CTA (Central de los Trabajadores Argentinos) Convention in Argentina, December 2002

This is a short report I prepared following my participation at the CTA Convention in Argentina in mid-December. I attended on behalf of the CAW Social Justice Fund with Annie Labaj.

The CTA (Central de los Trabajadores Argentinos) or Centre of Argentinean Workers is a central labour body that is different than Argentina's mainstream central body. It is more of a social and political movement.

CTA (central de los trabajadores argentinos)

Local unions affiliate directly, but the CTA also encompasses various poverty groups, the landless movement, neighbourhood forums, mothers of the disappeared, academics, orphans, Malvina war veterans, piquetoros - the CTA scope is broad, as Argentinean society comes to grip with their economic crisis.

Argentina Economic Crisis

  • GDP shrunk approximately 4.5% in 2001
  • 53% of population living below poverty line
  • No bank money available - savings accounts and fixed term deposits frozen
  • Severe devaluation of the peso (lost 70% of its value)
  • 304,000 jobs lost from Jan 02 to Aug 02
  • 112,500 small businesses closed from Jan 02 to Aug 02

The Argentina economic situation has been widely reported in the Canadian media so I won't spend much time on it.

In a poorly advised effort to improve its economic fortunes, the Argentina government tied its peso to the US dollar, giving up an independent monetary policy.

Argentina found itself in a recession in 2000. Their exports were expensive because of the strength of the US dollar and wealthy Argentineans were transferring money to banks abroad as the recession deepened.

With falling revenues and international credit drying up, Argentina tried to save money and appease the IMF. They cut works programs, environmental legislation, smashed labour legislation, sliced real wages, sold off assets and privatized almost all services. The IMF's demands amounted to economic suicide, as tax revenues slowed to a trickle.

In December 2001, bank withdrawals were restricted to 250.00 pesos per week, but wealthy Argentineans had already taken US$15 billion out of the country.

Widespread demonstrations resulted in 22 dead and hundreds injured. Argentina went through five presidents in twelve days and they suspended payments on their foreign debts - the largest default in history.

In 2002 the peso was no longer tied to the US dollar and it lost 70 percent of its value.

Buenos Aires

Annie and I arrived five days before the CTA convention would begin in Mar del Plata.

The International Department of the CTA put a lot of effort into taking us to events in Buenos Aires that illustrated what people were doing to survive the crisis and fight back.

Annie Labaj and Kield Jacobsen at the University of Buenos Aires

We had an opportunity to meet with Kjeld Jacobsen of Brazil's CUT at the University of Buenos Aires. He spoke to a packed lecture theatre about changes in Brazil with the recent election of Lula and plans for the upcoming Social Forum in Porto Alegre.
The CTA has assisted in publishing a book that details the significant social events that have taken place in the Argentine fight back efforts. Involved in the book were representatives of the landless movement and the piqueteros.

The landless movement has been active in taking unused land and finding materials and people with the skills to build shelters for the mushrooming ranks of the homeless. Along with shelter come the responsibilities of food distribution, sanitation and health care. The CTA works with the landless movement, helping to provide organization and political influence.

Annie Labaj with Landless Movement leaders and CTA activists

The piquetoros or picketers became a national movement. Because they had no workplaces to shut down in protest of economic policies, they blocked highways. In 2001, whole families of piquetoros participated in more than 900 highway closures. The piquetoros movement is affiliated with the CTA.

Annie, Sheila Katz of the CLC and I attended a neighbourhood forum in a neighbourhood known as San Telmo. The CTA participates in these forums which are organized in cities across the country. They are a local response to the crisis. Neighbours band together to protect people from being evicted, find solutions to eroding services and infrastructure problems and help find uses for abandoned buildings. The night we attended in San Telmo, they debated what they would be doing to participate in a national day of action to commemorate the anniversary of the bank demonstrations on December 19, 2001.

Banks are one of Argentina's most hated institutions after bank accounts were frozen

Mar del Plata

congreso nacional de delegados

The first two days of the CTA Congress in Mar del Plata consisted of large workshops with international panels. I participated on a panel in the Industry sector, making a presentation on the impact of globalization in Canada - and Annie made a presentation about the CAW in another Industry sector workshop.

Delegates heard speakers from countries like Canada, Spain, France, Brazil, Uruguay...clearly workers in all countries are experiencing similar problems with globalization - but few as severely as Argentina.

Although a question and answer period was to follow the panel presentations, most of the delegates who spoke did not ask questions, but talked about the situation in

Annie Labaj confers with fellow Canadian Jorge Garcia of the Steelworkers during their panel presentations

their town or workplace. Many of the stories were heartbreaking. What has happened to workers in Argentina could so easily happen in Canada.

There was a lot of discussion about the take-over by workers of abandoned plants and enterprises. The IMF claims that Argentina will be able to export its way out of the crisis through the devaluation of the peso. Although it's true that Argentinean goods will be inexpensive abroad, only 9 percent of its production was exported before the crisis. To increase production for export takes capital and the IMF insists that Argentina reduce its debt.

Although there are many success stories about worker run enterprises, they do not yet have the capacity to stimulate significant job growth.

Canadian delegates Sheila Katz (CLC), Annie Labaj, Jim Paré and Jorge Garcia (USWA)

The CTA Congress was a unique experience. Some 10,000 delegates crammed into a covered soccer stadium with an energy level that was contagious.

The Congress broke up into large regional meetings in order to debate some of the policy papers and issues, which were to come to the floor the next day. One of the groups worked until 1:00 am - and were back on the floor at 9:00 the next morning.

The energy level on the Congress floor was contagious

All organizations have their traditions - carrying over from the Peronist Party, regional groups at the Congress bring their own cadre of drummers. The drummers lead the applause after an important point is made or a speaker is introduced or concludes. Somehow, all of the drummers in the stadium get in synch, and combined with the cheering and foot stomping, the result is electrictrifying.

Regional groups bring their own drummers to the Congress

The Congress dealt with a variety of social and economic papers - and with some internal issues. The CTA has had a significant impact on Argentinean society since the crisis began.

There was a move for the CTA to become a political party. The proposition was soundly defeated, in favour of issue-based politics and support of politicians who advocate the ideals of the CTA. The vote was dramatic, with delegates on the losing side setting fire to their credentials and holding them above their heads to vote.

Argentina has a large number of parentless, homeless children. The CTA has helped them get organized and they had a presence at the Congress

Like the banks, monuments are covered in protest graffiti

Lunch with the Canadian Ambassador, who attended most of the Congress proceedings

The CTA is a remarkable organization. It is making a real difference with very limited resources. Most of the leadership we met spent lengthy time in jail during the military dictatorship or were in exile during that time. They continue their fight for a better Argentina, but now through the CTA.

If the Argentinean economy is to be turned around, the CTA will have a role.

In solidarity,
Jim Paré
Organizing Department

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