Argentine trade unions lead a historic general strike!

Striking workers with their union banners

THE GENERAL Strike called by the CGT and the CTA, in rejection of the DNU (Decree of Necessity and Urgency) and the Omnibus Law, peacefully-gathered more than 600 thousand people in Buenos Aires and 1.5 million in the streets of all Argentina.

Carrying signs with slogans such as ‘you don’t sell out your country, you defend it’ and ‘workers united’, demonstrators protested against the reforms proposed by the ultra-liberal Milei government.

The reforms seek to deregulate the economy, reduce the size and intervention of the state and get rid of hundreds of laws that protect both individual and collective rights.

The reform package includes a ‘necessity and urgency’ decree and a bill entitled ‘bases and starting points for the freedom of the people of Argentina’ (known as the omnibus bill). In their speeches, union leaders condemned the necessity and urgency decree, which they say includes measures that violate people’s fundamental rights and directly affect union work, and called on the National Labour Court to rule it unconstitutional.

Union leaders also condemn the omnibus bill, which seeks to give the Milei government legislative power until December 2025 and to privatise public companies, the railways, the post office and the state media. Calling the bill a direct attack on sovereignty, they said the strike had already had a major impact, since the ruling party had planned to pass the omnibus bill on Thursday, 25 January but had postponed the session until the following week.

Under pressure from the opposition, the government has already been forced to remove one article stipulating that any public gathering of three or more people would be deemed an illegal demonstration leading to possible imprisonment.

The unions have used the general strike, the huge nationwide campaign and their actions at Argentinian embassies in various countries to demand respect for the democratic functioning of the country and its constitution, and the withdrawal of reforms that violate countless fundamental rights.

IndustriALL regional secretary Marino Vani said: ‘We congratulate the union federations, our affiliates and the workers of Argentina for their excellent campaign and for protesting against the legislation imposed by the Milei government. IndustriALL will continue to work with our affiliates to encourage workers to speak out against injustice.’

Milei — who said he gets political advice from his dogs — has unleashed what critics have called ‘a textbook case of shock therapy’ on the Argentine people and the country’s moribund economy, devaluing the peso by 50%, slashing social spending, reducing government subsidies, and opening the nation to foreign capitalist exploitation.

According to Juan Cruz Ferre, a postdoctoral fellow at the Program in Latin American Studies at New Jersey’s Princeton University, ‘The economic plan was followed by an all-encompassing presidential decree issued on December 20, affecting issues as diverse as labour law, healthcare, foreign trade, private property, and mining.

‘The general thrust of it is very clear: an attack on workers’ rights, the liberalisation of the economy, the strengthening of big business through market deregulation and numerous incentives, and the erosion of protections for tenants, the environment, and small businesses.’

Although courts have suspended parts of Milei’s decree in response to legal challenges, Cruz Ferre explained: ‘Attention has now shifted to a mirror bill presented to Congress, which includes all issues contained in the decree, plus a request of extraordinary powers to the executive for a period of four years.’

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, Milei hailed the corporate executives and wealthy global elites gathered there as ‘heroes’ and ‘creators of the most extraordinary period of prosperity we’ve ever seen.’ From November to December, prices in Argentina increased by more than one quarter, compared with just under 13% the previous month. Annual inflation now stands at 211%, with Argentina rivalling Lebanon for the dubious global top spot.

‘In this government of Milei, all the food halls of all the social organisations, of the churches, have not received food [from the government],’ one Buenos Aires protester said during Wednesday’s march. ‘There is no food; they told us that there is no money,’ the demonstrator added, even as the government adopts ‘measures in favour of the wealthy sector.’

Through PSI (Public Services International), Argentine workers received support from unions and individuals from more than 30 countries: Aruba, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Kenya, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, St. Lucia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.

PSI has also expressed its solidarity with the Argentine trade union movement through its general secretary, Daniel Bertossa, and with the participation of the regional secretary for Inter-America, Jocélio Drummond, in the march and rally on January 24. ‘As the first act of resistance to ultra-liberal measures that directly attack labour rights and social organisation, the march was successful.

‘There were no incidents or violence, on the contrary, it was a march considered by all to be very peaceful, even by the local press. With this, Milei’s government is trying to reduce the impact, saying that there are 40 thousand participants, but the central organisations speak of 600 thousand in the event in Buenos Aires and 1.5 million in the streets all over Argentina.

‘The international support has been very important, both in the acts in the embassies in several countries of the world, as well as with the participation of delegations from other countries in the march in the capital’, Drummond said.

In addition to this, the Council of Global Unions, representing workers in roughly 170 countries, issued a statement of support saying, ‘We request that the Argentine government stop issuing legislation proposals unilaterally and start negotiating with unions on ways to deal with labour issues.

‘We also stand with local actions supporting Argentine unions worldwide to actively oppose these regressive policies that threaten the foundations of a democracy.’

‘We cannot allow democratic backsliding in Argentina. We must act now.’

UNI Global Union sent a letter, signed by General Secretary Christy Hoffman and UNI Americas Regional Secretary Marcio Monzane, to President Milei in support of the strike and condemning the changes to law, stating: ‘The illegal reforms that your government intends to make clearly and plainly contradict fundamental international law, such as the right to strike and demonstrate, enshrined in international agreements signed by Argentina.’

Meanwhile, the United States has started to reimpose sanctions on Venezuela by restricting its mining sector after the South American nation’s top court upheld the disqualification of an opposition presidential hopeful.

A statement by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Monday said any US companies doing business with Venezuela’s state-owned mining concern Minerven have until February 13 to complete a ‘wind down of transactions’ with the company.

In response, President Nicolas Maduro has ordered civilians, the army and the police across the country to activate the Furia Bolivariana or Bolivarian Fury Plan, under which everyone has the duty to fight against ‘any terrorist attempt’ and ‘defend the right to peace’.

US President Joe Biden’s administration broadly eased sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in response to a deal reached between the government and opposition parties for the 2024 election in October in Barbados.

The deal included setting up a process to lift bans on opposition presidential candidates.

Last Friday Venezuela’s Supreme Court, upheld a 15-year ban on opposition leader Maria Corina Machado and also confirmed the ineligibility of her possible replacement, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

On Monday White House spokesman John Kirby said members of President Nicolas Maduro’s government ‘haven’t taken those actions’ promised in Barbados.

‘So we have options available to us,’ he said. ‘We certainly have options with respect to sanctions and that kind of thing.’

The Venezuelan president accused the US-backed opposition and the CIA of planning ‘terrorist attacks’ in order to destabilise the country ahead of the presidential election this year.

‘Venezuela is entering a period of presidential elections, but the mercenary extreme right and the parasitic opposition will not brook the election process. They will trigger a war to harm the people; they will wage a war and terrorist attacks. they are getting ready,’ Maduro said.

‘The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from its headquarters in Colombia, are preparing violent, coup-like and anti-constitutional actions against Venezuela,’ he added.