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Marcelo Montes

Professor, National University of Villa Maria, Argentina

Argentina's recently elected Presdient Mauricio Macri has chosen a course of austerity in an attempt to recover the country’s crisis-stricken economy. Labor unions are protesting against budget spending cuts that are affecting the domestic environment. Marcelo Montes, professor of international relations at the National University of Villa Maria in Argentina, comments on the developments.

Argentina's recently elected Presdient Mauricio Macri has chosen a course of austerity in an attempt to recover the country’s crisis-stricken economy. Labor unions are protesting against budget spending cuts that are affecting the domestic environment. Marcelo Montes, professor of international relations at the National University of Villa Maria in Argentina, comments on the developments.

Note that in view of its level of representation, the Argentinian labor movement is among the world-largest covering 40 percent of the population, i.e. much more than in industrialized countries. Moreover, the unions enjoy substantial legal authority because labor legislation has not practically changed since the first presidency of Mr. Peron in the 1940s. They also enjoy economic power through their control over huge assets, for example allocations to the medical insurance.

Labor unions are traditionally active in domestic politics. Favoring Peronism, they voted on a large scale for Daniel Scioli, although some labor leaders like rural workers' union leader Geronimo Venegas supported Mr. Macri.

The unions are truly able to mobilize the masses, shutting down roads and all national traffic. The largest of them, the union of truck drivers is led by opposition legislators. However, after Mr. Scioli's defeat, the unions seem to be sitting on the fence to find a proper approach to Mr. Macri's government. They will not protest, and have talked with the government to achieve certain compromises, for example on the restoration of the social allocation fund, something Cristina Kirchner refused to do. The unions allotted Mr. Macri six months to normalize the situation, i.e. to beat inflation that is crippling workers and save the country from economic collapse. The truce is still in force.

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However, the Argentine labor union is no longer consolidated. After Hugo Moyano left the movement to head a soccer club, the now moderate General Confederation of Labor, the largest group, is led by an assortment of different labor union representatives. At the same time, not everyone wants restraint. The oppositional and semi-legal Union of Argentinean Workers and its largest member, the Association of Government Workers which covers most of the four million clerks who still tend towards Kirchnerism, have chosen antigovernment policies and are appealing for strikes and street protests. Most serious are the workers of provincial state education institutions who expect cuts for those who was hired during the final stretch of Ms. Kirchner and are members of their association.

Nine months after Mr. Macri's election, the social situation is hardly optimistic but inflation is decreasing and seems to be getting even better by the New Year. Except for the poorly organized steep increase in electricity and gas rates, the government (which does not have a parliament majority) has been working in steps in contrast to the shock therapy of the 1990s. Society as well as the unions are holding their breath awaiting results and tolerating the hard consequences of the government measures. If inflation really gets better and the economy recovers through investments, the domestic conflict may go down or take on other social groups (the unemployed or local organizations) that represent the informal sector of economy.

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