The stability of the great union leaders in Argentina contrasts with the palace problems of the country’s political leadership. One of the eternal trade unionists, Armando Cavalieri, 86, began to pave the way this Friday for his tenth consecutive term as general secretary of the Trade Employees Union, the largest in the country, with more than a million members. If successful, he would serve 40 years in office. He is disputed by an old acquaintance, Ramón Muerza, who already faced him in 2018 and lost by a handful of votes amid accusations of fraud. The election is scheduled for September, but Cavalieri starts with a big advantage after retaining control of the electoral board today.
With a huge security operation, similar to that of a football game, nearly 8,000 members gathered in the North Park of Buenos Aires to vote for the five representatives who will watch over the election of their general secretary. On one side were Cavalieri’s supporters; on the other, those of Muerza. Among them, fences and police.
Both did their best to summon the maximum possible number of supporters because they knew that whoever gains control of the electoral board has an easier time winning in the event that the result is tight and there are suspicions of fraud. Muerza couldn’t stop Cavaliere. The veteran leader, winner of this battle, expressed his satisfaction to the media present: “It was a great democratic meeting where more than 8,000 members participated, 6,000 from the Blue list [la que responde a Cavalieri] and about 2,000 from the Garnet list [de Muerza]”
Rejection of the opposition
Cavalieri’s opponents cast doubt on the voting process. Muerza denounced that security guards who answer to the head of the union put obstacles for many members to enter the place. Cavalieri met with [Mauricio] Macri because he wants to cheat again,” Muerza warned. This candidate, who made a union career in Coto supermarkets, reiterated that the 2018 election was not transparent.
Cavalieri has been in office since 1985 and from there, throughout these four decades, he has seen eleven presidents of Argentina pass by. As part of the fat onesas the powerful Peronist trade unionists are known in Argentina, has sat down to negotiate with all the heads of state who have governed long enough and intends to do so with the winner of the 2023 presidential elections.
Argentina’s unionization rate – almost 28%, according to the International Labor Organization – is much higher than that of Chile (17.1%), more than double that of Brazil (13%) and is still far from that of other large countries in the region such as Colombia (4.7%).
Much of the power of the Argentine unions comes from the wealth they have accumulated by controlling their own health system on which more than 15 million Argentines depend. No government wants to have them against them and they negotiate funds for social projects and salary increases with everyone in exchange for social peace. Commerce, being the largest union, is also the one with one of the largest savings banks.
The social work system allows millions of Argentines to access medical services, but at the same time it is the source of numerous corruption and allegations of illicit enrichment of the main trade unionists, including Cavalieri.
In the seventies, the Trade Employees Union expelled him for a complaint of fraud in a housing plan, but he managed to return and accumulated more and more power until he reached the general secretary. In the 1990s, Cavalieri was prosecuted for threatening a journalist who was investigating his large estate. The most recent accusation is from 2018: he was charged with the alleged crime of “fraudulent administration” of 50 million pesos (about 2.5 million dollars at the value of that time) in the union’s social work, Osecac.
Judicial complaints and public accusations have not made a dent in him: at 86, he is preparing to be re-elected again.
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