Friday, November 23, 2012

Tuesday's militant opposition action in Argentina

The politics of one's own country is perplexing enough. Understanding another country's can be even more so.

One saving factor in looking at foreign politics is that we are typically looking at some general feature in that country's policies. For the US, it's all too often about who in that country is supporting US policy on some war or other. Or we look to see which party sounds closest to our own political outlook on major issues that concern us, and translate that into American terms. As physicists say, it's easier to understand a larger aggregation than a smaller unit, e.g., it's easier to understand the basic dynamics of the solar system than that of a single planet.

I find Argentina's politics particularly fascinating because they are so doggone impossible to translate easily into American terms. You have the Partido Justicialista (PJ), the ruling Peronist party headed by President Cristina Fernández. The PJ in its decades long history has been the party of militant labor, the party of authoritarian democracy, the party of hardcore neoliberalism and the party of aggressive social democracy (its position since 2002). The parliamentary grouping backing Cristina is a coalition of the PJ with several smaller parties, the Frente para la Victoria (FpV).

Calling the PJ a party of social democracy is also tricky. Because there is a Partido Socialista (PS) headed by Hermes Binner, Governor of the state of Santa Fe 2007–2011. The PS is officially recognized as a member of the umbrella Socialist International (SI) group, the (very loose) association of the social-democratic parties of the world. (The SI is also historically known as the "Second International.") The PS in the national Parliament caucuses as part of the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP), of which Binner also serves as the leader.

Then there's the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), which is also recognized as a member party of the SI. So they are officially social-democratic, too. The UCR's current president is Mario Barletta. The social-democratic UCR is known as the party most favored by the wealthy, Argentina's One Percenters, or the "oligarchy," as the Peronistas refer to them. The political theorist José Pablo Feinmann has suggested that the most consistent aspect of the amorphous historical phenomenon of Peronism is the continuing hostility to it by the "oligarchy."

Mauricio Macri, Governor of the City of Buenos Aires - not to be confused with the state/province of Buenos Aires - is currently Cristina Fernández' most visible political opponent, effectively the main leader of the political opposition nationally. At least the most high-profile one. His party is the Propuesta Republicana (PRO), a hardline conservative grouping committed to the neoliberal economic ideology. A future Presidential run by Macri in alliance with the UCR would be conceivable.

Against this background, an unusual political confrontation played out this week in Argentina. The Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) is the largest central labor organization in Argentina. Traditionally, the CGT has been closely allied with the PJ, Cristina's Peronist party. Recently, the CGT split into a PJ-loyal group, the CGT oficialista headed by Antonio Caló, and an anti-PJ group, the CGT opositora lead by Hugo Moyano. (In Argentine politics, the term "oficialista" refers to support for the party in power at a given moment, currently the PJ.) The other major labor federation, the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA), is also split between a pro-Cristina oficialista faction lead by Hugo Yasky and a CTA opositora headed by Pablo Micheli.

On this past Tuesday (11/20/2012), Mayano's CGT opositora joined with Micheli's CTA opositora, another CGT faction called CGT Azul y Blanca headed by Luis Barrionuevo, the Federación Agraria Argentina (FAA), the Sociedad Rural and the Unión Argentina de Trabajadores Rurales y Estibadores (UATRE) headed by Gerónimo "Momo" Venegas in a 24-hour strike and street protests for higher salaries. The strike was directed against Cristina's government and its rules affecting salaries, including those in the private sector.

This is a long Spanish-language discussion of the event (mixed with other news reports) from TV Pública argentina, Con sentido público - 20-11-12 (1 de 5):

The protests also blocked roads into Buenos Aires and were at least successful in making themselves highly visible. The unions loyal to Caló's CGT oficialista pointedly declined to participate. Most of the opposition parties endorsed the protest. In other words, it was a political action against the Peronist government by the oligarchy and its representatives, backed also by theoretically "left" groups. Not the first time in Argentine history such an alignment has taken place, and surely not the last. Luis Bruschtein writes of this alliance, "La única razón en común es que en política son opositores al gobierno nacional." ["The only reason in common is that in politics they are opponents of the national government."] (Luis Bruschtein, Más político que combativo Página 12 20.11.2012))

The FAA and the Sociedad Rural are two of the main organizations of the oligarchy. UATRE is kind of a company union for farmworkers. Cristina's government has accused UATRE of collaborating in allowing slave labor conditions in some locations. (Uatre, un sindicato con fuertes lazos en todo el país La Nación 12.02.2011)

The CGT oficialista leader Caló mocked Mayano's action for blocking roads, suggesting that it was a way of making up for the limited support he had among workers. Also, the blocking of roads is a tactic more associated recently with the reactionary, pro-oligarchy rural militant groups, though by no means exclusively. ("Quieren hacer un partido político" Página 12 23.11.2012) The CTA oficialista chief Hugo Yasky said before the strike, "No estamos de acuerdo con una medida de fuerza que los trabajadores no discutimos ni resolvimos y de la que se enteraron a través de la televisión" ["We are not in agreement with a method of force the the workers neither discussed nor resolved and of which they learned about via television."] (Un paro que busca hacerse fuerte con piquetes Página 12 20.11.2012)

The PJ governor of Buenos Aires state, Daniel Scioli, is contemplating a run for the Presidency to succeed Cristina, and had previously been backed in that effort by Moyano. But Mayano has resigned his post as head of the Buenos Aires provincial PJ and Scioli publicly supported the government against Monday's Mayano-led action.

