Argentina / Down with the hikes and lay-offs: General strike and plan of struggle

In Argentina, the new year began with bad news for workers: recession, new lay-offs in the public and private sectors, rising poverty and continued inflation. And on top of this, the Macri government has implemented new raises in public services, which strain the already pressed popular pockets. Our proposals for the necessary struggle and a way out of the crisis.

The Argentinian economic crisis is profound. In 2018 inflation reached almost 50 percent and it is estimated it will surpass 30 or 40 percent this year; if there are no new economic setbacks, that is. Most analysts point to a perspective of default in the medium term, while the drop in production has become evident: according to official data[1], GDP fell 3.5 percent. This is why the country risk continues between 700 and 800 points, which -along with the electoral uncertainty- paralyzes investment. In this context, local and foreign capitalists advocate a new flexibilizing labor reform, but working-class resistance has prevented the government from implementing it.

Under IMF orders, the government utilizes all available funds to pay public debt, which at the end of 2018 represented a scandalous 90 percent of GDP. This year the government expects to pay 15B Dollars in interests, which represents 15 percent of the national budget and 3.6 percent of GDP. This is why it reached into the ANSES (Social Security) fund for 2.3B Dollars at the end of the year and is reducing subsidies to public service companies, who transfer the cost to consumers. But, since government income drops due to the recession -it fell 8 percent in December- the deficit continues despite cuts.

The rate hikes in public services

The panorama of crisis and stagflation (inflation + recession) has direct social consequences. According to recent data[2], the poverty rate has reached a decade-long high at 33.6 percent of the population: almost 14 million people live below the poverty line. Of that total, 2.5 million live in indigence. Employment numbers worsen by the day, with increasing lay-offs, suspensions and shift reductions. The Ministry of Production and Work confirmed that the manufacturing industry registered 40,045 less jobs in September than a year prior.

In this critical social-economic context, the new hikes in public service rates arrived. They are a hard blow to the popular economy, with raises of 35 percent in gas from April, 35 percent average in toll roads, 40 percent in electricity until March, 48.5 percent in water until May, 38.5 percent in buses until March, 40 percent in trains until March and 45 percent in subways until April. And we say “until” because the government -despite the electoral period- is preparing new hikes for later in the year.

These brutal hikes, which are inflationary in themselves, not only affect workers, the unemployed and retired -many of whom are having to chose between paying utilities or eating less- but also mid sectors, including Macri´s own social base.

Union bureaucracy: barks but doesn´t bite

On Friday, December 28, protests against the hikes began in Buenos Aires and other capitals of the country. Since then, every Friday, dozens and even hundreds of neighbors gather on numerous city corners to hold “ruidazos” (noise rallies). In some cases, these protests count with genuine popular participation, and our party has taken part. Although in some other cases, they are clearly controlled by Kirchnerist sectors with an evident electoralist interest.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the CGT (General Confederation of Workers) lets the hikes pass with a passive complicity with the Macri government and the bosses. However, social unrest has obliged a sector of the union bureaucracy (Truck Drivers and the two CTAs) to call for a “march of candles and torches” to Congress last Thursday, January 10.

Since this measure is insufficient to stop the government offensive, the MST and our trade-union organization ANCLA marched that day as part of the Classist Syndical Plenary, together with other left and classist organizations, in a column independent of the organizers of the march and demanding an active strike and a plan of struggle against the hikes and lay-offs.

With drums, flags and signs, with Alejandro Bodart and Vilma Ripoll at the head, our combative column entered the Congress Plaza chanting “General strike! General strike!”, which was well received by the public, though not so by those on stage.

Renationalize under social control

Rates rise incessantly because public services are almost all in hands of private businesses since the privatizations of the 1990s. Of course, as an emergency measure, we demand the immediate freezing of rates and the extension of social rates. But electricity, water, gas and transportation are essential and basic human rights, and should not be a juicy business for a handful of crooks who don´t invest a single peso, receive state subsidies, and pocket all the profits.

This is why a real solution is only possible with radical change: canceling all contracts with private contractors, renationalizing those companies without compensation and running them under strict social control, with commissions of democratically elected representatives of the workers and consumers of each sector. Only this way will we achieve efficient, affordable and safe services.

To confront and defeat austerity

Just as we did on the mobilization of the 10th, revolutionary socialists will continue to demand that the trade-union centrals call a national strike, and that it have continuity in a plan of struggle. There is no other way to beat Macri and his accomplices, the governors of the Justice Party and Kirchnerism, who apply similar cuts and hikes in their provinces, and whose legislators voted for Macri´s 2019 national budget.

Also, the Encounter of Memory, Truth and Justice -unitary space in which our CADHU[3] and MST participate, along with dozens of other organization- has already called for a demonstration and burning of utility bills in Congress Plaza on Thursday, January 31, at 6 P.M. Considering water, gas and electricity to be basic human rights, we call people to confront and defeat the austerity plan of Macri, the IMF and the capitalists.

Pablo Vasco

[1]  INDEC (National Institute of Statistics and Census), 3rd Trimester of 2018.
[2] Social Debt Observatory-UCA (Catholic University of Argentina), 3rd Trimester of 2018.
[3] Center of Human Rights Lawyers.