May 24, 2013
Not so striking
Yesterday’s somewhat less than general strike by the anti-government sectors of the CGT and CTA umbrella trade union groupings was singular for reasons other than being a rare instance of an organized labour stoppage against a Peronist government. Normally it is the strikers who are asking all the questions on their protest day at least but now they have some very basic dilemmas of their own to solve. Not only is this “20N” strike unlikely to compete with the “8N” saucepan-banging as the watershed event of this month in the eyes of future historians — the striking sectors have somehow managed to find themselves on the wrong end of both halves of the immense dividing-line since “8N,” namely a voraciously powerful government and an exasperated general public. This “extortionate” disruption was vociferously repudiated by the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration and rather more silently by mainstream society at large yet this common ground against labour mischief seems to do nothing to bridge the rift left by 8N with both sides apparently oblivious of this potential for reconciliation.
Another paradox of this stoppage which should worry organized labour was its extreme dependence on picket action for success. Given the extremely patchy grip of the strikers on public transport (the main strength of the teamster Hugo Moyano, once upon a time) and given the impossibility of competing with “8N” in terms of drawing hundreds of thousands (if not millions) to any rally yesterday, the only hope of achieving any resemblance to a general strike outside the striking sectors was widespread picket action. And yet since its emergence less than two decades ago the picket movement has proved a dangerous rival to the traditional trade unions among the lower classes, a rift which recent trends only widen — the primacy given to the income tax floor among yesterday’s grievances seems to betray an almost middle-class agenda (is the new 46 percent middle class of this month’s World Bank study largely manned by organized labour?) while much of the other half of the population is an increasingly vulnerable lumpenproletariat on which pickets thrive. Yet the CFK administration should not be indifferent to picket trends either — once upon a time Kirchnerite pickets equalled or even outnumbered opponents (just as Moyano had a stranglehold on transport) but that seems to be changing.
“20N” thus leaves control of the street wide open — previously it seemed to be anybody but the general public but this month it seems to belong only to the people when they so choose.