The dictatorship that ruled Argentina from March 24, 1976, to December 10, 1983, is well-known around the world because of its record of massive human rights violations. Figures about the repressive legacy of the military Juntas are eloquent: An estimated thirty thousand people disappeared; thousands of political prisoners were tortured, murdered, and exiled; hundreds of children were abducted from those who were being forcibly disappeared, along with systematic theft of property and real estate; these are among the crimes denounced by human rights organizations. Many of these crimes were prosecuted by the Argentine judiciary system in the historical 1985 trial that confirmed the responsibilities in the atrocities perpetrated.Footnote 1
But if this legacy of human rights violations is well known, the interpretations of the causes, meaning, and consequences of the dictatorship are still up for debate, not only in the historiography but also in public political and social spheres. Mainstream interpretations mostly focused on political dimensions, underlining particularly the role of the armed forces and their fight against political organizations and guerrilla movements. The analysis of the role of the working class or the labor movement in this period has for decades occupied a relatively marginal place within the academic literature on the issue, despite the fact that at least one third of the victims were workers. However, there have been throughout the period significant contributions that could considerably enrich the predominant views about the 1976 coup and the military dictatorship.
The aim of this article is to briefly review some of the main contributions on this topic, as well as to outline a future research agenda. The analysis of the historiography will be organized chronologically, which allows us to analyze some of the connections with other political, economic, social, and academic processes. It will distinguish three main sub-periods: the 1980s, marked by the transition to democracy in Argentina; the 1990s, a decade during which neoliberal reforms were applied with full strength; and the post 2001-crisis, a time of economic growth and complex transformation of the academic sphere. The text will examine approaches to two different complex and heterogeneous actors with complexities and tensions: on the one hand, the working class, both in terms of its political and social role, as well as in its economic dimension as labor force; on the other hand, the trade-union movement, as the institutional organizations supposed to represent labor interests. In dialog with the historiographical analysis, the last part of the article will summarize some of the main existing open questions, as well as the possibly fruitful lines of research ahead.
During the 1980s, and especially after the transition to democracy in 1983, there were relevant contributions about different aspects concerning labor and the dictatorship, partly building on approaches written at the time of the “Process, as the dictatorship called its counterrevolution.” Labor repression also became an important topic both in the Nunca Más, the report made by the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas (CONADEP), the Argentine truth commission in 1984, and in the “Juicio a las Juntas” trials in 1985, which prosecuted not only the members of the military Juntas but also the most prominent leaders of the guerrilla organizations. The first of its type in Latin America, the trial was quite significant in political and social terms, for it proved, publicized, and punished the crimes of the dictatorship. However, in the ensuing years and under strong military pressure, this human rights policy was countered by two laws (Laws No 23,492 in 1986 and No 23,521 in 1987) establishing that the military of inferior rank to the military Juntas were not to be held responsible for their acts because they were following orders. Thus, they could not be tried, and there was a specific deadline for suing the terrorist state for the atrocities committed, after which legal actions were frozen.
Both in the Nunca Más truth commission and the trial proceedings, it became clear that workers and union leaders had been a major target of the repressive policies, and that labor discipline and control had been among the key goals of the dictatorship. Also, some of the most extreme cases of labor repression, such as those related to the companies Acindar, Ledesma, Mercedes-Benz, Ford Motor Argentina, Astarsa, among others, were already denounced, acknowledged and analyzed. However, all of these elements were considered of secondary importance compared to the central conflict acknowledged in this period in order to explain the coup and the dictatorship: the confrontation between the armed forces and the guerilla organizations.
In this context of debate about the dictatorship and its legacies, several contributions illuminated aspects related to labor and economic and social change.Footnote 2 A couple of early articles by Francisco Delich emphasized the impact of repression against the working class, referring to the thousands of labor activists and leaders who had been murdered, imprisoned, disappeared, or forced in to exile.Footnote 3 He also analyzed the various policies focused on control and discipline within the shop-floor during this period, the prohibitions in terms of trade-union activity, and the strict control during the hiring process, as well as the intelligence activities within the factories in order to persecute labor and political activism. An important contribution is his emphasis on the international sphere, that in his view “was of unusual importance, and the actions developed there had unexpectedly relevant consequences.”Footnote 4 However, while these early works were useful to underline the impact of repression against the working class, they also contended that labor had been immobilized during this period, and that there was during this period a clear turning point in terms of struggle and action, contributing to foster an image of complete detention of labor conflict, a characterization that was strongly challenged both by contemporary studies, such as those by León Bieber for example, and by later studies.Footnote 5
A book published by Alvaro Abós in the early years of the transition to democracy focused the attention first on the historical importance of the trade-union movement and secondly on the transformations that this movement suffered during the dictatorship.Footnote 6 Based on his experience as a labor lawyer and his first-hand knowledge of different sectors of the labor movement, Abós documented the general offensive against labor, analyzed the active intervention of the dictatorship in terms of labor norms, and analyzed some key cases such as the kidnapping and disappearance of Oscar Smith, the Secretary General of the electricity union (Light and Power) in February 1977.
