January 21, 2018
Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Argentine labour landscape at a glance

Protesters on the Panamericana highway during Thursday’s national strike.
Protesters on the Panamericana highway during Thursday’s national strike.
Protesters on the Panamericana highway during Thursday’s national strike.
The numbers, wages and leadership behind the national strike, and those who kept away

Thursday’s general strike placed the spotlight on both CGT umbrella unions, one of which is aligned with the government and another dissident union that participated in the strike. The question then is, how much do the union workers that joined the measure earn and how many chose not to join?

The strike focused citizen attention on both CGT union groupings. Because a great deal of those who participated in the strikes belong to transport unions, the stoppage prevented the normal functioning of trains, subways and buses, leaving millions of Argentines without a means of transport to go to work or to move around. Even though there is an ongoing debate about whether the strike was political or if it was fuelled by the lack of answers to the demands of some workers’ sectors, it is worth taking a look at where unions stand.

But before that, a little history. After the 2001 economic crisis, the power of the unions in Argentina resurfaced as a consequence of the economic expansion and the increase in employment. As pointed out by political scientist José Natanson, in Argentina after the crisis the “winners of the new model” were activities such as oil, food and above all, transport, within the frame of a bigger participation on the roads of freight transport because of the trade in commodities and the lack of investments in trains. The proof came in the form of power for the Truck Drivers’ Union, lead by Hugo Moyano who became the vice-president of the Justicialist Party on a national level and the interim president of said party in Buenos Aires. The union also saw the biggest increase in members and activities in its sphere. This explains, partially, the large turnout seen during this week’s strike.

The average net wage for the Argentine economy was, in the third quarter of 2013 (last available data) 7,300 pesos per month, according to official data published by the INDEC. How do the unions that supported the strike compare? How about the ones that did not? How are they represented?

Unions that did participate

Truck Drivers: With approximately 160,000 card-carrying members according to the Labour Ministry, the union headed by Moyano for 27 years was the biggest contributor to the strike, after the rural workers affiliated under the UATRE, leaded by Gerónimo “Momo” Venegas and Luis Barrionuevo’s restaurant workers. The net wage for a truck driver carrying cargo is about 9,500 pesos per month, increased in some cases according to the nature of the loads being carried.

Bus Drivers and Motormen: The Unión Tranviaria Automotor (UTA) and La Fraternidad, both still belong to the CGT sympathetic to the government headed by metal worker Antonio Caló, with 61,000 workers. However, their support meant a lot to Moyano and Barrionuevo by making the strike more comprehensive (buses and trains included). Both sectors earn a net wage of 8,200 pesos per month, according to the INDEC.

Restaurant and hotel workers: they were the biggest group, with some 250,000 workers joining the strike. Their average net wage is 4,500 pesos. When referring to hotel workers their net wage increases to 5,700 pesos while for restaurant workers the average decreases to 4,200 pesos. “This sector must be taken into account, just like the construction workers, there are other remunerations being paid on top of the formal salary” explained Martín Tetaz, economist and lecturer at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata. He added: “When it comes to restaurant workers, these data do not contemplate tips, which end up being half the salary received by the worker.”

Rural workers: According to the Labour Ministry, there are around 340,000 workers registered in this union, with one of the highest rates of unregistered labour in the economy. In this union that has been headed by “Momo” Venegas for 23 years the average net wage is 4,300 pesos, quite below the total average net wage and one of the lowest of those who joined the strike on Thursday (only 700 pesos above the minimum wages).

Unions which did not support the strike

Approximately 1.3 million workers, drawn from various unions, joined the strike. However, some of the most numerous unions did not join in: Shop workers’, construction, metal workers’, teachers (Ctera), auto industry and bank clerks.

Bank clerks, auto industry and metal workers: within the automotive industry, the mechanics’ union have about 100,000 employees. In this area, the average net wage is 15,200 pesos. The bank clerks’ average net wage (a paradox: it belongs to Moyano’s CGT but the union did not join the strike) is 13,700 pesos, while those represented by Caló (the fourth largest union in the country) have a average net wage of 10,400 pesos per month.

Shop Workers: With one million workers registered it is the number one union regarding the number of employees in the private sector. The average net wage in this sector reaches 6,500 pesos, but for those in the wholesale it rises to 7,300 pesos, while in the retail it decreases to 6,150 pesos.

Construction: Represented by UOCRA, it has 440,000 workers, who receive an average net wage of 6,130 pesos. However, it must be considered that as pointed by economist Tetaz, their incomes also have other payments.

Public and Private Education: even though this sector did join the strike, especially the Udocba union in the province of Buenos Aires, the most important unions such as Ctera and Sadop did not. Both have an average net wage of about $4,000 and $5,000 respectively.

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