Rivals and labour leaders are casting doubt over the outsider credentials of La Libertad Avanza (LLA) presidential candidate Javier Milei as the libertarian lawmaker develops relations with at least two influential union leaders.
Milei, 52, has vowed to “take a chainsaw” to government and introduce sweeping reforms if elected, but news that he is in talks with UTHGRA restaurant workers union secretary-general Luis Barrionuevo has raised eyebrows.
On Friday, the duo will appear together for the first time, alongside other LLA leaders, at an event organised by Barrionuevo himself. That appearance will come less than a week after Milei met privately with the trade unionist with the aim of "analysing the reality of the labour world in general, but with a special focus on the sector of tourism, hotels and restaurants."
Milei was heavily criticised by rivals across the political spectrum over the past week for getting close to Barrionuevo – this very latest public display of affection ups the ante even further.
"Members of La Libertad Avanza extend an invitation this Friday September 22 to a lecture by presidential candidate Javier Milei accompanied by a chat, thus permitting his proposals and political platform to become known in greater depth," read the announcement of the event which drew businessmen and trade union representatives and was held at the Parque Norte complex in Buenos Aires.
Milei was scheduled to be the first speaker on premises belonging to veteran shop workers leader Armando Cavalieri while Barrionuevo worked on organising the participation of allied trade unionists in order to maximise the appeal to CGT leaders, most of whom, however, have manifested their preference for Economy Minister Sergio Massa.
"I have no doubt and I say it because I see it not so much in my children as in my grandchildren who are already voting that he will win the first round sin chicote [“a walkover”], as we say in Catamarca,” was the labour leader’s reaction to the surprise results of last month’s PASO primary.
Barrionuevo and UOCRA construction workers union leader Gerardo Martínez are currently Milei’s only contacts with the trade union world although Martínez explained that he had met up with the libertarian leader to discuss with him the mechanism of his union’s unemployment insurance scheme, not to give him his support.
SMATA auto workers union assistant secretary Mario Manrique harshly questioned any trade unionist who agrees to meet Milei.
"You cannot call yourself a Peronist after sleeping with Milei” while insisting on the impossibility of interviewing "somebody who proposes the removal of labour rights," he argued.
"As a man of the workers’ movement I could not meet up with somebody proposing the removal of labour rights with the excuse of efficiency," Manrique commented in a radio interview.
After pointing out that such trade union leaders as Barrionuevo and Martínez saw the La Libertad Avanza founder as "a reference," Manrique asked: "It remains to be seen how happy their trade union members feel about that."
National Federation of Oil Workers secretary-general Daniel Yofra described news of Barrionuevo and Milei’s talks as an “act of betrayal,” observing “there have always been treacherous union leaders.”
Arguing that the libertarian’s proposals would “eliminate the rights of the working classes,” Yofra said he considered the presidential candidate to be “an enemy because of what he says and I will consider all those who support Milei to be enemies.”
Milei’s presidential rivals also lashed out at the flirting with Barrionuevo.
"If your labour secretary or the one who manages your social works is going to be Barrionuevo, you have the caste inside," said Bullrich during a radio interview.
Attempting to link Milei and Massa and their approach, the presidential candidate pointed out that "Peronism has always acted in the same way and when it sees something that can compete with it, it buys it, it gets inside."
At an event on Thursday, the libertarian declared that Argentines must "embrace the ideas of freedom to put an end to national decadence."
He told voters: "We cannot expect different results with the same policies that have systematically failed.”