Analysis. For all the 15,000 or so public employees mercilessly fired by one of President Javier Milei's anti-deficit decrees, the government's only response has been a massive deployment of security forces.

Argentina fired state employees en masse, with the police

Many only learned they had lost their jobs when they went to the office after the Easter vacations and were barred from entering. Others had already received notice of their dismissal over the holidays, by telegram or e-mail, but went to work anyway at the urging of ATE, the state employees’ union.

“We will return to our workplaces, not only because they are the source of our livelihood but also because we are facing a disintegration of rights never seen in the history of our country,” ATE wrote in a press release.

For all the 15,000 or so public employees mercilessly fired by one of President Javier Milei’s anti-deficit decrees, the government’s only response has been a massive deployment of security forces to guard most state agencies, aimed at preventing (albeit in vain) acts of protest and assemblies at the workplace.

15,000 state employees are to be fired, as stipulated in one of the Milei government’s anti-deficit decrees. The procedure for ousting them while avoiding protests is particularly brutal.

The most serious, symbolically disruptive episode occurred in a place where no one would have imagined it could happen a year ago: at the former ESMA, the Argentine Navy officers’ training school in Buenos Aires that became the most infamous clandestine center of detention, torture and extermination during the military dictatorship, and then, on March 24, 2004, was transformed by then-President Néstor Kirchner into the place of remembrance par excellence as well as the headquarters of a variety of public institutions, human rights organizations and civil society associations, from the Mothers and Grandmothers of May Square to the Hijos Association, the National Archives of Memory and the nation’s Human Rights Secretariat.

It was in front of that museum-building, proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in September 2023 – and whose official name is now “Space for Memory and for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights” – that the armed federal police lined up for the first time, menacingly, equipped with riot shields, determined to intimidate the laid-off workers who were protesting or crying. “What have you come to do, scare us?” protested Human Rights Secretariat chief Alberto Baños. “We are not criminals. The criminals were those who committed crimes in this very place, also wearing a uniform.”

Milei would like to fire a total of 70,000 state employees. Those who remained have had their contracts renewed for only three months.

All those fired were “unnecessary personnel,” according to presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni. Nevertheless, the workers protested that “what we do cannot be interrupted”: a whole series of indispensable activities, related to trials for crimes against humanity, assisting victims of human rights violations, safeguarding spaces of memory throughout the country, and assisting victims of family and sexual violence.

The same acts of intimidation have been seen everywhere, from the Ministry of Human Capital – where 1,200 have lost their jobs – to the former Ministries of Education and Justice (where 500 have been laid off), the Secretariat of Agriculture and the National Weather Service, which has lost 54 employees, as the body’s spokesman Lucas Berengua reported, the country’s youngest meteorologist and also a victim of the cuts. At the headquarters of the National Institute Against Discrimination (INADI), the police engaged in a violent raid to prevent workers from holding an assembly. For several hours, there were more members of the security forces in the corridors and ministry offices than workers. “There is no money to buy food, there is no money to buy medicine, but there’s plenty of money to conduct repression,” denounced ATE General Secretary Rodolfo Aguiar.

In this new wave of layoffs, justified by Adorni with the need to “reduce costs,” the chainsaw came down most of all on precarious workers, but not even those who had a permanent contract were spared, nor were employees in protected categories, such as cancer patients or people with disabilities. In the government’s parlance, all of them are reduced to members of “the caste.”

This is Argentina in the Milei era, and everything indicates that this is only a foretaste of things to come. Because even those public employees who kept their jobs have had their contracts extended by just three months. Given Milei’s expressed wish for 70,000 layoffs, there is little hope that come June the nightmare will not be repeated for another 50,000 state workers, who will live the next 90 days with this sword of Damocles hanging above their heads.

Obviously, this is unless someone manages to stop the president, against whom the UPCN (Unión del Personal Civil de la Nación – National Union of Civil Personnel) has already announced a class action: “Through these arbitrary and discriminatory acts, the rights enshrined in Article 14a of the Constitution, according to which public employees are subject to preferential protection, with the guarantee of employment stability, are being violated,” said Secretary General Andrés Rodríguez.

At the moment, the response by state workers has been to call for a united strike on Friday, with a mobilization in front of the Ministry of Economy. But it is clear that quite other forms of struggle seem to be needed in the country if it doesn’t want to be cut to pieces by Milei’s chainsaw.

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