Argentina: Debates in the Plenary of Militant Unionism

On August 12, the second online Plenary of Militant Unionism (PSC) took place. A debate developed around what kind of united action to convene, as well as debates about the meaning of the united front and the trade union model that needs to be built. Here, we share three articles published in the MST´s newspaper, Alternativa Socialista, that address these debates.

Debate with the PO and the Classist Trade Union Coordination. The left and the labor movement

The discussion over what king of action of struggle to convene, once again posed a debate that has become recurrent with the PO and the CSC: how the revolutionary left should intervene in the unions. The PO´s regressive and trade-unionist vision does not help to strengthen the FIT Unidad or the Plenary of Militant Unionism (PSC) to develop as a pole of reference to fight for the leadership of the labor movement.

By Guillermo Pacagnini. Leader of the MST and the National Board of the PSC

The interventions of various leaders of the CSC (1) as well as the assessment published in Prensa Obrera (2), were very eloquent regarding this economisist and abstentionist conception, not only stating that it is wrong to unite militant unionism and the left in the same action, but also saying that the correct thing is to separate the left from the struggle in the unions.

For Romina del Plá, a joint action of militant unionism and the left would be “an indeterminate conglomerate.” For Ileana Celotto, who called our proposal “electoralist,” a dividing line must be drawn: “the FITU will have to make its political call, but in the unions gathered here we have the responsibility of promoting the struggle to stop … the pro IMF bourgeoisie.” In other words, politics is done separately and only in elections, and the bourgeoisie is to be confronted … with the union struggle. For Santa Cruz leader Miguel Del Plá, abstentionism is called for: there is no fight to be given in the unions because “the left is always there … we are all leftist militants … the left´s flags are never missing in the marches.” In addition to diluting the left, he clarified that its role should be limited to “participating by accompanying” the union organizations.

For Chiquito Belliboni, “the workers’ government is going to take place on the basis of the deepening of the class struggle, not through us saying in the factories that we are from the left … that will serve for an election … but it will not serve any purpose in promoting the development of the class struggle … it is not posed as a necessity for the development of the working class.”

In short, the PO has a common logic: to postulate to the left in the labor movement and its organizations always implies electoral politics. The left must subordinate itself to the unions as if the union organization were the greatest expression of the conscience and the strategic demands of the working class for their emancipation.

Union struggle and political struggle: new old debate

PO’s position leads us to revisit debates that have taken place since the dawn of the development of the working class: workers should limit themselves to the economic struggle in the unions; unionism and politics should advance in separate lanes; politics for politicians and unionism for workers. This debate first took place in the history of the revolutionary movement with anarchist opportunism, then with socialist reformism. The First International had already determined that preaching political abstention to workers meant “throwing them into the arms of bourgeois politics.” (3) Lenin also dedicated a good part of What is to be done to warning about the trade union struggle and the political struggle, on the political character that must be imprinted on the economic struggle.

Likewise, the Third International clearly marked what the strategy of the revolutionaries in the unions should be: “it is important that the communists of all countries form part of the unions to turn them into conscious organs for the liquidation of the capitalist regime and the triumph of communism (…) Only in this way will it be possible to remove the opportunist leaders from the unions, put the communists in the leadership and make these organizations a weapon of the revolutionary struggle for communism.”

Contrary to what the PO thinks, Lenin said that the economic struggle of the proletariat is transformed into a political struggle much more rapidly in this time of capitalist decadence, and that revolutionaries “should tend to achieve, as far as possible, a perfect unity between the unions and the communist party, subordinating them to the latter, the vanguard of the revolution.” (4)

In our country, the history of the labor movement also demonstrated an iron law: the indissoluble unity between the development of the union leadership and the changes in its political leadership. And the need for revolutionaries to vie for that leadership. The anarchist currents first and the reformist socialists afterwards, were not up to the task. Neither was the CP that, with its betrayals of the workers’ struggles, made it possible for Peronism and its union bureaucracy to become entrenched. And precisely in our country, it was Peronism and its union bureaucracy that established that disastrous premise that “there is no politics in the unions,” in order to establish a culture of single thought.

