January 24, 2018

The week

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Insurrection or resurrection?

Teachers show images of their police eviction from Congress square — an unusual way of marking Palm Sunday
By Michael Soltys / Senior Editor

Not so much to report with the working part of this truncated Easter week already drawing to an end (and with an even shorter school week) but who’s complaining? Anybody yearning for more intensity in the news should rewind to 30 Easters ago when democracy seemed on the brink of collapse from the challenge of an Army mutiny pushing for legal immunity against the application of the 1985 junta trial mechanism to lower-ranking officers (see this newspaper’s lead story and the editorial on page 15).

In the half-week so far, the revived conflict with the teachers was the top mainstream story while the Micaela García murder was more directed to the nation’s heart-strings — although also with deeper legal and institutional ramifications from the way it challenged the penal code. Not only the prospects for a settlement of that teacher dispute but all future collective bargaining stand threatened by the March inflation figure of 2.4 percent, which seems to make the current guideline of a 20 percent wage increase cap untenable. And while this metropolis has been largely spared (apart from a brief deluge last Saturday), we should not forget the floods blighting as many as 17 provinces.


Prior to last weekend President Mauricio Macri’s perfect week seemed to be heading towards a perfect climax. A week beginning with the pleasant surprise of massive support from the “1-A” march and continuing with Tuesday’s confirmation of a tax whitewash haul just under US$117 billion was not only heading for a grand finale with the hundreds of business glitterati in town for the Latin American chapter of the World Economic Forum — yet another of those investor talk fests which so seem to thrill this government. For the very first time since the school year supposedly began at the start of March a week was ending without an announcement of teacher strikes in the following week, thus pointing to a further Macri triumph.

But that was to change. The lack of any strike announcements was due to the teacher unionists switching their tactics to erecting an “itinerant school” outside Congress (presumably inspired by the “white tent” mounted in the same place by the same profession in the closing years of the 20th century) — which could be variously interpreted as a conciliatory gesture, a recognition of faltering support for the strike or sheer provocation. The latter seems to have been the interpretation of City Hall, which took full advantage of the lack of permit to send in the police on Palm Sunday to nip the “itinerant school” in the bud — they could easily have turned a blind eye in an extension of the whitewash mentality but the previous weekend’s march seems to have bred a new confidence and appetite for confrontation in Macri’s ranks, sensing a growing public hostility towards obstructive protests which reached saturation point last month.

A Tuesday strike was the knee-jerk reflex of Roberto Baraadel & Co. so that a conflict which had seemed to be fading away has been resurrected in Easter week. But apparently not back in full force — even teacher unionists in Buenos Aires province on the front line of the dispute admitted to adherence of 50-80 percent depending on the area (with Greater Buenos Aires in the upper range). Despite the renewal of hostilities, City Hall ended up authorising the “itinerant school” upon submission of the corresponding paperwork and the promise of no pickets.

Meanwhile the Macri administration is appealing a court ruling mandating collective bargaining at national level, which was issued last Thursday — even if there has been nationwide bargaining annually for the last decade, the government argues that the teacher pay floor has now been permanently defined as the minimum wage plus 20 percent. Let us see how it is all panning out in next Friday’s column (yes, we will be returning to normal publication next week).


Yet it is not only the teachers who are standing in the way of Macri being able to assure the nation this weekend: “Happy Easter, the house is in order” like the late Radical President Raúl Alfonsín 30 years ago — that 2.4 percent March inflation figure announced on Tuesday shows the stubborn persistence of inflation and indeed stagflation since interest rates were promptly jacked up by the Central Bank, thus countering the Macri administration’s political euphoria from discovering at the start of this month that the street may not be irretrievably lost. It is all very well to blame this inflation on the steep increases in household utility billing strategically timed well ahead of this spring’s midterm elections but core inflation has been measured at 1.8 percent for the second month running. Not the greatest of timing with most collective bargaining either lying immediately ahead or already agreed on the basis of a wage increase at or just below 20 percent with the option of re-opening if that percentage is exceeded (as it now surely must be).

At least one pay hike did come through in this abbreviated week — the Supreme Court awarded a further 10 percent to all judges, prosecutors and judicial employees. But much of public opinion would be inclined to dispute that increase following the murder of Micaela by a convicted rapist paroled by an Entre Ríos judge (more on that issue in the editorial on page 16). At least the public outrage over a crime curiously uniting feminists with the law and order brigade served to take the courtroom spotlight away from all the Kirchnerite courtroom cases for once in a week too short to permit many new developments beyond a heart murmur for Santa Cruz public works tycoon Lázaro Báez.

Both last Thursday’s general strike and the World Economic Forum seemed important if contrasting events at the time but neither have left much of a footprint even in this week — a 42,000-car niche in the Colombian auto market was the only concrete result of all that investor optimism at the Forum while the catharsis of a strike seems the only common denominator among labour leaders, a fragmentation which might well be perpetuated by Labour Minister Jorge Triaca’s intention of sector-by-sector dialogue with the unions.

There were also a couple of news items concerning Energy and Mining Minister Juan José Aranguren — the resignation of his secretary for fossil fuels (ostensibly over his contacts with Wall Street Journal correspondent and former Herald staffer Taos Turner) and an upcoming YPF bid for the Shell refineries and service stations which Aranguren ran for so long.

The week’s secondary news also includes an item directly concerning us — on Monday our newspaper group was sent to trial for evading social security contributions between 2010 and 2016, accompanied by a 63-million-peso injunction. In conclusion, this columnist would like to wish all readers a Happy Easter but we cannot say in all honesty that our house is in order.

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia