ARGENTINA: WORKER RIGHTS IN THE VISOR OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT
In 1950 Argentine was a country whose living standards were only bypassed by the USA, Canada, Britain and Sweden. Meanwhile it has slipped back to third world standards. Are there any chances that the newly elected government will lead the country out of its crisis and realise the long prised ‘take off'? If not, are there any alternatives outside the game of the bourgeois parties? A.Holberg talked to Daniel Bengoechea, responsible for international relations in the ‘Revolutionary Workers Party' (POR) of Argentine.
A.H.:. There is a new government in Argentine since Dec. 10th 1999. It is a coalition government made up of the Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union) and the centerleftist Frepaso (Front for a Solidary Country) which has supplanted the Peronist Menem-government. Why was this party beaten at the polls?
D.B.: The main facts that determined the Peronism failure were: a) The disappointment of the working class and the middle-class with the former government due to the pauperisation of the living standard, that happened as consequence of the economic governmental policies, and with the corruption that existed on it. b) The virtual split of the Peronism between Carlos Menem's supporters and the supporters of Eduardo Duhalde (candidate of the party in the elections). The origin of this split can be found in the fact that Menem was not allowed by the Argentinean law to be president for a third period. However, he wanted to do it and till the very last moment he tried to find a legal short cut that would allowed him to do it. Because of this, his followers worked as a "fifth column" inside the Peronism against Duhalde. c) The support of the ruling class and the mass media to the Alianza (name of the new governmental coalition) because they though that this coalition was in better conditions to guarantee their interests.
A.H.:. What economical and social situation has Fernando de la Rúa found when he took office?
D.B.: At the moment that De la Rúa was elected Argentine was embedded in a dramatic economical and social situation. The state was (and still is) in bankruptcy, the foreign debt has risen up to levels that make it impossible to pay it, the country suffered a deep recession, and the unemployment has reached the 20%, a record for our country. Even worse, the exportations are falling down due to the decrease of the price of the raw materials and the economical crisis of Brazil, one of Argentine most important buyers, as a result of which we cannot expect anything but a worsening of the situation.
A.H.: Has he any policies different from Menem's to offer?
D.B.: Unfortunately not. De la Rua is following the some economical policies as Menem's. In fact, some key positions of the new government were covered with members of Menem's government (e.g. the actual minister of education was Menem's viceminister of economy). De la Rua will undertake the privatisation of the state-owned means of production and the public services. In addition, he has increased the VAT, taxed the private medical insurancies (in Argentine most of the people, including a large part of the working class, relay on the private system), augmented the price of the fuels and is constraining the levels of public expending and increasing the hostile actions against the working class. This involves the casualisation of the workforce, attacks on the right to organise and on labour cost, the deepening of the liberalisation of markets, and a cutting in the subsidies to the poorest provinces.
At present the government is trying to pass a new labour-bill through Parliament. Even Menem did not undertake such a bitter attack against the workers. This law signifies a huge undercut to the labour rights. i.e. 1) up to now the Unions include all the workers of the same industrial branch . From now on the unions will be made up only of the workers of the same company. Then, we will have thousands small unions with no power to fight against the bosses. 2) up to now, when a contract was not agreed between the union and the employers all the rights of the workers had to be keeped and the salary was to be increased according to the inflation until the agreement is reached. From now on, if there is no agreement the employers can unilaterally establish the new contract. 3) up to now, the unions could call to a strike when they wanted. From now on, they will have to ask in advance for a permission to the Goverment. Some branches, such as transport, are not going to be allowed any more to do a complete strike. They will have to provide at least half of the normal service. Then, to make a strike will be very difficult. 4) up to now, there was no probe period for the new employs. Now it will be an one year probe period. During this time the employees cannot be members of any union. This will mean a huge increase of casual work. These are only the most remarkable bad aspects of this law. According to the government, the aim of this law is to reduce the labour costs in order to make the Argentinean economy more competitive. The national union (Confederación General del Trabajo) has called for a demonstration in the historical Plaza de Mayo in front the government house in order to stop this law. They do not call for a strike because the are afraid to start a big fight at national level which nobody knows where can end . They say this in the mass media in order to put the government under pressure. They do this because the labour bureaucracy does not want to lose its privileges which for sure are also going to be affected by this labour reform.
