Can Argentina’s Stubborn Poverty be Fixed?

Taken from The Globe Post on 21st May 2019.

Argentina is famous for its delicious steaks, full-bodied Malbecs, scintillating footballers, and seemingly untamable inflation. This last factor has led to stubbornly high poverty in a country blessed with bountiful natural wealth; from the vast and fertile pampas to the largest shale gas deposit in the world.

Defining and measuring poverty is always fraught with danger and controversy and is especially true in a country that has a history of cooking the books when it comes to official statistics. However, the Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA)’s Social Debt Observatory offers a more reliable, independent, and comprehensive data set than most.

Urban Poverty

Its latest figures suggest that urban poverty increased in 2018 to 31.3 percent (or 12.7 million Argentines), the highest figure UCA has ever reported since it started collecting data in 2010.

According to the report, 30 percent of urban households are marginalized in terms of labor rights, and 28 percent have no link to the welfare system as it exists in Argentina. In Greater Buenos Aires, where the majority of Argentines live, the poverty rate reaches an eye-watering 41.1 percent, with an extra 750,000 individuals falling into poverty in 2018 alone.

UCA uses a multi-dimensional system of indicators to measure urban poverty that, in essence, measures those (urban) Argentines who don’t have access to an adequate supply of food, health, housing, education, employment, and social security systems. According to this measure of poverty, Argentina has seen an increase from 29.9 percent in 2010 (when the series began) to the 31.3 percent reported for 2018.

Macri’s Economic Policies

Due to complex legacies of colonization and the subsequent nature of state-building in Latin America in the 19th century, Argentina has always experienced high levels of both poverty and inequality.

However, when the current President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015 poverty stood at 27 percent, which suggests a significant increase since he was elected. Marci has implemented a curious mix of continuity and change in policy, grounded in elements of “business-as-usual” with key anti-poverty policies and “shock therapy” in macro-economic policies.

For example, the key Universal Child Benefit (Asignación Universal por Hijo or AUH), a targeted program for children of the previous regime under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was maintained by the more-neoliberal Macri, with social expenditure in general frozen in current terms. This suggests that increases in poverty under his watch have come from areas other than cutting back on welfare – which is the normal culprit of these kinds of increases under right-wing regimes.

Inflation and IMF Loan

Instead, we must look to the areas of policy that have seen radical change under Macri. Rationalization of Argentina’s exchange rate, combined with fiscal consolidation through the removal of key subsidies in energy and transport, has led to rampant inflation, with prices 50 percent higher in February 2018 than they were a year earlier. This is despite a fast-shrinking economy: GDP contracted by more than 6 percent year-on-year in the final quarter of 2018.

Argentinian holding up the Argentina Peso, the country's currency
Argentina hikes interest rates to 60 percent – the world’s highest – as the country’s currency goes into freefall. Photo: Leo la Valle, AFP

The economic situation got so bad by mid-2018 that Macri and Argentina went to the IMF for a US$57 billion Stand-By Agreement, with an accelerated timetable of disbursements. This was particularly poignant for a country that paid all its outstanding IMF debt early under a previous regime in 2005, effectively expelling the IMF after it had received widespread criticism from within the country for precipitating a financial collapse in December 2001. The return of the IMF to Argentina has not been a popular move among Argentines.

Argentina’s Uncertain Future

These changing macro-economic indicators led to significant increases in income poverty, which has been responsible for the increases witnessed in the UCA’s poverty data set. This income poverty has crystallized due to lower wages, as they have not kept up with inflation; loss of employment, as a number of key employment policies have been either scaled back or canceled; and greater job insecurity as a result of the above inflationary and economic stagnation context.

In other words, the general retreat of the state under the Macri administration has left behind significant segments of society that have not benefited from the limited policies of monetary assistance, who instead require effective economic, social, and human development policies anathema to the political economy of neoliberalism and Macri.

The future is far from certain. With a presidential election this year, even Macri himself says he will win by 52-48, a wafer-thin margin. Senior members of his administration suggest Argentina will return to growth in the first half of 2019, and current macro-economic policies suggest inflation should start to come down as well.

However, in the continuing absence of significant human development policies, whether normal Argentines will feel the benefit of this remains as unclear as Macri’s re-election prospects.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.

Christopher Wylde

Christopher Wylde

Programme Director for Politics and International Relations, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, England

Argentina’s March to Legalise Abortion: Documentary Video

On Thursday 9th August, Argentina’s Senate rejected the Involuntary Termination of Pregnancy Bill that sought to legalise abortion having already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, amid a wide controversy that has divided the country for months.

 

On Wednesday 8 August pro- and anti-abortion activists marched in Buenos Aires. We interviewed people at both marches and produced this short film.

 

Video and interviews filmed on 8 August by Dr Dan Ozarow (Co-Chair, Argentina Research Network and Senior Lecturer, Middlesex University).

 

A collaboration between Action for Argentina (AfA) and Alborada

 

For further information on the latest situation, this article by Dr Marcela Lopez Levy is a useful source:

https://lab.org.uk/senators-new-clothes/

 

Not One Less: One month ago, women in Argentina walked off work to demand an end to violence, fair pay, and full reproductive rights.

Author: Luciana Zorzoli

Full article published in Jacobin on 19th November 2016 can be read here

ni-una-menos-logoOne month ago, heavy rain drenched all of Argentina. But the weather didn’t deter hundreds of thousands of women, all dressed in black, who marched in a general strike against patriarchal violence.

“We strike,” their organizers said at the march’s end. “We, housewives, workers in the formal and informal economy, the teachers, the cooperativistas, the academics, the laborers, the unemployed, the journalists, the activists, the artists, the mothers and daughters, the maids . . . we are women, trans people, lesbians.”

The national one-hour industrial action, followed by a massive street protest, was called in response to rising violence against women. Using the hashtags #niunamenos, #paronacionaldemujeres, and #vivasnosqueremos — “not one less,” “women’s general strike,” “we want us alive” — it was planned in less than six days in response to the brutal murder of Lucía Pérez, a teenager who was drugged, raped, and tortured before being killed in the coastal city of Mar del Plata.

But the strike also put a broader set of demands on the country’s agenda, and its echoes are now visible across Latin America. It participates in the new Purple Tide — so named because feminist groups identify with that color — a movement attempting to address capitalist patriarchy.

In the last month alone, twenty-three women have been murdered in Argentina, demonstrating an obvious uptick in gendered violence. But the movement wants to address the issue beyond the narrow limits of law enforcement. The first mass action against gender-related crimes took place in June 2015 where organizers put forward a list of demands to the state and citizens designed to confront patriarchy at all levels.

Argentina has a long history of feminist activism. This new upsurge stems primarily from the Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres, held yearly since 1986 in rotating cities and organized by self-organized working groups. New initiatives emerged from these meetings, including the national campaign to legalize abortion that started in 2003.

The campaign includes more than 350 organizations fighting for legal, safe, and free abortion in public hospitals — an essential demand in a country where a woman dies every two days from illegally administered abortions. Political parties and Congress still refuse to debate the issue.

What’s more, the movement denounces President Mauricio Macri’s austerity-oriented government and the sexism embedded in the labor market and the state. Argentina’s political and judicial system subordinates women’s issues under its male-dominated leadership. The “Purple Tide,” s0 called because of the color the protesters are donning in the streets, wants to dismantle the way social and state agendas are built, calling for remedies that address issues beyond gendered violence.

A little-discussed aspect of these marches, for example, is that participants are making many work-related demands. Argentinian women — like women everywhere — have higher rates of unemployment and informal employment and take on 76 percent of unpaid domestic work. According to the country’s official employment numbers, women work, on average, two hours more per week while earning 27 percent less than men.

The strike’s demands included higher and equal salaries, an end to precarious and informal labor, longer parental leaves that include fathers, workplace nurseries, and effective prosecution in cases of workplace abuse, violence, and discrimination.

The organizers presented their demands to the government, but also see Argentina’s official labor movement as a problem. Right now, union leadership is trying to suppress protests against the new government and backing the Supreme Court’s decision to only allow unions with state recognition to call strikes. This rule not only takes stop-work actions away from nonunionized and outsourced workers — of which women are the vast majority — but also requires workers to seek their union leadership’s approval before acting, diminishing rank-and-file power.

The court decision, made in June, would make workplace walkouts — which have a long tradition in the country — all but illegal. The political motivation came from the independent industrial actions that have risen against the growing number of layoffs following Macri’s election.

As a result of the ruling, the Ministry of Labor has encouraged prosecuting left and independent union leaders while establishing a “dialogue table” with the all-male leadership of the General Confederation of Labor (GCL) — the principal trade union federation in Argentina. The group would also solicit guidance from the Catholic hierarchy strengthening patriarchal conservatism in the state and labor movement.

