Social Movements in the Face of Milei’s Government

Javier Milei’s government in Argentina is the latest attempt of the global right to exert its power. But it can be stopped

Opinion Article by Cecilia and Darío from Bloque Latinoamericano Berlin

The world has paid close attention to the first months of Javier Milei’s government in Argentina. At one level, Milei is part of a new generation of ultra-right leaders along with Trump in the US, Meloni in Italy, Bukele in El Salvador and Bolsonaro in Brazil, among others. At the same time, he constitutes an extreme example, going a little further and potentially extending the boundaries of possibility for the international Right. In earlier articles on this site we analysed the measures Milei’s government has applied, or tried to apply, in its first weeks, and the economic impacts, such as hyperinflation or austerity policies, deepening the social and economic crisis in Argentina. We also described how distinct political sectors are positioning themselves in relation to these measures, and the nature of political resistance.

In this article we focus on social movements—key factors in Argentinian politics for over 20 years—during these first months under Milei. We speak with comrades who build resistance every day through the Front of Organisations in Struggle (FOL) to understand their perspectives and experiences.

Milei: violent with the poor, submissive before corporations

In his drive to ensure that everything should be determined by the market, Milei is not only trying to destroy or defund all areas of the state linked to social and labour policies, but also to break up another of the fundamental support structures for working people’s lives: social movements.

“Milei’s policy towards social movements is one of total confrontation with the objective of destroying them. His principle argument is that the movements are intermediaries or ‘CEOs’ of poverty, which themselves benefit from the misery of our people. This argument is intended to hide the fact that it’s these movements which give practical responses to the social necessities for supporting working people over the past two decades,” says an FOL comrade.

Arising during the profound crisis of 2001, the movements have since taken a central role in working class districts across the whole country. This role goes far beyond offering access to basic rights such as food, education, healthcare and work. The presence of the movements plays a part in community cohesion through solidarity and social support.

Through defunding, intimidation, persecution and media vilification, Milei clearly has a systematic plan against social organisations and working-class politics. Some examples of this include:

  • The protocol drawn up by the Ministry of Security to prevent street mobilisations; permitting, among other things, that repressive forces act without the authorisation from a judge
  • Ending all food provisions for almost 40,000 communal workers’ dining halls across the whole country which feed more than 4 million people every day, the great majority children
  • Defunding the urban integration social fund, responsible for improving the quality of life in the poorest districts by introducing basic services such as running water and sewers
  • A media campaign to discredit those who receive and manage social plans
  • Closure of the biggest social security and labour programme, “Enhancing Work”, which bolstered the incomes of 1,400,000 people

So why does Milei show such malice against popular organisations? An obvious reason is that, from his perspective, they represent a distortion of the free play of supply and demand, which according to neoliberal theory is the best possible way to allocate resources. But there are reasons to believe that his motivation goes beyond this, and is aimed at destroying collective forms of life and resistance.

It was the social movements and organisations on the Left which orchestrated the first mobilisation against the Milei government’s policies and forced the abandonment of Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich’s indiscriminate repression policy. Social movements also played a key role during Macri’s government, successfully mobilising against policies such as reform of the pension system or cuts in public spending on social services, which would have severely impacted the most vulnerable social groups.

Milei’s political objective is to “reset” community networks in Argentina, sweeping away a consensus established decades ago on the roles played by the state and social movements to guarantee rights  for society’s most marginalised.

“The government knows that the popular movements can lead resistance to it, and therefore it aims to break us up and eliminate us as actors in the territory,” say FOL comrades. “This will leave fertile ground for the advance of narco-trafficking, as has happened more in other Latin American countries than in Argentina, where the narcos establish themselves forcefully in working-class districts as a group that can give some sort of response to the urgent necessities of social assistance.”

“For a world where we are socially equal, humanly different, and totally free”: the FOL as an example

With the aim of giving a concrete and tangible form to the discussion around social movements, we spoke with FOL comrades about the work they have been doing for more than 15 years, and how they are responding to the current situation.

