One of the more inflammatory pieces of news from yesterday’s strike wasn’t, as it turns out, Your Ruined Travel Plans, but union leader Luis Barrionuevo’s blindingly ill-advised comment that dialogue between unions and the government had been better under the military dictatorship. The ‘Blue and White’ General Argentine Labour Confederation general secretary claimed that:
“In the military era, we would strike, walk out, fight, talk, negotiate, but with this government we have had no chance for any sort of dialogue.”
Just before the strike he complained that they hadn’t heard anything from the Kirchner government for three years and criticized both the government and the president as “capricious.” The whole thing was “clarified” at a press conference held yesterday afternoon by the strike leaders, where he stated that “the military listened to the union leaders because there were military inspectors in the CGT.”
It absolutely didn’t help. The condemnation has, of course, been swift and unequivocal from all sides. Let’s take a look at how many people are running or throwing stones at this guy while he’s busy getting his foot out of his mouth.
Pablo Micheli, secretary general of the Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA), who joined Barrionuevo in galvanizing their respective unions to strike action yesterday, distanced himself from Barrionuevo:
“To say that one could negotiate with the dictatorship is atrocious, in my opinion.”
Facundo Moyano was also quick to jump ship. He argued that some of the main victims of the military dictatorship in society were Argentine workers – those the unions are looking to protect – and tweeted this statement expressing his “absolute condemnation of the comments made by Luis Barrionuevo”:
Frente Para la Victoria members, aligned with a government which has done much to deliver retribution and reconciliation following the atrocities of the dictatorship – and consequent pardons granted by the President Carlos Menem administration – denounced the comment as:
“An insult to human rights organizations, to their long battle and to the politics of Memory, Truth and Justice that the government… has been pursuing since 2003.”
Some went further, pointing out that this might in fact have been a slip of the tongue – leader of the CTA Hugo Yasky described the comments as “confessions, not declarations.” He suggested that pulling at this loose thread might:
“Allow us to see what side union leaders were on, when there was a genocidal dictatorship that treated workers so brutally.”
Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández got on board, throwing some quick shade. “If you were to call Barrionuevos a brute, that would seem to be a tautological truth,” he said before picking up on the potentially suspicious implications of there being dialogue between the by-definition dictatorial regime and the unions:
“Who was able to talk [with the authorities] during that era? Those who made some kind of concession which gave them access to the brutes who had usurped power.”
He criticized yesterday’s strike as lacking in rhyme and reason and called for wage discussions to continue, “rationally,” at the discussion table.
So that’s prominent government officials, members of the incumbent party, and union brothers-in-arms. What are we missing?
Oh right, an internationally respected public figure and celebrated human rights activist: step on up, Hebe de Bonafini, president of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Her response was a perfect blend of damnation veiled in placid consolation:
“There’s no need for alarm, it’s good that they’ve finally told the truth. They spoke, negotiated and were aligned with the military.”
She included Hugo Moyano and ‘Momo’ (Gerónimo) Venegas in the list of unionists who would be imminently paying for their complicity with the military regime, in action planned by her organization for some time this year.
Barrionuevo is no stranger to controversy, being the maverick who in 2003 burned some ballot boxes in Catamarca after his candidacy was refused in the courts for not having been a citizen for long enough. As a result the election had to be suspended. He did have an unshakeable logic: “If there are no PJ ballots, there’s no election.” However, it’s by this logic of implication that people have used his comment to openly speculate about the murky past of union politics.