The centrist or “classist” currents of the seventies also educated the class in that there was no need to do politics, and ended up frustrating entire groups of activists and handing over the leadership of the labor movement to bourgeois leaderships like Peronism and aborting the process of union renewal.

For this reason, this position of the PO tends to repeat these experiences that led valuable groups of activists into a dead end. Arguments similar to those of the PJ bureaucracy that appeal to the political backwardness of the class to stop any advance of the left should not be reproduced. That does nothing to help militant unionism and the fight for a new classist and combative leadership.

The historical position of Trotskyism

Daniel Sierra, in PO´s written assessment, concludes by saying that: “The CSC rejected (the proposal) from the historical political position of Trotskyism. (…) Because unions represent the totality of the members, they cannot call actions as arms of the left that is, in clearly still a minority in the base of the labor movement,” justifying that “the unions collide every day with the surrender of the union bureaucracy, but they are far from having adhered to the positions of the left on a political level.”

However, Trotsky advises otherwise. In the first place, recalling that unions, in this time of decadence, have a very limited role in promoting the economic struggles that they had in the stage of capitalist development. “Trade unions today cannot simply be the democratic organs that they were in the days of free capitalism and they can no longer be politically neutral, that is, limit themselves to serving the daily needs of the working class. They can no longer be anarchist, that is to say, they can no longer ignore the decisive influence of the state in the life of the people and the classes. They can no longer be reformist, because objective conditions do not allow for any serious and lasting reform. The trade unions of our time can serve as secondary tools of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and indoctrination of the workers and to stop the revolution, or else become, on the contrary, the tools of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. Trade union neutrality is totally and irreversibly a thing of the past. It has disappeared along with free bourgeois democracy.” (5)

The PO dilutes the role of the left that simply “is always there” and, also, in the antipodes of what Trotsky proposed, subordinates it to the supposed organization of the PSC unions. In this way, they not only abstain and deny the struggle for the revolutionary left to effectively lead the recovered unions. They also resign from the strategic struggle for a workers’ government that is not merely trade-unionist, nor does it require a previous stage of economic struggle.

Once again … What is to be done?

Fighting for a correct policy of the left in the labor movement is key to promoting a political alternative, to contesting the leadership and developing the unions as organs of power. Reviewing the history of the revolutionary movement and ignoring Trotsky’s advice weakens the left and the PSC, by leaving the ground free for Peronism in its variants or other ideologies that are functional to the bureaucracy and bourgeois leaderships.

Undoubtedly intervening in the internal life of a union has the objective of contesting its leadership. For this reason, in addition to immediate or salary proposals, it is necessary to defend and fight for the program and also to fight against the most backward tendencies and not give in to them as PO proposes. Of course, we start from the fact that in the unions there are all kinds of sectors and political opinions, that cannot be denied. On the contrary, it implies the need to democratize its internal life, change its statutes and allow all the real currents to express themselves in proportion to the support they have in the rank-and-file, in the union leadership and in all its organizations. This is how workers’ democracy is defended. And not believing that we are respect the base and its diversity of opinions, by not posing that they support the proposals of the left.

Doing politics, far from “maneuvering,” as the petty-bourgeois or bureaucratic currents say, is essential to developing the struggle to the end, giving it a perspective from the revolutionary program and organization. In this sense, it is not possible to confront the bureaucratic currents, whose preferential campaign against the left is to say that it “comes to do politics,” by reproducing its methods and arguments. That completely disarms the activists that want to confront and defeat the bureaucracy.

Winning the majority of the formal leadership of a union does not mean that it is automatically crowned with the label of classist, as the PO believes. It is an important step, but it is a first phase, of “recovery.” To advance, you have to fight, win those organisms to the left, to its program and actions. And win them to a democratic union model. Doing the opposite, adapting to the apparatus, yielding to the most backward elements to “take care” of the conquered ground and reproducing the vices of old unionism, panders to the bureaucracy and to the diverse leaderships of Peronism or the reformist currents.

These debates are fundamental. Because if the PSC, which today is predominantly a united front of the tendencies of the classist left, does not at least fight in the few union organizations that today adhere to it, and it yields to the centrist and bureaucratic tendencies that act within it, it is going to be very difficult to win new unions and move towards an anti-bureaucratic regrouping pole that can dispute the leadership of the labor movement.

