My last article on the Colón was published on December 7, 2010, and it had an ominous title: "The Colón war is on". Now an agreement with the labor union SUTECBA was presented by General Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi as a happy occasion that will assure the Colón´s activities during 2011. I disagree, and these paragraphs will explain why. But before going on to those arguments, some information concerning points raised in my mentioned article seems useful.
a) I mentioned sanctions against seven people; now many others have been similarly sanctioned, and in one particular case, that of José Piazza, who had obtained a judicial sentence annulling it, not only this was disregarded but he got an extra 30 days of suspension!
b) García Caffi had accepted the nomination of Máximo Parpagnoli to the often postponed election of the employees´ Director (according to the Autarchy Law there must be five directors, four named by Macri and one elected by labor). But SUTECBA, knowing full well that their candidate would lose and Parpagnoli (ATE´s representative) would win, "convinced" García Caffi to postpone the election another six months…
c) Of course, the season wasn´t announced in December, and García Caffi said now that "in a few days" it will. If he does announce it, he would commit a grave irresponsibility, for there´s a basic fact: the budget wasn´t approved in December (I mean the City´s budget, which includes the Colón). The Legislature is supposed to tackle the problem in February and it is to be hoped that the city won´t fall into the trap of the nation´s Parliament (as you know, the 2010 budget will be the basis for 2011, and extra funds are decreed by the Executive with no holds barred). If the Colón´s budget is approved as presented, it would raise the total money available roughly from 145 to 185 million pesos, although with no salary raise! But if it isn´t, García Caffi would have to make do with forty million less, and as contracts are supposed to have been concluded that necessitate the higher figure to be accomplished, he would be in a jam. Also, I suppose he will have to add the new agreement, whose total amount wasn´t revealed.
d) Indeed, what was left of the season at that time (December 7) didn´t happen, except for the Center for Experimentation and a show by the ballet students of the Institute.
And now, a synthesis of the press conference offered by García Caffi on January 20 at the City Government. To show the "elegance" of his ways, I received the invitation the same day at 12,30 a.m. and the press conference was held at 3 p.m…No wonder the dearth of my colleagues (apart from their possible holidays).
Beaming, GC announced a salary agreement with the workers that includes a bettering of what they perceive but tied to a productivity clause. He mentioned no figures and gave no details, apart from saying that the objective was to ensure the full functioning of the theatre. He said that it was signed with the "labor representatives" and later, in the question-and-answer section of the conference, admitted that they were all SUTECBA and that ATE didn´t intervene. But he mentioned that "the majority" of the theatre accepted it. This is quite untrue, for most are on vacation until February 15 and couldn´t be consulted, and the next Assembly of the personnel is slated for February 16.
He gave an interesting fact: the employees number 925; so, by the most devious and aberrant ways, he has come close to the goal of eliminating 400 people from the Colón roster. ¿But how many of the absent ones have been replaced by outsiders? ("tercerización"). I believe that if the figures were available they would show that the Government is actually paying far more; so what is the sense of such disrupting and silly transfers? A case in point: the last number of the Colón magazine is a portfolio of photographs signed Parpagnoli (¡) and Colombaroli, a "dissolved" section that the Colón was forced by judiciary sentence to take back.
The agreement was ratified by the central labor talks of the City ("paritarias"), which also means SUTECBA. However, there have been agreements between the Government and ATE during 2010. Considering that nowadays about 18% of the Colón is SUTECBA, another 18% is ATE and all the rest are independent, and that the Assembly only convenes on February, this is only an agreement with a minority sector with little chance to be approved in February. As the war was on with ATE and not SUTECBA, one hardly sees the point of it. A breakthrough would have been a joint session with both unions, but ATE has now commented in virulent terms GC´s agreement, considering it null and saying that unless the Government finds a way to be fair to ATE and the independents, there will be no season. They also say that this resembles earlier "arrangements" between a few SUTECBA delegates and the Government, with no consensus at all.
SUTECBA also sent, after the press conference, some details, and it shows that instead of simply augmenting salaries a given percentage (for ATE, and I agree, it should be 40%), there´s the old arsenal of sums for things that are simply an obligation, such as showing up at work ("presentismo"), or doing their job during their appointed hours (how do you measure "productivity"?). One point with which I suppose ATE can agree is what labor men call "the career", meaning that years of good honest work should include both a better salary and a higher place in the pay roll; although the concept is rather vague, it makes some sense. And the "additional" sums of $250 in January, $300 in Febaruary and $ 400 in March will be welcome, of course. But most of these moneys are what they call "non-remunerative", which means that they are closer to black than to white (let´s call them "grey" at most), and that´s hardly a good road to take. It won´t count for retirement.
So the agreement is moot at best. And as GC promises deeper sanctions against ATE (even penal ones) and as most orchestra and ballet members have shown themselves completely at war with the Government in December, I don´t see how this ensures anything good for the future. But time will tell.
Two postscripts: a) although denying that there´s anything wrong with the floors of the stage or the rehearsal room (the ballet has denounced them as hard and currently Dr. José Miguel Onaindia is conducting a legal action against the Government for lesions and unacceptable conditions), GC announced that the Colón has bought a new floor of the Harlequin type, supposedly going through our Port´s customs in the next weeks. b) The first three titles of the opera season are being prepared already by the technicians, who are working during these weeks (I suppose they take their vacations by shifts). They are Ligeti´s "Le Grand Macabre", Puccini´s "Trittico" and Mozart´s "The Magic Flute". This shows at least that GC still believes that he will win the war.
For Buenos Aires Herald