The Purple Tide is fighting against the country’s rising misogyny and austerity. The women who participated in the one-day strike have challenged the trade unions’ monopoly over strike tactics, male control of leadership, and the labor movement’s male-dominated agenda. Hopefully, October 19 is just the beginning.

Luciana Zorzoli holds a PhD in social science from the University of Buenos Aires and is a CONICET postdoctoral fellow at the Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales (IdIHCS, Argentina) focusing on trade union structures in the Southern Cone. Currently she is a Fulbright visiting scholar at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University.

Lessons from Argentina for Europe’s newly-impoverished middle class

Author: Daniel Ozarow: Visiting Researcher at the Social Debt Observatory, Catholic University of Argentina and Senior Lecturer, Middlesex University, London

 

conversationSummary: Describes some of the pitfalls that Argentina’s unemployed professionals, medium-to-highly skilled workers, small business owners and impoverished middle class have faced when seeking reintegration into the labour market, creating business opportunities or simply surviving following the 2001 economic crisis. Last month, an Institute of Fiscal Studies report warned: “Middle income families are the ‘new poor’” in the UK. Here and in Europe, austerity is squeezing such households and also pushing millions to the brink of poverty or joblessness for the first time in their lives. The potential proletarianisation of a significant part of the middle class is a social problem that requires urgent attention because neither the state, NGOs or job centres are suitably equipped to deal with the sensitivities and nuances of supporting such citizens. Insights are provided from Argentina and lessons offered for those in Europe experiencing similar fates since the 2008 financial crisis.

 

Read full article from The Conversation here:

 

Sobre llovido, fallado – Pagina 12 Article on Supreme Court limiting the right of workers to strike independently

Author: Luciana Zorzoli, CONICET Fellow in the IdIHCS (National University of La Plata).

 

Luciana

Last week Argentina’s Supreme Court limited the right of workers to strike independently, establishing that only unions with state recognition are authorised to call industrial action. The decision sparked a wide range of reactions and comments in a country in which workplace strikes have a long tradition. Many denounced that the Court decision was politically motivated to stop industrial actions against the growing number of layoffs since Mauricio Macri became President. Non-registered and outsourced workers will be worst affected by the ruling as well as any protest that is spontaneously organised by workers.

 

Read the full article from Pagina 12 (in Spanish) here:

http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-301709-2016-06-14.html

 

Luciana Zorzoli, a member of the ARN, who wrote the piece for Pagina/12 on the Supreme Court resolution arguing that the decision is consistent with what is called the “Argentinian trade union model”, something which she recalls acts as armour for traditional Peronist unions and their leaders.

Argentina lurches rightwards but progressive policy gains will endure

Macri article imageThe most enduring legacy of Kirchnerism is that it has left President Macri partially tied to its ideological straightjacket. Social pressure will prevent him from neoliberal temptations.

Read full article in Open Democracy in English:

Read full article in Democracia Abierta In Spanish:

Last tango in Athens? – Greek default, corralito and Argentina

Last tango in Athens?Greece Argentina flag

DANIEL OZAROW, 30 June 2015, Open Democracy

Doom merchants predict social catastrophe for Greece. But when Argentina defaulted in 2001,  the people – not the banks –  rallied to the rescue.

Read full article here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/daniel-ozarow/last-tango-in-athens

A Spanish version is available here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/daniel-ozarow/%C2%BF%C3%BAltimo-tango-en-atenas

Latest on Argentina’s “Debt default” and Confrontation with the Vulture Funds

Fondos Buitres

Dr Daniel Ozarow, Co-Convenor of the Argentina Research Network describes some of the recent developments in Argentina’s struggle with the vulture funds in his Al Jazeera article. You can also watch a recent talk he gave entitled “Argentina Confronts the Vulture Funds”, given at the Latin America 2014 Adelante Conference in London on 29th November 2014 here.

Where Vultures Dare

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/201382871453651736.html

“Vulture funds” seeking payment from Argentina have won a major court victory, setting a dangerous precedent.

By Dan Ozarow and Cara Levey (ARN)

Chronicle of a referendum foretold: What next for the Malvinas/Falklands?

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/201331716263973173.html

The latest referendum shows that posturing alone won’t end the dispute between Argentina and the British.

By Cara Levey and Dan Ozarow