Finally, in order to avoid demonstrations against its policies, the government is increasing the repression. In fact, this has been already shown only two weeks after the assumption of the new government. When facing great demonstrations in the north eastern province of Corrientes, where the people had blockade the most important roads, the new government repressed them with the gendarmerie. The repression was leaded by a former member of the last dictatorship's repression special corps and brought as a consequence the assassinate of two persons.
A.H.: So why did parts of the bourgeoisie and of the masses opt for such a change?
D.B.: The ruling class choose De la Rua and not Duhalde because the Peronism, after 10 years in the government, was not able to keep the working and the middle class under control. With the change of government they win the time to pass several bitter measures that Menem was not able to pass in the last years. This is because the masses still believe in the bourgeois democracy. They still hope that a change in the government could be positive. You know, they say "let us now give the other party a chance". The middle class supported De la Rua because in Menem's government there was too much corruption. They believe that the problems of the country can be solved with a more efficient administration. The mass media push this idea. You know, "the system is good, the problems are some politicians". Only a minority of the working class broke its loyalty to peronism. Most of them voted null, to the left or to the far right. Notice that voting is a must in Argentine. Another important fact is that Menem was the person encharged of making a crude reform of the economy of the country. This was done without taking care of the formalities. I mean, Menem went over the Parliament and the Justice whenever he thought he needed to do so. Because of this, a sector of the masses stopped trusting in the democratic game and started to use direct action methods in order to fight for their vindications. At this moment, the ruling class needs another kind of politicians who will be encharged of restoring the consensus and with the help of them to end the work started by Menem.
A.H.:. Under Peron Peronism was a populist and very popular current in post-war Argentinean history. What is the difference between present-day Peronism and the historical version? Why did it develop in the way it did?
D.B.: Regarding your questions, first I want to make clear that Peronism is still a very popular current with large influence within the working class. In the last poll it got the 40% of the votes, which is its historical minimum but anyway indicates that this party remains the largest. In addition, Peronism keeps more than 60% of the provincial governments. Then I would say that Peronism was the party that, in a given historical moment and representing a sector of the Argentinean bourgeoisie, supported an industrialisation program and tried to develop a national capitalist system economically independent of the imperialist countries. In order to do this, given the particular conditions of the post war, Peron gave a lot of benefits to the working class.
Peron's success was based on the following facts. During WWII Argentine provided with meat, grains, oil, etc to both sides involved on it. In addition, these countries were not able to provide Argentine with manufactures. As a consequence, a lot of capital entered the country and a national industry was developed with the help of the state. In fact, all the strategic sectors - I mean coal, oil, steel, chemical products, transport, ships, etc. and at some point partially the production of cars - were under the control of the state. In Peron's own words the central bank was so full of gold that you could not walk inside it. However, from the very begining, it was clear that Peronism could not be successful on the long run in its attempt, since, as was scientifically established by Lenin and Trotsky and verified by the class struggle during the present century, in the present epoch of decay (where capitalism's tendencies toward concentration and centralisation of production have reached the point of monopolisation) the fight for national independence from imperialism and for socialism must take the same road. And as Peronism was and is a bourgeoisie current, socialism has always inspired it mistrust. In fact, by the end of the second government of Peron (1955), he himself took several measures that were opposed to the interests of the working class, and during his third government (1973-74) he turned completely against the workers and played directly a proimperialist role. Of course, up to this moment, it has never ever been seen a government so proimperialist and antiworkers as Menem government. It has destroyed completely the Argentinean economy, inclusively in some way the national bourgeoisie is close to disappear. Nevertheless, there is no contradiction between the role played by Menem during the last ten years and the historical origin of Peronism. The evolution of Peronism reflects the evolution of the economy. Due to the capitalist economical laws, the economical dependence of the native bourgeoisie to the imperialism has been deepened year after year. Because of this, the parties who represent this class are becoming more and more proimperialist. And this is not a particular phemomenum of Argentine, it is what happened in the whole Latin America. The evolution of the APRA in Peru, the MNR in Bolivia, the PRI in Mexico, etc. resembles that of Peronism. To summarise, what I mean is that at the present moment the existence of an economical independent native bourgeoisie in any underdeveloped country is impossible, and therefore it is impossible that the parties that represent this class, including Peronism, develope any other policy than a proimperialist one.
