lunes, diciembre 13, 2010

The Colón war is on: workers vs. Government

Some weeks ago I wrote for the Herald "The Colón´s alarming crisis deepens". Now I have to say it: we are at the stage  of open, no-holds-barred war. It´s more than  alarming, it´s frightening.
            For a while it seemed that an agreement might be reached. In fact, an act was signed between the Government and the workers on November 25. It bears the seal of the Labor Undersecretariat of the Ministry of Economic Development. There were two representatives of the Undersecretariat to witness the ceremony. For the Colón workers: José Piazza, Delegate General; Máximo Parpagnoli, Delegate General Adjunct; Pastor Mora, Delegate Internal Board. For  the labor union ATE, its City of Buenos Aires Secretary General José Arrechea. For the City Government, Dr. Lucas Arakaki. Dr.Carlos Alberto Lelio, member of the Sectional Labor Commission of the Colón ("paritaria"). Jorge Rey as adviser of Colón Labor Relations. Dr.Lucía Pettis, Technical and Legal General Direction. No less than eight people in front of two witnesses, but astonishingly, no member of the other big union, SUTECBA. Mind you, some years ago ATE wasn´t recognized as a possibly signer of agreements, it had to be SUTECBA.
            "The parties concerned agree to maintain conversations about the themes that have been the object of conflict and so arrive to  a satisfactory conclusion. During the talks, both parts bind themselves to maintain the dialogue and to abstain from any measure that might obstruct, thus maintaining the principle of good faith".  The next audience to analyze the progress of the talks was fixed for December 15th, but alas, the agreement lasted only a few hours…
            I take the following from a reliable labor source of the Colón: "At the very beginning of the negotiations after signing the act, the functionary designed by the Government" (Jorge Rey) "instead of keeping the agreed-upon  good faith, provoked the workers publicly and explicitly not once but twice in two assemblies: the first on the following day of the signing at midday " (in what used to be called Sala Saulo Benavente, formerly the big space for stage designing, now converted into a rehearsal room; no alternative has been offered to the technicians) "and the second on the stage at 7 p.m. Rey said: that there was no proposal about the salary" (the workers ask for a 40% raise, very modest in comparison with what they need to come back to reasonable salaries), "that he didn´t know the theatre´s problems" (!!), "that he needed time to grasp the subjects involved and that the current Colón situation was the responsability of the workers´ representatives". The workers were indignant hearing such words and an ample majority voted for a strike until they received a rational proposal and were sent a valid interlocutor that knew the Colón´s problems.  
This led to the cancellation of all but one of the "Falstaff" performances and of an important concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic (it featured Romero in Rodrigo´s "Concierto de Aranjuez" and the Mahler Fifth Symphony under Diemecke) and the public wasn´t duly informed, frustratingly finding the doors closed  or being advised in what was to be the second performance of "Falstaff" by Pedro Pablo García Caffi (the Colón´s General Director) that the evening was cancelled for the stage was "taken" by workers (and the pit remained in the dark).
As the cancellations added up, García Caffi had to go higher and talked with Minister of Culture Hernán Lombardi and Chief of Cabinet Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Sanctions were decided upon and communicated at a press conference. Andrés Ibarra, Secretary of Human Resources, said: "a summary and indefinite suspension will be implemented against the principal workers responsible for the situation, and they will be barred from entering the Colón until the situation is defined". Up to now, seven people, including Parpagnoli, have been sanctioned. Paradoxically, he is a leading contender to be elected as the worker Director of the Colón on an election to be held the 15th of December.
Demonstrations in Cerrito, in front of the Colón, have been held in recent weeks, and they have shown both orchestras united, going far beyond the hard core of 40 people denounced by García Caffi. They have done the same before the City Government.
Incendiary declarations of García Caffi to the press, accusing the workers of purely political reasons for their protests, "culture piqueteros", etc., and giving very devious answers to relevant questions, have deepened the chasm.
The little that is left of the season probably won´t happen (the principal item were ballet performances and those were cancelled in García Caffi´s feud with the Colón Ballet) but by now that isn´t important. For this writer the paramount issue is the bleak future of an institution in an anguished process of disintegration, just six months after the pompous reopening. The blitz of the Government against the workers started (as I told in my previous article) already early in 2009 when García Caffi took the post and announced the transferring of 400 workers. Even if labor has won several judicial battles, the last word still hasn´t been said. The theatre stands incomplete as the restoration was no more than a façade and lots of work remain to be done. The technicians do their jobs off-Colón in deplorable conditions. And now the employees as a whole are in open rebellion.
Theoretically the 2011 season is fully planned and should be announced these days; in fact, it has been the custom in recent years to have a first round of subscriptions in December and another in March. I don´t see how this can happen in the present state of utter hostility, and with García Caffi openly supported by Lombardi and Rodríguez Larreta.  Unless a minimum arrangement is obtained the theatre can´t have a season. And there´s no sign of that. The agreement should be ironclad for both parties.
The normal holidays of the employees cover all of January and at least the first fortnight of February. There have been some weak promises that in February-March there would probably be a salary raise, but it´s a very moot point whether labor will accept it. Anyway, there´s heavy bad feeling against García Caffi (and against the Director of the Ballet Lidia Segni) and human relations are at such a low point that I can´t imagine the present team in office next year. There are strong rumors that no ballet season is planned at all, which if true is pretty terrible, for this is the resident company and their salaries must be payed, whether they dance or not. A recent judicial sentence orders the Government to fix the floors objected by the dancers as too hard (there are more than a dozen lesions) but the Colón´s Directors haven´t complied.
I believe the workers are right in their demands and wrong in their methods. They haven´t beeen able to inform the public at large of the true situation and instead they have made enemies by inopportune strikes. They should change their ways, and of course so should the Government. And the trouble is at the top: García Caffi has simply followed the guidelines of Mauricio Macri. The Colón Director has shown a singular degree of indelicacy in his handling of people, but his and Macri´s purpose have been irritative in the extreme from the very beginning, and even with better handling the result was bound to be a disaster. It is. And unless there´s a complete change of mentality it will remain so. ¿Can Macri,  notoriously stubborn, unsubtle and uninterested in culture, accept defeat and mend his ways? I seriously doubt it.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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