December 9, 2013
Truce with labour
Thus far the rounds of social dialogue seem to have served more for tax break announcements than for policy review (at least according to the media reports) but this also tells something about the immediate future. Some pundits seem bent on retreading 1999-2001 scenarios with talk of a “scorched earth” policy from a Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration assuming inevitable defeat in order to hamstring the next government and pave the way for an eventual comeback but that is not the message given by these announcements — instead they indicate a determination to fight to win back the electorate’s favour after last month’s primary defeat. Wednesday’s announcements cast an extremely wide net — over two million self-employed find their capacity to invoice tax-free doubled from 2010 and state cash transfusions to the union-run health care schemes will be increased by nearly two billion pesos to 6.5 billion pesos a year while on the same day in La Plata Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli was handing out further electoral goodies by more than doubling the minimum provincial pension by next March.
The tax relief for the self-employed drew the biggest headlines but perhaps the aid for the health care schemes is the most politically interesting because it reverses almost two years of an ever-deepening rift between CFK and much of organized labour — unprecedented for a Peronist president. Between this announcement and raising the income tax floor within the last 15 days, the government has now remedied at least verbally all four of the main grievances over the last two tense years (the tax floor, family benefits, health care funds and the minimum wage). Breaking an alliance dating back to Juan Domingo Perón strategically choosing to become Labour Secretary in 1943 was always going to be a bold experiment although it had both its subjective and objective reasons — subjective because CFK’s husband Néstor’s death was immediately preceded by traditional trade unionism showing its ugliest face with the slaying of Trotskyist activist Mariano Ferreyra in a demonstration of outsourced workers and objective because the union bosses increasingly seem dinosaurs within the complex division of labour in the modern workplace.
In the week of veteran power workers union leader Oscar Lescano’s death, traditional unionism does not look any more attuned to modern realities but for better or for worse, a Peronist government is seeking to restore the historical alliance with organized labour.