Skip to main content

Unions in Argentina denounce ‘Gestapo’ threats

Footage has emerged of a meeting where the former minister of labour for Buenos Aires province states he’d like a secret police to finish off the trade unions once and for all. BERT SCHOUWENBURG reports

THE Argentinian trade union for construction workers, UOCRA, has made a formal complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to denounce attacks on their freedom of association in violation of ILO conventions 87 and 98 during the government of right-wing president Mauricio Macri who was voted out of office in 2019. 

The complaint was prompted by the appearance of a leaked video of a meeting in 2017 in which the then minister of labour for the key province of Buenos Aires, Marcelo Villegas, stated that if he could have a “Gestapo” to finish off the trade unions once and for all, he would go ahead and do it. 

UOCRA’s stance has been backed by its national confederation, the CGT, which has asked to be included as a complainant.

An extensive document presented by UOCRA general secretary Gerardo Martinez explained that the essence of the complaint was to highlight a series of measures directed against the trade unions by the Macri administration. 

Details were given of a clear strategy to criminalise protest and spread fear among the population during the brutal repression of demonstrations against the effects of an economic crisis and soaring inflation brought about by his government’s disastrous policies. 

The videoed meeting took place at the offices of the Bapro bank, in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata, a venue that was often used by local government officials to discuss sensitive issues. 

Present at the meeting were the mayor of the city, several prominent business figures and, most intriguingly, representatives from the Argentinian intelligence service, the AFI. 

Villegas invited those present to concoct legal cases against unions in the construction sector and against public service workers in yet one more example of the “lawfare” that has become the method of choice for Latin American elites who want to discredit their left-wing opponents. 

Three days before the meeting, president Macri had publicly railed against labour lawyers, describing them as “mafias” who had done a lot of damage to Argentina.

The appearance of the video prompted Roberto Baradel, the general secretary of Buenos Aires’s education union, SUTEBA, to ask if he could be added to the complaint. 

He said that his union was the victim of sustained attacks and illegal espionage and that he and his family had received numerous threats once Macri was elected in 2016 and Maria Eugenia Vidal became the governor of the province. 

One of his daughters was sent an anonymous email effectively telling her that she and her brothers were dead meat. 

In a clear act of provocation, their photographs were shown on television by hostile journalist, Eduardo Feinmann. 

In 2017, the government unconstitutionally suspended teachers’ national pay negotiations and Baradel received more threats. 

Vidal sent police into the schools to intimidate striking union members and a protest camp outside the national congress building was violently removed. 

She then contacted teachers, inviting them to disaffiliate from SUTEBA and when pay talks resumed in 2018, Baradel was issued with other threats, saying that he would be put in prison. 

And in a chilling reminder of what used to happen to leftist “subversives” during the dictatorship of 1976 to 1983, he was told that he would be shot in the street and people would think he was just another victim of the climate of insecurity.

President Alberto Fernandez has ordered an inquiry into the “Gestapo” meeting but Vidal, now a deputy in the national parliament, has had little to say apart from complaining about the video being leaked. 

What the affair has demonstrated is that members of the Argentinian Establishment have little or no regard for the legitimate activities of trade unions in representing their members and will go to any lengths to discredit them, regardless of the republic’s longstanding ratification of ILO conventions guaranteeing their right to do so.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 16,988
We need:£ 1.012
11 Days remaining
Donate today