Argentina’s General Strike – Workers Stand Up Against President Milei’s Attacks

Last November, 55 percent of Argentinian voters elected the far-right “anarcho-capitalist” economist Javier Milei as president. Milei ran on a platform promising extreme measures to supposedly “fix” Argentina’s economy. The country has experienced record inflation, with the value of the peso dropping by 211 percent this year alone. Milei promised to “dollarize” the economy, removing all price and currency regulations and linking the Argentinian peso to the U.S. dollar. He combined this promise with rhetoric drawn from the Donald Trump playbook, attacking “the elites” and “the establishment,” as if those weren’t the people he serves.  For many Argentines, Milei’s economic promises have a certain appeal, as do his anti-elite statements. Now, the reality of Milei’s presidency is hitting the Argentinian population like a bucket of cold water in the face.

Milei’s Attacks on the Working Class

Shortly after taking office, Milei devalued the peso by another 50 percent, a massive blow to workers’ buying power. Now, Milei is pushing for the Argentinian congress to pass two major reforms, an “omnibus law” and an “Urgent and Necessary Decree,” using his emergency powers as president.

The omnibus law lays the groundwork for massive privatization of the education and health care systems, as well as the state-owned airline and oil company. It also grants the president extra powers over taxation and state contracts. It changes the tax system, cutting taxes for the rich and replacing them with a flat tax borne by everyone. It also limits protests and demonstrations, and abolishes the electoral primary system that the revolutionary workers’ parties have been able to use as a platform to address the population. The omnibus law contains over 600 articles, a massive change to Argentina’s legal and economic system at every level. Overall, the omnibus law is a massive attack on the working class, its economic well-being, its access to services, and its democratic rights.

The Urgent and Necessary Decree removes all protections for renters, including caps on rent increases. It also raises the “trial period,” during which workers have fewer contractual rights, from three to eight months. Laws entitling workers who are fired without cause to compensation have been weakened. In addition, subsidies for public transportation have been cut, which will raise the cost of metro and bus transportation ten times over. Furthermore, Milei plans to overhaul legal protections for workers that have been in place since 1975. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Strangles Argentina

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an instrument used by international corporations to open up economies for exploitation. The IMF takes advantage of economic instability, lending money to governments who need to balance their budgets. Much of that money often disappears into the pockets of government officials and their rich friends. Then, when the loans can’t be paid back in time (they are designed that way!), the IMF demands cuts to public spending and privatization of publicly-owned industries and resources. From Egypt to Pakistan to Ukraine, the IMF dictates economic policy on the basis of those countries’ debts.

Argentina is the biggest holder of IMF debt, with $46 billion. One of the key reasons for the devaluation of the peso is this enormous debt hanging over the country. For all his talk of rebellion against elites, Milei is a servant of the international elites, demanding that Argentines destroy public services and subsidies, and open the country for unchecked exploitation by international corporations, in the name of paying back the debt to achieve “stability.”

The Unions and Peronism

The big union confederation in Argentina, the General Workers Confederation (CGT), is in some ways like the unions in the United States. The unions in the U.S. support the Democratic Party, even when it attacks workers, as the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress did in 2022 by forcing railway workers to accept an unacceptable contract. In Argentina, the CGT is tied to the institutional left, a political current known as Peronism. For decades, the Peronists have been in power, making cuts and attacks piece by piece, while the heads of the unions, who are Peronist supporters, defend the attacks as the best of bad options.

In many ways, Peronism and the complicit CGT unions are responsible for the election of Milei. The Peronist president, Alberto Fernandez was in power from 2019 to 2023, and presided over the devaluation of the currency, austerity measures, and a degradation of workers’ living standards. Milei took advantage of popular anger against Fernandez to win his election. The only real difference between Fernandez and Milei is the speed and severity of the attacks they carry out against the working class.

Now, faced with Milei’s attacks, the Peronists are backed into a corner. If they don’t stand up to Milei’s dramatic onslaught, they will lose all credibility, especially the CGT. Therefore, in the face of these attacks, the CGT called a general strike for January 24.

Workers Take a Stand Against Milei

The CGT called a one-day general strike to protest Milei’s brutal laws. On Wednesday, January 24, tens of thousands took to the streets in Buenos Aires. Transportation, banking, and public services were shut down by striking workers. Thousands more demonstrated across Argentina. The strike was called by the CGT leadership for only 12 hours, making it little more than a gesture. Peronist politicians joined the demonstrations, pretending to be defenders of the workers, but really hoping to defend their future political prospects. While the CGT union leadership maintains a limited agenda, the strike showed the willingness of thousands of workers to really fight back against Milei, the IMF, and the system that is driving Argentina’s working class into the abyss. Marches were organized, not only by the union leaderships, but by popular assemblies including coalitions of rank-and-file workers dissatisfied with the limitations of the CGT leadership, unemployed workers, and the parties of the revolutionary socialist left, Partido Obrero (Workers’ Party), Socialist Workers’ Movement, Socialist Workers Party, and others.

No Illusions in Milei, and No Compromise with a Rotten System

Milei’s devastating attacks on the working class are revealing the reality that was hiding behind his electoral promises. His method of “fixing” the economy is to destroy health care, transportation, education, workers’ rights, democratic rights, and everything that working class people rely on. His party is also preparing to repeal the right to abortion, recently won by Argentinian women. Confronted with this reality, the Argentinian working class needs to fight back. The Peronists and CGT leaders, longtime compromisers with big business and the IMF, offer no solution. As the revolutionary socialist parties argue, workers need to take matters into their own hands, through assemblies and coordinated actions on a national scale. With the help of revolutionaries defending that perspective, Argentina’s workers can take matters into their own hands, and stop following the Peronist politicians and union officials. Argentina’s working class has a long history of struggle, fighting traditions, and thousands of revolutionary militants at its disposal. Milei’s attacks, designed to devastate the workers, may awaken the sleeping giant of the Argentine working class! There can be no compromise with a rotten system, internationally with the IMF, or with Argentina’s wealthy elite on the national level. War has been declared against the workers. The only way forward is for workers to take the fight into their own hands; every other path leads to ruin.