Shortly after, the publications by Arturo Fernández made significant contributions by integrating an analysis of the labor and economic policies developed by the dictatorship and their impacts on labor, also referring to, although more limitedly, the consequences of repressive policies.Footnote 7 He was among the first that tried to quantify and offer lists of the trade-union organizations that had been subjected to military rule, made references to changes in labor legislation and practices, and analyzed the dynamics of labor conflict during the period. He also devoted quite extensive attention to the international sphere, providing a first-hand view of the importance of the ILO as an arena of debate and exposure, as well as a preliminary reference to other major actors of the international labor movement.
In the late 1980s, with the publication of a book and an article, Pablo Pozzi strongly emphasized that workers’ and union's agitation during the dictatorship not only was intense, but also decisively contributed to the failure of the regime's objectives with regards to the organized labor movement.Footnote 8 Pozzi's contributions have the merit of analyzing labor conflict, not only in its traditional forms but also underlining the existence of “underground” practices at the shop-floor that were underestimated or forgotten by most approaches to this period. These forms of protest were typically developed by groups of workers with reduced coordination and limited impact. They included slowdowns (alleging “reluctance”—desgano—and sadness), partial interruption of production, sabotage, and a broad range of creative measures oriented towards workers’ organization and expressing opposition to business’ offensive. This author considers that these “new forms of protest” resulted from the learning process of past experiences, such as the Peronist Resistance during the first years after the 1955 coup.Footnote 9 Beyond any possible controversy about their origin, Pozzi's studies proved that these ways of protest were especially important, as while they respected the letter of the law and in some cases the new practices imposed, they subverted their spirit, becoming an increasingly evident challenge to the regime.Footnote 10
These publications expressed a debate within the historiography concerning the responses of workers, shop-floor representatives, and union leaders that included a spectrum of interpretations between two opposing approaches. While views such as Delich's emphasized the impact of repression and therefore suggested that from 1976 to 1981 the Argentine working class and its unions were stagnant and inactive and that both unions and workers exhibited a lesser amount of power than they had at any other moment in Argentine history,Footnote 11 Pozzi, along with contributions such as those of Falcón, Fernandez, and James Petras among others, stressed the existence of a wide range of responses by workers and the labor movement.Footnote 12 It is possible to extract elements from the different lines of interpretation towards a complete understanding of the process. As Delich argued, the policies of the military dictatorship dramatically affected workers causing the most profound change in the history of the labor movement since the 1940s, although his characterization of labor immobility proved incorrect.Footnote 13 At the same time, as Pozzi explained, although labor and economic policies, as well as repression, were successful at demobilizing part of the working class, other sectors carried out a wide range of responses to the dictatorship's anti-labor policies. Protests against the policies that affected workers’ conditions of life and work took place both in Argentina and abroad, and included rank-and-file and leadership actions featuring both traditional labor measures and new ways of protest adapted to this particular context of repression.
The 1990s was a difficult decade for labor studies in Argentina as in many other regions, due not only to the structural transformations and regressive labor reforms in times of increasing unemployment, but also to the regressive changes in the scientific spheres that reduced funding and research possibilities, in a context of state restructuring and significant budget cuts in government spending in education and scientific activities. In terms of the discussion about the dictatorship and human rights policies, the decrees of executive pardon by President Carlos S. Menem in 1989 and 1990 attempted to close the matter of past human rights violations, promoting a policy of “reconciliation.” In this context, there were different attempts to appeal to other national and international courts, as well as to promote the so-called Truth Trials, Juicios por la Verdad, in Argentina in 1998, in charge of the Federal Judiciary Chamber, with no penal consequences. In both frameworks, there was new emphasis on the anti-labor character of the dictatorship: The Central de los Trabajadores de Argentina made a presentation in Spain before Judge Baltasar Garzón in 1998 providing the names of thousands of disappeared workers and underlining the persecution against shop-floor representatives and trade-union leaders. At the same time, in the context of the Truth Trials there were new testimonies and evidence about many cases that had not been approached before.
