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Right-wing unions threaten more strikes

A file photo shows a long queue in the City neighbourhood of Liniers during a train workers’ strike in August last year.
By Mariano Parada López
For The Herald

Venegas, Barrionuevo vow to follow up Thursday measures with further industrial action

As both inflation and devaluation bite into purchasing power, the opposition trade union umbrella headed by teamster Hugo Moyano will stage a 24-hour nationwide strike this Thursday.

Union leaders such as UATRE head Gerónimo Venegas are claiming they’re working on a battle plan, which would mean staging 36-, 48- and 72-hour strikes in the near future.

Measures have been organized with Luis Barrionuevo, another trade union leader opposed to the Kirchnerite government and will have the support of some of the country’s leftist labour organizations and trade unionists from the pro-government CGT. Rallies are expected on the outskirts of Buenos Aires City.

The unions are calling for “free collective wage bargaining,” pension hikes and the exemption of wages from the income tax, and are also making a more general demand that the government tackle crime.

The pro-Kirchnerite bus drivers union UTA, a member of the CGT led by metal workers’ union Antonio Caló, staged a strike two weeks ago when a driver was shot dead during an attempted robbery.

Public transport will be affected, especially in the city and surrounding areas. There will be no buses, air travel will likely feature delays and Sarmiento train line workers are also joining the strike. The Sarmiento line runs 40 kilometres from the Moreno district in Greater Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires City. Subway workers will decide tomorrow whether they will stop working or not.

As one of the most (if not the most) powerful unions in the country, a teamster strike can affect oil supplies, the provision of goods, and garbage collection.

Another anti-Kirchnerite organization taking part in the protest is Pablo Micheli’s CTA umbrella group — which has strong representatation among civil servants — and the small farmers associations FAA. Rural workers union UATRE head, Gerónimo “Momo” Venegas, expects the three other Liaison Board rural organization members to follow suit.

Despite their opposition to both the government and so-called “union bureaucracy,” leftist organizations also will join the strike. Unlike Hugo Moyano, these unions are expected to hold several rallies on the outskirts of Buenos Aires City, and — in the wake of President Cristina Fernández Kirchner’s harsh criticismsrecently of this form of protest — will likely end up blocking vehicle traffic. They’re pushing for a tougher battle plan, which involves more strike days in the future.

Thursday’s protest comes as the Argentine economy continues down its current shaky path. With average three-percent monthly inflation, a 20-percent devaluation last January and cuts to subsidies for public services, collective bargaining negotiations are managing to seal deals for wage hikes of around 30 percent or higher. Buenos Aires province teachers reached an agreement for a 38-percent increase to the pay floor, which means that the minimum salary in the province rose from 3,600 pesos to 5,000 a month. UOCRA construction workers union (pro-Kirchnerite) signed a 29.6-percent deal, as did the UOM metal workers, whose leader Antonio Caló is the head of the pro-Kirchnerite CGT. Pablo Moyano wants “at least” 35 percent for his teamsters.

Unions discuss the strike

Venegas is a fierce opponent of Cristina Kirchner’s administration and a key figure in far-right Peronism. In the last mid-term elections, he failed to make it to Congress for Buenos Aires province. Now, he is allied with Hugo Moyano, and is strongly advocating for both the strike and the support of the Liaison Board.

“We expect to have 80 to 90 percent support. It doesn’t matter if some leaders are part of the pro-Kirchnerite CGT, the workers will bring things to a halt,” Venegas stressed to the Herald.

Venegas also explained why the CGT will not attend a rally in Plaza de Mayo: “We want the demonstration to be seen, inside and outside the country. When you attend a rally, the focus becomes attendance.”

He also emphasized that “many businessmen and women will join us because they’re also having a bad time. We have to produce more. If we fill supermarkets with food, it will cost less. Surely, the rest of the Liaison Board will support the strike. I was talking to them, asking for their adherence.”

“The government should take note,” Barrionuevo said yesterday. The union leader threatened that if there was no response they would follow up with a 36-hour strike “and then a 48-hour strike.”

The leader of the Blue and White CGT believed that the strike would be a complete success, with every medium of transport being cut off.

He rejected claims that the strike was “political” in nature, as Caló has claimed.

“There won’t be ships, planes, trains, buses, nor gas stations in operation,” he threatened.

Maximiliano Bronzuoli is a rubber worker from the SUTNA union. He accused anti-Kirchnerite unions of delaying a necessary strike.

“The government has taken certain measures against workers in this period. We support Moyano’s decision, but at the same time we have a few criticisms,” he stated.

On the topic of the Liaison Board’s support, he stated: “We insist the FAA (small-scale farmers) are bosses. It’s contradictory for them to be in favour of the strike. They are bosses, and will continue to be bosses.”

Left-wing parties and organizations are asking for an advanced bonus of 3,000 pesos for all workers; a 9,000-peso pay floor; and “free collective wage bargaining,” among other demands.

They will hold rallies around the City, and at the north, the south and the west accesses into the capital. Bronzuoli confirmed a rally at the intersection of the Pan-American Highway and Henry Ford Avenue.

For his part, Rubén Sobrero, the head of the key Sarmiento train line workers union, is demanding a 40-percent wage hike. He confirmed he and his group will stage a strike next Thursday.

“Inflation and devaluation are ruining salaries and we cannot lose purchasing-power. We are going to call for a 36- and 48-hour strike in the event the government does not listen to us,” Sobrero told the Herald in an exclusive interview.

Subway workers are also due to decide their plans of action in upcoming assemblies. Leaders are against joining this week’s strikes, spokesman Enrique Rositto said: “We are going to announce the union’s position next Tuesday (tomorrow). Most of the board members are against the strike because we don’t support those who are leading it. We reject UTA. While we don’t want to end with another income tax for wages, we do support raising the (basic salary) floor.”

The unions also want more money for the health care schemes that they themselves manage, but the subway workers union refused to toe the line on the issue.

“Our guys know about the quality of social insurance by UTA. We don’t know whether the money has been useful or not,” Rositto commented.

@mparadalopez

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