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Argentina Strikes Against Milei

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For the second time in five months, trade unions in Argentina built a 24-hour general strike on May 9 against far-right president Javier Milei’s policies meant to “shock” the country from its economic crisis. Milei’s libertarian agenda, aimed to protect the rich and big business and unload the crisis on the backs of the poor and working class, is deepening the pain felt by poverty-stricken Argentinians.  

Milei and his government argue that the dollarization of the economy, devaluation of the currency, privatization of public companies and other austerity-driven economic measures are necessary to combat wildly high inflation, even while poverty rates have risen as high as 50% in January 2024. Argentina’s monthly inflation slowed down to 13.2% in February, compared to 20.6% in January and 25.5% in December. On a yearly basis, however, annual inflation remains the highest in three decades, now around 300% – among the highest worldwide.

Most economists expect the economy to contract by over 3% this year. Consumption, construction, and manufacturing are down sharply year-over-year. Previously one of the richest countries in Latin America, Argentina has run a deficit for 13 years, and survives on loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – almost one-third of all IMF lending – resulting in crushing debt. Decades of mis-rule by the pro-capitalist left populist Peronist coalitions, have left a massive vacuum for a genuine left alternative. The failure of the left to fill this vacuum paved the way for the chainsaw wielding Milei’s libertarian party,  La Libertad Avanza,  to win in last fall’s election

The May 9 general strike shut down all major transportation services “in defense of democracy, labor rights, and the living wage,” according to a statement from three main trade union organizations, including the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA), and the Autonomous CTA. These same confederations pointed toward more action without naming a specific date of escalation. 

Milei’s Chainsaw Threatens Workers Rights

May’s general strike was a powerful response against Milei’s government attempt to railroad an omnibus bill through the Senate that would deepen attacks on labor and social programs. The bill passed the lower house in April but even Milei’s threats to his own government officials couldn’t get him a vote in the Senate, where the opposition Peronist party holds 33 of 72 seats, until possibly June or July. 

In a major attack on poor Argentinians, the bill includes the abolition of a tax status for low-income self-employed workers called the monotributo social, a category that provides low-cost health coverage and formal work, translating into government support.

Further attacks include labor reforms that extend probationary periods for workers (giving the bosses more power to discriminate and fire), loosen penalties on abusive employers and weaken maternity leave. The bill eliminates taxes on trade and imported goods and gives more executive power to Milei to dismantle social and economic programs. And further, the bill includes the partial or total privatization of most public companies, including those controlling the mail service, electricity generation and energy, broadcasting, and transportation.

Where’s The Left Alternative To Libertarian ‘Strongmen’? 

It might seem baffling that recent polls show Milei retains a 49% approval rating, with 64% support from young people. The same polls found 59% don’t support the government attacking pensions, even while a survey on Milei’s first 100 days found that 56% of 1,300 respondents “considered that Milei’s adjustment and deregulation measures are “adequate” to improve the country’s economic situation.” 

The election of right-wing strong men like Milei, Trump in the U.S., and elsewhere, show a deep dissatisfaction with the establishment — and an unorganized expression that ordinary people expect more. When the status quo means economic dysfunction and poverty, it’s no wonder the youth and working class are looking for a way out of an unreliable quality of life.

These sentiments are contradictory but reflect a deeper problem of the left. There wasn’t a sufficiently strong left alternative that didn’t back the Peronist establishment in last fall’s election, forces that have been complicit in Argentina’s crisis. The exception was the coalition of Trotskyist parties in the FIT-U (Workers Left Front – Unity). Their presence is very positive but they have yet to demonstrate the capacity to make an appeal which can split the base of Peronism, especially in the unions.

A mass movement of the left and the broader working-class Argentinian’s who are tired of attacks on workers’ rights, LGBTQ people, women, and dead-end economic schemes that further devastated the youth and poor, is the only force that can turn the tide in Argentina. The main union confederations should call for another general strike within a month, and build support through school and workplace committees. Organizing the working class in this way in opposition to the Peronist establishment would be an important step towards filling the political vacuum. Through this struggle a true mass party of the working class can be forged which can cut across young people finding answers in far-right figures like Milei, and instead wage a ferocious struggle against the social and economic poverty on offer from the status quo. The Argentinian working class could help ignite a new wave of struggle across Latin America and the US laying the basis for ending the whole capitalist system of exploitation and wars.

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