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Argentines Strike Against Far Right President’s Attacks and Austerity Plans

Two socialist members of Argentina’s congress discuss how the left is playing a crucial role in organized resistance.

A puppet of Argentine President Javier Milei is seen at a demonstration during a national strike against Milei's government, in downtown Buenos Aires, on January 24, 2024.

Unions and workers organizations, the feminist movement, social and political organizations, the student movement, and neighborhood organizations across Argentina will participate in a national strike on Wednesday, January 24. Solidarity actions are being staged in dozens of cities across the world.

Left Voice spoke with Myriam Bregman and Christian Castillo, two leaders of the revolutionary socialist organization (and Left Voice’s sister organization), el Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (Party of Socialist Workers, PTS) and members of Congress, about Javier Milei’s attacks and how the Left is playing a crucial role in organizing the resistance.

Christian “el Chipi” Castillo (CC) is a leader and founding member of el Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (“Party of Socialist Workers,” PTS) and a sociologist and professor at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and the University of La Plata (UNLP). He is recognized throughout the university sphere among intellectuals and activists, as well as by thousands of workers across Buenos Aires and all of Argentina.

In 2000, he traveled to Mexico City to support the impressive struggle of students at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in defense of public education. He was arrested in the protests and spent 18 days in jail before being deported by the Mexican government.

He has written extensively for magazines such as Estrategia Internacional y Lucha de Clases. He is a regular contributor to the online magazine Ideas de Izquierda. He is the author and coauthor of various books, including Estado, Poder, Comunismo y La Izquierda Frente a la Argentina Kirchnerista.

In 2023, he was elected to Congress as a National Deputy for the Province of Buenos Aires.

Like all the deputies of the Workers United Front, he takes only a portion of the salary he earns as a Congressperson — equivalent to the salary of a teacher — and donates the rest to the struggles of the working class and oppressed.

Myriam Bregman (MB) is a National Deputy in Congress and was the presidential candidate, alongside Nicolás del Caño, for the Workers United Front in the 2023 elections in Argentina.

Myriam is a lawyer and one of the founders of the Centro de Profesionales por los Derechos Humanos (CeProDH), defending workers and political prisoners. She played a crucial role in the trials for those responsible for the military dictatorship.

She is a recognized figure in Argentina’s feminist movement, fighting for the rights of women with the conviction that “our rights are defended in the streets.” She participated in the fight for reproductive rights as part of the feminist group “Pan y Rosas.”

During the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, she was a lawyer for workers who took over factories such as Zanon and Brukman and put them under workers’ control when the bosses tried to close them and turn all the workers out into the streets. She currently serves as a lawyer for the “Factory without bosses,” Madygraf.

Alongside her comrades in the Workers United Front, she put forward a law in Congress stipulating that all politicians would receive the same salary as a teacher, as she herself and the rest of the FIT-U has done for years.

Left Voice: Argentina experienced a political earthquake when Javier Milei, a far-right outsider — or as he describes himself, an “anarcho-capitalist” — assumed office after winning in a landslide last December. Milei campaigned on a platform of dollarizing the economy and slashing public spending. How was it that Milei was able to win the presidency in Argentina, especially given the major failures of the neoliberal policies of the past?

Christian Castillo: Milei benefitted from the last two governments — those of Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández — being discredited, especially as a result of steadily rising inflation. With support from sectors of the mainstream media, Milei gained popularity and capitalized off of widespread discontent, saying that he would make the “caste” — the political establishment — pay for the crisis and not the people. This was how he was able to get 30 percent of the votes in the primary election on October 22, 2023, compared to Peronist candidate Sergio Massa’s 37 percent, and the 23 percent won by Patricia Bullrich of the right-wing electoral coalition Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) which dissolved after the primaries. In the runoff, his vote share rose to 56 percent, essentially gaining the votes of Bullrich supporters, who campaigned for Milei alongside former president Macri.