The oligarchy never had much affection for the governments of the Kirchners, i.e., that of Cristina and her late husband and predecessor as President Néstor Kirchner. But from 2002 up until 2007-8, the economic policies of kirchnerismo were generally benefiting all sectors of Argentine industry and agriculture, producing a GDP growth rate averaging around a very health 8% during that period. But since then, the conflict between the oligarchy and Cristina's government has become more open.

The Argentine government has wrestling with a dilemma since 2007. They have a conscious policy of re-industrializing, after three decades beginning around 1970 when industry as a percentage of the economy shrank. During the 1990s, when an aggressive neoliberal policy of deregulation and free capital movements was adopted, industry was displaced even faster by a bloated financial sector fueled by casino-capitalist speculation.

Cancelling payments on debts and devaluing the peso allowed Argentina to emerge from the severe financial crisis of 2001-2 with a healthy growth rate, as process discussed in some detail in Axel Kicillof et al, La anatomía del nuevo patron de crecimiento y la encrucijada actual: La economía argentina en el período 2002-2010 (CENDA; 2010). Both the debt cancellation and the industrial strategy requires, among other things, for the national treasury to carefully manage its dollar reserves. Beginning in 2007, the effect was a notable acceleration in domestic inflation, which pushes down real income for workers. Workers seek higher wages and salaries in their negotiations, creating cost-push inflation pressure, which the government is combating partially via price controls.

In theory, this could be alleviated by a new devaluation. But the concern in present conditions is that it could both damage the industrialization strategy, thus raising unemployment and reducing the growth of good-paying jobs, and generate inflationary effects from external price pressures on basic commodities like oil and natural gas. And there are lingering issues from the debt cancellation that also require the government to hold substantial dollar reserves.

In short, maintaining the current economic model of re-industrialization requires a difficult struggle with inflation. Which generates legitimate concerns about wage and salary levels. On the government side, they want to keep wage increases within a range that doesn't exacerbate the cost-push inflation pressures. On the workers' side, inflation drives down real wages and they need to counteract that effect.

Luis Bruschtein argues that the workers most affected by the inflation-caused decrease in real wages are those in what Americans might call the "shadow economy," which is called the "black economy" in Argentina. Shadow economy workers (trabajadores en negro) don't have the protection of unions that the highly-organized official work force does. He also notes that the slowdown of major world economies and that of Brazil are also adversely affecting Argentina's economy at the moment, though Argentina has clearly avoided anything like the damage being done to economies like Britain, Greece and Spain where the governments are pursuing a Herbert-Hooverish austerity policy during this depression. As Bruschtein explains, concern over high unemployment is not a major issue among Argentine workers at the moment.

“Hay que defender lo que se ha logrado” Página 12 22.11.2012 points to the media interests that are focusing on major governmental decisions on media licenses December 7. The two large media empires associated respectively with the paper La Nación, the traditional voice of the oligarchy, and Clarín are both highly critical of Cristina's government.

Desde Entre Ríos, Sergio Urribarri fue un paso más allá: llamó a Hugo Moyano “chirolita al servicio de Clarín y la Sociedad Rural” y lo desafió: “Si tiene otro modelo de país para ofrecerles a los argentinos que nos cuente cuál es y se presente como candidato”, dijo. “Estos dirigentes, con evidentes problemas de memoria, se juntan con lo más conservador del ruralismo y se olvidan del proceso iniciado en 2003 – agregó –, que tiene la aprobación de la gran mayoría de los argentinos y permitió que hoy tengamos el salario más elevado de América latina, duplicar nuestra clase media y ser un país mucho más equitativo.” ...

... la titular de Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, para quien “estar los de La Rural junto con Moyano, Micheli, la ultraizquierda con la derecha es una mezcolansa que es coyuntural, y lo que es coyuntural no sirve”.

... mientras que el secretario general de la CTA, Hugo Yasky, denunció que la intención es "generar la mayor cantidad de episodios turbulentos que enrarezcan el clima político antes del 7D".

[From [the state/province of] Entre Ríos, Sergio Urribarri went a step further: he called Hugo Mayano " apuppet in serve of Clarín and the Sociedad Rural," and he charged, "If he has another model for the country to offer to the Argentines, let him tell us what it is and presents himself as a candidate," he said. "These leaders, who evidently have memory problems, are united with the most conservative of the agricultural lobbies and are forgetting the process begun in 2003" - he declared - "that has the approval of the great majority of Argentines and permitted that today we have the highest pay of Latin America, have doubled our middle class and to be a much more egalitarian country."

... the head of the [human rights organization] Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, for whom "to have those of La Rural [i.e., the oligarchy] together with Mayano, Micheli, the ultra-left with the right, is a mix that is opportunistic, and what is opportunistic is no good."

... while the secretary general of the CTA, Hugo Yasky, denounced the intention as being "to generate the greatest number of turbulent episodes to contaminate the political atmosphere prior to the 7th of December."]
Yasky also characterized Mayano's strike and protest as being aimed at "el regreso a las políticas de ajuste" (the return to the policies of austerity) of the neoliberal period of the 1990s. (Un paro vertical e impuesto a los trabajadores CTA website 20.11.2012)

Mayano seems to be planning new confrontations on behalf of his alliance with the oligarchy's organizations. (El moyanismo prepara una segunda parte Página 12 22.11.2012)

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