Red, blue/yellow or violet?
May Days are not what they used to be — while over in France the far right seemed to place International Labour Day on a higher pedestal than a left bewildered by a socialist government’s latest austerity drive, here in Argentina the renewal of Boca Juniors midfielder Juan Román Riquelme’s contract, the British boy band One Direction and the equally youthful local singer Martina Stoessel were all drawing crowds on a par with those at Thursday’s FIT leftist rally in Plaza de Mayo. On that basis the labour scene here could hardly seem calmer but appearances can deceive.
Some of the more apocalyptic visions of massive job destruction as already underway are exaggerated with unemployment still well under double digits but it would be truer to say that many jobs are looking increasingly shaky — enough to discourage greater May Day militancy or more consensus behind teamster Hugo Moyano’s call for a May 14 march on Plaza de Mayo even though this tones down the confrontation from last month’s general strike (despite its success). The fact that a Peronist government had so little to offer for this red-letter labour day despite its traditional roots in trade unionism is also significant — President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner evidently felt that now was not the best time for anything more than the briefest message about job creation even if the defence of employment has been perhaps her administration’s most genuine main achievement (although a workforce numbering only 46.1 percent of the population as against a Latin American average of 50.5 percent could be argued to represent disguised unemployment). So far the reduction of overtime, lay-offs and less shifts are the general picture in manufacturing industry rather than pink slips (even if industrial employment has edged down 1.2 percent from this time last year) but the falls in car production in particular and manufacturing output in general were steep enough in the first quarter to create anxieties for job stability in the rest of the year. Comparisons continue to be positive when measured against the post-crisis year 2003 invariably favoured by presidential rhetoric but the comparison with either of CFK’s own inauguration years of 2007 and 2011 would be another story, belying a productive economic model.
By minimizing productivity gains in the good years and by sheer state obstinacy in the bad (basically the 2008-9 global crisis), Kirchnerite presidencies have successfully defended full employment (or thereabouts) throughout a decade but their stiffest challenge might well lie ahead.