Not one step back: defending the right to strike in Argentina

Unfortunately, those of us in the trade union movement have seen targeted efforts to erode labour and trade union rights in recent years, both at local, regional and international levels. Argentina is no exception.

Since the current government of Javier Milei took office, the trade union movement has been developing a strategic action plan, both at national and international levels, to defend the interests and rights of workers against the various measures being adopted by the current administration.

A few days after Milei’s inauguration, the government of Argentina enacted several laws with the clear intention of, among other things, rolling back labour and trade union rights, to the detriment of workers. The organised trade union movement has responded to these efforts in kind.

Notable among the measures implemented are the ‘Protocol for the Maintenance of Public Order’ and the ‘Decree of Necessity and Urgency 70/23’, both of which aim to limit hard fought labour and trade union rights as well as to criminalise social protest. This represents an open and intentional attempt to discipline the various trade union organisations that are fighting to change material conditions, always within the recognised bounds of national and international legislation.

The current government implemented both the Protocol and the Decree unilaterally and without any consultation with social actors and representatives, ignoring the tradition of institutionalised social dialogue that has been part of our country’s democratic system.

A fundamental right that is recognised and protected in Argentina

In my country, the Republic of Argentina, the right to strike is a fundamental right that is both guaranteed in the National Constitution and protected by international conventions that Argentina has ratified.

Article 14 bis of the Constitution guarantees the right of trade union organisations to “enter into collective bargaining, to resort to conciliation and arbitration, and the right to strike”.

In line with the Constitution, the Trade Unions Law (Law 23.551) establishes that unions have the right to “bargain collectively, the right to participate, the right to strike and the right to adopt other legitimate measures of trade union action”.

The national legal framework protecting the right to strike is based on international conventions. For example, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes in article 8, paragraph 1, that the “States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure [...the] right to strike, provided that it is exercised in conformity with the laws of the particular country”.

The right to strike is also protected by Convention 87 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise, ratified by my country in 1960.

It is important to remember that the right to strike has been won through the historic and tireless struggle of workers organised into trade unions. These unions function as a democratic tool for resolving the conflicts of interest that naturally exist in the world of work.

This right is central to freedom of association and as such is the way to address the inequality of power that exists in the world of work. The ability to strike is the effective right of workers to demand better working conditions.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, of which I am a member, has reiterated on several occasions that while the right to strike constitutes “a fundamental right of workers and of their organisations, it has regarded it as such only in so far as it is utilised as a means of defending their economic interests” and as such “is one of the essential means through which workers and their organisations may promote and defend their economic and social interests”.

This is why we in the trade union movement, both locally and internationally, defend the unrestricted right to strike, in the full certainty that it is an indispensable instrument for the continuous improvement of the socio-labour conditions of workers in every country.

A coordinated and multi-pronged response from trade unions

Faced with the unilateral actions of the government, the Argentinean trade union movement has repeatedly called for social dialogue, to no avail.

The so-called Protocol for the Maintenance of Public Order for violation of the right of expression, assembly, etc., as well as the Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) 70/23, which attack individual and collective labour rights, were thus brought before the courts.

One tactical achievement of the trade union movement that I would like to highlight is the recent ruling of the National Chamber of Labour Appeals, which declared the unconstitutionality of Chapter IV of the DNU in the case Confederación General del Trabajo de la República Argentina c/ Poder Ejecutivo Nacional s/ Acción de amparo.

At the international level, the three trade union confederations of the Argentine Republic – the Confederación General del Trabajo de la República Argentina (CGT-RA), the Central Autónoma de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Argentina (CTA-T), and the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina Autónoma (CTA-A) – have requested the urgent intervention of the Director-General of the ILO and the referral of the complaint for violations of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention due to the implementation of the aforementioned Protocol. The same complaint was filed with the United Nations.

In parallel to the aforementioned actions, the CGT RA called for a national strike on 24 January 2024, which received significant and remarkable support from Argentinian society, as well as solidarity from countless trade union organisations across the globe.

We know that at this crucial moment, what is at stake is much more than the defence of workers’ professional interests: it is the very democracy that Argentinians definitively won back more than 40 years ago.

Not one step back!” is the motto of our struggle to achieve social justice for our people.

This article has been translated from Spanish.