March 10, 2014
While there is nothing surprising about a Wage Council meeting to up the pay floor being proposed at the advent of the collective bargaining season (especially with the price lurches of the post-Moreno era), the origin of the proposal was rather more unexpected — the health workers union leader Héctor Daer who last year bolted government ranks to join Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front, clinching a Lower House seat last October. Massa is identified with the more pro-market, centre-right tendencies within Peronism as would be expected from somebody who entered politics in the neo-conservative 1989-99 presidency of Carlos Menem (not that Menem did not carefully foster his links with trade unionism, like all Peronist presidents until now) — it is thus on the surface surprising to see Massa forcing the pace on the labour front (as he has already done in urging that Buenos Aires province teachers be summoned to the negotiating-table this month) and it is difficult to find an explanation other than political opportunism for his attitude. Meanwhile to the left of the established trade union groupings (including both the pro-government and dissident wings of both the CGT and the CTA) are the shop stewards and other ginger groups whose steady rise in recent years is buoyed by a couple of political factors — the electoral success of the far left last October (including three deputies elected) and the distinct possibility of the government boosting the smaller fragments of the labour movement (including their legal status) in order to play “divide and rule.” With the prospect of all these different strands (including the supposedly pro-market Massa) competing in militancy, we could be in for a long. hot summer indeed.
The government’s receptivity towards convoking the Wage Council will hinge to some degree on its confidence in the price agreements recently launched. If they are fearful of their fragility and rapid disintegration, it might well suit them to define the new pay floor quickly while they can still argue that price restraints need to be reflected in wage moderation. But if they are confident that the agreed price levels can hold, then they might be more inclined to drag their feet on the minimum wage (always important for differentials, even if only directly affecting a tiny minority of workers) to head off any wage-price race — with all the more reason to request moderate wage demands when the Council finally meets.
Some analysts say that 2014 has the potential to resemble 1975 more than any other crisis year in recent history — if they are right, the relationship with organized labour will be absolutely crucial.