A.H.:- What happens at the front of the class struggle?
D.B.: During the last years the masses have developed a permanent struggle against the governmental economical policies, in defense of the employment, the health, the education, etc.. However these fights had to face two important drawbacks. The first one is that most of the unions and mass organisations are controlled by a bureaucracy who is loyal either to the Peronism or to the actual government. This bureaucracy only takes care of its own interests and does not want to centralise and politicise the fights and declare a national strike since it is afraid of losing the control over the mass movement. The second one is that in those places were the masses broke with their bureaucratic leadership the fights had an empirical and spontaneous character and the masses organise themselves only at a rank and file level. Basically because of these two facts there has been in the last years hundred of partial struggles who remained isolated among themselves. Of course, the left, mainly the reformist left, who only thinks in the electoral play, has some responsibility since it has not been able to organise the spontaneous tendency to a national political strike that is present within the worker movement and the rest of the oppressed sectors of the population.
A.H.: The Argentinean left used to be rather powerful in the past and had to be bloodily suppressed by the military. What is the situation now? Which ones are the most powerful organisations and what are their political lines?
D.B.: The military coup of 1976 was principally not directed against the left parties but against the vanguard of the working class and some intellectual sectors with the aim of preventing a revolutionary development of the political crisis in which the reactionary peronist government headed by Isabel Peron (widow of Peron, elected Vice-President in 1973, who took possession of the government after Peron's dead) was immerse. Of course, most of the left parties were affected by the brutal repression carried out by the militaries. In spite of this, at the first moment, some of them, as the Communist Party (Partido Comunista, PCA) and the pseudo-Trotskyist former Workers Socialist Party (Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores, PST), gave their critical support to the military government.
Since the return of the democratic governments, there has not been a deep balance within the left about the policies that they developed during the sixties and seventies. All of them support that the military coup was a pro-imperislist one directed against the working class. However, most of them (inclusively those who practiced the guerrilla methods) do not recognise that the Popular Front and the class collaboration policies that they developed, paved the way to the defeat suffered by the working class. Because of this, at this moment most of them practice a reformist policy and pay more attention to the electoral play than to what happens with the true class struggle on the streets. Among these forces, the largest ones are the United Left (Izquierda Unida), a front between the Communist Party and the pseudo-Trotskyst Socialist Workers Movement (Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores, MST), the pseudo-trotskyist Workers Party (Partido Obrero, PO) and Workers Party for Socialism (Partido de los Trabajadores por el Socialismo, PTS), the Guevarist Free Homeland (Patria Libre, CPL), and the Maoist Party of the Work and the People (Partido del Trabajo y el Pueblo, PTP). All of them are small organisations as compared with those before the dictatorship. In fact, they as a whole (with the exception of the last party who did not take part on the last elections because its tailism of the "progressive" bourgeoisie who is engaged in De la Rua's Alianza) , in spite of their opportunistic policies, have gotten only 2.5% of the votes in the last elections. Our party, the Revolutionary Workers Party (Partido Obrero Revolucionario, POR), believes that at this moment, these forces act objectively as an auxiliary of the ruling class and are the main obstacle to the political independence of the working class.
