Layoffs in Argentine news agency reflect larger malaise

The dismissals come at a time when the government is imposing austerity measures that target the working class

July 03, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
354 employees of Telam were dismissed on the pretext of modernizing the company. Photo: Resumen Latinamericano

Last week, on June 26, Télam, the Argentine national news agency, dismissed 354 employees on the pretext of modernizing and professionalizing the company. This step, critics noted, was aimed at weakening public media and was the responsibility of Hernan Lombardi, the head of the Federal System of Media and Public Content [a government agency].

On June 29, the Electroingienería group, the current owner of Radio del Plata, fired 42 more journalists after firing 12 in May, arguing that it was the only possible solution to avoid the closure of the radio station.

The workers of Télam, in defence of their rights, called for a strike and decided to occupy the headquarters of the company. The workers of Radio del Plata have also been on strike since the day they were dismissed.

In an interview with Radio Gráfica, Carla Gaudensi, a representative of the workers of Télam, said, “They have fired workers who have worked more than 20 or 30 years for the agency.” She said that “the public media, to be plural, federal and represent all voices, must have enough workers, because otherwise, it ends up becoming a propaganda agency, which is what this management obviously wants.”

The concerns raised by her seemed especially relevant as a few days after the mass firings, the merger between Telecom Argentina and cable TV provider Cablevisión was approved. The merger was made possible by a change in policy instituted by the government of Argentine President Mauricio Macri that enabled the same company to  offer a variety of services in the field of communications and broadcasting. With the merger, the the Clarín Group, already the biggest media conglomerate in Argentina has gained even more power.

According to an article written by journalist Stella Calloni, this merger had led to the formation of a colossus in the Argentine business universe, with businesses ranging from the transmission of audiovisual content and data to mobile phones and landlines. The new company is estimated to have a market valuation of round 11 billion dollars, as estimated by La Nación newspaper, and as quoted by the analyst Federico Bernal in El Destape portal.

President Macri’s policies favouring the rich need to be seen in the context of the economic crisis in the country. Macri’s solution for this has been to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The state is acting as IMF’s puppet”, wrote Camil Straschnoy, a journalist recently. She noted that the deal with the IMF required that the state impose harsh austerity measures and look to reduce the fiscal deficit. The brunt of the cuts would be borne by those the government assumes are the weakest link: the workers. While the government continued to favor financial speculators and economic oligopolies, President Macri had decided to dismiss scientists, technicians and now, journalists working in different public sector bodies, she added.

It is also worth noting that the layoffs began just the day after one of the biggest strikes in the country in recent years. On June 25, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), a national trade union federation in Argentina, called for a general strike for 24 hours, which virtually paralyzed the country. Schools, transportation, banking and other services were completely shut down. The CGT called for the strike in protest against the government’s 50 billion dollar deal with the IMF and its decision to limit the increase in salaries to only 15%.

With the Macri government likely to continue such austerity policies in the coming days even as it paves the way for big corporates to grow richer, the need for workers to defend their jobs, the public sector and the country through actions such as the general strike has become all the more urgent.

Solidarity statements

Three media organizations: Resumen Latinoamericano, an independent media outlet; Documentalistas de Argentina (DOCA), a cinematic organization and Coordinadora de Televisoras Alternativas (CONTRA), a coordinating network of alternative TV channels, expressed their solidarity with the workers of Télam.

Resumen Latinoamericano, while condemning the “infamy by the state,” added that “mobilization and protest must be the essential tools to demand that the right-wing and despotic government revoke dismissals immediately. Only people will save the people!”