Workers rebel: Emerging fightbacks in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina

Striking healthcare workers block a highway in Neuquén, Argentina to demand decent wages. PHOTO: Screen capture from video “Neuquén Tierra de Elefantes”
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Resistance and rebellion are popping up across the Americas, triggered by a devastating economic crisis and the massive human toll of the Covid-19 pandemic. Governments face growing protests as workers, the poor, Indigenous peoples and women step up to lead.

Through the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), the FSP works with the Partido Obrero Socialista in Mexico, the Movimento Revolucionário Socialista in Brazil and the Partido Socialismo y Libertad in Argentina. Here is a thumbnail sketch of developments in their countries.

MEXICO: Disenchantment with ‘left’ populism

Elected in 2018 by posing as a champion of the dispossessed, President Andrés López Manuel Obrador (AMLO) has decimated the hopes of working and poor people. He has sacrificed their lives and well-being to feed the profit-making machinery through neoliberal cutbacks, deregulation and privatization.

A host of actions have eroded AMLO’s popularity. He has cut pensions; allowed drug trafficking, corruption and violence to continue unchecked; supported a candidate in Guerrero despite accusations of rape and sexual abuse; and failed to stem the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.

AMLO has bowed to pressure from Washington, D.C., abetting hated Trump policies. He established a 16,000-member National Guard to target migrants from Central America passing through Mexico, as well as repressing Mexican citizens. In another concession to the U.S., AMLO didn’t support the demand for an increase in the minimum wage in Mexico during the negotiation for the 2020 renewal of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement.

Discontent with AMLO resulted in widespread midterm election losses for his Morena party. Even more significantly, protests are on the rise. Privatization of schools is sparking resistance in Mexico’s largest sector of unionized workers.

Indigenous teachers in Oaxaca, who have a long history of militant struggle in defense of public education, are also leading community protests to save the environment against government-backed corporate megaprojects. The women’s movement is also on the rise, calling for decriminalizing abortion nationwide and an end to femicide and domestic violence.

BRAZIL: Growing resistance to right-wing domination

The combined impact of the deepening international crisis of capitalism with the Covid-19 pandemic have hit South America’s largest country hard, with an unprecedented level of suffering for the Brazilian working class and the poor. The social and economic policies of right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro have created unmitigated disaster.

Brazil is caught in the longest sustained period of economic recession in its history. More than a third of Brazilians are without jobs or eking out survival in the informal economy. Purchasing power is deeply eroded by spiraling costs. As of June, the two main staples of the Brazilian diet — beans and rice — rose more than 50%. Rents shot up, along with prices of cooking gas, electricity, and fuel. Yet Bolsonaro has doubled down on neoliberal policies of privatization, wanton environmental destruction, and trampling of human rights.

Bolsonaro’s denial of the Covid-19 pandemic led to inaction and chaos, bringing Brazil to a death count in early July of 524,000, an amount second only to the U.S.

The political polarization evident when Bolsonaro was elected has deepened. Countrywide protests in May and June raged against the Covid-19 policies and their impact. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in every state and the nation’s capital, Brasilia. Demonstrators demanded kicking Bolsonaro out of office and a massive vaccination program to stem the still rising Covid-19 infections.

The question is, will an alliance of reformist leftist and ruling-class parties succeed in channeling current dissent into focusing on the presidential election in 2022 in the vain hope that a progressive shift in policies can meet the needs of the majority of Brazilians? Or will the emerging wave of mass protests grow and deepen to demand fundamental change?

ARGENTINA: Rebellion on the rise

After the disastrous one-term presidency of right-wing President Mauricio Macri, the ruling class in Argentina managed in 2019 to return the Peronist Justicialista Party to power. In the face of growing dissatisfaction among workers and the poor, the election of President Alberto Fernández promised improvement in the lives of Argentina’s majority. But Fernández has failed to deliver.

Macri’s legacy left Argentina saddled with huge debt inflated by a 2018 $57 billion International Monetary Fund loan, the largest ever to a single nation. The new Fernández “progressive” government rushed to assure world capitalists that it would honor all public and private debts. Yet, the only way to meet this enormous debt burden is by making the workers and the poor pay and suffer.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the deepening crisis. The Fernández government used the crisis to negotiate wage cuts and reduce social services to a level not even Macri could achieve. With the collusion of the union leadership, wages below the yearly inflation rate were locked in. For example, the government used quarantine conditions imposed on teachers to institute zero wage increases, even as inflation is fast approaching 50%.

The government’s Covid-19 lockdown created more hardship than protection. People who left their homes in desperation to stave off hunger faced police repression and violence, especially in working-class and poor neighborhoods.

Now, worker rebellions are emerging. State healthcare workers in the western province of Neuquén rejected a meager 12% wage increase with a wildcat strike, challenging both local politicians and their union leaders. After 59 days of building community and labor support, these mostly women nurses and medical technicians won a 53% wage hike. They showed how to fight and win, even in the adverse conditions of the global pandemic.

Eruptions across the hemisphere

Situations in these three countries are not unique but exist to varying degrees throughout the Americas. Ruined  economies and catastrophic hardship are triggering widespread upheavals and potential for massive revolt. In late April, for example, Colombia erupted in a series of general strikes. The challenge now is developing and linking these social explosions into a hemisphere-wide surge of working-class rebellion. Joining revolutionary forces across borders to build international solidarity in action is the order of the day.

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