Wide support for Argentine strike

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

By Francisco T. Sobrino

BUENOS AIRES — A national 36-hour strike ended at midnight on September 27. The strike had a 70-80% success rate in the industrial belt around Buenos Aires, while support in the provinces was estimated at 50-80%.

The union staged the strike and a demonstration in the city on September 26, which 70,000 people attended, to protest against the government's proposed labour laws and high unemployment (18%). Most participants said they rallied to vent their frustration at growing poverty and the recession, pinning the blame squarely on the Carlos Ménem government.

"The labour movement and all major social sectors supported the president because he told us in two or three years we'd be on the road to greatness", said Daer, the leader of the CGT union federation and the only speaker at the rally. "Years have passed and rather than the road to greatness, we're on the road to the greatest social inequality in our history."

The second half of the year has been a calendar of defeat for Ménem. On June 30, Buenos Aires mayoral elections were won by the opposition Radical Party; the president had to oust his economic mastermind Moningo Cavallo on July 26; a successful 24-hour strike was held on August 8; and an even more successful blackout on September 12.

The success of the 36-hour strike owed more to a general protest mood than to any trade union renaissance. Pre-strike polls showed 64% approved the strike, while 67% were anti-union.

People hate the union bureaucracy. Recently, Daer accepted for his own food workers' union the flexible labour conditions against which the strike and rally were aimed. The CGT stayed out of the September 12 blackout and allowed its deputies to vote for the last government tax package.

The strike delivered the message that stability is no longer enough while unemployment, interest rates, the tax burden and the gap between the haves and have-nots are so large. This reflects the government's aim to repay the huge external debt. Nearly every state-owned entity has been sold, but the debt is bigger now than in 1989.

The workers are flexing their muscles and preparing for new struggles. But they no longer trust their traditional leadership.