Well into their ninth consecutive day of strikes, the colectiveros in Córdoba are not backing down. It has been over a week since the city’s transport workers rejected an agreement among the national Unión Tranviarios Automotor (UTA), the National Ministry of Labor, and the transport business sector that intended to raise workers’ salaries across the country by 21 percent. But colectiveros in Córdoba deem 21 percent insufficient. As protestors demand more, Mayor Ramón Mestre has kicked the city into emergency gear.
The strikes continue to paralyze normal operations. Yesterday, Mayor Mestre implemented an emergency plan for urban transport. He mandated an estimated 150-200 colectivos — less than 25 percent of the buses that generally operate — to run temporarily free of fare. He deployed an unprecedented 1700 members of the Córdoba police and the national gendarmery to regulate the lines. He subsequently dismissed 80 workers who failed to comply with his emergency work mandate. These dismissals only aggravated protestors’ calls for compensation and higher pay.
Meanwhile, strikers have come just short of a solution. Just last night, the local UTA section of Córdoba reached an agreement with the city to raise workers’ salaries above the 21 percent increase implemented (in theory at least) at the national level. The negotiation is thought to have included the reinstatement of all workers who had been terminated during the days of the strike, with compensation for days missed. But early this morning, Mayor Mestre vetoed the decision over Twitter. “We haven’t reached any agreement,” he said. “I once again urge workers to return to their posts. Neither illegality nor violence will be rewarded.”
La Municipalidad rechaza las condiciones de este “supuesto acuerdo” ilegal del cual el Municipio no ha participado.
— Ramón Mestre (@ramonjmestre) 13 de junio de 2017
But many workers have grown only more steadfast in their demands. Marcelo Marín, a colectivero on Córdoba’s línea 40, is considered the movement’s hero or provocateur, depending on whom one asks. The periodical Perfil called Marín “histrionic” and “verbose.” Mayor Mestre accused him of colluding with the Partido Obrero and ex-President Cristina Kirchner to “nationalize a local conflict.”
But Marín sees his plight differently. His goals fall right in line with Córdoba’s defiant labor history. Córdoba’s local UTA section has always acted autonomously from the national UTA. Until 2013, the average colectivero salary in Córdoba was fixed higher than the national salary, and increased at a rate a few points above the national rate of increase. “It’s not a strike; it’s an assembly,” said Marín. “We are waiting for [the city] to initiate a dialogue with us that includes a coherent proposal.”
Still, the pressure is on for strikers and city officials to reach a joint conclusion as quickly as possible. As of now, dismissed workers have lost their position and will not be compensated. Marín hopes to reconvene with local delegates tonight. But there is no telling what he will do if the talks reach another impasse. Some workers are ready to give up. “I support the protest, but it has its limits,” said another colectivero from the línea 40. “I’m thinking about my family. What will I do if I lose my job?” Today, tensions remain high. All that is certain is that la huelga sigue.