December 16, 2017
Monday, April 28, 2014

Strong Argentine union support for shipbuilding sector promotion scheme bill

Crains at the Río Santiago state shipyards (ARS).
Crains at the Río Santiago state shipyards (ARS).
Crains at the Río Santiago state shipyards (ARS).
By Guillermo Háskel
Herald Staff

The SAON union is working together with the Shipbuilding Industry Liaison Board, the Foreign Ministry, the Cabinet Chief’s office and legislators

Argentine unions working together with businessmen, the administration of Peronist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and legislators seeking to rebuild the merchant fleet and shipbuilding sector dismantled by the past military dictatorship and neo-conservative Peronist President Carlos Menem say they see now “a ray of hope.”

“Our union, under the leadership of comrade Cayo Ayala, together with the Shipbuilding Industry Liaison Board, the Under-Secretariat for Ports and Waterways, the Cabinet Chief Office, the Foreign Ministry and national legislators has been contributing with its full effort to re-establish the conditions to have a merchant fleet, an shipbuilding industry and ports to the service of a national model of development,” Juan Antonio Speroni, interim secretary of the SAON union of naval workers and industrial services, said.

He was talking to the Herald on Friday at the union headquarters 50 metres from the Boca Juniors stadium, in La Boca, a city neighbourhood with a shipyard and merchant navy tradition. Speroni was referring, among other initiatives to a bill presented late last year in Congress by the vice-president of the Lower House’s Maritime, Fluvial Ports and Fishing Affairs Committee Gastón Harispe, who belongs to Fernández de Kirchner’s Victory Front, together with other legislators.

“It is absolutely crucial to adopt a totally different model of competitiveness than the model designed by (José Alfredo) Martínez de Hoz (Economy Minister of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship) and Domingo Cavallo (Menem’s economy minister,” he added.

Ayala, who was also present at the interview, said: “When Cavallo was Minister of Economy, he personally told (ambassador) Ana Cafiero and me that no new ship would be built in Argentina any more because it was harmful for the nation and it was better to buy European scrap.” Ayala is also the Secretary-General of FEMPINRA, a federation grouping 16 merchant fleet, and shipbuilding unions. He added that under the “no more Argentine-made iron or steel policy” of Martínez de Hoz the number of metal workers in the country shrank from 600,000 to 60,000 today.

SAON currently has some 3,000 workers while in the “golden past” it had some 18,000 without counting those working at state run shipyards, Ayala said.

He added that although the AFNE state-run shipyard is recovering despite the scrapping in 1992 of the Merchant Fleet Law, it is working at 30 percent of its full capacity.

FEMPINRA has always defended that law which was the tool that ensured the construction of ships, services and navigation, Ayala said.

Speroni, for his part, added: “The defence of the merchant fleet, the shipbuilding industry and the maritime sector hasalways been the banner of our union. In 1992, as a result of the process of deregulation of Menem’s infamous policies that destroyed that national industry, the shipbuilding sector was left with no tools not only to build any kind of ships, but not even repair them, particularly, due to the negative conditions generated by the Convertibility system that harmed Argentine labour costs. The shipbuilding sector was deprived of the Merchant Fleet Fund that supported the whole legal scaffolding of its structure.”

Speroni added that under the current administration some initiatives to recover the sector have been launched.

He cited as examples the bill presented last December to create a merchant fleet and shipbuilding sector promotion scheme, and Resolution 1108 of early 2013 that allowed Argentina to recover its cargo which until then was being transferred in Uruguayan ports.

Also, Speroni highlighted as crucial “the talks that are being held with the sister Republic of Paraguay,considering that it is crucial to reach an accord with it to distribute cargo in a fairer way.

‘A total 99 percent of the cargo sailing along the Paraná-Paraguay waterway does so under the Paraguayan flag while only one percent is left for Argentina. On top of this must be added the fact that 84 percent of the cargo in Argentina is transported on truckloads, 11 percent on railroads and, tragically, only one percent is water-bound.‘

The “hidrovía” is a 3,300 kilometre-long Paraguay-Paraná rivers waterway stretching from the port of Cáceres in Brazil and technically ending in Nueva Palmira (Colonia, Uruguay). The River Plate does not formally belong to it but actually completes the complex through which about 80 percent of Argentine grain and oilseed exports go abroad.

“It is crucial to recover the cargo, the ports, the merchant fleet and, finally, the shipbuilding industry,” Speroni said.

According to experts, for distances of up to 300-400 kilometres trucks are the more efficient cargo means, followed by trains for distances of between 300-400 to 800 kilometres and barges for over 800 kilometres.

The SAON union had been close to Hugo Moyano, the teamster leader who heads the opposition faction of the CGT — Argentina’s overwhelmingly largest umbrella union — until Moyano adopted a “more political” stance.

Speroni said that “with the recent above-mentioned initiatives we in the shipbuilding sector see a light of hope... any time a shipyard launches a barge, or tug-boat, or a supply vessel we understand that we are thwarting neo-conservative policies of the past and showing that it was all a lie to hand over our river and maritime sovereignty, as well as the rest of national industrial sectors.”

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