Shock measures met with manoeuvres by the unions and the left of capital... In Argentina, the proletariat is under attack from all sides

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In several countries there are now significant populist parties, some of them even in government. Populist parties have a serious weight in at least a dozen parliaments in European countries, but the most critical populist events were Trump becoming US President, and Britain’s Brexit. However, we should not overlook the extension of this tendency to Latin America, with the Bolsonaro government in Brazil, or the government currently in place in Argentina headed by Javier Milei.

Governments like Milei’s have their roots in deepening economic upheaval and the rotting of the capitalist system, which is causing growing tensions within the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, and destabilising the political apparatus as a result. Governments, both left and right, promise to improve the situation, but in the end they only worsen poverty, which generates hope among the population for bourgeois groups that falsely present themselves as critics of traditional policies... At his inauguration, Milei declared that he was ushering in "a new era in Argentina, an era of peace and prosperity, an era of growth and development, an era of freedom and progress...". But only a few weeks passed before it was clear that behind these promises there was a further deterioration in wages, redundancies and repression.

Argentinean workers are not only faced with direct attacks from the government, they are also confronted with the traps that the unions and opposition parties are preparing to divert the discontent.

While Milei shouts "Long live freedom", misery and exploitation increase

In an attempt to attenuate the impact of the economic crisis, the bourgeoisie will always tend to increase the exploitation and misery of workers. This observation has been corroborated in a particularly dramatic way in the case of the Argentinean proletariat. The "anti-inflationary" shock measures imposed by Milei, in less than 100 days, triggered real hardships and desperation for workers. In the first two months of this government, wages have lost their value to such an extent that they are no longer enough to buy the basic necessities of life. Food prices have risen by 66% and medicine by 65%, leading to a fall in consumption of 37% for the former and 45% for the latter. But that's not the only thing that's become unaffordable: the price of public transport has risen by 56%, fuel by 125%, electricity by 130%... and to all this we must add massive redundancies, which have already reached a figure of between 50-60,000 and are expected to rise to 200,000 over the course of the year. The situation is so desperate that people are forced to sell their furniture on the streets.

The official references and figures for assessing the living conditions of the population point to an accelerated increase in poverty. Figures for December 2023 show that around 10,000 people were living on the streets and 44.7% of the population were below the "poverty line", but by January 2024 this had risen to 57.4%, meaning that there are already 27 million people (out of a total population of around 46 million) living in extreme poverty. And the attacks don't stop: basic teachers' salaries have been cut, retirement "adjustments" and greater "labour flexibility" are being prepared, which means dismissals without compensation, the abolition of overtime pay and, of course, the banning of strikes. Hunger and job losses are the main reasons why workers have taken to the streets. These demonstrations, although in their infancy, have expressed a great combativeness, which is why the bourgeoisie is fully committed to diverting this anger.

The left of capital reorganises to subjugate the proletariat

The parties of the left and other capitalist currents have reorganised themselves, diverting discontent towards the defence of the national economy, as the CGT did during the strike of 24 January, with the slogan "the country is not for sale"[1], or as the governors "in revolt" do, trying to reduce the problem to "the constitutional defence of the resources of the provinces", or, like the Peronist deputies, trying to concentrate the force of the discontent on the call for the impeachment of Milei. The "opposition" gave priority to nationalism, trying to ensure that the demands for jobs and higher wages, which were present in the demonstrations, were drowned out by the defence of the economy, and that all fighting spirit was trapped in the false dilemma between the "more State" policies proposed by Peronism and Milei’s "neo-liberal" or "libertarian" policies.

In this tangle of false choices for the state, the actions of Peronism stand out. After its years in government, where for decades it was responsible for implementing anti-crisis measures, it is now determined to erase the memory of its past by once again assuming the role of opposition to the government, as part of the division of tasks that all the parties carry out in the game of taking turns at government. Faced with the shock measures, people like Sergio Massa (former presidential candidate) and Peronist governors joined forces to "stand up" to the government. Above all, there was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (former president, and vice-president of the last government) who, with her February letter “Argentina in its third debt crisis" and the governor of Buenos Aires Axel Kicillof (former economy minister in Kirchner's government) with his report at the opening of Congress in March, set the tone for the bourgeois opposition forces. Their "fiery" speeches criticising the adjustment plans focus solely on the procedural differences in the adoption of economic measures, i.e. using the chainsaw with moderation and discretion, but only to strengthen the national economy.

