Trade unions under austerity: labour activism in the post-2015 automobile sector in Argentina

Thursday 25th March 2021 (13:00-14:00)
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With Adam Fishwick and Lucila D'Urso, De Montfort University.

This is an online seminar and all are welcome. Please contact for the link.

Part of the Economic Worlds Seminar Series.


After 2015, with the electoral victory of Mauricio Macri, Argentina experienced deep cuts in social spending, and attempts to impose a regressive – and deeply unpopular – labour reform. Wages stagnated as inflation has skyrocketed and the private sector – particularly domestic industrial production – entered a deep and sustained period of crisis.

In this paper, we examine how these effects of austerity in Argentina impacted the capacity of labour activists to organise and mobilise against these changes. Drawing on data from semi-structured interviews with trade union officials, union members and dissident current and former union activists, the paper analyses recent experiences of labour organising in the automotive sector. Workers in this sector are represented by powerful, well-organised trade unions (SMATA and UOM), which regained substantial political influence during the prior period of union ‘revitalisation’ and rapid state-supported growth, securing wage growth but worsening working conditions (Santella 2015). In recent years, however, collapsing domestic and international demand has seen production fall dramatically, with plant suspensions and closures increasingly becoming the norm.

Thus, the paper analyses the extent to which the ‘creativity’ of capitalism – exemplified by these combined crises – has been matched by the creativity of workers to contest and confront its deleterious effects (see Flesher Fominaya & Cox 2013; Fishwick and Connolly 2018; Nowak et al. 2018). In what ways did the changes to “labour and life” (Lazar 2017) stymie or revitalise organisation and mobilisation? How far did the existing organisational structures of the trade unions respond to these new conditions? And to what extent did union activists drive new dynamics of organising and demands that exceeded the bounds of the workplace?


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