The Argentine Tire Workers Union (SUTNA), in spite of the bosses’ and the government’s offensive, could not be defeated. After five months of struggle, the workers of Fate, Bridgestone-Firestone and Pirelli resisted the bosses’ attacks, and achieved a raise higher than that proposed by the companies, in addition to an automatic wage adjustment mechanism according to inflation in the last months of the agreement (April and June 2023).
Specifically, the companies will increase the wage negotiations 16% in the 2021/22 to 66%, 63% for the 2022/23 period (against 38% offered during the five months on strike), two fixed sums of $100,000 in September and $34,860 in December, and an agreement which obliges them to adjust the wage to the extent that inflation exceeds that 63% in the corresponding period.
During the struggle, more than twenty strikes, pickets and blockades were carried out (together with organizations of unemployed workers, workers’ solidarity delegations and left-wing parties) and several mobilizations. And they not only affected the production of tires, but also put the entire automotive industry in check, to the point that Toyota was paralyzed, and other plants were on the same path. This demonstrated the real importance of the stoppage of production in the factories.
The workers’ wage claim was higher than what had been achieved, and the demand for 200% overtime pay on weekends was not granted, nor were the days off deducted for the stoppages prior to the strike.
From this merely economic point of view, someone could say that the struggle was not justified. For example, the banking union (and others) achieved a similar increase, without struggle, without risk, and only by negotiating. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) bureaucracy, in chorus with the bosses, is already making this balance of the conflict. This is done to discredit the struggle and demoralize the workers’ activism which, in all the factories and workplaces, was accompanied with sympathy.
The bosses and traitorous leaders make a self-serving interpretation. However, the magnitude of the conflict gives it a greater importance, because they could not defeat it, although the whole State supported the bosses. That is the fundamental thing to bear in mind. Another central issue is that a new situation could have opened up in the workers’ movement if the leadership of the SUTNA had deepened the struggle.
From the beginning, the decision of the company was not to concede anything. They proposed increases far below those of all the other employers in the country (much lower than the three roofing factories). Their objective was not to “negotiate”, but rather to use the union mechanism to wear down the workers and lead them to an exemplary defeat. From the beginning, the bosses set out to crush a vanguard detachment of the working class, which has been struggling for years.
For that reason, the bosses and union bureaucrats prepared for a tough political fight. They acted in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor, hoping to lead workers to a dead end. This was on purpose, to teach strikers a lesson. The capitalists understood at once that they were going to class war. And they prepared for it.
In our opinion, unfortunately the leadership of the SUTNA (led by the Partido Obrero) did not prepare the comrades for such a struggle, a political struggle in which the bosses’ objective was the annihilation of the conflict. For this reason, each blow from the bosses seemed to surprise the Union. We will develop this further separately.
The last act, in the framework of a campaign of the entire press against the struggle, was the lockout, the bosses’ closing of the factories. With the workers outside and without any more pay. This was a very harsh measure, which showed that they preferred to lose money in order to liquidate the workers’ struggle.
The polarization produced by such a measure forced everyone to take off their masks. The semi-hidden collaboration of the government and the capitalist regime through the Ministry, the institutions and the deceitful parity mechanisms was no longer enough.
Sergio Massa, the Minister of the Economy, shamelessly sided with the bosses, opening the import of tires by the same companies. He said that he “cannot be the hostage of a few,” referring to a few thousand workers, while he positioned himself as a servile employee of three business groups. The obedience of this government to capitalist interests came to light.
The vast majority of the CGT rushed to call for a “strong hand” against the workers and their union. A minority sector (truck drivers, those in the oil industry, etc.) spoke out in support only after five months of struggle.
The war was openly declared. The whole of the country’s bourgeoisie, its media, the government and the traitorous leaders on one side. The tire workers on the other. The bosses’ objective was to take advantage of the attrition to provoke a brutal defeat for the workers. A fight to kill or be killed. José Luis Espert, a member of the Chamber of Deputies was clear: he called for a “bullet” for the workers. And all the bosses’ sectors took sides, because it became a witness conflict. If they succeeded in liquidating them, the workers as a whole were going to suffer the consequences.