A poverty level of over 40 percent, depreciating salaries, and growing inflation allowed Milei to prevail based on the idea of a kind of magical salvation through the dollarization of the peso and an attack on the political “caste.” But as soon as he won, his campaign promises were revealed as the utter lies they were. Milei began a brutal, orthodox austerity program against working people and filled his government with members of the “caste” he promised to root out.

Argentina had been experiencing inflation of over 100 percent annually, one of the worst rates in the world, prior to Milei taking office. This spike in the cost of living pushed large sections of the country into poverty. What is the economic situation today in the country and how are working-class people affected?

Myriam Bregman: Since Milei took power, inflation has skyrocketed even more. Prices rose by 10 percent in the last month of Alberto Fernández’s term and they rose 25.5 percent in December, the month Milei took office. This is not just a holdover from the previous government, but a direct result of Milei’s first actions as president, such as devaluing the Peso by 118 percent with respect to the official dollar, and lifting price controls on food, medicine, and fuel. Those prices increased by 100 percent in just 30 days.

As a result of these measures, the purchasing power of salaries has fallen between 13.8 percent and 20 percent in one month. In other words, there has been a new and brutal transfer of income from the working class to sectors of more concentrated capital.

Milei has been one of the fiercest defenders of the state of Israel during its genocidal campaign against Palestinians in Gaza. During his victory rally, he proudly held up an enormous Israeli flag, even as its bombs killed hundreds of Gazans each day. He has also pledged to strengthen ties between Israel and Argentina and, following Trump, pledged to move the Argentinian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. What explains Milei’s ultra-Zionism and his full support for the Netanyahu government, which appears to be a shift from previous administrations?

CC: Milei’s positions are similar to those put forward by Bolsonaro and Trump. Moreover, Milei has support in ultra-right and ultra-orthodox sectors of the Jewish community. Paradoxically, as is the case for many extreme-right sectors across the world, Milei also has the support of many confessed nazis. In our case, Myriam was the only candidate in the presidential debate who denounced the apartheid regime and occupation suffered by the Palestinian people. As a result, she was the victim of a campaign to try and silence our denunciations of the actions of the state of Israel, which is carrying out a genocide in Gaza.

Who stands to benefit most from Milei’s policies? Do you see divisions existing among the capitalist class in Argentina, or do all employers back Milei’s proposals? We recently saw Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and the world’s richest person, hailing Milei’s victory and the two apparently met to discuss the future of the country’s lithium reserves. What are the objectives of the multinational businesses who are courting Milei’s government?

MB: For the time being, the main sectors of the dominant class are supporting his measures, particularly the changes he is proposing to labor law with Emergency Decree 70/23 (DNU), which will take away workers’ rights. This part of the DNU is, for now, stalled and awaiting a court decision, but it is a measure that is being taken up by all the bosses. For this reason, Milei has the support of the Asociación Empresaria Argentina (Business Owners Association of Argentina, AEA), which includes multimedia companies such as Clarín and Techint, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Argentina (AMCHAM), which brings together all the U.S. businesses that operate in Argentina.

Those who will principally benefit from his measures are fuel exporters and those linked to mining and lithium extraction — hence Elon Musk’s support. There are also specific sectors that want to keep some of the 41 state companies that the government intends to privatize. Although there are capitalist sectors that may be harmed by the opening of trade, the truth is that for the moment, the bulk of the capitalist class supports Milei’s policies, though some of them may do so reluctantly. As I said in the presidential debate, Milei is not the lion he purports to be, but a “gatito mimoso” (a cuddly kitten) beholden to economic powers.

Some of Milei’s first initiatives have been to issue decrees and propose new laws that undercut labor protections and criminalize workers’ rights to protest and strike. Can you tell us more about these decrees and why Milei has put these attacks on workers’ rights at the top of his agenda? We understand that the country’s largest union federation, the CGT, has called for a national strike on January 24 in response. Can you tell us more about the strike and how workers’ organizations are responding to these decrees and proposed laws?

