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ECONOMY | 24-02-2018 08:48

Moyano show his muscle, but government brushes him off

Union leader claims he is ready to sit down with president, after Wednesday's huge march against the government.

Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of union members marched on Wednesday, shepherd by union strongman Hugo Moyano. In the government’s crosshairs, the veteran leader has effectively fractured the union movement in order to protest President Mauricio Macri’s economic policies.

From the Casa Rosada this week, however, the message was clear. Cabinet members minimised the march, with Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña indicating the president had no intention of meeting with Moyano, despite the union leader’s claims that he is ready to meet. Peña instead suggested Moyano should speak to someone in the judicial power, “not the Executive branch.”

Things went smoothly on Wednesday for the demonstrators, as columns of union members convened in central Buenos Aires. In front of the legendary Public Works Ministry building, from which Eva and Juan Perón famously spoke to hundreds of thousands, Moyano’s Camioneros (Truck Drivers’) union mounted a stage from which several leaders spoke out against the government’s belt-tightening measures. Moyano took the lead role, giving the final speech in which he boasted he has “enough balls to stand up for” himself, adding, “I’ve been behind bars three times, twice during the military dictatorship, when those who are close to the government were hiding beneath their beds,” an allusion to other union leaders who are sympathetic with Macri’s government.

While Moyano showed his muscle, he didn’t go as far as to break with the government entirely, even telling his supporters to stop chanting slurs against the president. According to the march’s organisers, some 200,000 to 400,000 supporters congregated on the intersection of 9 de Julio and Belgrano avenues. For those close to the government, the range went from 85,000 to 140,000. Regardless, sources close to the Casa Rosada circulated figures indicating the march had costed the country 4.5 billion pesos due to decreased economic activity, or about one percent of daily GDP.

In the immediate aftermath, ministers stuck to the government’s script. Peña lashed out at Moyano, suggesting the march had no real reason other than to try to distract from legal process against Moyano and members of his family for money-laundering. Moyano attacked first, saying he would sit down with Macri for a chat if invited — “it’s been three months since we last spoke” — but not with his ministers as several of them are “verseros” (fakes).

“I don’t know what the subject of the conversation would be,” Peña said, “if he intends to talk about legal issues, then [Macri] isn’t the indicated person. It’s another branch, not the Executive.”

Macri’s right-hand man shot back at Moyano, tying him to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a former ally of the union leader. “The only person missing on the stage was Cristina Kirchner, who is the intellectual leader of that group,” Peña said, upping the stakes.

Ahead of the march, the debate was tied to the power struggles within the union movement. The General Confederation of Labour, or CGT, is currently led by a triumvirate that sought to foster “unity.” Yet, as Moyano called for the march, the balkanisation of the CGT began to accelerate. While two of the three triumvirs had pledged to march alongside Moyano’s Camioneros, as the days passed several major union leaders turned their back on him. On Wednesday, Juan Carlos Schmid, the only triumvir historically close to Moyano, accompanied him on stage. The current power structure is empty, Schmid said, as mutual distrust and a lack of coordination has rendered the triumvirate useless. Schimid asked his colleagues to call for a new general congress of the CGT in order to elect a new secretary general.

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