Despite this regressive context in terms of the process of penal justice, there were interesting research contributions in several directions. Although labor history became an increasingly marginal field, there were historians who continued this analysis, and focused particularly on relevant case-studies combining a shop-floor and regional perspective. Prominent among them are the contributions by Alejandro Schneider and others on the Northern industrial belt that illustrated both the strong impact of repression and the different forms of organization and protest, as well as that of María Cecilia Cangiano about Villa Constitución.Footnote 14 Other contributions aimed at making progress foster a comparative analysis of dictatorships and the labor movements in the region, such as the book coordinated by Barrera and Fallabella in 1990 that aimed at connecting the cases of Argentina, Brasil, and Chile.Footnote 15 The articles on Argentina included one study by Delich in the same analytic line previously reviewed and another by Thompson and Gallitelli that approached several key aspects of the labor policies of the dictatorship, as well as effects that had been scarcely identified before, such as the fragmentation of the working class during this period and the impact of the policies of industrial promotion that relocated factories from the populated industrial belts with a long history of labor organization to new areas with no significant labor organization and networks.Footnote 16
Particularly interesting in terms of its aim and scope was a book by Paul W. Drake, which studied the relationship between the labor movements and dictatorships in the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, with supplementary references to the cases of Brasil and Greece) in a comparative perspective. Drake provides valuable information and analysis on the cases he analyzed using statistical information about economic and social transformations, legal material, and norms about the trade-union movement, as well as several institutional sources. Based on this he firmly argued that “the dictatorships studied here varied a great deal in their setting and history, but an essential common thread was their reaction against the working class.” In his view, “in every case, the pivotal role of labor should not be underestimated” and “in many ways, the antilabor stance of these despotisms defined their raison d'etre.”
Despite this very relevant conclusion, he could not explain clearly the reasons of this anti-labor stance. He ruled out a revolutionary perspective, making clear that “this study will not ask why the working class failed to carry out a social revolution. Such a rare event was always unlikely in Chile and was never on the horizon in Argentina or Uruguay.” He considered instead that “both the fearful perceptions of right-wingers and the hopeful scenarios of left-wingers were incorrect,” as “democratic countries with large middle classes and professional armed forces were not susceptible to an insurrection or fundamental transformation by leftists.”Footnote 17 Some of the proposed causes to explain the dictatorship and its legacy of human rights violations were the misleading propaganda that provoked an unfounded fear of Communism or fear for the actions of a radical minority, which do not seem satisfactory as causal explanations.Footnote 18 Discussing with other perspectives that seem to assume that the history of the combative sectors reflects the evolution of the entire working class, Drake seemed to consider the radical sectors negligible, failing to fully explain the military and business concern for labor conflict and organization. Contributions like his, as well as others such as Ronald Munck, who also dealt with this topic in the late 1990s and stressed the importance of the offensive against labor by the dictatorship that “launched an all-out attack that aimed at destroying both the legal and extralegal basis of power of labor,”Footnote 19 were very important to demonstrate the regional and international dimensions of the offensive against labor, and to stress the relevance of looking at the history of dictatorships from this viewpoint, even when they were not able to fully account for the causes of the process.
At the turn of the century, in a context of profound institutional crisis that implied drastic transformation of economic and social relations, the public debate over the impact and consequences of the dictatorship underlined the economic and social effects of the structural reforms.Footnote 20 The political process that led the way out of the crisis from 2003, when Néstor Kirchner was elected president, introduced relevant changes. First, the judicial situation of prosecution of human rights violations changed substantially, building on a long process of struggle and organization of various organizations, prominently the human rights movement. After the decision of a court of justice in 2001, a pronouncement from Congress and the development of a strong set of policies by the Executive branch from 2003 onwards, and the 2005 ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice deeming the laws that had halted the trials in the late 1980s unconstitutional, the trials restarted from 2005 onwards in multiple points of the country. Second, labor conflict and trade-unions regained importance and played a central role in politics and the economic and the social struggles, reversing the previous tendencies. Third, the scientific institutions in Argentina and the academic field experienced important transformations.