CC: Since Milei took office, he has launched a three-pronged attack. First came the devaluation of the Peso and lifting price controls. This caused a rise in inflation and a brutal depreciation of salaries and pensions.

Second, he implemented the DNU, which includes over 350 articles. Emergency decrees are a constitutional power of the Executive Branch incorporated in the 1994 Reform of the Constitution; however, this is the first time that a government has tried to modify so many laws and policies with the single stroke of a pen. All the constitutionalist lawyers in the country are of the opinion that this DNU is unconstitutional because it exceeds the powers granted to the executive. The Emergency Decree includes numerous articles that imply repeals of labor law, with immense losses for the working class. For the DNU to be rejected, it must be either voted down in both Chambers of Congress or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court; this protocol was the result of a law put forward by Cristina Kirchner when she was a senator in 2006. In other words, it is easier to approve a DNU than a law, which is ridiculous.

The last measure Milei is using to launch his attacks is the so-called “Omnibus Law” which contains more than 650 articles. If we include the annexes to the bill, this is more like 900. Even that underestimates the sweeping changes being proposed, since single articles can deal with the most diverse topics. This is what is being discussed now in Congress and the government is trying to push it through during what are called “extraordinary sessions”: special meetings of Congress outside the regular term which runs March 1 to November 30.

It’s our perspective that between the DNU and the Omnibus Law, the government wants to govern by decree, establishing a kind of “civic dictatorship.” Argentina’s largest union federation, the CGT, and the country’s other big unions have called for a national 12-hour strike with mobilizations throughout the country on January 24. We are working for the working class to take the strike in their hands, organizing assemblies in their workplaces to guarantee that the day of action is a success. We’re encouraging a pole of combative union sectors, social movements, and the Left to participate in the strike and mobilizations in Buenos Aires and across the country. The Popular Assemblies that have emerged in various places in the capital as well as in the province and surrounding areas.

To defeat the government’s attack — Milei’s so-called “chainsaw” plan — we need to plan the struggle ahead. A half-day strike and a march, no matter how massive, is not enough. On top of everything, the government has announced new measures against the right to protest, stipulating that people can only march on the sidewalks. It has also made changes to the Penal Code in order to increase prison sentences for protesters. This is not surprising, because such incredible austerity can only be imposed through greater repression.

MB: Let me add one more thing: the Omnibus Law also includes several proposals that directly attack the rights that women have won over years of struggle, such as eliminating references to gender violence in certain laws and replacing it with “intra-family violence.” These attacks are being waged in the country of “Ni una menos” (not one more femicide) and la Marea Verde (the green tide), which won the right to legal, safe, and free abortion. Though this should come as no surprise, given that Milei has declared that “feminism” is one of his enemies.

It is clear that Milei intends to persecute and silence left-wing parties like the PTS, of which you are a leading member. Jose Luis Espert, a far right ally of Milei, threatened Myriam and Nicolás Del Caño, another PTS deputy in Congress, on X — the social media platform owned by Elon Musk — with “a bullet or jail” for defending the workers’ right to protest. How have you and the PTS responded to these attacks?

MB: The government attacks us because we are the most consistent opponents of their policies; we were the first to demonstrate against them on December 20, despite the fact that they wanted to prevent us from doing so. We have responded by publicly denouncing these remarks and showing how they encourage state and extrajudicial repression against all protests.

The PTS, as part of the Workers Left Front electoral coalition, also ran in the 2023 elections, with Myriam as the presidential candidate. The coalition won around 850,000 votes nationally, and earned as much as 5 to 8 percent of the vote in some provinces of the country. While there was a good deal of pressure to vote the “lesser evil,” you were convinced the anticapitalist left needed to take part in the elections. Can you tell us why this was? And, what are the objectives of the “revolutionary parliamentarism” that you propose?

Today, the FIT-U has five deputies in the National Congress — four from the PTS and one from el Partido Obrero (Workers Party, PO). Anyone who follows the debates in Argentina’s Congress will see the importance of our presence there. We denounce all anti-worker policies and use our positions to promote worker and popular mobilization. If we did not intervene in the elections, the only “opposition” would be left to Peronism.

