Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean

ARGENTINA: New Movement to Combat Poverty

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 24 2008 (IPS) - A new movement formed by a host of political, social, labour and cultural organisations of Argentina launched an action plan Friday to reduce poverty and child mortality and to promote more equal distribution of wealth.

The action plan was presented at a three-day meeting organised by the Central Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) in the city of Jujuy, capital of the province of the same name in northwestern Argentina which is one of the most impoverished areas of the country.

Seven thousand delegates from 610 organisations and 23 provinces had confirmed their participation.

The CTA, a trade union federation of one million members, groups public servants, primary and secondary school teachers, judicial and health care workers, cooperatives, bankrupt companies salvaged by their employees, and retired and unemployed workers.

It was formed 16 years ago to counter the neoliberal, free market reforms implemented by the administration of Carlos Menem (1989-1999), and immediately applied for official recognition as a labour federation, with the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

But so far it has been denied such recognition, which perpetuates the monopoly held by the General Labour Confederation (CGT), formed primarily by industry, construction, commerce and service unions, and affiliated with the governing Justicialista (Peronist) Party.

Years ago, the CTA had already called for the formation of a National Front Against Poverty, and entrusted it with the preparation of a proposal that was subsequently submitted to public vote in a plebiscite that drew millions of voters in December 2001, on the eve of the worst economic, social and political crisis in the history of Argentina.

Part of the proposal was taken up by the government of Eduardo Duhalde – the caretaker president appointed after Fernando de la Rúa resigned, who governed until May 2003 – in his attempts to deal with the crisis. This resulted, for example, in the establishment of a small monthly income granted to unemployed heads of households.

But the initiative was modified after reports that it had become tainted with political clientelism.

The CTA is now arguing that the current global financial crisis cannot be used as a pretext for abandoning the fight against poverty and inequality, and is renewing its struggle with a broader movement that will put social issues back at the top of the agenda.

“Just as the Berlin Wall paradigm fell in 1989, now too, Wall Street, the paradigm of international financial capital, is falling. We believe that this opens up an opportunity to discuss this issue among a broader range of forces,” Juan Carlos Giuliani, CTA Communications Secretary, said to IPS.

The purpose of the meeting, the trade unionist said, is to “form a new political, social and cultural liberation movement” that will focus on three goals: establishing a set of priority issues – the ones that demand the most urgent attention – devising an action plan, and designing a comprehensive strategy that will help us organise our future actions,” he said.

The movement will include civil society organisations from every province, environmentalists and neighbourhood groups organised against industries and infrastructure works that pollute, trade unionists, human rights defenders, indigenous people, women’s rights activists, students, and religious and political leaders.

Except for the support of a few members of Congress, such as leftwing opposition lawmaker Claudio Lozano who has ties to the CTA, or of prominent human rights activists like Nora Cortiñas of the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo-Línea Fundadora (Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line), the organisers do not expect to be joined by “high-profile personalities.”

“Our strength will be in the diversity of the organisations represented, coming from 720 cities in the country,” the CTA spokesman said. “Church-based groups involved in social work, cooperatives, self-managed workers and organisers of soup kitchen initiatives” are all taking part.

The CTA, Giuliani explained, is not looking to create a political party or launch candidates. “What we want is to empower the people and push for more participatory democracy. If this later translates into an electoral platform, it will be merely as a secondary objective that will arise from the consensus of the participating organisations,” he added.

The meeting, convened as a “Social Constituent Assembly,” began on Thursday with an international seminar that included presentations by representatives of Brazil’s Landless Movement (MST) and Central Única dos Trabalhadores central trade union, Chile’s Unified Workers’ Confederation, members of the constituent assembly that rewrote Ecuador’s constitution, and trade unionists from Spain.

The Social Constituent Assembly was formally inaugurated Friday with a rally and a march through the streets of the provincial capital, San Salvador de Jujuy. On Saturday, participants will be divided into 20 working committees that will deliberate separately, coming together at the end of the day for a plenary session where each committee will share their initiatives with the rest.

“The main objective of the meeting is to promote unity in the popular front, like we’re seeing in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela; which is why we are calling on everyone who believes that it is unacceptable for Argentina to have 13 million people living in poverty or children dying from preventable causes,” Giuliani declared.

Participants are also addressing other social issues of concern to the organisations, such as “the plundering of natural resources,” or “the perpetuation of a distributive system that generates inequality,” he said.

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