Regarding our party, we are a small Troskyist organisation with some influence within the working class and the students who is broadly respected within the vanguard, basically because during our more than 10 years of existence we have always fighted to organise and educate the vanguard layers of the working class and for the reconstruction of the Fourth International, the world party of the socialist revolution. We distinguish ourselves from all other left organisations because our action is always directed, over all, to developed the revolutionary proletarian consciousness with the aim of strengthening the proletarian vanguard. In contrast with the bulk of the remaining left groups we always fought against the betrayals of those who presently lead the workers organisations and the rest of the oppressed movement. In addition, we always say the truth to the masses, we never use ambiguous formulae like "the people government" in order to not frighten the masses. Maybe some other groups can also subscribe these statements, but not all of them. e.g. Some of them never ever will say that they want to establish a Proletarian Dictatorship. However, the main differences appear in the practice. We have never done an electoral block with bourgeois forces as Izquierda Unida has. We have never made a front with far right nationalist (because the also fight against imperialism) as Patria Libre and PTP did in previous elections (not the last one). We have never made common lists with sectors of the labour bureaucracy in order to lead an union as all of them, with the exception of PTS, usually do. And I hope we will never do such a things. With PTS our main differences arise because they adapt their politics in order to not afraid the middle class (basically students) that support them. In addition, they always direct their action to pressure the democratic institutions (Parliament, Justice, etc.). As complement of this, regarding the international situation they are always ultraleftist. Nevertheless, we do a lot of practice work together with the other left forces. Finally, you have to notice that the rest of the parties do not have a written program. This for us is a clear hint of their centrism. The fact that they do not have a program allows the directions to make all the manoeuvres they need in order to strength their apparatuses without taking care of the contradictions.
The difference between us and the rest of the left is also recognised by the own bourgeoisie, who has banned us. The POR is banned because its foundational statement is not in agreement with the Political Parties Statute (Estatuto de los Partidos Politicos). This law has been established by the last militar dictatorship and has not been modified until the present day. According to the attorney in charge of our cause, our party cannot be judicially recognised because there are some points of our foundational acta (Acta Fundacional - Declaracion de Principios) which contradict the above mentioned statute. These points are the following: we do not recognize the right to private property of the means of production and do not condemn the use of the violence as a mean to change the actual bourgeoisie order, because we say that we want to establish a Proletarian Dictatorship, because we explicitly say that the bourgeois democracy is only a particular way of the capital dictatorship, and because we do not accept to give the state a list with the names, addresses, etc of all the members of our party. All the left parties which take part on the elections have fulfilled all the requirements of such a reactionary statute. We believe that you cannot have two statutes, one for the inner use and other for the public one. This is mere centrism. The ban does not only affect the elections, according to it POR is an illegal organisation. Being a member of it is punishable.
Maybe, what I am saying could sound a little bit sectarian to someone. However, our practice is completely far away from sectarianism since we remain always very close to the masses and practice United Front tactics whenever is possible, whitout any kind of prejudices, with the aim of wining the best of the working class for the Communist Programme which represents its historical interests. In any case, if somebody is sectarian within the Argentinean left, these are some of the reformist groups that I have mentioned above, who with the aim of wining more votes have betrayed the working class in more than one opportunity. If you take a look to our journal, Masas, and compare it with the journals of the rest of the left you will see clearly who is sectarian. Let me give you some examples of the difference between our work and that of some other organisations:
Now, the typical behaviour of some other parties is as follows: PTP and CPL always support to the left sector of Peronism in the unions because "they are the most progressive". They have stopped several strikes because they do not want to lose the trust of the left bureaucracy. In the student movement they share the direction of the student union with the Alianza. They want to win power from inside the system. The PTP defends Pinochet, their argument being that with the imprisonment of Pinochet in Europe the imperialist countries once more violate the sovereignty of an underdeveloped country like Chile. MST and PC made the same (with the exception of the Pinochet example). In some cases they also make common blocks with the church and of course they make electoral fronts with bourgeois parties. PO and PTS are "less reformist" but they always split the working movement if they cannot lead it. If they are at the some place they will be never able to find a common position and will call to split activities in order to show which has the most powerful apparatus. All this left reaches the absurdity when they beat each other up for their political differences. They have done this at several occasions in student and workers meetings and in public demonstrations. Right now, PO is making a trial against MST and CPL because members of these parties beated PO militants.
