Social Movements Organize To Resist Macri’s Neoliberalism

| Resist!

Above Photo: Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against the economic policies implemented by Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri in Buenos Aires Dec. 22, 2015. | Reuters

In one month, President Mauricio Macri signed more than 260 decrees to push through rapid neoliberal changes and started to roll back social programs.
While Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s first month in office has given big business reasons to rejoice, thousands have taken to the streets to protest the rapid policy changes and many important social and political groups are organizing to resist the neoliberal trend.

Since being inaugurated on Dec. 10, Macri and his new government have acted swiftly to roll out a series of austerity measures and other neoliberal reforms in the name of boosting the country’s economy, but those who are least privileged are disproportionately bearing the burden of the changes.

“The main measures of Mauricio Macri’s first month in government have an orthodox sense to privilege those who have more,” Juan Manuel Karg, a political scientist and international analyst at the University of Buenos Aires, told teleSUR. “The removal of agricultural export taxes, the some 50 percent devaluation, and the advances against the Media Law follow this sense.”

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A protester holds a sign slamming Macri’s trend of governing by decree in a demonstration in Buenos Aires on Dec. 17, 2015. I Photo: AFP

As Fernando Polo, International Relations Secretary of Kolina, a political current of Argentina’s Front for Victory alliance, explained to teleSUR, economic moves like currency devaluation hit working Argentines hard. After the country saw about a 40 percent rise in the price of basic foodstuffs after Macri’s election victory in November, the Macri’s immediate devaluation of the currency also simultaneously devalued Argentine salaries drastically .

Polo also stressed that Macri’s move to lift restrictions on foreign currency exchange is another key issue that could have major consequences not just for the economy but also public security.

“Without restrictions, any person can by up to US$2 million monthly, without explaining where they got the money for the purchase, which favors financial speculation and above organized crime – narcotrafficking and arms trafficking and sales,” Polo explained.

Karg and Polo agreed that Macri’s decision to attend the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an annual gathering of world’s economic elite, is a telling sign of the president’s radical departure from the economic policies of his predecessors Cristina Fernandez and Nestor Kirchner, neither of whom participated in the forum.

One of the Kirchnerist governments’ flagship policies – export taxes on agricultural goods used to fund social programs and infrastructure policies – has already been wiped out by Macri’s reforms.

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Demonstrators protest against President Macri’s neoliberal changes and in support of the Argentina’s Media Law. I Photo: EFE

“Export taxes were used by the previous administration for the redistribution of wealth,” Polo explained, adding that the trend of large agricultural producers selling exclusively in international markets is expected to further force up domestic prices on basic products such as meat and vegetables and make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for many workers to afford foods that are usually part of a typical Argentine diet.

But it’s not just rising prices that are causing worry among significant ranks of Argentine workers. Macri’s government has also made major public sector labor and social program cuts, leaving thousands without work. More cuts, including in the private sector, are still expected.

For Karg, Macri’s rhetoric to justify the cuts doesn’t align with the reality for workers. “He has pointed to a ‘restructuring’ of the state, which is no more than the beginning of dismantling it through thousands of layoffs – 14,000 up until now – something that will provoke a rise in unemployment rates,” he said.

Aside from the layoffs, Polo said that the repression of workers is also a troubling development. Workers protesting massive layoffs in the La Plata municipality of the Buenos Aires province this week, for example, faced a police crackdown and “were repressed with rubber bullets,” Polo explained.

Riot police attack public workers protest in #LaPlata Argentina. pic.twitter.com/CwremI76j8 — teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) January 9, 2016

But the worker protests, including massive mobilizations by the country’s largest public sector workers, only reflects one of multiple sectors organizing to reject’s Macri’s neoliberal agenda.

Thousands of people have gathered in the streets and squares in Buenos Aires and other cities to protest economic policies, defend public media, and demand truth and justice.

“Social and political organizations are reorganizing themselves more than ever, analyzing the causes of the defeat and thinking of survival strategies,” Polo said. “The unions have activated, above all the state worker unions because that is the first sector hit by the government.”

Many, largely without formal organizational affiliations, have also spoken up to defend media democracy in the face of Macri’s attack on the Media Law, Polo explained, adding that it is yet to seen how this autonomous self-organized protest will articulate with broader social movements.

The Justicialist Party, the “backbone” of the Front for Victory alliance, according to Polo, and the party of Fernandez, Kirchner, and presidential candidate Daniel Scioli, is also undertaking an internal review process to build up its foundation ahead of the next election as a “functional and competitive” party.

Despite the attack on popular social programs and aggressive onslaught of neoliberal reforms in Macri’s first month as president, what seems clear is that the political opposition and social movements are not going to take the changes lying down.