Argentine socialist presidential candidate: 'We want a hard left that fights with workers'

Nicolas Del Cano.

Initiated just over four years ago, the Left and Workers Front (FIT) in Argentina has scored some breakthroughs, quickly earning its place on the national political scene.

The FIT was formed as an alliance of three far left parties: the Socialist Workers’ Party (PTS), Workers Party (PO) and Socialist Left (IS). It was largely formed to overcome electoral restrictions requiring parties to win more than 1.5% of the vote in Open, Simultaneous and Obligatory Primaries (PASO) in order to stand in elections.

In a context where the far left has traditionally performed poorly in presidential elections, the FIT were relatively successful in the 2011 PASO, FIT pre-candidate Jorge Altamira won more than half a million votes (2.46%).

In the PASO held this July, more than 750,000 people voted for one of the two FIT presidential pre-candidates. Unable to come up with a united slate, the FIT used the primaries to let voters decide their presidential candidate for the October 25 general elections.

The highest scoring FIT pre-candiate was 35-year-old Nicolas Del Cano, a young PTS organiser who rose to national prominence in 2013 when he was elected as a national deputy for the traditionally conservative province of Mendoza with 14% of the vote.

Green Left Weekly’s Federico Fuentes spoke to Del Cano about the elections and the prospects for the left. A longer version can be read at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

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A little over a decade ago, much of the left was looking to Argentina due to the 2001 Argentinazo uprising that led to the overthrow of several presidents in the space of a week, the collapse in support for traditional political parties and emergence of various of forms of popular resistance. How can we explain that in the recent presidential primaries, Peronism and the old right won almost 90% of the votes, while the governing Kirchnerist movement - identified by many as part of the wave of progressive governments in the region - had to seek out a Peronist candidate to its right in a bid to remain in power?

The crisis that opened up in 2001 was very deep and helps explains why Kirchnerismo arose. In fact, Nestor Kirchner’s win in 2003, with a mere 22% of support, was a demonstration of how deep the political crisis was.

In a debate a few days ago, [a PST leader and former legislator] Christian Castillo explained how in 2001, the workers’ movement was on the defensive, facing high levels of unemployment and the impacts of the blows and splits suffered throughout the neoliberal decade. With the capitalist recovery that began in June 2002, this helped defuse the situation and facilitate the emergence of Kirchnerism.

This rested on three key pillars: a large part of the Peronist apparatus that changed its discourse, a faction of the trade union bureaucracy and a co-opted section of (liberal/centre-left) progresismo.

This allowed the government to bastardise the banners of the left while repressing the vanguard of the workers movement.

In many ways, Kirchnerism has reached the end of its lifecycle. It faces a political opposition in crisis, but suffers from a succession crisis of its own. It is facing the same crisis as many of the post-neoliberal governments in the region.

It is not possible to understand why the Left Front has risen about other currents without the struggle of the workers' movement through the decade of Kirchnerism. From the first rank-and-file union struggles, bonds have been strengthened between militant workers and the revolutionary left.

Part of this relationship was reflected in the large presence of workers in our “Renovate and Strengthen” list, which stood more than 1800 worker candidates. In terms of the next government, the fact that the workers' movement has suffered no important defeats and has accumulated important experiences during these 12 years means any government that tries to implement cuts will face big problems.

You were the youngest of all presidential pre-candidates. What do you put your success down to?

Initially, the PTS proposed the idea of running a united list to the Workers Party (PO). It is evident that two main political tendencies exist within the FIT, one involving the PTS and the other the PO. But we though it was important to contest the October national elections as united as possible.

In Mendoza, my comrade Noelia Barbeito stood for provincial governor and won 110,000 votes, more than 10% of the votes cast in the elections. It was a really impressive campaign for the left.

Something similar occurred in the Mendoza city elections, when I stood for mayor and we came in second, and even outpolled Kirchnerism’s candidate.

We wanted to see if it was possible, on the national level, to reflect this combination of a very good election result in Mendoza among sections of precarious workers and youth, which has demonstrated to many that a different kind of politics is possible to that of the traditional capitalist partie.

We have used our seats in national, provincial and local governments to support all workers' struggle. We have committed to only taking a salary equal to a teacher's, donating the rest to workers in struggle.

We thought it was important to reflect this experience in the national elections by running me as a presidential pre-candidate. As the comrades of the PO did not agree to the idea of a united list, we made use of the primaries to work out our presidential candidate.

I think my candidacy provided an outlet for hundreds of thousands of women, youth and workers across the country who see the limits of the Kirchnerist decade. We put in a lot of effort to spread our ideas and the big vote we got showed we have become a vehicle for expressing discontent.

We want a party rooted in the working class and among youth that can influence national politics and prepare the road for the struggle towards our goal: a government of workers' and the people.

In the recent primaries, you were only a few votes from coming fourth. What do you put this growth in support down to?

On one hand, there is an important level of disenchantment with Kirchnerism, which has used a progressive discourse to make many promises it never kept. But it demonstrates everyday that it is a government that guarantees the interests of the bosses and large landowners, regardless of any frictions that many exist with some sectors.

On the other hand, the anti-capitalist left in Argentina has become a reference point for many sectors fighting against the bosses and the trade union bureaucracy - as well as for young people, many of whom are not covered by unions, who earn less than the minimum wage and are targets of police persecution.

This also explains why our list won support among young workers, students and women, who led a big mobilisation against gender violence [in June] and campaigned throughout the past decade to overturn the Kirchner government’s opposition to legalising abortion - a demand supported by most of the population).

These are the main sectors that support the left.

In 2013, the FIT won 1.2 million votes, a historic vote. When we took up our seats in Congress, we never stopped supporting workers in struggle; on the contrary, we intensified our support.

In fact, one of the ads that had the biggest impact during our campaign was one that showed me together with the Lear workers blocking the Panamerican highway.

FIT candidates have now won seats in parliament at the local, provincial and national level. What does the FIT hope to achieve with these seats?

Our aim is to make the voices of workers, women and youth heard in Congress, to amplify the demands of those fighting in their workplace against labour casualisation, for wage rises, against inflation.

Contrary to the idea of a left that “adapts”, that makes its discourse more amenable, we want to build a hard left, that fights alongside workers in struggle, that denounces the political caste, the functionaries that live like millionaires at the expense of the people.

At the same time, we are getting ready to take on the next government that, no matter who wins, will implement austerity. All of them are committed to promoting measures to benefit the interests of business. We want to strengthen a left that firmly stands together with the workers, that denounces the handing over of our natural resources, as my comrade Raul Godoy [a workers’ leader at the Zanon factory who was recently re-elected as a deputy to the Neuquen provincial parliament] did when the government and opposition agreed to hand over the Vaca Muerta oil deposits to the multinational Chevron.

We also want to continue placing our parliamentarians at the service of women’s mobilisations and strengthen the struggle for the right to abortion and against machista violence.

What will the focus of your election campaign be?

We are the only left force and the only ones proposing a genuine class alternative to the three main capitalist candidates: Scioli, Macri and Massa. We have the chance to win new seats at the local and national level in various provinces.

We want to further develop issues we have already been raising as part of the workers' agenda: against casualisation, for a minimum salary equivalent to the family basket; for a progressive tax on big companies; eliminate the tax on wages and other taxes like the consumption tax on basic goods.

We want to further develop our proposal to nationalise oil, mining and gas; expropriate the 4000 large landowners who own the cultivable lands in our country; put the banks and foreign trade under state control.

Our struggle is for a government of the workers, where the wealth of our country is put at the service of the great majority of the working people, not a handful of capitalists.

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