The FOL was founded in 2006 by activists in Greater Buenos Aires in the course of the struggle against unemployment and poverty. In this sense it forms part of the wider “picket movement”, the name given to a new type of movement which arose from unemployed workers’ organisations and adopted a new method—the blocking of roads, or “picketing”. Over the years the FOL defined itself as a movement which undertakes complex territorial work—this means taking on the problems of working class districts, in different spheres of life: housing, work, gender, children, education, environment and more.

This work enables the construction of popular power from below in a struggle for the delivery of concrete necessities in the here and now, and at the same time the construction of “a world where we are socially equal, humanly different and totally free”. This quote from Rosa Luxemburg, which the FOL adopted as its slogan, is more relevant than ever, as the idea of freedom is being appropriated by the right.

The construction of popular power is illustrated in FOL’s framework in different ways, for example:

  • Different initiatives promoting self-managed work, which allows those participating not only to create their own sources of work but also to take ownership of its value, as is the case with construction squads formed by women, in textile production groups, or in the production and distribution of agro-ecological products.
  • The Picket University is a space of popular education for the social movements, in which comrades from across the country collectively develop the different types of knowledge necessary for social transformation
  • The People’s Gardens, student support initiatives and the “popular baccalaureate” guarantee access to education
  • The improvement of working-class districts, recycling initiatives and the cleanup of contaminated streams guarantee access to a sustainable environment
  • Embodiment of the struggle against patriarchy by supporting those affected by gender-based violence and through the establishment of women’s assemblies

In order to measure up to the current situation, the FOL proposes reinforcing its presence across the country with specific tools needed to deliver necessities. It has also decided on, as its central guideline, “a policy of unity across the whole spectrum of social movements, including with those with whom we’ve had differences in the past, in order to form a united front against government attacks” an FOL comrade says.

Confronting Milei is an international task

As stated at the above, Milei is today one of the most extreme expressions of the global Right. Whatever he manages to achieve in Argentina will be incorporated into a playbook of extremist and repressive neoliberalism internationally. The support of institutional and ideological allies at the international level, such as the investment fund Blackrock, Elon Musk, or the International Monetary Fund, indicate that this battle is not only critical for Argentina but also for the centres of global power.

Argentina has been characterised historically through its extensive social organising and a high level of trade union membership relative to international statistics. This has enabled working people, even in situations of poverty, to retain access to acquired rights and to defend their community forms of living. “We believe”, say FOL comrades “that big capital intends, through these ultra-neoliberal, fascist and conservative governments to change the rules of the game, showing the world that it’s possible to smash the working class anywhere, even in Argentina. This is something that we cannot allow.”

It is critical to understand the new Right’s project through a global lens that shows the importance of spreading information on the resistance to Milei’s government throughout the Left at local, regional and international levels. Opposition to Bolsonaro in Brazil and in the region is an example of how this is possible, as the slogan “Not him” echoed around the world as the actions of his government were internationally scrutinised.

How can an internationalist resistance to Milei in Argentina be constructed? Ideas include:

  • Exposing, via social networks and media coverage, the social impact of Milei’s policies; above all, the concrete experiences of organisation and self-governance of the social movements which are under threat can increase the political cost to the government should it proceed with these measures
  • Constructing a wide network of civilian organisations in different parts of the world could enable the denunciation of violations of human rights (such as the removal of food from dining halls, or of medicines from people with terminal illnesses) and help protect the physical and legal safety of social movement participants
  • Mobilising financial resources can help ensure the continuity of structures which guarantee access to basic necessities for the most vulnerable sectors, as state financial support is abruptly removed
  • Constructing spaces of interaction between Latin American and European Lefts, in a horizontal, non-paternalistic form, is key in securing mutual support for local centres of resistance against the attacks of the global Right. 

This article originally appeared in Spanish on the Bloque Latinoamericano Website. Translation: Ian Perry. Reproduced with permission.