introduced to the congress to overturn the right to an abortion.

While the FIT-U has been one of the most effective ways to put forward a revolutionary  socialist perspective nationally and to help organize the fight against Milei’s program, a key pillar of the PTS’s national reach and influence is tied to its publication, La Izquierda Diario. LID became a voice for the movement while the mainstream media maligned the protests and sided with the government. 

They interviewed people on the street as they reacted in real time to the reality of Milei’s program. They are showing the whole world the example of the neighborhood assemblies. They are explaining the neoliberal nature of Milei’s program that is a more extreme version of the policies that have impoverished millions of people in Argentina for decades. They highlight the voices of the workers who have joined the struggle and are pressuring their unions to take action. With Marxist analysis and the lessons of previous struggles they write on the most strategic questions facing the movement so that these ideas can be discussed from within the movement.

This revolutionary publication is more than just a news outlet saying truth to power: it is one more axis of organization, a political organizer that can be a tool for socialists and activists to expand the struggle, showing in real time the power of the self organization of the working class and oppressed when they unite their struggles against their common enemy. In a moment when the memory and promise of revolution seem like a dot on the horizon in a sea of capitalist despair, putting forward socialist ideas that concretize the struggle for millions of people is like a life raft. And with these ideas, LID has attracted millions of views and new audiences as part of the struggle against the government’s plans and for a program of socialist revolution.

All of these initiatives support and attempt to help organize the struggle in the streets — which is where the actual war is being waged. From their unions and workplaces, schools and universities, and the neighborhood assemblies, the revolutionary socialists in the PTS, alongside thousands of other workers and activists, have been on the frontlines of the protests, standing up to the repressive security protocol. Healthcare workers have set up stations at the protests to help people who are hurt by pepper spray, rubber bullets or tear gas. In every place where PTS members are, they are fighting to expand the struggle and to unite behind the collective power of the working class. Against a politics of irrelevance and a politics of conciliation with bourgeois parties, they call for all those who oppose Milei’s policies to stand together and fight.

International Struggle Against the Right Requires Internationalist Organization

There is immense potential in the struggle underway in Argentina; it is part of an international struggle against Far Right governments that are gaining momentum around the world. Beyond passive solidarity, socialists and activists everywhere must take up this struggle in our own hands and make the most of this experience. That means highlighting the struggle and organizing anti-imperialist solidarity. Solidarity actions were staged in cities across the world on the day of the national strike in Argentina, including here in the United States. Making the most of this experience also means debating and discussing the path forward for victory and using these examples to organize our struggles wherever we are. Because defeating Milei’s program is something that strengthens the fight against the Right across the world.

Much of the coverage by the Left of the protests in Argentina ignores the role that socialists are playing in carrying the struggle forward, while parroting the same lesser evilism that hamstrings our movements across the world. Jacobin, for example, with its millions of readers has not had a single article referencing the protests, not one article about the January 24 general strike.

Despite their love of electoral politics, they have also ignored the role of the FIT-U in the congress as a living, breathing example of how socialists can use such national positions to help organize the movement in the streets and grow their influence. They are content to warn of new turns in the growth of the Far Right but without a fighting strategy to meet it; rather than showing the bravery of the working class and the Left in the streets and celebrating the resurgence of class struggle, they treat it as an embarrassing detail, instead interviewing reformist politicians who pin their hopes on negotiating with the government to lessen the worst effects of Milei’s program.

They don’t want to risk inspiring too much hope in the working class because they don’t believe that we can win. The logic goes that the task of the Left in this moment is to gain influence without upsetting anyone and by currying the favor of so-called left sectors of capitalists, politicians, and their allies in the union bureaucracy.

But the struggle in Argentina is showing that the force capable of imposing the will of the working class is built in class struggle, in the self-organization of working-class and oppressed people who are the protagonists of the fight against the Right. Deferring to the lesser evil — which will ultimately always side with the interests of the capitalist class — only leaves us more vulnerable to the advance of the Right.

The fact is that nowhere in the world is there such a combination of a Far Right in power, incipient forms of self-organization rising up to combat its program, and a Left that is positioned to build influence and sympathy for its politics in the movement.

This is something that should capture the attention of the entire Left, especially here in the United States, where we have an important role to play in anti-imperialist struggle. 

Tempest Magazine is one of the only left publications in the United States that has published anything that highlights the role and challenges of the Left in Argentina during this struggle. Amplifying the struggle and the perspective of comrades on the ground is key, but part of that is depicting the struggle as it is, presenting the actual forces at play and using the lessons on display in Argentina to organize our struggles here as well.

There is an entire world to win in Argentina, and the challenges are immense. The Left is still disjointed and small and the movement must expand to include new sectors in order to develop. But through this process it has the potential to grow and build the kind of organization of the working class and oppressed that can tip the scales of class struggle in favor of the vast majority, not the ruling class. The fight against Milei’s austerity program and attacks on democratic rights is cultivating the conditions for the working class to make a leap in its organization, uniting its struggles independently from any capitalist political force. 

This is not just a national endeavor; real anti-imperialism, real internationalism means seeking to build a revolutionary socialist organization on an international scale and putting forward this perspective wherever we do political work. Left Voice hopes to play a role in developing and fighting for this goal, alongside sectors of the working class, social movements, and the Left who see encouraging the political organization of our class as essential to making  the most of the moments where the working class and oppressed break out as actors on the political stage. 

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

Madeleine Freeman

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

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