Likewise, far from an apolitical position, it would be good for the PSC to collaborate, as one of its objectives, in strengthening the FIT Unidad in the political field from its union influence. These are combined and related tasks, not separate and antagonistic ones. The left and militant unionism must stand in confluence, in a great alternative pole, as a third option that faces the government of the PJ and the right.

(1) Transcripts of leaders of the Classist Trade Union Coordination (CSC-PO) in the online Plenary of Militant Unionism (PSC) of 8/12/20.

(2) Prensa Obrera 8/14/20.

(3) Conference of the First International, London, 1871.

(4) Thesis of the 2nd congress of the III International, 1920.

(5) Trotsky, Trade Unions in the Time of Transition, 1938.

A mistaken position of the PO that weakens the FIT-U

By Sergio García

Part of the ongoing debates in the coordination of the FIT-U (Left and Workers Front – Unity), in the Plenary of Combative Unionism (PSC) and in subsequent public balance sheets, refers to the MST’s proposal for the FIT-U and the left to be part, together with the militant unionism, of the call for a great day of united struggle. The PO comrades reject this and argue that it is “electoralism.” This is a deep mistake by PO. What follows is our contribution to the debate.

The MST has always insisted on the political need for our front to appear strongly on the national stage, as a powerful third voice and alternative to the right and the government, and to push for a great national action by all sectors that are struggling. A powerful unitary, self-convened call of militant unionism and the left, the unemployed workers movements, human rights organizations, the women’s movement and the youth. It would be a great initiative that the FIT-U could work towards organizing, as should do a political force that wants to be an alternative to millions of workers, popular sectors and the youth. The right´s action of August 17 that tried to appear as the only alternative to the government brings this debate to the fore, since once again from the left we did not appear strongly in the national political stage.

On this subject, in the public balance sheet of the Partido Obrero after the plenary session of combative unionism, the following is stated: “A sector of the participants suggested that the national day of action called by the class struggle unions should be jointly convened by the left, specifically the FIT -U (…) The Coordinadora Sindical Clasista rejected it from the historical political position of Trotskyism. The unions taken back from the bureaucracy bring together the mass of their members and have precisely the virtue of bringing together the entire labor branch they represent and fighting with the mass of their members when there is a willingness to do so. But because they represent the totality of the members, they cannot make calls to action as arms of the left, that is, as anyone can see, still a minority at the base of the labor movement (…) On the other hand, their content is deeply electoralist (…) Such a substitution is useless and it does not correspond to the role of the class struggle unions that must take the struggle into their own hands, and place the PSC as a channel for organizing workers who in all unions collide every day with the capitulations of the union bureaucracy, but who are very far from having adhered to the positions of the left on a political level. “(1)

The definitions expressed are wrong and far from the pretension of being “the historical position of Trotskyism.” In reality, they are statements related to the economism of the early twentieth century and to the syndicalists that act in unions to prevent the advance of the left. It sounds a bit unusual for a political force that is part of the FIT-U and defines itself as Trotskyist to say that it is wrong for the left and the FIT-U to call for the fight together with the unions and other social sectors. It seems incredible, but it is real.

An electoralist way of reasoning

Both in the cited text, in speeches at the plenary and at the FIT-U coordination, PO tells us that proposing that the “left” convene a national action is “electoralism”. In fact, the mere mention of the subject shows the opposite; the comrades of PO have a vision marked by elections, so their reasoning starts from believing that the word “left” and “elections” are two united concepts, when they are not.

Our proposal is very clear: we think that the left and the FIT-U be a fundamental part of the call for a day of united struggle together with combative unionism. This has nothing to do with electoralism. And it has a lot to do with the political need to give visibility to the FIT-U and to try to get it to overcome the limited electoral horizon. Something that will never happen if we are not protagonists of the central struggles, if we do not act together in the class struggle, if we do not take the political fight to all areas and social sectors. Our proposal is one of struggle, it is revolutionary, class-based and it aims at making the left, and our front in particular, appear politically disputing everywhere, including on the street. By refusing this proposal, it is PO who expresses an electoralist policy, reducing the left to the limited role of acting at the electoral level and preventing us from appearing as the protagonists, in a unitary way, of the ongoing struggles. Because according to PO it is others who fight, the unions and members in general. Something that not only is wrong but it is also unreal, as there are many struggles that take place outside the unions, which in general in our country, leave much to be desired.

