by Eugene Walker
“We are in serious danger as a country, that is why we protest,
because this is the form of expression of the Argentine people.”
—Protesting worker from the Ministry of Education
“We’re fighting against the way the far right is trying to eliminate
our rights of existence on all levels, from healthcare to work.”
Argentine President Javier Milei—who took office less than two months ago—began his economic “shock therapy” with a 50% devaluation of the peso. It resulted in even more runaway inflation. His deregulation, privatization, and abrogation of labor rights was confronted by a one-day mass general strike. In the capital, Buenos Aires, the 12-hour general strike was called by the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), as well as two Argentine Workers Confederations (CTA), plus social, political and other organizations.
Even before the noon start, thousands of neighborhood residents and assembly members took to the streets and gathered in front of the Congress building. When the union members joined in, it became a massive group with workers from transportation, construction, food service, energy and banking together. Many merchants from small shops closed for the day in support; schools closed as well. The protests were not only in Buenos Aires but large cities across Argentina. It is estimated that a million and a half Argentinians participated.
TRASHING HARD-WON HUMAN RIGHTS
The Milei ministries, as expected, launched verbal attacks against “union mafiosos,” threatening to dock state workers’ pay. But the true gangster here is Milei, along with his many officials, who are seeking to completely uproot whatever social benefits the Argentine masses have gained over long, hard fights with previous governments, including dictatorships. Milei is seeking to impose a hard Right neoliberal regime by eliminating nine of 18 government ministries, including those responsible for education, the environment, women, gender and diversity. He aims to privatize state institutions; eliminate government regulations on businesses; prevent strikes; and, ominously, seek full executive powers for four years.
Sure to be on the chopping block will be women’s right to abortion, which the Argentine women’s liberation movement only recently won after decades of struggle.
Milei began a rapid implementation of all this on his first day in office by imposing two initiatives known as Mega DNU (decree of necessity and urgency) and the omnibus law, with which the far-right administration seeks to make the country a paradise for the owners of large capital and a hell for 99% of the inhabitants.
MILEI’S AIM: ARGENTINA AS CAPITALIST NIRVANA
With more than a thousand articles, these packages of modifications to the Constitution and secondary laws aim to exterminate labor rights—for example, making strikes almost impossible, enabling unjustified dismissals and extending the trial period prior to hiring up to nine months. They will hand over all public companies to private capitalists, regardless of whether they are profitable and highly strategic; eliminate all regulations, even when necessary to avoid financial or industrial disasters; and remove all restrictions for foreigners to acquire land. Milei’s project is one of slashing social spending, reducing government subsidies, and opening the nation to foreign capitalist exploitation.
With his decrees under court challenge, Milei has now turned to presenting a bill in Congress which includes all the issues contained in the decree, plus a request of extraordinary powers for the executive branch for a period of four years. It is for this reason that this first massive protest was aimed at the Congress, which Milei is seeking to intimidate to force the passage of his authoritarian project.
The recent mass protest against Milei is sure to be only the first. The challenge for this diverse mass movement is how to protest against Milei and the ideology and practice he stands for, as well as to pose, in a comprehensive, manner what kind of society they wish Argentina to become.