All of this influenced the field of labor history, which grew considerably and expanded in many ways. Within historical studies there was a growing claim in defense of the legitimacy and importance of contemporary history, also called “recent history,” which had been up to then severely questioned and restricted to reduced spaces. This was a time also of increasing interest in the studies on memory and oral history as a feasible and valuable approach. With regards to the specific topic of labor and the 1976–1983 dictatorship, in dialog with the general approaches provided in the 1980s and 1990s, there were several researchers that approached case-studies, which focused more closely on the shop-floor, but also were useful to discuss, confirm, or even contradict previous characterizations. This kind of analysis focused on in-depth case-studies had been quite difficult before, not only because of the typical challenges of attempting to write history from below in communities that do not have the possibilities or habits to preserve documents and archives, but also because, due to the censorship and repression during late 1970s and early 1980s, many of the existing archival collections had been destroyed or made unavailable. This new wave of historical contributions on labor and the dictatorship was possible because new archives and repositories were opened in different ways.
Prominent among them was the first intelligence archive made available to the public, that of the Intelligence Direction of the Province of Buenos Aires (DIPBA), managed by the Comisión Provincial por la Memoria in La Plata, Province of Buenos Aires, which opened indirect access to their archives to researchers.Footnote 21 Although to access all documents related to the 1976–1983 period it is necessary to receive authorization from the Federal Chamber of Appeal, as this is documentation still used in trials, this authorization is generally granted to researchers and therefore this archive made possible access to previously unavailable intelligence reports and documents (in many cases, confidential) on labor activism and militancy that were of key importance to reflect the kind of activity and organization prevailing at some large factories of the Province of Buenos Aires and even beyond it.Footnote 22 Also, the DIPBA archive has the police files on many unions, complete with copies of union publications and police intelligence reports, in some cases enabling unions to reconstruct their history. Also, very important is the documentation center CEDINCI (Centro de Documentación e Información sobre la Cultura de Izquierdas en la Argentina), which holds entire collections of labor, social and political materials, leaflets, and political publications of different labor and political organizations that were of great use documenting the labor struggle and organization in the factories.Footnote 23
Also, researchers managed to gain different kinds of access, in many cases through active and continuing struggle, to a variety of state archives, including the Archivo Nacional de la Memoria, founded in 2003 by Executive decree, Archivo General de la Nación (particularly the section Archivo Intermedio), as well as many archival documents from the different governmental institutions or ministries, such as Defense, Labor, or Foreign Relations ministries. Also, some human rights organizations archives, such that of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales and other umbrella organizations such as Memoria Abierta became organized and open to the public, while regional archives and museums, such as the Museo de la Memoria in Rosario or the Archivo Provincial de la Memoria (D2 Archive) in Córdoba, as well as many other institutions and memory centers, were crucial to allow different levels of access to new sources throughout the country. Repositories from universities and research centers, such as those of the Area of Economics and Technology of FLACSO and the CISEA-CESPA at the University of Buenos Aires, for example, also provided significant material about business trajectories and economic transformations. Archives of trade-union organizations are still rare and difficult to access, as most of the organizations do not have a policy of preservation and access to their own papers that are not organized in a professional manner. However, many researchers managed to gain partial access to some trade-union repositories and personal archives that also provided key materials.
Business archives were the exception and remained overwhelmingly closed and inaccessible concerning documents for this period. Finally, the use of oral histories and interviews increased during this period, not only because of the growing legitimacy of these sources and these approaches and methodologies within the academic field, but also due to the progresses of the penal prosecution of the human rights violations and increasing acceptance of these issues, many sectors were more willing and able to speak about their experiences within a research framework.
