Argentina, Revival of Neoliberalism and the People's Opposition

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(Source: The Dawn News)

Massive layoffs, skyrocketing public service fees and inflation - These phrases have been appearing lately in the news on Argentina. Among these grim news, there was one welcoming set of news. Massive strikes in May led to increases in the minimum wage. Another set of strikes is expected in the first week of June after President Mauricio Macri’s vetoed the Anti-Layoffs law (introduced by the opposition Frente para la Victoria, and which establishes a period of 180 days in which workers unjustly laid off are compensate double the standard amount).

Macri started his presidential term in December 2015. He was born to a rich construction family. He gained recognition as the president of Boca Juniors, one of the two most popular football clubs in the country. In 2007, he was elected as mayor of Buenos Aires. Upon taking office, President Marci accused the Kirchners’ policies between 2003 and 2015 as populist and pushed for massive layoffs in the public sector to reduce the budget deficit and attract more investment. In the first five months of the Macri administration, over 154,000 workers in the public and private sectors lost their jobs.[ref]http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Argentina-Unions-Plan-Protests-as-Macri-Rejects-Layoff-Freeze-20160523-0021.html[/ref] Showing its capital-friendly character, the Macri administration abolished taxes on exports of grain, beef, and fish and lowered taxes on the export of soya from 35 to 30 % to satisfy large landowners who are the backbone of the Argentine right. In addition, Alfonso Prat-Gay, a former JPMorgan executive who became a finance minister, removed currency controls on the dollar. It  led to 30 % devaluation of the Argentinean peso and greater inflation.[ref]https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/03/argentina-macri-kirchner-cambiemos/[/ref] Also Macri appointed ministers from transnational corporations such as minister of energy and production Juan José Aranguren (a former Royal Dutch Shell executive) and minister of foreign affairs Susana Malcorra (a former Telecom Argentina executive). The current administration removed the subsidies instituted by Fernández de Kirchner and added higher taxes on public services such as transport fares, electricity, gas and water leading to price hikes 200 % to 700 %.[ref]http://inserbia.info/today/2016/05/argentina-macris-popularity-keeps-falling-amid-inflation-and-corruption-accusations/[/ref]

The workers and people enraged by these neoliberal policies have taken to the streets. Recently, the scale of the demonstrations has been increasing. On April 29, in commemoration of International Worker’s Day, tens of thousands gathered in Buenos Aires and held massive protests against the Macri administration’s layoffs and neoliberal policies. On May 6, workers of an oil company in Patagonia started mass demonstrations. Due to the slump in oil prices, the company had announced massive layoffs. In response to the announcement, 60,000 workers - including  teachers, construction workers, commerce and bank workers- joined the protest. Activity in the city came to a stop: classes were cancelled, public transportation was not operated until the evening and bankers didn’t work. On May 13, university professors and public school teacher demanded education budget and wage increase and students called for free “student tickets” because of the 100% increase in transport fares in their demonstrations.

With the fierce demonstrations by workers, the Macri administration agreed to raise the minimum wage to 560 dollars[ref]http://www.plenglish.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4911501&Itemid=1[/ref] (though this increase still fails to account for the massive depreciation due to inflation). The president’s popularity dropped by 13 % in the first five months due to inflation and massive layoffs. Nonetheless, it remains at 51%. It is due to media control through the appointment of government-friendly heads of public radio. Therefore it is time to show the power of workers united. As Jorge Taboada, deputy and General Secretary of the Truck Drivers’ Union said in a demonstration: “When workers get together, there is no way to stop them”.

 

 

 

written by Hwang Jeong-eun (General Secretary, ISC)