As part of the same mistake, PO adds: “pretending to put the FIT candidates at the forefront of a mobilization in which the workers’ organizations are summoned as a background is electoralist and apparatist.” Comrades, stop analyzing everything through the prism of elections and candidates. Our proposal is that the FIT-U, with all its referents, be part of a national day of united struggle, without going in front or behind anyone, being key actors in its impulse, as should be the role of the parties and referents of the socialist left. It is our duty to be in the struggles, to promote them, to help coordinate them. Stop believing that the leaders of the left are only “candidates” that have nothing to do with the struggle. This would be important towards building a revolutionary and not electoralist strategy.

Giving in twice

The false conception that the comrades have in fact leads to conceding positions in two ways, in the political terrain and in that of the unions. One the hand in facing the government, since this position becomes an obstacle from within our front, to appear strongly on the national political scene. When the political apparatus of the government tells its bases that “they do what they can” and that apart from “only the right exists”, the only positive thing would be that the left proves the opposite by gaining visibility. By not doing so, we provide space for the government´s false arguments by making ourselves invisible. PO’s refusal to truly give visibility to the FIT-U has the consequence of favoring the government’s position and allowing the right to be seen as the only opposition.

At the same time, PO says about the unions: “because they represent the totality of the members, they cannot make calls to action as arms of the left, that is, as anyone can see, still a minority at the base of the labor movement.” This argument leads to capitulating to the bureaucratic leaderships and conceding to the consciousness of the most backward layers of our class. Of course, a union brings everyone together, but we only ask one question: why would that prevent us from taking the proposals of the left to the rank and file membership? Where did Trotskyism teach that we should try to convince the workers? That position is a wrong, sindicalist, a-political distortion, a mistake by PO that is an obstacle for the left to move forward.

The revolutionary left in the working class

PO argues that unions and politics are separate things and that this represents the “historical political position of Trotskyism.” It is not so. There is a huge amount of historical and written examples that disprove it. Let’s remember that in the debates on unions and how to gain influence Trotsky said: «the principal criterion is the general influence of the party on the working class, which is measured by the circulation of the Communist press, the attendance at meetings of the party, the number of votes at elections and, what is especially important the number of working men and women who respond actively to the party’s appeals to struggle.”(2) Trotsky’s position was to put the party and the left in the vanguard of the call to fight. He did not give it an electoral role, but instead gave “special importance” to measure how many workers respond to our calls.

And at the same time he added: «Those who, in principle, counterpose trade union autonomy to the leadership of the Communist Party, counterpose thereby – whether they want to or not – the most backward proletarian section to the vanguard of the working class (…) The ideology of trade union independence has nothing in common with the ideas and sentiments of the proletariat as a class. If the party, by its direction, is capable of assuring a correct clear-sighted, and firm policy in the trade unions, not a single worker will have the idea of rebelling against the leadership of the party. The historical experience of the Bolsheviks has proved that.(…) The main task of a true party of the proletariat consists in putting itself at the head of the working masses, whether or not they are organized in the trade unions ”(idem).

Finally, we also recall that speaking about the United Front, Trotsky said the following: «It is precisely in the course of struggle that broad masses must learn from experience that we fight better than the others, that we see more clearly than the others, that we are more audacious and resolute. In this way, we shall bring closer the hour of the united revolutionary front (…) The party can gain influence in the life of the trade unions only to the extent that its members work in the trade unions and carry out the party point of view there.” (3)

Comrades of PO; It is time to end the political immobility and put aside the syndicalist visions that have been preventing us from going out together to strongly put forward our front in political life and in struggles. There cannot be an artificial division between the political and the trade unions, but a single strategy that must be applied without delay and forcefully towards a great day of struggle of combative trade unionism, the left and other sectors in struggle. That is our proposal.

(1) Workers’ Press, 8/14.