Our task is to confront all the policies of the ruling class and its parties and promote the mobilization of the masses, encouraging the development of socialist ideas in sectors of the mass movement. We do so without any illusion that the transformations for which we fight will be carried out through parliamentary means. We know that they can only be achieved with the revolutionary mobilization of the working class and the organization of the exploited and oppressed.

Milei’s inauguration follows four years of Peronist government, led by President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Kirchner. The Peronists, who are described in the international press as “left-wing,” also lead the vast majority of unions and social movements around the country. What has been the position of the Peronists in the face of Milei’s attacks, and how does the PTS differ in its objectives?

CC: The last Peronist government endorsed the illegal debt that Macri took out from both private creditors and the IMF. The latter was voted on in Congress with the support of the right-wing coalition Juntos por el Cambio. This put forward a policy that increased social inequality and impoverished the working class with depreciating salaries and pensions, as demanded by the IMF.

Today, they supposedly oppose the DNU and the Omnibus Law in Congress, but both Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Sergio Massa have either remained publicly silent on the measures or they ask to give Milei time. In addition, various politicians remain in the positions they were in under the previous Peronist government, like Daniel Scioli, who was the presidential candidate for the Peronist movement in 2015 and was the ambassador to Brazil under Alberto Fernández.

If the Peronists had remained in power, they would also have implemented austerity to appease the IMF, but they would have negotiated it with the unions and not in the way that Milei is doing now. Their entire strategy going forward is to try to re-legitimize themselves after four years of a terrible government in preparation for the next elections. They do not want Milei’s plans to be defeated in the streets by mass protests, and much less by the general strike that the PTS and the Left are calling for.

What is certain is that Peronism’s strategy of limited state intervention that wouldn’t risk affecting the interests of the ruling class failed to overcome the national crisis. What we’re putting forward is completely different: to fight for a workers government that begins to construct socialism to put an end to national dependence.

It should also be said that in Congress there are sectors other than Peronism, the FIT-U, and the members of Milei’s party — those who are negotiating the law with Milei’s government. They are what we call the “collaborationist opposition,” including the parties that made up Juntos por el Cambio and politicians of regional parties.

Given the broad attacks represented by Milei’s government, what is the way forward for those who hold a revolutionary and anti-capitalist perspective? How should workers, students, intellectuals, women, and LGBTQ people fight back? We know that the workers and the Argentine people are already organizing popular assemblies and cacerolazos against Milei and there is a call for a general strike on January 24. How do you see these processes developing and what are your expectations for the general strike? Finally, in what ways can working people and the left in the United States and internationally help to defeat Milei’s austerity agenda?

MB: Right now, a very important first battle is being waged. Although the government’s approval ratings are falling, it still enjoys support from numerous sectors. We have been encouraging all sectors that oppose the government’s policies to do so actively and to coordinate their actions. It’s likely that the union leadership may use the size and power of the mobilizations on January 24 to sit down at the negotiating table with the government. We must be prepared to overcome the bureaucracy if this happens.

That is why we encourage all types of organization and coordination from below, so that an alternative emerges in the fight against bureaucratic leadership. The strike on Wednesday is not a general strike in the sense that we Marxists use the term — it is a work stoppage of 12 hours that will involve massive mobilizations, but will not unleash the complete force of the working class and all the sectors that oppose Milei. For example, the unions have agreed that public transportation will continue to function until 7:00 pm, making it difficult for the 40 percent of the workforce that is not organized to participate in the strike because they will be forced to go into work.

If they go unchecked, we bet that Milei’s plans will advance, especially if the Omnibus Law is discussed on Thursday, January 25. International solidarity is key to defeating Milei’s attacks on the working class in Argentina. Milei, as he made clear at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, is a friend to the super-rich, who he treats as heroes. It is in the interest of the international working class that his government does not move forward with its anti-worker policies.

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