Spotlight on Alejandro Delssin and Carlos Lozantos (CTA-Argentina)

“There should be no barriers for workers”

Alejandro Delssin, coordinator of the “Migration” department of the “Central de los Trabajadores Argentinos” (CTA) and Carlos Lozantos, a colleague in the same department, call for a strengthening of crossborder trade union cooperation. They welcome the joint approach to migration policy of the affiliates of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA).

Can you tell us about the CTA’s interest in migration?

Alejandro Delssin – Migrants are a priority for the CTA though we do not view them as an isolated group in society. Migrant workers are workers like any others. The only distinction we make is that we have different nationalities. We are aware that migrant workers are exploited and suffer discrimination, however that is part of the capitalist approach, which accepts the right wing’s broad definition of migrants as “illegal”. The term “illegal” has strong criminal connotations. For us they are simply people employed in a country without official papers.
That is why there is a battle to fight, because when workers are in illegal situations they can be exploited by people playing on their fear of denunciation. That makes the workers totally insecure and exploiting undocumented migrants owing to their fear of deportation is a cruel practice, though it’s one that you find all over the world, not just in Argentina.

Everywhere else in the world there are serious problems of discrimination against foreign workers – what is the situation like in Argentina?

Alejandro – Although there are immigrants in Argentina there is no deep sense of discrimination as our history is based on immigration. Our culture is a melting pot for various waves of immigration. That said, there has been some discrimination at certain periods. In the 1980s, with the arrival of neo-liberalism, the situation of immigrants was abused as people made larger profits by cutting wages.

What measures has the CTA taken?

Alejandro – Firstly we held an information workshop aimed at getting some statistics and a clearer picture about emigration generally. We worked closely with social and regional organisations and those dealing with emigration issues.
We are currently working on emigration issues in Paraguay, with the Paraguayan trade union centres. As we see it, every union centre in every country needs to have a common agenda. We are working out a list of issues to be addressed, such as the laws and legal provisions on emigration in each country, as these matters need urgent attention.

You moved from a law criminalising emigrants to some more progressive new legislation. What problems does the new law raise, however?

Alejandro – There are many bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that do not make it easy for emigrants to settle in Argentina. As they have to pay taxes, they have to ask their home countries for certain information, and that is an area where there is room for improvement. We in the CTA and everyone we talked to all agree on one point: capital can move quickly from one country to another as there are no barriers to its movement on our continent. It is not the same for workers as there is no freedom of movement between countries and it can be particularly difficult in some.

How many emigrants are there and how many are in irregular situations – what are the statistics?

Carlos Lozantos – There are no statistics or official information on this. We are trying to coordinate all these issues and consider the matter of legalising undocumented people and checking the number of emigrants in the country. The aim is to pass on the information that there is an organisation called the CTA that can help them legalise their situation so that they can live in the country and do a job like any citizen.

Alejandro – Carlos is a valuable colleague, given his past life and activism in Paraguay coupled with his experience in Argentina of cooperating with the Paraguayan confederations. Our own centre in Argentina cannot provide any protection or assistance to foreign colleagues if the confederation in their home county does not cooperate. If we are to analyse the legal situation in each country in terms of the law, the employment law and the customs and border formalities, we need to build some compatibility. That is the aim of the CTA. Natural geographical borders are a reality, of course, but there should be no barriers for workers.
Carlos – I would go further: we shouldn’t just be looking at employment but also focusing on social protection, so that an emigrant, for instance from Paraguay, can receive a pension in Argentina. We need to aim for much more than just help at work and include medical and pension coverage.

Alejandro – We are currently working with the Argentinian institution dealing with pensions and social security benefits, the ANSES. That is a government body that has signed bilateral agreements covering such matters, mainly with Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay. Let’s take the case of a migrant worker who made social security contributions for years in Paraguay and has come to work in Argentina, where he adds some more years of payments. He should be able to combine the years of contributions in Paraguay and Argentina. It is vital to solve this problem, by finding out the number of years of payments made in the home country and adding them to those made in Argentina, thus giving the worker his entitlement to a pension. That is another issue for MERCOSUR, since the same legislation should be provided on social protection so that workers can move freely and add up all their years of contributions in the countries in which they have worked.

What about emigrants at the workplace – what pressures are there within companies for instance?

Alejandro – The big companies that exploit migrant workers have no interest in legalising their situation. And they are even less keen for them to join trade unions. In most companies, not all admittedly, this is a sensitive, taboo subject. We had a case in the capital concerning the infamous secret textile sweatshops that mainly employ Bolivian and Peruvian workers provided by human trafficking networks. The workers are locked into a room and made to work for 24 hours for 2 pesos.

It’s a big challenge for a union centre to reach such workers – what are you doing in fact?

Carlos – At the moment the method we are using is straightforward denunciation. The confederation is also working on ways of discovering these illegal workplaces and reporting them to the authorities. But then the legal system needs to intervene. The union centre acts as an informant but then we need policies for integrating these workers in a legal framework.

And what are you doing in connection with the Patria Grande programme?

Alejandro – As a union centre our task is to work with migrants and, in certain cases, to support good practical measures taken by the current government on immigration. But we also have to look at what else needs to be done. The government took a good initiative by legalising undocumented workers through the Patria Grande programme. As a union centre we now have to keep negotiating more, because it is vital that the union movement is involved in these discussions as representatives of working people and we will continue to work in this area, consolidating what has been achieved and contributing to the additional policies that will be needed.

In Latin America as a whole, how do think relations are between the union centres and migrants?

Alejandro – To put it in the simplest terms, emigrants never leave their countries because they want to. It is the social and economic situation in a country that makes people look for a better future elsewhere. We are continually repeating the need to guarantee people’s right not to emigrate, and totally agree with TUCA on that. The Americas region is working well in this area and there is continuous coordination going on. We need to make the most of this situation as all the union centres have the same approach. Earlier, each union centre looked first at their own political situation but that is no longer the case nowadays. There is a coming together of trade unions and their ideologies as we all know what the main problems are and how to address them. We should make the most of this historic moment for the trade union movement, on our own continent at least.

Interview by Alexandre Praça

- Please also read the interview with Antonio Jara and Mauro Posada (CGT-RA – Argentina): ”Fighting for everyone’s right not to have to emigrate”.

- Please also read the report on migrants in Argentina and the trade union policies aimed at addressing their needs entitled « El Pais Migrante » (only available in Spanish), published by the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA).