In the presence of Frente de Todos presidential frontrunner Alberto Fernández, the CTA (Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina, "Argentine Workers' Central Union") labour grouping headed by Hugo Yasky announced its potential return to the CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo, "General Confederation of Labour") umbrella union on Thursday, a move that may end end almost three decades of division.
The vote was approved in a plenary meeting unanimously, with the CTA's leaders tasked with negotiating a potential reunion. The union has decided to support Fernández's bid to win re-election, however, unity is far from assured, given internal resistance within the unions.
"Everyone supports the proposal to unite the popular camp for the coming times, which are going to be difficult. We need a workers' centre that expresses all our views within the framework of the CGT," said Yasky.
Fernández, addressing the crowd from the stage, hailed the "gesture," comparing it to former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's decision not to run for president again, but instead to settle for a vice-presidential slot.
"I must be acknowledged that Cristina was right and had great greatness, and more greatness to accompany me [on the ticket]," he said. "Those are the leaders we need."
He added: "We are going to get up once again and we will be the Argentina we deserve."
The announcement at Lanús' football stadium was also attended by such Frente de Todos top brass as Axel Kicillof and Máximo Kirchner, the son of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as well as leading trade unionists such as Hugo Moyano (teamsters, camioneros) and Sergio Palazzo (bank clerks).
Moyano escalated the rhetoric against the Mauricio Macri administration, declaring: “We must wipe out this government, which has only brought misery.”
Fernández supports the reunification of the groups, as part of his call for businesses and unions to agree a social pact to freeze wages, in a bid to tackle Argentina's deep recession, rising unemployment and poverty levels and financial and debt problems.
But the labour reunification will not be complete until the CTA leader Pablo Micheli heading state employees comes on board.
The combative CTA, dominated by centre-left leaders, parted ways with the Peronist-orientated CGT in 1991 after tensions from the start of the 1989-99 Carlos Menem presidency, which succeeded in easing the militant labour leader Saúl Ubaldini out of the CGT helm. But the CTA in turn split when Yasky (a teachers union leader) unconditionally aligned the CTA with the Kirchner presidencies between 2003 and 2015, prompting the more leftist Micheli to break away.
The two CTA leaders reunited in resistance to the current Mauricio Macri administration with both men backing Fernández but Micheli says that for now he will not accompany the merger until there are guarantees that the more conservative trade unionists (such as the current CGT secretary-general Héctor Daer) have no place in the future leadership. But nor did he rule out a return, even attending the Thursday event out of respect for Yasky.
The best-known trade unionist among the teachers forming the core sector of Yasky’s support, Suteba secretary-general Roberto Baradel, highlighted the importance of labour unity to defend workers’ rights against neo-conservative policies.
"We cannot let a government like this one, of the rich, the corporations, of the International Monetary Fund, to win the vote again,” concluded Baradel.
According to reports, the CGT has around four million affiliated members, while the CTA has around 1.5 million. However, both unions hold huge sway in wage renegotiation talks that take place each year with businesses chambers and employers.
Around four million workers who are considered "unregistered" lack formal union representation.
Speaking Friday, Yasky said in a radio interview that the event had been "a very important day for us."
He added: "We have been discussing it over the last three years, when we saw where Cambiemos was pointed, when we saw that they were going against labour rights."
Fernández, posting on his Twitter account, Fernández hailed the potential reunion, saying: "We Argentines learned that we had no future, and we have decided to leave the disagreements behind. That is why I welcome the CTA's decision to initiate a process of unification with the CGT and I thank Hugo Yasky for working to achieve it."