(2) Communism and syndicalism, León Trotsky.

(3) On the United Front, León Trotsky.

Plenary of Militant Unionism: Debates on the united front and union model

August 12 was the second online Plenary of Militant Unionism. There were debates on how to move forward in building a new pole in the unions: the central debates were on the type of project, the meaning of the united front and the union model. What follows are our ideas on those topics.

By: César Latorre and Francisco Torres

First of all, we fully vindicate the Plenary of Militant Unionism, we believe in the need to strengthen it and that is our goal. This new call had broad participation and the participation of the MAC-PTS after having attacked the plenary for two years. It  shows that the PSC is a space that can be transformed into a pole of regroupment in the unions to confront the government, employers and the right, in the face of the void and the capitulation of the bureaucracy,

We have to articulate the recovered unions, union locals and workplace commissions with the national groups and currents, together with the activists, in support of the struggles, for their coordination and national extension with a program to face the crisis. In order to do this we need to move forward in these debates, deepen the agreements and overcome the testimonial stage we are still in.

With this perspective, we were part of the organizers of the great Plenary of Lanús in June 2018. We participated with the union current of the MST, ANCLA (National Class-struggle Anti-bureaucratic Current), as one of its main components. And we always work to strengthen it, both in its integration and contributing to the debates and the challenges it faces.

The central debate is covered in another article and is related with the union vision and the anti-left bias that the CSC-PO wants to give to the PSC, which goes against putting forward an alternative pole to the government and the right. Here we address two other debates, which we have been pointing out and reappeared in this last Plenary:

1) The united front and how to expand its range. Not only to call demonstrations or make statements, but to advance in putting together anti-bureaucratic slates in all the unions where the PSC is present and common actions in the class struggle.

2) The union model that is needed. How not to reproduce aspects of the peronist union matrix and advance in key points of the new union model to promote it in common with the members of the PSC. And practice it, not just declaim it.

How to develop the united front

The importance of the tactic of the united front arises from understanding the opportunity and responsibility of the left in the labor movement. To strengthen the PSC, it is necessary to advance in the united front and to put it into practice in the struggles, in the elections and the life of the unions and social organizations. In these aspects, the Plenary carries a deficit that conditions its capability to confront the government, the bosses and the right, and take steps towards building the new union and political leadership that is needed.

We already raised these problems in the Plenary in the SUTNA of Pilar, in November 2018. We bring them up in the instances of deliberation, within the PSC and in our publications. It is a matter of concern for us, given the degeneration of the CGT bureaucracy and the debacle of the different factions in which the old CTA project has fractured, by joining the electoral coalition of the PJ-Frente de Todos and joining a government that pushes austerity as that of Fernández. This brings up the need to step up efforts for unity to get rid of the bureaucracy and act together to win the struggles.

It is hard to understand, then, that agreements within the framework of the PSC program are not prioritized, and that what prevails instead are immediate interests to defend some circumstantial position in the unions. This leads to divisions that end up helping the bureaucracy to regain or retain certain positions in the unions.

Militant Unionism will not progress if we fail to act together in struggles, support the new leaderships and prioritize the unity slates, which must be democratically integrated according to the real representation of each sector, without false pretensions of hegemony. But there are more examples where currents of this Plenary, such as the PO in the UTS of Córdoba or the PTS in CICOP or ATEN, the teachers union of Neuquén, go forward with self-referential, sectarian and divisive policies, prioritizing building their own currents, rather than developing the workers’ organizations.

In ANCLA we have prioritized forming common slates, even when the proposed integration did not correspond to the real relationship of forces. As in the Ademys teachers union, despite being one of the main groups or in the SUTNA. We maintained the united front to strengthen a pole of the PSC, because our objective goes beyond winning a union, which will be valuable if it is placed at the service of strengthening the strategic fight for another type of society.

In other words, what should be done in each union is, first, to debate the formation of common slates between the members of the PSC, even when there are currents outside the Plenary that have relative weight in that union. Why? Because the PSC has a class program and that agreement should weigh over the centrist currents that act in the unions and tend to class conciliation, apoliticism or reflect backwardness in consciousness. But this criterion does not prevail. We have disastrous examples such as that of the PTS, that by dividing the teachers opposition in ATEN, allowed the TEP-Celeste bureaucracy to recover emblematic locals and be functional to the government.

