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New Left Review I/71, January-February 1972


James Petras

Building a Popular Army in Argentina

In June 1966 General Juan Carlos Onganía seized supreme power in Argentina. During the inaugural ceremony Cardinal Caggiano gave his blessing to the military dictator. In the subsequent months General Onganía proceeded to send the troops into the universities purging all leftist, progressive and/or reformist professors. Though Onganía came to power with the tacit support of a substantial sector of the national Peronist trade union bureaucracy, he proceeded violently to repress strikes, intervene unions and jail or fire thousands of trade union militants. Strikes by petroleum, railroad, and port workers were smashed. Government-subsidized functionaries took over the unions. [1] These political gangsters, in many cases, were trained at the us-cia-afl-aid financed American Institute of Free Labour Development in Costa Rica. Among the sponsors are George Meaney and a number of corporate executives. The professors included some of the most reactionary and intellectually dishonest individuals in ‘Latin American Studies’. Many trade union officials were cowed: the government threatened to seize and take over their substantial real estate holdings and bank accounts. The Secretary-General of the General Confederation of Labour (cgt), Augusto Vandor, and his ‘rival’ Jose Alonso, announced several plans of struggle (plan de lucha), but each time they reached last minute covert agreements with the Government to call off general strikes—without meeting any of the demands of the working class. With the officials of the major trade unions actively collaborating with the military dictatorship and with the rank and file trade union militants hounded by employers and police, the factory owners and the government were able to freeze wages but not profits or prices. us corporations and especially banks moved into Argentine en masse: scores of banks and large industries were ‘de-nationalized’ while ‘unprofitable’ enterprises like the sugar mills of Tucuman were abruptly closed down without compensation or consideration for the thousands of sugar workers thrown out of work. Even their meagre subsistence earnings were lost by the Tucumanos.

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