This interview was conducted before the results of Argentina’s presidential election were announced.
HS: Argentina has seen uprisings against neoliberalism, and progressive movements, in the 21st century. How can we understand the emergence of a right wing movement with Javier Milei? What does he represent?
MB: Clearly, there are similarities with other extreme right variants, but Milei’s has its specificities. And its emergence cannot be understood without the last two disastrous governments, which produced a very significant decline in workers´ income.
He benefited from an impressive media presence over the last five years, including in social media networks, and the demobilisation of the working class.
The responsibility lies with the bureaucratic trade union leaderships and the social movements linked to Peronism. All of this helped to channel discontent into a right wing alternative, as well as a kind of patriarchal reaction against the “green tide” of the women’s movement. But Milei has no structure of his own. His candidate lists are a sort of franchise with all kinds of opportunists, who will probably move to other forces if they lose the election.
HS: According to official data, around half of the active working class in Argentina today is in informal working conditions. The common sense articulated by the mass media tends to identify mainly dispossessed young people with the massive vote for Milei. What is your analysis of this?
MB: The vote for Milei’s had a high male youth component, both from socially well-off sectors and part of the precarious youth. The vast majority of young people work without any rights, no paid holidays, no severance pay, no Christmas bonus, and no unionisation. Or they work in absolute informality, unregistered, or as self-employed workers which obscures their relationship of dependence and impedes their inclusion in collective bargaining agreements.
The trade unions and trade union federations have done nothing to reverse this situation. This has helped to propagate a discourse that claims that young people should become entrepreneurs and that with dollarisation Milei will curb inflation, while attacking the “political caste” which supposedly represents the traditional political leadership.
The social isolation of the pandemic years also favoured Milei. As young people were forced to retreat into private life, Milei was the only political leader they knew through social networks or television. It was a kind of fad among certain sectors of youth, although as far as I can tell, this is reversing.
HS: What is the condition of the working class in Argentina today and what are its responses? What role or bargaining power do trade unions and trade union federations have today? And, understanding that they are not homogeneous organisations, are there any significant examples of rank and file struggles or conflicts? If so, what strength or relevance do they represent for the trade union movement as a whole, and how does the left intervene in them?
MB: The working class includes workers who are under collective agreements and unionised and sectors that are in the informal economy. They also include various forms of precarious work and at the mercy of employment fraud, including those who, in order to survive, are forced to rely on workfare benefits.
Trade unions continue to have a very important weight but they are demobilised as a result of the trade union bureaucracies’ collaboration with the different governments. The unionised sectors have lost the least due to inflation, as they have greater bargaining power, but within the bounds of a general decline. This is the sixth year of consecutive wage decline.
There are researchers who point out that since the last two governments there has been a transfer of income from labour to capital of around 100 billion dollars, which has meant a drop of 8 percentage points for wage earners in the distribution of national income.
This year there were important teachers’ strikes called by the left against the official trade union leadership in the Province of Buenos Aires. And there were mobilisations of the “piquetero” social movements of the unemployed. But demobilisation was dominant.
To add, in the trade union of the City of Buenos Aires metro, the left won 40 percent of the votes and we are part of the executive committee in a minority. Last year the conflict in the tyre workers’ union was important, with a militant leadership, being witness to a triumphant struggle.
In terms of class struggle, the most relevant were the protests against the constitutional reform in the province of Jujuy, in the north of the country. MPs of the Frente de Izquierda, headed by Alejandro Vilca, played a very important role. This was a struggle in which trade unions and indigenous communities, whose lands are threatened by the exploitation of lithium, had joined together. In Jujuy, a militant leadership, with the support of our party, has just won the Ledesma section of UATRE, the rural workers’ union. In addition, the left has a presence through groups and shop stewards in different unions at the national level.
HS: What scenario do you think will develop after the elections? Do you see a problem of legitimacy of the political order?
MB: Milei, now supported by former president Mauricio Macri, would have very little institutional power, with almost no governors, less than a dozen senators and less than a third of the deputies.
In any case, submission to the IMF will lead to the continuity of adjustment policies, with due dates for high debts for the coming years. I believe that we will see mobilised resistance to these attacks.
HS: What is the potential for the left to intervene in the current political course in Argentina? What are the tasks, the “what is to be done” and what main issues lie ahead after the election?
MB: For the first time we in the Frente de Izquierda are going to have five national deputies. This is important in what is going to be a very fragmented parliament. The first task is to maintain our political independence. We have confronted the extreme right from the beginning, but that does not mean that we lend political or electoral support to Sergio Massa.
From this position we face the challenge to amplify our activist base, following the high regard we have garnered among broad sectors during the election campaign, especially during the two TV presidential debates. We have to prepare ourselves for the upcoming struggles against the next government. We aim to prepare ourselves to build a new political, socialist, force of the working class, which overcomes the historical experience of Peronism.
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