Argentina: Healthcare Workers Strike Spreads and Winning Ground

Healthcare workers in Argentina’s Neuquén province are continuing protests and strikes in a struggle that is inspiring workers throughout the county to fight back against their plummeting standard of living and their union bureaucracies’ weak attempts at appeasing them.

Both the economic and the healthcare crisis are hammering working people in Argentina. Prices rose 53.8 percent in 2019, the highest rate since the 1991 economic crisis, and this year the country is again expecting 46% inflation. The 2020 data marked the 16th consecutive year of a double-digit inflation rate, and the 11th consecutive year with a rate above 20 percent.

While the union bureaucracies (the UPCN and the ATE, both public sector unions) negotiated a 14 percent wage increase, the workers in their assemblies rejected this agreement outright and refused to go back to work, and held out for a real wage increase given the high inflation: a 50 percent raise given out in stages over 2021. Fortunately, the workers have their own democratic assemblies, and one’s that include workers of different sectors in healthcare, allowing them to make their own decisions rather than be stymied by their union leaders. So far in their fight they blocked 26 roads with their picket lines, paralyzing the oil industry, the main productive activity of the province of Vacas Muertas.

Today, May 5th, they are protesting the punitive action of the government against activists in a demonstration at the doors of the provincial capital’s administrative building (CAM), demanding an end to fines and persecution.

During the massively successful strike, neither the governor nor the national government dared to send the police to the picket lines for the simple reason that the strike of nurses, orderlies, doctors and health personnel of all kinds had a strong popular support. In the final weeks this support became apparent as strikes by the entire state sector of the province, especially teachers but also judicial workers and other public sector workers, raised the specter of a province-wide general strike.

A wind of struggle is blowing through Argentina, and that wind from Chile and Argentina in the south to Colombia in the north (where a general strike and huge mobilization brought down the government’s plan to tax the poor and middle class to pay for the economic crisis – this just as we celebrated May Day) is showing what workers power can look like.

In the U.S. workers need to prepare for this wind to blow north, as this crisis bears down on the whole world. It is the independent assemblies that engage all the workers in the struggle and that have allowed workers in Argentina and elsewhere to reject the deals that their “leaders” make behind their backs. We need our own democratic organizations to wage the struggle under our own control. We saw this in the West Virginia teachers’ strike, and we will see it again!