By: Federico Orchani / Source Marcha.org / The Dawn News / May 23, 2016
Strengths and weaknesses of the Presidential veto on the Anti-Layoff Law. An economy that keeps heating up and tensions on the streets. Responses are fragmented and heterogeneous.
Vetos and votes
In the new government’s discourse, that speaks of a “normalized country”, seems that the suffering of millions of Argentinians is going to disappear in the “second semester”. However, the raising inflation and the brutal increase in the tax burden to common citizens make this promise less than believable, and more akin to wishful thinking.
The sanction of the so-called “Anti-Layoff Law” after the massive workers’ mobilization of April 29, and the subsequent Presidential veto of that law, opens a series of questions that are difficult to answer in the short term. Is President Macri stronger for having vetoed a law that forbade businessmen and the state to lay off workers for six months or is it, on the contrary, a display of weakness given by the state’s inability to respond to the current employment crisis?
In soccer, when a team scores a tie, it’s often not possible to evaluate whether this outcome benefits or harms them until near the end of the tournament. Because, like soccer, politics is a game of many teams, where many variables and power relations come into play. But we can provisionally draw some conclusions. The government of Cambiemos, and particularly of President Macri, who allegedly joked with his inner circle about having “a veto withdrawal” [he is known for his fondness for the veto mechanism: as governor of Buenos Aires, from 2007 to 2015, he vetoed 128 laws], made it clear by vetoing the law there won’t be any kind of regulations of the economy.
First he tried, through a rushed staging, to respond to the pressure from below by making a non-judicial arrangement with businessmen for them not to “reduce their workforce”, but they were already violating it the following day. So, they had no alternative but to veto the law, but before doing that, the government bought time. First, they delayed the project in the Senate, then, they got involved in the political chess of minorities with the Front for Victory (FpV) and the Front for Renewal (FR), in which the left didn’t partake. It was a pathetic parliamentary game in which the main concern weren’t the workers but the aspiration to show power and ability to govern —in the case of the Cambiemos— or to get some political advantage in the next elections —in the case of the FpV, which has to gain back some dignity or the FR that must prove they can still be consider as an alternative.
In consequence, workers won’t have their law and the climate of uncertainty takes over as the responses of unions aren’t as categorical as they should be. Unlike the Argentine Workers’ Central (CTA) branches, the CGT branches didn’t express support for a national strike, even though the veto had been announced beforehand by Macri himself. Maybe Eduardo Lucita is right, and this is due to the fact that “the leaders of the Confederation of General Workers (CGT) are conditioned by the partial return on the money that the government owes them, and also by the fact that, amidst the chaos, it went unnoticed to the public that the Law of Free Access to Public Information, which was unanimously approved moments before the Anti-Layoff Law, explicitly excluded the free access to the information of private health insurance, which are usually administered by the historic bureaucracy of Peronista unions at their discretion”.
The palace and the street
The national government knows that it’s not enough to show “the advances of justice” on corruption [of the last government, not this one] and the flood of reports on corruption on the media. The so-called “social issue” shouldn’t only generate concern but despair in the government, to elicit a response that contains the growing climate of social malaise caused by inflation and tax raises that make it difficult for families to manage. In an article published by Clarín last Sunday, Ismael Bermúdez quotes a report by the Social Debt Watch of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) that warns that “the increases in prices and taxes and the decrease in internal activity are causing an increase in poverty rates.
These new poors are, in general, non-marginal working-class families or lower-middle class that don’t have structures of social protection to depend on. And, although there’s a clear intention of creating relief measures, many of them are late or insufficient”. This organism had estimated, last March “a poverty rate of between 29% and 33% of the population, with 1,4 million ‘new poor’ in comparison with late 2015”. It’s hard to actually believe, on the one hand, in the goodwill of the businessmen, and on the other hand, in that an alleged “spillover effect” would occur after the announced [and never fulfilled] arrival of investments could generate a fundamental change in the reality that affects millions of workers that are outside the “formal market”.
Among other issues, because of the known structural problems of Argentina’s productive system, which is based on deeply foreign-dependent agribusiness and extractivism that generate almost no jobs, plus the inexistence of what’s known as a “national bourgeoisie” that’s concerned with the growth of the country as a whole.
The political strategy of Macri’s government to curb the deficit is, so far, adjustments and cuts. This is evidenced with the massive layoff of public employees and now the cuts in public education, which sparked a massive mobilization, almost without precedents.
The workers of popular economy were the ones that took to the streets to protest against the difficulties to sustain a family and because the wages of many state workers are below the amount of the minimum wage. In Buenos Aires City, workers peacefully occupied the House of Government, forcing the local officers to agree to raise wages and create job posts, which they later didn’t fulfill. To the Presidency, this reality is well known, and it might have been the cause behind the announcement that they’re going to build houses and raise the amounts of money given out in welfare programs, accompanied by a group of representatives of social organizations, some of them of Kirchnerista ideology [which was seen by many as a betrayal to their convictions, which are opposed to Macrismo, in exchange for a handout].
Social organizations should be very careful, because corporate policies curb the struggles of the people, which in a context of conservative offensive should be unified and as politically independent as possible and act with political independence, but there are confusing gestures. For example, the delay of the branches of the Confederation of General Workers in responding to the veto on an important law for the workers as the Anti-Layoff law, is worrisome. Because it was precisely because of the crisis in the representativity of workers’ centrals in the late 90s and early 2000s that caused the collapse of traditional structures. Nowadays, they have partially recovered, but this political accumulation can be swept away again, destroying the political representation that was achieved in the poorest neighborhoods that had historically been dominated by the clientelist apparatus.