Argentina: the growing rebellion of the healthcare team

On Thursday 17, the first national health strike will take place, called by FESINTRAS, but built by the confluence of multiple conflicts that, beyond the diversity of expressions, have a very powerful common denominator. We are united by the demand for salary, labor and professional recognition of those of us who were in the front line, a radicalized struggle and a strong process of self-determination, grassroots democracy and combative leadership. To support and develop this rebellion, which already had a first triumph in CABA, to win the other sectors, articulating the unity of the health team, is the urgent and necessary task of the moment. That places another challenge in a greater and more strategic term: to set up a democratic, independent and combative organization of the whole health team and a common programmatic agenda at national level. At the service of this, from Alternativa Salud/ANCLA we place our actions and proposals.

By Guillermo Pacagnini Leader of CICOP, FESINTRAS and Alternativa Salud (ANCLA-MST)

For several weeks this white tide has been growing rapidly. With a clear epicenter in the City of Buenos Aires, made visible in the powerful and irreverent mobilizations of residents and concurrentes, but with other expressions that have been growing from the bottom and involving other components of the health team and its combative leaderships. The contagion effect was noticeable, extending the fight to other areas of the country or reactivating fights that had been resisting isolated, the health and salary adjustment policies of the governments without distinction of jurisdictions.

A diversity that is beginning to converge

Together with the CABA residence, the health rebellion in Cordoba stands out, as shown on pages 6 and 7.

– For several months the Garrahan workers have been confronting the salary agreement signed by UPCN and ATE. With the combative APyT, which is building a multi-professional and democratic union and, at the same time, has been able to articulate with other self-convened organizations and other unions, overcoming the pressures of the union bureaucracy.

– The Nursing with the ALE (Association of Licensed Nurses) at the head, under very hard conditions, mobilizes for Salary, Labor and Professional Recognition. They have achieved a first triumph in the judicial sphere that reflects years of struggle and democratic and patient organization of the first line. And that should conclude with their inclusion in the Professional Career.

– The struggle of the city has been so powerful that the Federation of Professionals has stopped and mobilized, driven by the combative unions that make life within that organization.

– The Posadas Hospital stood up again. With a gigantic process of self-convocation of the professionals that articulates with the CICOP sections and then with the STS. Again, as in the hard times of Macrismo, suffering the boycott of the bureaucracy of ATE and UPCN, who sign downward wage negotiations. The demand for a 100% raise and a bonus of 100,000 pesos unifies these fights.

– Also the private healthcare care workers have been fighting for salary recomposition with outstanding actions of the Agrupación Bordó, historical opposition to Daer’s bureaucracy in ATSA. From the Internal Commission of the Italiano Hospital and the combative organization in different establishments.

– This torrent of energy poured into the streets, in its national extension, in addition to the  Cordobazo of healthcare, is evidenced by conflicts that have gained new momentum as the heroic struggle of the ASSPUR of Rio Negro, the combative union that leads the fight.

Faced with this national panorama, our brand new FESINTRAS (new National Federation of Health Care Workers’ Trade Unions) prepared a Day of Struggle and launched a National Strike to contribute to the unity in the diversity of these processes. With the push of CICOP, the UTS of Cordoba, APUAP of Jujuy, APSADES of Salta, the APYT of Garrahan and other health unions and groups in the country, we set ourselves for this titanic task. It was a success for the national coordination. The strength of the struggle and the initiative of our emerging federation forced the leadership of the Fesprosa to join the 17th, bringing forward a divisive measure they had planned. Which amplifies the struggle even more.

The 17th will be a rehearsal of what is to come. The health sector is today a pressure cooker that is forcing the governments to consider the reopening of all the wage negotiations. The strength of self-organization and also of the unions and combative currents that exist in the sector are the key that drives this rebellion. Causes and genesis of the rebellio: Undoubtedly the deterioration of wages and the demand for a real increase are the main demands. The austerity measures implemented by the national government as a result of the agreement with the IMF provides the framework for such a wage devaluation. The limited or downward wage negotiations signed by bureaucracies such as ATE and UPCN and other expressions that do not represent the whole and even less those who are fighting, the inflationary process that works as a regressive tax, plus the tax on wages in some areas of the sector, have deteriorated the standard of living of a sensitive sector such as the health team, with high rates of precariousness and condemned to poly-employment.

The salary detonator has worked on structural problems that afflict the sector and those of us who work in it and which have been starkly revealed and worsened during the pandemic.

The defunding of the public system, with a budget curve that has been decreasing year after year, budgets voted in partnership by the Peronist coalitions and the Macri-radical right-wing, the fragmentation of the health system that not only dismembers the attention in a horizontal way between the nation, the provinces and the municipalities but in a vertical way, between the private sector that has been advancing over the public sector transforming health into a business for a few. And the lack of hierarchy and recognition of the health team. Not only in terms of salaries, with a tremendous dispersion and inequalities in the country that bury that “equal work, equal pay”. But also in working and professional conditions. The absence of health or professional careers that segments the team, generates discrimination of some of its actors, encourages the oppression of others, and generates job burnout or premature exhaustion.

