“He didn’t give us a day of rest,” says photographer Santiago, 37, sighing on the other end of the phone. The Argentine was already apprehensive about the future of his job at the public news agency Télam if Javier Milei won the elections, but he had no idea that the threat would come so quickly.
“Everything that can be in the hands of the private sector will be in the hands of the private sector”, confirmed the ultraliberal this Monday (20), just hours after being chosen as the country’s new president, referring to Télam, Rádio Nacional and TV Pública as a “covert propaganda ministry”.
The first week after his victory at the polls was marked by a climate of apprehension among employees of state-owned companies and ministries (which he intends to cut from 18 to 10), as well as an alert in the unions, which called assemblies, scheduled meetings and spoke in articulate a “fight plan” in the coming days.
On the other hand, they say they will wait for concrete measures after Milei’s inauguration on December 10 before “taking to the streets”, although they cite the fear of possible police repressions. They are also betting that privatizations will be blocked in Congress, where the biggest force is still Peronism.
The tension was heightened by another speech by the president-elect in recent days, casting doubt on the payment of part of the 13th public salary that is made in mid-December. “There is no money,” he replied when asked by broadcaster TN if he would pay. “[Mas] My premise is that the population is not affected, the adjustment will fall on politics”, he added, deviating from the subject without giving further explanation.
“Uncertainty is distressing”, says photographer Santiago, asking the Sheet May your real name be preserved. “It’s a very stressful time, because it’s my source of work. Furthermore, I really like what I do”, says he, who has worked at Télam for 15 years and has a young daughter.
He is one of around 4,000 employees of the Argentine public press, according to the Buenos Aires Press Union (Sinpreba), which held meetings in the three companies last week. “We say that we have to be patient, act collectively and join other sectors that will also have their rights threatened”, says secretary general Agustín Lecchi.
The first demonstration of what these movements call resistance was given on Thursday (22), when several groups joined the traditional March of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, which has taken place every Thursday for 46 years in front of the Casa Rosada for the memory of their children who disappeared during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983).
“We are working with assemblies in all ministries and, this Monday let’s hold a meeting to start a fight plan”, Daniel “Tano” Catalano, general secretary of ATE Capital (Association of State Workers) said in the crowd, which groups 36 thousand public employees in Buenos Aires and is aligned to Kirchnerism.
In Argentina, street mobilization is much more common than in Brazil, but in recent times it has been somewhat subdued in the face of the electoral campaign and a government candidate, Sergio Massa. Now, he believes that the protests will grow and multiply “as there is a loss of rights.” “Let’s hope we don’t end up being a docile people,” he says.
The aeronautical sector was another that met on Friday (24) to define the next steps, in light of Milei’s proposal to hand over the state-owned Aerolíneas Argentinas “to the employees so that they can do the debugging themselves”. “The people at Aerolíneas Argentinas are very qualified, the problem is political contamination,” he said, without giving details.
The four unions related to the area, including those of pilots and contractors, intend to schedule meetings with the leaders confirmed by Milei. “If there is a risk, we will come up with a plan with strikes, concentrations”, says Edgardo Llano, secretary general of the Aeronautical Personnel Association (APA).
He, however, says he doesn’t think the ultraliberal will be able to do everything he’s planning. “It will be very difficult for him to approve these measures in Congress, which is divided. Furthermore, if he insists on this idea, he will repeat the failure of privatizations in the 1990s, with [o ex-presidente] Carlos Menem.”
Milei’s ideas also bring back another memory of the past for photographer Santiago, when, in 2017, Mauricio Macri’s government fired more than 350 employees from the Télam agency to reduce costs. “It was terrible. We woke up in the morning and messages started from colleagues receiving their dismissals. It was one, two, suddenly it became 15, 300”, he remembers.
Most ended up being reincorporated in the following months and years, after union pressure. “People think that if the company is closed, inflation will end and tomorrow our economy will be thriving, but that is not the solution. Public media is essential to federalize the news, to talk about issues in the provinces that private media will never talk about. “, he argues.
The Argentine case echoes that of Brazil. During the 2018 presidential campaign, former president Jair Bolsonaro (PL) also promised to extinguish the Empresa Brasil de Comunicação (EBC), created during Lula’s (PT) first government. The measure did not go ahead, but its structure was reduced when he took over.