All the conditions were in place for a heavy defeat. But it was not to be: the strength of the rank and file and activism, combined with the government’s own crisis, made it possible to confront the bosses’ attack. Overcoming all obstacles, including the problems of leadership of the conflict, the workers came out of the combat in one piece, united, voting and celebrating.
In the class war, the bourgeoisie did not achieve all its objectives. In a political conflict, the workers resisted and came out victorious. The SUTNA conflict is a good example that it is possible to fight and that we have the possibility of advancing for more. The bosses and the government are still using the bargaining agreements and compulsory arbitration to defeat us, but this conflict forced the unions to take a stand (starting with trucking industry); they had to go out and demand wages again in order to relocate. And the automatic update equal to inflation (partially achieved in this case), was put on the table for all wage struggles.
SUTNA’s struggle and the ongoing conflicts have created sympathy that we must take advantage of for future conflicts, since it is not possible to beat inflation if we do not automatically implement wages in line with the family basket indexed immediately with inflation month by month.
It is essential that the working class analyze this struggle, and draw conclusions. And that we take advantage of this momentum to continue the fight against the adjustment plan of the bosses, the government and the IMF. We have to fight, at the same time, for a new trade union and political leadership for all workers. In the perspective of a general strike and an argentinazo that defeats the capitalist plans and advances in the fight for a government of the workers and the people.
The struggle and its leadership
We believe that there were serious problems in the leadership of the conflict from the beginning and that this almost led to defeat. Both in the program, as well as in the preparation of a hard struggle, and also in the indispensable workers’ democracy in a conflict of this magnitude.
As it was demonstrated, there was no room for a normal “union” struggle. The union leadership are at the service of “civilized” negotiations in which the bosses always win. But the leadership of the SUTNA continued to bet on the union bureaucrats, and this was a path of defeat. No confidence in the institutional mechanisms! For example, the takeover of the Secretariat was part of this strategy of pressuring the institutions. Shouldn’t the factories have been taken over instead? Of course, it was difficult. For this reason the workers needed to be prepared from the beginning for this kind of struggle.
Working overtime is anathema to class consciousness. We have to work less so that everyone can work. We have to fight for a reduction in working hours without a reduction in wages, and not for better paid overtime. Faced with low wages, many comrades want more overtime. This is not the way out. Unity with the unemployed workers requires a revolutionary program, which includes the vindication of the labor exchange controlled by the workers for the incorporations to the plant.
It is part of a more general conception, confronting unionism and corporativism typical of the bureaucratic leaderships that defend class conciliation. It was necessary to appeal to the best traditions of the working class. If private property is not questioned, we are tied hand and foot.
In the face of the bosses’ attack, take over the factories!
There will be repression: prepare the workers’ defense for our struggle!
We workers show our pay slips: let the bosses open their accounts so that everyone can see what they earn!
If there is a shortage and the bosses do not want to make them: occupation and start of production!
If the companies arrogate to themselves the right to decide on such an important industrial branch, that right must be taken away. If they do not produce what is needed, the State should take over the production and expropriate the plants without payment. The Argentine people cannot be held hostage by three business groups.
This program was absent
Finally, something fundamental. Every struggle requires the maximum democracy of the rank and file to debate every step, every measure. And for all the comrades to take on tasks, to become responsible for the daily leadership of the struggle. Even more so in a conflict of this importance. For that, it was necessary to organize everyone in struggle committees and commissions: solidarity search, self-defense, Strike Fund, including women and workers’ relatives, etc. And, above all, with daily resolution assemblies, where everyone has a say, where all opinions are heard, where a vote is taken. In this case, this did not happen. Workers democracy was not deepened.
The struggle was resolved in a general assembly that mandated the management to make all decisions. This method does not correspond to a leadership that claims to be class-conscious and militant. This has to be changed.
These failures not only weakened the fight, but prevented it from being used for what it should be: to educate the workers’ fighters in a school of rupture with the capitalist system and its state, in a school of war for the entire working class in its objective of advancing toward socialist revolution.
This time we succeeded in confronting the bosses’ attack. But it will not always be like this. In future struggles there will be the “bullets” Espert called for. There will be repression, attacks by union gangs, and there will be violence. The state will deploy all its weapons in the service of capitalism. We need to prepare for them as the bosses prepared for this one: every struggle will be a class war.