Economy

Unions show goodwill towards Fernández ahead of salary negotiations

14th November 2019

By Amadeo Gandolfo

Unions show goodwill towards Fernández ahead of salary negotiations

As the time to announce his economic program approaches, and with a tough economic year ahead with multiple demands ranging from workers to debt holders, Alberto Fernández is getting signs that unions will be patient and open to dialogue.

As one of the key components of the “social pact” heralded by Fernández, in which their demands will need to be reconciled with those of businesses, the state and other actors, support from unions will be crucial.

</p> <p>Leaders are generally happy to see the end of President Mauricio Macri’s presidency, in which workers lost <a href="https://www.pagina12.com.ar/226032-macri-dejara-como-herencia-el-salario-pulverizado">roughly a quarter</a> of their purchasing power and some unions had to fight legal cases against them, but the desire for improved compensation from those they represent might clash with the stretched finances of the state and private firms, as Fernández looks for a price-salary agreement in which all sides concede something with the goal of controlling inflation.</p> <h2><strong>An appeasing unionism? </strong></h2> <p>The first days of November saw several union leaders offer promising advances to the president-elect.</p> <p>First, Héctor Daer, representative of the health workers of Argentina and one of the leaders of the CGT umbrella union, spoke optimistically about the social pact and <a href="https://www.iprofesional.com/actualidad/303118-inflacion-gasto-empleo-Pacto-social-y-aumento-de-sueldos-que-dicen-la-CGT-sobre-el-plan-Fernandez">said</a> “no one can think that we will get a 35 percent salary hike next month, because that means that if you own a store you will also hike prices by 35 percent.” Daer also spoke about the necessity to order the country’s macroeconomy and called for business owners to also “postpone profitability.” His words could be read as a message to his bases regarding the urgency of recovering wages.</p> <p>Daer&#8217;s words seemed to echo Fernández’s message of a price-wage agreement, which has also been <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI2KdbkLhzo">backed by Hugo Yasky</a>, leader of the other big Argentine umbrella union, the CTA. Yasky suggested union demands could be frozen as long as this came as part of a wider agreement to fight “hunger” and “financial speculation”.</p> <p>Within the CGT, however, it has been common to see dissent when leadership cedes ground to government or businesses in times of limited economic resources. Teamsters leader Hugo Moyano has been among these dissident voices in the past, organizing strikes during the 1990s and 2010s. But his return to the unified Peronist front has seen him back the pro-&#8220;social pact&#8221; sentiment as of late. On Monday, Moyano <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2019/11/11/hugo-moyano-a-alberto-fernandez-no-le-vamos-a-hacer-un-conflicto/">stated</a> that he believes unions “will be good” under Fernández and that “we won’t create conflicts for Alberto”.</p> <p>Other unionists’ attitude is less surprising. State workers’ Andrés Rodríguez said he wasn’t considering asking for an <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/gremio-empleados-publicos-anticipo-reclamara-bono-fin-ano-alberto-fernandez_0_r9CW-GIk.html">end-of-year bonus</a> from Fernández’s administration. His UPCN union has usually been strongly pro-government no matter who is in charge, so his support is far from a shock.</p> <h2><strong>Controversy from left and right</strong></h2> <p>Finally, a short video circulated on social media in which Roberto Baradel, head of the key Buenos Aires province teachers’ union, claims that the school calendar must start on time in 2020, thus discarding the possibility of a strike.</p> <p>Sergio Siciliano, outgoing Undersecretary of Education for the <em>Cambiemos</em> administration in the province, <a href="https://twitter.com/sergesiciliano/status/1190397340898725889">shared the video</a> lamenting the “time lost due to strikes or problems not directly related to education” during the last 4 years, suggesting that protests during Macri’s tenure were motivated by political affiliation instead of genuine workplace demands.</p> <p>Baradel’s video was also attacked by the <a href="http://www.laizquierdadiario.com/Tras-el-triunfo-de-Fernandez-Yasky-y-Baradel-se-adelantan-al-pacto-social">Trotskyte left</a>, whose coalition came <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/10/31/infographic-alberto-fernandezs-presidential-win-argentina-election">fourth in the presidential election</a>, accusing union leaders of appeasement and demanding frontal opposition.</p> <p>Baradel ultimately denied that he was going to adopt a more complacent stance, <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/baradel-pide-compromiso-fernandez-recomponer-salario-docente-nid2302547">explaining</a> that he expected a timely start of the school year will be possible thanks to improved investment in education, including budget allocations for teachers’ salaries.</p> <h2><strong>Subtle symbolism</strong></h2> <p>This feeling of compromise and closeness was sealed with Alberto Fernández’s visit to the CGT headquarters last Friday. There, Fernández gave a speech in which he exalted the historical role of the organized worker’s movement in Argentine history.</p> <p>Fernández chose to focus on three historic Peronist figures. First, he spoke about Eva Perón, whose closeness to the worker’s movement was legendary. In fact, it was the unions who proposed her as vice-president in 1951, a plan that was discarded because of military resistance.</p> <p>But the meaty part came when he mentioned José Ignacio Rucci. Rucci has historically been seen as the symbol of the Peronist right, extremely loyal to Perón and not prone to defying leadership with strikes and protests.</p> <p>Rucci was elected as CGT General Secretary in 1970 and was instrumental in Perón’s return from exile in 1972. Rucci was also the architect of the social pact between unions and business chambers a year later. But, for the Peronist left, his name became a synonym of the Ezeiza airport massacre during Perón’s second and final return in 1973, in which many leftists died after an attack from the right wing faction of the coalition. In the end, Rucci was targeted and assassinated by a leftist armed group in September 1973.</p> <p>This turned Rucci into a cult figure for union leaders. 46 years after his death, posters which read “José Rucci, killed for being Argentine and Peronist” can still be seen each September glued to the walls of Buenos Aires. On the Peronist left, closer to the Kirchnerite governments, his name doesn’t evoque the same sympathies. So Fernández’s mention was highly significant, especially in the context of a new “social pact”.</p> <p>Finally, Fernández spoke of Saúl Ubaldini, the general secretary of the CGT during the entirety of the 1980s, who headed union resistance against the military dictatorship, helping organize several massive protests which cost him jail time. Once democracy was restored in 1983, he was one of the most ardent opponents of Raúl Alfonsín, as his government focused on Peronist unions as one of its main rivals. Under Ubaldini’s leadership, the CGT organized twelve general strikes against the Alfonsín administration.</p> <p>Highlighting these names sends the signal that Fernández knows what’s dear and close to union leaders. But also, that he values leaders who could walk between loyalism and confrontation, a stereotype that also seems to apply to himself, as he prepares for a presidency that is likely to be a constant <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/10/31/alberto-fernandez-president-elect-delicate-balancing-act">balancing act</a>.</p> <p>

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Amadeo Gandolfo

Amadeo Gandolfo is an historian, journalist and researcher. He has worked at the CONICET (National Council For Scientific and Technical Research), writes at the Revista Crisis magazine and teaches at the University of Buenos Aires.