The pandemic hit hard. But it brought about a quality change in the health care team’s fight. That was on the front line of care, sustaining public health to avoid collapse, but also jumping to the front line of the fight. A real school of fight and organization.

That is why the current rebellion is actually a second wave of a tide that grew during the pandemic and generated heroic fights such as those of the elephants of Neuquén, the struggle of Río Negro, the nurses of CABA, Misiones, Tucumán, the health team in La Rioja, Catamarca, Santa Cruz, Córdoba, Province of Buenos Aires and which had demonstrations in almost all the provinces of the country.

Partial achievements were made, such as protection elements, budgetary reinforcements and also in salaries. But fundamentally, we achieved an accumulation in struggle and organization that today bears fruit because we are not starting from scratch. There were self-organizations that overflowed the bureaucracies, as in Neuquén. New unions were founded, such as the one in Río Negro, turning their backs on the ATE greens who boycotted the fight. The ALE in CABA was strengthened and emerged as a referent of nursing. The CICOP in Buenos Aires led the fights there. That is to say, a powerful general rehearsal of democracy to decide and mobilization to challenge.

That is why the current process is based on this accumulated capital, which also poses challenges and debates on how to continue and how to face the fight to win. But also how to face the great strategic task of organizing on a national scale, advancing towards a real and more permanent coordination that reflects the unity in the diversity of the health team. The coming major austerity and the attempts of new reactionary health reforms, blessed by the World Bank and the IMF, make it even more urgent.

Current challenges

The struggle of the CABA residents combined with the fight of the Garrahan, the Posadas, the unions by profession of CABA and the process that is echoed in the Buenos Aires territory and in the country, dragged the bureaucracy of Sutecba and AMM to the streets, reopened the municipal wage negotiations and achieved a resounding victory with the annualized wage increase of 99%. The residents of CABA accepted it in an assembly. This achievement undoubtedly has to do with the convergence of all these factors. The common action of November 8, where there was a confluence in fact, of all these sectors in an important mobilization, ended up twisting Larreta’s arm. This great step forward, must serve to strengthen the fights that follow and must be supported to win. Moving forward in really coordinating all these claims, uniting the wide diversity that is expressed in a single movement of struggle, where we coordinate to be able to strike harder and achieve our goals.

Now, we are going to extend this achievement to the demands of the concurrentes. We are going to support the Garrahan’s demand, with the APyT and Autoconvocados at the head, for a wage increase that sets an income floor equivalent to the cost of the family basket. We are going to support Nursing, which with the ALE driving the demand for salary, labor and professional recognition, has not stopped mobilizing all this time. We are going to demand the opening of the national wage bargaining and the increase for the Posadas. We are going for the health paritaria demanded by CICOP for the plant and residents, for the law of incorporation of 3000 nurses to the career and full compliance with the advanced regulation of residents that was achieved with the struggle.

Let’s go for all this and the strike of the 17th and the march and joint act in the capital that advances in unity also hit the national government and that of Kicillof in the provincial and in each of the provinces of the country where the struggle is fought.

The need for unity in diversity

In order to advance in the unity of the health team on a national scale, we believe that three tasks are important.

The first is to build a common agenda that goes beyond the conjunctural. There are three axes to consider:

a) A national health wage negotiation that sets a salary according to the family basket, automatically updated according to inflation and that overcomes the current dispersion and inequalities.

b) Striving for a single national career, for the whole team, with full labor and professional rights.

c) The fight for a single universal, state-run and free health system, where the health team plays an articulating role, exercising a democratic control of budgets and their application.

The second task is the will to genuinely coordinate on the basis of the diversity of expressions of the processes of struggle and organization. The necessary articulation has to start from the recognition of all the ongoing conflicts, beyond their development and visibility, to promote the convergence of the diversity of self-convened expressions and combative health unions and sectors, and to build a single movement that imposes to the political power all our current demands and goes for more. Avoiding the false hegemonisms and sectarianism promoted by some groups that “demand” from the militant unions or that pull only towards one sector, boycotting the efforts to seek points of unity. And also avoiding opportunist policies that seek to subordinate this movement as the tail of the union bureaucracies.

The third task is to patiently build this coordination independently from the state and political power, with full union democracy and proportionally integrating diversity.

Our current, Alternativa Salud (ANCLA/MST), is committed to this effort, as we have activists and leaders in all these processes and we have been making the greatest efforts to advance in this direction. We want to address these debates and proposals with the fighters with whom we share the streets and we encourage this tide to continue to grow.