A.H.: . It is often argued that the impact of the fascist military coups with their national-security policies has traumatised the working class so much that they do not want to hear of any revolutionary policies any more. There were 30000 desaparecidos and dead people (This are a minority since the militars only recognise as dead to the persons who dead fighting against them in armed confrontation). Thousands persons were in jail and several thousands went to exile. Most of the affected were rank and file members of the workers movement (in particular those related to the so called ‘Sindicalismo clasista' - classist unions -), persons related to the guerrilla or members of the ‘Montoneros' (left sector of the Peronism who also developed the armed fight). The Communist Party had some 100 desaparecidos between its members, and Moreno's PST about 50. Is this really a factor for the organisational and political development of the left?
D.B.: I do not believe that this is our case. In fact, the Argentinean working class has been developing a huge amount of important fights since the last years of the dictatorship. The Ford factory in Pacheco (Buenos Aires) was occupied during two months at the begining of the 80’s. It was recovered only by means of the army. During 87 the teachers stroke more than 70 days fighting for an increase in their salary. And teachers from all over a country did a demonstration with about 200.000 persons in Buenos Aires. This fact is known as the "Marcha Blanca" (because the teachers in Argentine wear a white apron, like the physicians in hospitals). In 89 there was a national uprising. The workers took over factories, the student occupied the universities, and the masses stole the shops. The only way to stop it was an anticipate resignation of former president Alfonsin. During the last 20 years, there were about 20 national general strikes (which we call ‘huelga general', it means that all the branches of the industry and the transport strike the same day). Last year an uprising took place in Corrientes. In the previous years it happened the same way in the provinces of Santiago del Estero, Neuquén, Tucumán, etc.
These fights, in spite of their defensive character, show that the working class is not demoralised. On the other hand, the daily work of our party, the Revolutionary Workers Party (POR), points us that great layers of vanguard workers are receptive to the socialist ideas. In order to understand the fact that the working vanguard is not organised within a party that defends the socialist ideas we have to go backwards and speak once more about the reformist left. The role played by this left, with its opportunistic policies, and the defeats to which they have lead the masses not to trust in them. Such a left and not the fact that the working class does not want to listen about revolutionary policies is the main obstacle to surpass in Argentine in order to advance in the fight for Socialism.
A.H.: How then do you explain that after ten years you are still a relative small party?
D.B.: The fact that the masses do not come over us in large number is not a problem of us alone but a world problem. During the last decades the working class and the rest of the masses at world level have suffered too many defeats because of their counterrevolutionary leaderships. Then, before they follow a new direction they need to test it in practice. This is a long process which cannot be modified only through will. Nevertheless, after the confusion brought about by the fall down of Stalinism more and more vanguard militants want to know about revolutionary ideas. In our case, we note it because more people ares reading our journal ‘Masas' and our materials and more people are taking part on our activities. In addition, the normal workers are more open to listen us. However, as history showed us, the working class will go in masses to a revolutionary party only in a revolutionary situation. Before this only the proletarian vanguard, who will be the future direction of the masses, will be organised in such a party, which we are struggling to build.
 Peron was president from 46 to 52. Then he was relected with more of 50% of the votes. He could not finish his second government because of the militar coup d'état. In 1973 after several years of proscription Peronism was allowed to take part on the elections as a way to stop the rise of the class struggle and the increasing sympathy of the masses towards the guerrilla. In that opportunity, the Peronist Hector Campora was elected president. After three months in the government he called to new elections. In that case, Peron took part on them. He got 63% of the votes. Then he started his third period in 1973 but he dead in 1974.
At the end of the military dictatorship this party has changed ist name into ‘Movement towards Socialism' (Movimiento al Socialismo,MAS). After it had build an electoral block with the CP. One of its members was elected into Congress. He was the only ‘Trotzkyist' PM in the whole history of Argentine. Thereafter this party split into several parts. At present the biggest ones are the ‘Socialist Workers Movement, MST) and the ‘Workers Party for Socialism, PTS)
[The POR can be contacted at <http://www.geocities.com/pormasas/> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The web site has documents in Spanish, Portuguese and English. E-Mails can be answered in German too]