“Unity of the working class, and whoever doesn’t like it can fuck themselves.”
A crowd of thousands of people chanted this outside the National Congress in Argentina on January 31. In over 95 degree heat, these protesters condemned the anti-worker omnibus law put forward by far-right president Javier Milei. As Congress debated the bill, military police surrounded protesters, positioned to attack.
“Down with Milei! Down with the omnibus bill!” chanted the protesters.
Only six days after a national strike on January 24 against Milei’s policies, in which 1.5 million workers took part, the Argentine Congress is voting on a regressive and authoritarian “omnibus bill” drafted by the President and his allies. The omnibus bill includes a package of laws attacking workers’ rights, the right to protest, Indigenous rights, environmental regulations, and attacks on other oppressed communities. If passed, the bill would reduce pensions, put thousands of workers out of jobs, privatize massive parts of the economy, and open swaths of the country’s resources to imperialist plunder. The bill is a pillar of Milei’s right-wing agenda, and a neoliberal experiment to sell off Argentina to U.S. multinationals that capitalists and far-right figures around the world are paying close attention to.
After the show of force on January 24, many of the center-left Peronist organizations — including the largest trade union bureaucracies — which called for and participated in the strike have directed people to trust in the debates being carried out in Congress. These debates have largely been a circus, however. The bill will be debated over three days, and will go through multiple revisions. So far the full text is not even available for deputies in Congress to read, and voting will begin only minutes after revisions are being made. Only the five Trotskyists deputies in the Workers Left Front (FIT-U) — which includes Left Voice’s sister group, the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) — have called out this farce.
During debates over the bill, PTS deputy Myriam Bregman told everyone in Congress to “go to their people and show their faces because we are going to make sure that everyone knows who voted for this law.” Along with their fierce criticisms in Congress, the FIT-U deputies walked out to join the protesters in the streets.
Outside, cops used tear gas and pepper spray against the protesters. Cops even pepper sprayed Alejandro Vilca, another Left and Workers Front deputy, and a leading member of the PTS. Vilca is an indigenous sanitation worker representing the province Jujuy, which is situated in the heart of the so-called “Lithium Triangle,” one of the largest lithium extraction zones in the world. Jujuy would be uniquely harmed by the omnibus bill, which seeks to open up the largely Indigenous province to further imperialist extraction projects.
Returning to Congress to speak out against the repression, Vilca stated, “It is impossible to continue a discussion of a law of this magnitude with all the objections we have raised and with this repressive operation it is impossible [to continue]. It is shameful to send three federal forces, the gendarmerie, the Naval Prefecture, and the federal police [to repress demonstrators]. I’m an elected member of Congress; I cannot allow them to beat us and fire tear gas at us.”
A Revolutionary Left and Growing Class Struggle
This comes after a month of rising class struggle in Argentina. First, a mobilization of the Argentine Left and social movements, with the Trotskyist electoral coalition, the FIT-U, playing a central role. The Peronists, who during the electoral campaign called Milei a fascist, argued that the people should wait and see the results of Milei’s government. But that very night thousands around the country came out to join cacerolazos, a historical method of protest in Argentina in which people take to the streets banging pots and pans. People chanted “national strike” and “Where are they? I can’t see them! Where is the CGT?” — referring to Argentina’s main labor union federation. The inaction of the union leadership is particularly shameful given the vast number of workers they organize — Argentina has a roughly 40% unionization rate.
As a result of the pressure from below, a national strike was called on January 24. While the union leadership, tied to the Peronists, limited the strike to 12 hours and ensured that public transport kept running — so that non-union workers would continue to work — 1.5 million people in the country walked off the job, in a country of roughly 46 million people. In other words, a massive national strike occurred, mostly in spite of the union leaderships’ attempts to contain the struggle.
Much of the national strike was organized in workplaces, where workers, including nurses, doctors, teachers, truck drivers, and others formed assemblies to debate the next steps. In many parts of the country, neighborhood assemblies were organized that brought together union and non-union sectors of the working class, alongside students and unemployed workers. Many of these neighborhood assemblies mobilized to join the protests outside Congress on Wednesday.
A Lesson in Fighting the Far Right
As night fell on Buenos Aires, people remained in the streets. The cacerolazos began, and the Left, carrying their massive banners, began to push back against the police. As the Left advanced, the cops, outnumbered, were forced to retreat. They chanted “Ole, ole, ole ola, what happened to the Nazis is what’s going to happen to you. No matter where you hide, we’ll find you,” echoing the historical chant that social movements directed against the leaders of the country’s military dictatorship.
Nicolas del Cano, vice presidential candidate for the Left and Workers’ Front, clearly stated, “the union bureaucracy who called the national strike on Wednesday must call a national strike again.”
From the belly of the imperialist beast in the United States, we stand in solidarity with the struggle against Milei — and all those who facilitate his agenda —in Argentina. And, as we go towards an election year in which we will once again be told to hold our noses and vote for Biden, the Left in Argentina is showing the way forward against the Right. The way to fight the right is always in the streets, in our workplaces, demanding the union leadership mobilize their enormous forces and shut down business as usual. It is this fight, organized in assemblies in neighborhoods and workplaces, that will form the basis to defeat Milei, but which is also the foundation of the fight for socialism.