Perhaps the most striking feature of historiography since the turn of the century is that based on these and many other sources coming from national, regional, and local archives, it was possible to focus on new case-studies located in various regions of the country. For the northern industrial belt, which extends from the north and west of Buenos Aires to the South of Santa Fe, there were new contributions about the cases of the shipyards Astarsa and Mestrina, the automobile companies Ford and Mercedes-Benz, the steel mill Dálmine Siderca in Campana, the ceramics companies Lozadur and Cattaneo, and the case of the textile firm Grafa, among others.Footnote 24 In the Province of Santa Fe, in the area of Rosario, there are studies of Acindar in Villa Constitución, SOMISA in San Nicolás and also contributions about the dynamics of conflict in the region, and the labor policies developed by the industrial leadership.Footnote 25
There also have been, in this decade, studies about the southern industrial belt, from the south of Buenos Aires City to La Plata, Berisso, and Ensenada. Some of the cases analyzed were the food industry plant of Molinos Río de la Plata in Avellaneda, the textile and shoe company Alpargatas (plants in Barracas and Florencio Varela), the steel mill Propulsora Siderúrgica (Techint group), the shipyard Río Santiago, the meatpacking company Swift, the chemical textile company Petroquímica Sudamericana, among others, such as SIAT Valentín Alsina and the YPF oil refinery in Ensenada.Footnote 26 In the interior of the Province of Buenos Aires, there are studies about the cement company Loma Negra (plants in Olavarría and Villa Cacique), the graphic workshop of the newspaper “La Nueva Provincia,” and the auto-part company Metalúrgica Tandil, among others.Footnote 27
In the case of Córdoba, there are studies about the Fiat plants during the dictatorship, about the electrical company EPEC, and other more general approaches about the impact of repression on workers of many economic activities.Footnote 28 For the case of the north-eastern region of the country, there are some studies about the repression of workers involved in the Agrarian Leagues, and also about the yerba mate and tea company Las Marías.Footnote 29 With regards to the north-western region of the country there are studies about the sugar mills Ledesma (Jujuy), Concepción, and La Fronterita (Tucumán), about the mining company Minera Aguilar (Jujuy), and the transport company La Veloz del Norte (Salta).Footnote 30 In the case of Patagonia, there are studies about Chilean workers exiled in Patagonia, as well as different factories of the northeast of Chubut, among other cases.Footnote 31
As research expanded thematically, geographically, and in terms of methodology, perspective, and sources during the last decade and a half, new views and debates emerged. These new case-studies illuminated new perspectives and findings in many directions, some of which will be briefly reviewed here. One of the topics that had not been previously studied in depth was the conflicting, tense, and complex relationship between labor struggles, trade-union activity, and guerrilla actions in specific activities and territories during the 1970s.Footnote 32 It was an important achievement then to connect the fields that were focused on labor and guerrilla organizations that had long-term developments, but that had had very little connection.
Another remarkable line of research in many of these new contributions was the study of shop-floor organization, which introduced complexities in views previously centered around large, nationally based trade-union organizations and leaders, and the exploration of the connections between structural economic changes and labor relations, as well as forms of organization, contemplating the particularities and specificities. Several of these studies explored the transformations at the level of the shop-floor, particularly focusing on the role of the shop-stewards and comisiones internas; many of the case-studies confirmed that this level of organization was very important from the second period of import substitution industrialization that extended from the mid-1950s and mid-1970s to the structural transformations of the 1970s. They showed that they had suffered from the economic, labor, and repressive policies of the dictatorship, although in very different ways according to the cases that presented differences in business trajectories, history of trade-union organization, and also different processes of transformation and repression.Footnote 33
There were also important sociological contributions on the social profile of the victims of the dictatorship, reassessing judicial information, and proposing new conceptual frameworks and debates.Footnote 34 Additionally, many of these studies attempted to connect the strong development of the field of memory studies with that of labor history. While initially the results of these efforts were limited, over time there was an important, positive change that generated a number of contributions aimed at analyzing the ways in which workers remembered the time of the dictatorship, focusing on those who had not been labor or political militants, and not only regarding aspects related to the working time at the factories, but also to many other aspects of everyday life.Footnote 35
In the field of the studies on exile and migration, there were also new contributions that illuminated aspects of the exile of workers and trade-union leaders, contributing to a growing field in which the sphere of labor, however, had received little attention previously.Footnote 36 These contributions also underlined previously disregarded phenomena, such as the importance of internal migration or displacement within the country as a strategy to escape from persecution, particularly in the case of sectors that had limited or no access to international connections or lacked the necessary funds to go abroad.Footnote 37 The institutional international dimensions of this history, although briefly and basically covered in different contributions in the 1980s and 1990s, were the object of increasing attention during the last decade. There were contributions on the international campaign developed by different sectors of the labor movement against the dictatorship, the role of the ILO, and the world labor confederations, as well as the impacts of these processes on national events.Footnote 38 Quite recently, other contributions focused on the role played by conservative sectors of the union leadership in support of the dictatorship, both within national boundaries and abroad.Footnote 39
There was important progress in an issue that had been debated from the time of the dictatorship and the transition to democracy: business responsibility for labor repression. In this field major advances have been made in the last years, from initial individual research projects about a few cases in depth, to a major study carried out by four organizations: the Area of Economics and Technology of FLACSO, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), and two governmental offices within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights: the Programa Verdad y Justicia, and the Secretary of Human Rights.Footnote 40 From 2014 to 2015 these four institutions put together an interdisciplinary team of twenty researchers and coordinators, which analyzed twenty-five cases of companies in different regions of the country. The main conclusion of this study was that the process of militarization of factories and the amount of evidence about direct involvement of businessmen in concrete and specific repressive practices, as well as the existence of places of detention and the torture of workers within the boundaries of the private companies in five of the twenty-five cases, call for a reconsideration of the concept of “complicity” to replace it with “responsibility” of companies and businessmen for the repression of workers and their organizations.Footnote 41 This study is also a good example of another interesting process that took place in these years: the increasing, although not simple or fluent, dialog between historical analysis and the judicial process. The contact between these different and often conflicting approaches took many forms, including the fact that many researchers were summoned as “expert witnesses,” providing interesting insights to the trials.
