December 20, 2014
This Sarmiento never misses a strike day
While there has been a spate of industrial action recently (despite growing job anxieties and even including the UOM metal workers union headed by the pro-government CGT leader Antonio Caló), this week’s disruptive work-to-rule on the Sarmiento suburban railway line has to be seen in a different category as more than a wage demand — and not just because of its immediate impact in the extreme nuisance caused to thousands of commuters. If the government imagined that it had solved the line’s manifold problems (including three fatal train crashes in recent years) by nationalizing it seven months ago, they should think again — that rambunctious shop steward Rubén “Pollo” Sobrero insists that this change of status occasions a full severance payment to all railwaymen on top of a 40 percent wage increase. The 15-year prison sentence slapped on the veteran UF railway union leader José Pedraza for his role in the 2010 slaying of the Trotskyist activist Mariano Ferreyra during a protest against outsourcing has not ended the friction with his union. Long before this week’s commuter chaos, Sobrero has been at the forefront of stoppages often timed as a crude blackmail bid to derail any probes of train-driver negligence in the wake of the 51-death Once station crash 27 months ago — indeed this week’s disruption during the ongoing Once trial (at least two of whose witnesses were seriously delayed in their arrival at Monday’s proceedings by the problems on the Sarmiento line) might not be entirely a coincidence.
When Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo speaks of “extortion” in pursuit of “irrational” demands, his description should be seen as the simple facts of the matter rather than dismissed as the grandstanding of a presidential dark horse. If Randazzo has yet a long way ahead to deliver on his promises to reverse the damage done by the previous transport authorities and a disastrous policy of using the available funding for uncontrolled subsidies without investing in modernization, the union is not interested in offering any solutions to the many challenges — wholly indifferent to the subhuman travelling conditions of their passengers or as to whether the trains they drive are made in China or Tucumán. All the strikers can do is to complicate the lives of fellow-workers generally earning less than themselves.
It will be interesting to see whether their narrow self-interest extends to hindering access to today’s labour protest against government policies in Plaza de Mayo organized by Caló’s CGT rival Hugo Moyano, thus marking the ultimate in negativity.