UTS of Córdoba: the PO in a united front against the PSC

In the UTS of Córdoba -Union of Health Workers that is part of the PSC-, the PO began to act together with the sectors that oppose the Plenary. At the time the PSC was founded, these sectors were openly against it and tried to block the participation of the UTS in it. The CSC-PO went on to form a united front without principles, against the leadership and the majority of the UTS, acting together with the leadership of the FeSProSa, which is referenced in the leadership of the CTA-Autónoma, and with McCarthyite and antiparty elements (1).

Instead of working in a united front with those of us who are part of the PSC to strengthen the union which is the main reference of the Plenary in Córdoba. That is to say, in addition to being inconsistent with their arguments, they prefer to lag behind currents with which they do not share any fundamental programmatic position and thus act in an organized way against the currents of the PSC that have a programmatic stand that we all share.

As if that were not enough, they do not respect the decisions taken collectively by the bodies of the UTS and try to bureaucratically parallel them, with initiatives that go against what is democratically resolved in the union. That is, everything that they argue should not be done where they lead.

Now, this debate is connected with the other one, because for there to be integration of the different currents that act in each union, it is necessary to have political initiative and a truly democratic union model to help and convey the common lists.

Thus, unlike the CSC-PO, from ANCLA and the Gray-Alternative list in the SUTNA we accept to articulate with the Black list in union elections. Beyond the debates on the way the union is conducted and the fact that we are proposed a smaller representation than the one that would correspond, we prioritize unity to strengthen a militant leadership in the SUTNA and stop any return attempt by the Wasiejko bureaucracy, that today is an official of the Kicillof government in the port of La Plata. This is how PO should act, instead of weakening the UTS, by acting against the unitary development of new democratic leadership for struggle.

The union model: a social and orientation problem

It is not enough to appear something, you have to be it. We can all call ourselves democratic, plural, struggle-oriented. But when it comes to actually “being” those things, some members of the PSC fall short. On this issue we have shown coherence and have given an important debate in that Plenary of the North zone (2).

We understand the union model as the transitional program to develop a new class-based and democratic leadership. With autonomy, union democracy, struggle and coordination, proportional integration of the different currents and a gender perspective. But there we collide with conceptions and practices of other currents.

If we base ourselves on certain experiences where the left has gained union representation it has gone on to reproduce bureaucratic vices of the statist, top-down and single-minded union model of the CGT or the CTAs that they say they oppose. This is detrimental and counteracts (as does boycotting the united front) the advance of union renewal.

The bureaucratic model implanted in the CGT under the leadership of Peronism, whose objective was to contain the union movement within the framework of capitalism, and the working class within economism, has had negative effects on the consciousness of the workers movement in Argentina (3). This seems to be forgotten by some leaderships.

Only by considering these premises will we be able to act against the reactionary pressure that pushes to reproduce this vertical and state-led unionism. For this reason, from the militant union leaderships we must fight to destroy the prevailing union model. And for this struggle to be effective, we must not only say that we are different, but also act differently.

Those who fight to take back unions from the hands of the bureaucracy must have a clear understanding that we face an obstacle from the very moment we are successful: the union statutes were shaped by the Ministry of Labor to make sure that unions continue to play the role that peronism ascribed to them. In other words, one of the main tasks we have is to reform the statutes of each union and to fight for the repeal of Law 23.551 that shapes them.

The independence from the State cannot be just a declamation. As socialists we defend the total independence and organizational self-determination of the labor movement. And we fight to overturn any regulation that seeks to control union and political activity to subordinate the working class to the bourgeois state.

These statutes are a concentrated version of the prevailing union model and contribute to sustain the capitalist social structure. Therefore, we must fight to change them and overcome their obstacles, without being tied to them. It is very important that workers have the experience of a truly democratic, plural and independent union model.

We need a union model in which workers self-determine their organizational forms and where unions are not agencies of the Ministry of Labor. At the same time, we cannot apply anti-democratic statutes or use them as an excuse for not applying workers’ democracy. Nor deny the need for the democratization of a union when the left wins its leadership as in the tire-workers union. That is a conquest of class struggle unionism that must be democratized, which the CSC-PO ignores.