This brutal attack on Argentinean workers can only be carried out with a strong trade union and political apparatus and, to do this, it relies not only on Peronist organisations like the CGT and the CTA, which play an important role in presenting themselves as the organised expression of the workers' movement, but also on more "radical" or "critical" "alternatives" like the left-wing apparatus grouped within the Left Unity Front (FIT-U)[2]. The latter accuses the leaders of the opposition of being "treacherous bureaucrats", thus stimulating the hope that, for example, the CGT can be "saved" by "forcing" it to take on the leadership of the demonstrations, a role which, according to leftism, should be played by the country's largest trade unions. Of course, in these moves, we must include other "more grassroots" organisations which, like the Union of Workers of the Popular Economy (UTEP) and "Pickets Unity", called for demonstrations at the end of February to demand more money for canteens, as if the solution to wage exploitation were the management of misery and adaptation to hunger![3]

In the struggle against the brutal assaults waged by the bourgeoisie, neither the unions, nor the Peronists, nor the FIT-U parties, nor the "grassroots" and "independent" organisations are on the side of the workers; they are all instruments used by the bourgeoisie to control workers’ actions and dissipate discontent.

In this context, there are two latent dangers for Argentine workers:

- interclassism, in which actions promoted by the petty bourgeoisie dilute proletarian demands and mix them with the demands of other social strata that do not have the same interests, as happened with the “yellow jackets” in France (2018). In Argentina, these expressions were experimented with, for example, during the popular revolts of 2001, when workers left their class terrain of defending their working and living conditions.

- bourgeois mobilisations, whose objectives have nothing to do with workers' interests, such as the demonstrations for democracy in Hong Kong (2019), or the illusion of sustainable development or racial equality within capitalism, as in the case of the recurrent youth climate marches (YFC -Youth For Climate) and the "Black Lives Matter" demonstrations (2013)[4]. Conflicts over provincial resources in Argentina, for example, point in this direction.

We must avoid the trap of polarisation between for and against Milei, and more specifically between populists and anti-populists, because this is a minefield which diverts discontent and combativity from the real problem of defending the interests of the working class against capital.

In the face of capitalist poverty and exploitation, the only way out is workers' struggle.

As we said at the beginning of this government "...the bourgeoisie knows that the unity of the proletariat is the only force that can stop Milei's chainsaw, which is why it needs the left-wing apparatus and the trade union structure to get its way. These organisations are cogs in the state serving the interests of the bourgeoisie and they are already preparing to prevent the emergence of unity and solidarity among the workers. For example, the unions have already begun to present "radical" speeches against austerity, to win the sympathies of workers and to drag them into false, controlled struggles, into dead ends "[5].

The mobilisations that have taken place, as we have said, although still embryonic and controlled by the trade union and political apparatus, must be welcomed for their determination to defend their living and working conditions because, in reality, the attacks can only be stopped by workers in struggle, as demonstrated by the workers' struggles that have developed since 2022, starting in central Europe and continuing throughout Europe, the United States and other countries.

The next step must necessarily be to consider that the struggle only has a future outside the call and control of the unions and the opposition parties of the bourgeoisie. This means that workers must take control of their struggles from the outset by defining their demands and making their own decisions. "In the US, the UK, France, Spain, Greece, Australia and all the other countries, to end this organised division, to be truly united, to reach out to each other, to encourage each other, to expand our movement, we must wrest control of the struggles from the hands of the unions. These are our struggles, the struggles of the whole working class!"[6]

T/RR, 29-03-2024


[1] In continuity with this campaign, the CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo) and the CTA (Central de Trabajadores Argentinos) took part in the march on 24 March in defence of "the homeland and democracy".

[2] Composed of el Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas, el Partido Obrero, Izquierda Socialista and Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores

[3] For those who read Spanish we recommend reading the following articles from the ICC’s publication in Mexico on past struggles of the working class in Argentina:  Movimiento piquetero en Argentina I (RM  no. 82) y Comedores populares: ¿Lucha contra el hambre o adaptación al hambre? (RM  no. 90).


Workers' struggle