And then one day the tacit truce between the CGT umbrella union and the Government fell apart. Yesterday, the largest union in the conglomerate announced that it will organize a march for March 7th along with planning a general strike for the second half of the next month. They did not specify when the strike will take place.
Shortly after the announcement, the Transportation Union (UTA) announced that it would be joining the protests. By preventing people from accessing public transportation — making getting to work a virtual impossibility — the strike is effectively able to bring the country to a halt.
The Government, in contrast, has a different assessment of the situation. Some within the Government are claiming that unions are resorting to these measures in the hopes of delivering a political blow to the current administration: “We believe we are on a path towards [economic] recovery, although there are sectors that still have issues. Employment is growing and the automobile and construction industries are doing better. In our opinion, a strike is not justified. We believe in dialogue and we will continue putting our faith in that,” sources from the Labor Ministry told Clarín. Since the CGT hasn’t confirmed the strike’s date, the Government has some leeway in terms of time in order to convince union workers to change their minds.
The unions beg to differ. When announcing the decision, CGT leader Héctor Daer presented a list with all their claims and criticisms concerning the Macri Administration’s policies: “we march in defense of work, the national industry, free wage negotiations, education, and against changes in labor agreements and the indiscriminate increase of utility bills.”
The union leaders went on to say that “there was a lot of contact [with government representatives], a lot of commitments, but they didn’t follow through with any of them.”
“Neither the Government nor business leaders have followed through on anything that was discussed around the table and signed. They are working together, which goes against workers,” they added.
Many consider the maintenance a relatively cordial relationship — managing to prevent unions from conducting a general strike — one of the Government’s main political achievements, particularly during a tough economic year. The main way they were able to conserve this stability was through the multiple agreements they signed with workers as well as with business leaders. Particularly significant was the agreement in which business leaders committed to not laying off workers between November and March.
This didn’t materialize though. According to La Nación, the manufacturing, construction, retail, banks, stock exchange, farming and food production industries all made significant layoffs during this period. As a result of what unions consider to be the Government’s failure to hold business people to their end of the bargain, they decided to break the dialogue and call for more drastic measures.
The Government is looking to mitigate some of this rhetoric, arguing that the situation is slowly improving. According to official statistics, employment grew by 0.4 percent in November last year, compared to the previous month. But when compared with November 2015’s figures, the number of workers in most sectors is still significantly lower. Only the construction and farming industries began hiring people at the end of 2016.
As long as the Government is unable to channel its positive economic forecasts into concrete results for workers, the relationship between Government and unions will have nowhere to go but downhill.