Tomorrow, the main unions in the country will attempt to bring the country to a halt for the first time under the Macri administration. Their official reason behind their decision to strike is linked to their disagreement with the government’s economic policies, which they argue do nothing but harm the workers they represent.
While this claim comes as a result of an increasingly complicated economic situation in the country, the absence of a specific demand sends another message: that the union’s goal is to send a signal to the Macri administration and politically capitalize the strike’s effects to better position themselves for the next round of negotiating with the government.
On the other side of the ring, the Macri administration interpreted the message in the same way and acted accordingly: government representatives came out to say that the march’s sole purpose is to “destabilize” the government. In fact, President Mauricio Macri himself said this week that unions were one of the Argentine organizations that were riddled with “mobs” and that he was “committed to confront them.”
“We can’t accept more mob-like behavior in Argentina…They can be seen in unions, in businesses, in politics, in the courts. Luckily they are a minority, but we have to fight them because we can’t have anyone to think they own the country and our future and have the right to systematically throw wrenches into the gears whenever [they want]” Macri said.
After maintaining a somewhat cordial relationship, at least by the standards of Argentine politics, the strike marks a definitive breaking point between the government and the CGT umbrella union’s leadership. The change in both sides’ attitude and rhetoric was influenced by their supporters, who demanded them to up the ante in their dispute.
After failing to call a strike in the march against the government that took place on March 7, the members of the CGT’s leading triumvirate practically had to escape the premises to avoid getting lynched by angry union members. “Set a date, set a date,” was the chant heard before the march’s attendees overrun the stage from which the triumvirate members were pronouncing their speeches, stole the CGT’s podium and put it up for sale on Mercado Libre.
With chants against the teachers’ and the union groups, the people who took the streets last Saturday for the “1-A” march made it clear they side with the Macri administration in its battles. Evidence that the government took note of this was Macri’s “mob” talk, and the fact that the Ministry of Treasury and Finance released a report informing that the strike will cost have a cost the country’s economy AR $15 billion.
The strike’s perceived effectiveness will be key in determining the future of the relationship between the Macri administration and the CGT leadership. The government has begun to implement a divide an conquer strategy, negotiating production agreements with each particular sector of the economy, rather than the umbrella unions. It has already done it with the oil sector, announced one with the construction one yesterday and will follow suit today with the textile and shoe producing unions.
If the strike doesn’t prove to be effective in bringing the country to halt, it’s likely the government will continue with this strategy and try to remove the CGT triumvirate from the negotiations altogether. The union leaders trust the strike will be. Only time (and statistics) will say who was right in the end.