Maybe the most striking pending issue in recent studies is the relatively minor importance given so far to the gender dimension of this history. Although they are slowly becoming more important in general historiography concerning labor and the trade-union movement in Argentina, gender relations have not been systematically taken into account in most of the summarized studies about this period, with some valuable exceptions to the rule and particular studies focused on women workers.Footnote 42 To further develop this dimension, including in the general analysis, seems to be one of the most urgent needs, both to analyze the policies of the dictatorship and to see whether they were gender-biased, but also in terms of the possible differential impact on the working class and the trade-union movement, as well as in the ways gender relations structured the responses and forms of organization and militancy during this period. Studies made on other countries in this same period clearly demonstrated the relevance and potential to explicitly make gendered labor relations visible, and this is certainly a major challenge ahead.Footnote 43
In sum, there has been, in recent years, a very rich and diverse academic literature that changed the field of studies of labor and the dictatorship (1976–1983). While there have been many valuable attempts, it remains difficult to secure a comprehensive view of this field of study.Footnote 44 Not only are there differences in scope, perspective, aims, methodology, and sources among these contributions, but also various lines of interpretation that are often in disagreement or debate. It is important to stress the debate among the researchers implicitly or explicitly using the concept of “consensus” or “consent” and those who, based on an analysis of power relations and in many cases also class analysis, raise questions regarding whether it is productive or adequate to use that concept not only in the general framework of asymmetrical relations between capital and labor, but also particularly in a context of strong repressive policies applied, regressive social and economic transformations and labor rights violations, issues often underestimated, that make even more questionable or unlikely to think about “freedom of choice” for labor. Therefore, these perspectives call for the clear recognition of the power relations strongly conditioning workers and unions, and the search for other possible concepts to explain a wide range of labor positions and forms of struggle.Footnote 45
This accumulation of research opens new possibilities ahead. Regarding the debates of the 1980s, it became clear that it is quite productive to avoid framing the period in absolute terms, focusing instead on its complexities and tensions. While the evidence of the long-lasting impact of the strongest repressive policies on workers and the labor movements in Argentine history is undeniable, it is also necessary to look at the ways in which the dictatorship attempted to gain legitimacy, and whether the dictatorial project was in any way internalized by workers or sectors of the trade-union movements. Moving away from concepts such as “resistance,” which were useful to confront initial views of labor's “total immobility” but could impose homogeneity on diverse phenomena, can be useful in studying the wide range of responses during the dictatorship.Footnote 46
This could be particularly important, not only to illuminate the often forgotten episodes of organization, struggle and opposition developed by workers and trade-union leaders or organizations, but also to better explore the role played by some sectors of the trade-union movement that built connections with different sectors of the dictatorial government, due to ideological reasons and/or because they were seeking to strengthen their position at a time of profound reconfiguring of labor relations. It also seems very important to separately study two different actors, the working class and the trade-union movement, which had often been analyzed in such a close connection that they could be mistaken as one. Looking at the recent contributions, it becomes clear that it is necessary to analyze each of them separately, understanding their own particular dynamics, and taking into account, at the same time, the diversity and heterogeneity within them, avoiding drawing general conclusions based on partial cases or facts.