The same goes for centrist currents in the unions such as ADOSAC, the Santa Cruz teachers union, or in ATEN. One has to be consistent: you cannot have one policy if you are in opposition and an opposite one when you are in the leadership. We fight for new statutes to guarantee workers’ democracy and revolutionize the unions, federations and centrals. A union model in which the rank and file decides in assemblies and plenaries. To achieve real representation, proportional integration by the D’Hont system and without a minimum threshold for all the slates to the leadership, to the congresses, plenary sessions, strike committees and control bodies, according to the votes obtained. Establish limits to re-elections; transparent finances with rank and file control, and revocation mechanisms, among other points.

History and culture of the trade union model

Throughout our history there have been ongoing debates about labor organization. Different union currents and political organizations intervene, reflecting different sections of the working class, with different models of union and political organization.

With the state cooptation of the unions in the 1940s, the “Peronist model” prevailed, where the unions responded to the bourgeois leadership of Perón. The working class is located as “the backbone”, not the head of the class conciliation movement that is Peronism. The socialist, anarchist and communist strands were displaced. The CGT was co-opted and all its wings began to function with great verticality.

The governing “organic bodies” of each entity make every decision in every struggle or instance of collective bargaining. The assemblies are “informative” and only exist to endorse what the leaderships have already decided. The model is based on vertical logic, monolithism and single-lists, without integrating minorities and tendencies. The peronist model of “who wins leads and who loses accompanies”. With Menem, a part of the CGT bureaucracy went on to become bosses. Rich bureaucrats, assimilated to the bourgeoisie, disrupt the purpose of the union, replace struggle for permanent “negotiation”, mutualism and even become money lenders in the face of the needs of members.

There were also experiences of a class struggle tradition, leading heroic processes such as the Cordobazo, the SITRAC-SITRAM, the Viborazo or the second Cordobazo. These were workers and popular militant insurrections with student participation. Militant unionism looks to uphold the best of these traditions.

In the case of CTAs, their failure is linked to the total abandonment of the program that gave rise to them, which, for example, proposed to stop the payment of external debt. They ended up assimilated to the Fernández project, attached to the CGT due to the privileges implied by the positions, finances and union apparatus. There are also currents that claim to be class oriented such as the CCC (Maoist) or the social movements that joined the CGT and the Frente de Todos for their vision of “revolution in stages”, where there would be a “progressive” bourgeoisie (Fernández) that confronts the right and imperialism. We then see a combination of social issues and political orientation that led most currents in the unions to become integrated to the government of austerity.

That is why we propose an anti-privilege orientation to counterbalance these tendencies of integration to the regime: obligatory rotation in leadership positions; paid union representatives must earn the same wage as in their jobs; union dues be collected in each workplace; revocation mechanisms for any leader who does not fulfill his role or that uses his position to obtain personal benefit, etc.

In ANCLA we think that it is decisive to raise the flags of class struggle unionism, ranks and file democracy, anti-capitalism and socialism. We propose a change of model, not only of leadership. The fact that the left or class based groups gain leadership positions in unions is not a guarantee that they will function democratically. In the views of some sectors, as PO explains in Suteba La Plata, when a revolutionary party gains leadership positions, direct democracy goes into the background because that leadership already expresses it.

Let the rank and file decide, everything, always

The PO even goes as far as to question the slogan that the rank and file should decide everything. And they misrepresent it by saying that our current raised it to question strikes called by the CGT. This is completely false. The rank and file must always decide. If not, who decides? The bureaucratic leaderships or a certain nucleus of leaders who call themselves the left, but reproduce those bureaucratic vices.

We are against all expressions of bureaucratism. Our model is rank and file democracy, in assemblies. Not from the “organic bodies” of representation, no matter if they are of the SUTNA, Ferroviarios Oeste, a militant Suteba or failed experiences such as PO at the head of ATE Mendoza. We reject any bureaucrat, but also all personalism or groups that want to appropriate the movement. Our central goal is that the rank and file decide everything.

