Veteran union leader suffers difficult week, as heavy-hitters shy away of direct protest action against the government, citing ‘politicisation’.
The fragmentation of Argentina’s powerful union movement and its leaders appears unavoidable ahead of next week’s protest against the government of President Mauricio Macri, called on by union strongman Hugo Moyano.
With his back firmly against the wall amidst several corruption investigations against him and his family, Moyano — the virtual head of the influential Camioneros (truck-drivers) union — this week again lashed out against the government’s economic policies and reform agenda, taking aim at the reforma previsional that lowered retirees’ disbursements, and the forthcoming labour reform which the government wants to use to add some flexibility into the country’s rigid labour laws.
This week, it became even more apparent that Moyano’s his fellow union leaders distrust the veteran chief’s intentions with some saying the march has become increasingly politicised, leading to many heavy hitters to opt-out of the march.
Some union bosses, like Food and Beverage leader Rodolfo Daer, have labelled the protest a “whim” on the part of former Teamsters’ union boss.
The protest originally came from within the General Confederation of Labour, or CGT, umbrella union grouping with the explicit support of two of the three members of the leading triumvirate. Its leaders criticised the government’s failure to rein in inflation, which in turn led to falling real wages for workers. The CGT was also deeply divided on whether to support Macri’s ambitious reform agenda, which included the aforementioned reforma previsional that involved pensioners and retirees. Its debate in Congress led to violent clashes in the streets in December, and to a marked slide in the government’s, and Macri’s, approval ratings.
The fracture within the union movement was apparent from the start. One, Héctor Daer, Rodolfo’s brother, initially declined to sign the document calling for the protest, noting he preferred dialogue with the government over conflict. Representing several of the largest unions – their leaders known as Los Gordos (the fat men – Daer was the first to drop out, after which several other less influential leaders followed suit.
Yet, throughout this week, Moyano lost the support of his key ally, Luis Barrionuevo, whose indirect control of Carlos Acuña — another triumvir — led to their faction deciding not to march alongside their peers. “We dropped out because all of the Kirchnerismo was joining,” Barrionuevo explained on Wednesday, referring to the support of Kirchnerite groups adhering to the march including La Cámpora and several leftist groups.
“[Moyano] is engaging in an act of political force so that they see his influence,” Barrionuevo added, in an interview with La Nación. “This is a personal battle between [Moyano] and Macri after having been business partners in the City for eight years,” Barrionuevo added provocatively.
Other powerful players in the union movement, including Antonio Caló (metal-workers union), Carlos Acuña (gas-station workers), will also skip the protest action.
CTA Workers’ Union leader Hugo Yasky on Tuesday took aim at the fellow union bosses who are refusing to send their affiliates to the Wednesday, February 21 protest.
Yasky, an ally of former president-cum-Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, said the Judiciary was being controlled “via remote control” by the Macri government.
“The ones who’ve apparently pulled out of the march, pulled out a long time ago but not of the march: they’ve pulled out of their commitment to the working class, of dignity, of the need to put limits on this government which has been so hard on the poor,” he said.
During the first two years of Macri’s administration, an armistice of sorts between Moyano and the government appeared to rule their relationship. Moyano wouldn’t show his muscle, mobilising tens if not hundreds of thousands, and Macri wouldn’t mess with Camioneros (in 2016, the truckdrivers’ union negotiated salary increases of 37 percent).
The situation has changed, though, as the Macri administration has made it a case to investigate union corruption, arresting several high-flying leaders, many of which had been close to the former government of Fernández de Kirchner.
The legal heat was turned on Moyano recently too, with judicial investigations into his management of Independiente football club and money-laundering accusations tied to real estate acquisitions. This week, a judge asked the tax authority (AFIP) and the Central Bank to hand over all known transaction information of the Moyano family. Still, Moyano hasn’t been indicted.