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September 16, 2014
Monday, June 2, 2014

Labour limbo

The long hot summer which was widely forecast for the labour front never really boiled over (despite the post-devaluation inflation surge making the wage-price race even more lopsided) but this in no way guarantees the country against a hard winter. Almost every sector has shown itself vulnerable to labour unrest in recent days. Even if the productive sector is supposedly at the heart of the Kirchnerite model and even if UOM metal workers union leader Antonio Caló heads the pro-government CGT grouping, this has not prevented UOM workers from manifesting their discontent in various forms including actual strike action in Córdoba — meanwhile strikes by auto part workers have brought the main assembly lines of various famous carmakers to a complete halt, a shocking transformation for an industry which was the co-star of “Chinese” growth rates alongside soy during half a decade (a boom which might well be impossible to repeat). And if the financial sector has proved distinctly more lucrative than the industrial in recent times, this has not saved it from bank clerk strikes. Last week the country was on the brink of a strike by bus-drivers and the April 10 protest headed by teamster Hugo Moyano’s dissident CGT grouping recently showed just how devastating such a stoppage can be, giving what was essentially a transport strike every appearance of a nationwide general strike.

Even if Argentina’s labour bosses are historically permeable to wheeling and dealing, the margin for negotiation is limited because the traditional trade union leadership is under such intense pressure from their grass roots. If these bosses are usually linked to the right wing of the Peronist movement while many of the shop stewards challenging them today often identify themselves with Trotskyism, many of the trade union dinosaurs have now been so many decades at the helm that a generation gap has become at least as potent a divisive factor as ideology. With inflation still at last year’s levels (even if down from the summer), these differences plus the existence of at least five major trade union grouping splinters are a guarantee of competing wage militancy.

Plenty of labour brinkmanship then but push might not come to shove this winter any more than in summer — job anxieties amid economic slowdown are also a powerful argument in favour of wage moderation. In other words, the continuation of a strange limbo with which nobody is at all happy but which most people would rather not change.

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