If the rank and file decides everything, it will be impossible for any sector of the left that wins the leadership to reproduce vices of the peronist model. The assemblies must command, be sovereign in everything. The bodies of delegates must have a  mandate. And when the mobilization overflows the statutory bodies that hold it back, promote committees of struggle elected by the rank and file.

Unlike PO, we think that “let the rank and file decide” is an educational slogan towards working class self determination and for it to assume leadership, not only in the unions, but also from the perspective of dual power workers’ organizations, to advance to another model of society. A non-negotiable platform of a democratic union model, for struggle, anti-capitalist, independent of governments and the State, feminist and dissident.

That is why it is not possible to depend on the current statutes to put together slates and say that nothing can be done about them. To do so is to defend the bureaucratic model. An internal election can be made, where the different currents participate to shape the unitary list to be officially presented to an election. Thus we overcome the statutory obstacles, applying a method of democracy that would strengthen the composition of the list.

This is what we propose to the leadership of the FC Sarmiento, where unity is produced with the integration of diversity, overcoming any self-proclaiming character to thoroughly democratize the body of delegates and seriously fight against the attack of the bosses and the bureaucracy. To call all the currents of class struggle unionism to join us and elect pre-candidates by sector and then join the common slate, as required by the reactionary statute. If that is done it will be the most representative and a common project, and this is the responsibility of those who hold the majority.

There are examples where statutory restrictions to democratic elections were circumvented. As in the CNEA, the Shipyard or workers of the former EMFER, before the statute of the UOM. Union democracy is not proclaimed, it is practiced. Here there is also another problem to overcome: the single-thought. It is said that “you cannot lead with differences”, a premise of the old bureaucracy that refuses to integrate all currents according to their real representativeness. In that sense, in the CICOP all the currents are integrated, it works by hospital assemblies and in congresses with express mandate from the bases. Through this model, the PTS has representation, but in a shameful conception, it equally brands the rest of the CICOP as bureaucratic.

Instances of collective bargaining cannot be resolved without calling for democratic decisions before signing agreements at the Ministry of Labor. Faced with ministerial and employer pressure, it is necessary to confront them with rank and file decisions before signing anything.

The unions do not become democratic by the simple fact that class struggle currents are in the leadership. The problem of the union model is a social problem from which the left is not exempt. Therefore, in addition to having the will and saying that we are democratic, we have to act accordingly, knowing that we need the necessary counterweights so that the positions gained do not detach us from reality.

The need to unite and coordinate by labor branch, union, area or region, to nationalize the struggle, put the positions conquered at the service of the fight for the leadership of a whole union or sector of the class, is another pillar of the model that is needed. Again, sections of the left fail to do this. Using unions that were taken back from the bureaucracy as the private property of a particular current is a huge mistake. Adapting to the apparatus pressures towards bureaucratization. There are no revolutionary unions if a conservative policy is implemented and they are not put at the service of the struggle and of winning new spaces from the bureaucracy.

With a gender perspective, we promote the representation of women and LGBT workers in the union leadership, in the same proportion as in the rank and file. In addition, in unions such as teachers and health workers, ensure that the main positions of leadership are filled and headed by women comrades.

For this radical change, the advances made with the PSC must be put to the service of building an alternative pole against the bureaucracy and peronism and for class struggle. We need to go out with the greatest force to fight to support the struggles, to fight to coordinate them and for the PSC program. We propose to prepare an action by Militant Unionism and the left to turn everything around.

1. Córdoba: the PO against the Plenary of Militant Unionism. 6/25/20.

2. Plenary of Militant Unionism, North zone. New step forward and a debate with the Socialist Left. Pacagnini, Guillermo; 11/7/18 at

3. The state control of the labor movement is a product of peronism. With Law 23.551 on Trade Union Associations, to a large extent peronism succeeded in canceling the development of an independent and revolutionary working class organization. That law allows the peronist party union mafias to maintain their dominance, making it easier to run for president than for leadership of a union. It strengthens a monolithic, vertical model, imposes the compulsory discount of the union quota to finance the leaderships and removes from the working class any possibility of deciding how to organize their union life, reinforcing bureaucracy against class struggle unionism.