The knowledge about the different forms of repression and the persecution of workers and labor leaders also increased enormously during this period, from general and all-encompassing perspectives to much more detailed, nuanced, and diverse histories.Footnote 47 It became clear that in order to analyze the general patterns of repression it is necessary to take into account not only the most extreme situations of regions and cases in which atrocities were perpetrated, but also other cases in which repression had a totally different dynamic or even was subtler. The accumulated evidence shows that the dictatorship marked undoubtedly a turning point for workers and trade-union activity, but at the same time it stresses that in order to understand this complex period it is necessary, first, to include the previous years (the 1974–1976 period at least), and second, to build a longitudinal analysis of violence and the repression of workers, essential to make this time intelligible. Recent contributions are extremely useful to put the 1976–1983 era in a larger narrative in terms of both labor conflict and labor repression, and the more extensive framework of the Cold War period seems to have great potential in order to allow a more fluid dialog with other processes in Latin America and beyond.Footnote 48
At the same time, many of the existing studies also remind that repression was not the only policy applied. On the contrary, even for such an anti-labor regime some structures of representation were needed, and therefore, there were also attempts to reconfigure and redirect the ways in which labor organizations worked. In terms of labor relations, both the armed forces and the business elite had to negotiate with some sectors and keep some structures in place in order to stop turmoil and try to lessen labor unrest. To study this complex balance between repression and preservation and even encouragement of some sectors and dynamics is quite an important task ahead.
Regarding lines of action of workers during the dictatorship, it is also clear that the way workers experienced the dictatorship was also diverse, and it is essential then to open the way for an analysis of the different trajectories, thinking about them not as free choices, but as products of a very complex combination of the different forms of external constraints (particularly violence and repression, but not solely), personal trajectories, and collective repertoires that have to be considered carefully and studied in detail. Concerning the trade-union movement, it is necessary to avoid the tendency to take the part for the whole and therefore tell the story as if it were complete, though looking only at specific actors. The available contributions call for much needed research to analyze the strategies and actions of the different sectors of the labor movement: the combative ones, who are very often discarded and considered totally out of the picture, and the different sectors, from centrist positions to conciliatory and conservative ones that developed different kinds of balances between activism, conflict, and negotiation during the dictatorship.
This could be very helpful in eroding the relative isolation of the labor historiography of this period, helping to connect it with that of previous years, which had been overwhelmingly concerned with the relationship between the working class, the trade-union organizations, and the Peronist movement, a topic that was almost abandoned from 1976–1983. Paying attention to the different evolution of groups and tendencies within the trade-union movement, some of whom identified with left-wing and others with right-wing Peronism, would also be interesting in helping analyze the different impacts of the dictatorship on this political movement, and the contradictory and complex legacy in this matter: While the most radical and combative sectors became central targets of repression, other conservative and right-wing sectors gained influence and power during this period, all of which had a strong impact on the evolution of the Peronist Justicialista Party in the 1980s and 1990s.
It is also necessary to look much more closely at the role of the armed forces, their sectors and divisions, and their specific logics, aims, and possibilities. It became clear from the available studies that the military dictatorship, although aiming to achieve a new foundation of labor relations, had a very complex internal composition that included different sectors and actors, and was forced to limit itself in many ways, taking into account other agendas. Similarly, the relationship between the armed forces and the business elite was not an easy or univocal one, but instead a tense link with many different sectors, that experienced many transformations throughout the period. A closer study of this relationship would require conceptual insights that could make important contributions to the implicit debate around the “military” or “civil-military” character of the dictatorship, an issue that needs to be explicitly addressed from a theoretical, conceptual and historical viewpoint. In this sense, the available studies also call for an interdisciplinary approach, which means that it is crucial to establish meaningful dialog and productive, collective work in order to be able to take into account the indispensable, structural economic and social dimensions as well as the political, cultural, and subjective ones. This seems essential not only to study in depth the already mentioned actors, but also in order to include and integrate other aspects of this history that have been overlooked so far, such as the issue of gender relations in the different aspects of this history, both in terms of the working class and the trade-union movements, and the dynamics of repression, among others.
In sum, the fruitful and interesting field of studies on workers, trade-unions, and the 1976–1983 dictatorship in Argentina made quite significant contributions to the history of this period, also opening new avenues of research. Following an initial stage of comprehensive and encompassing studies, new approaches based on case-studies and in-depth analyses of specific topics provided new evidence and information, calling for new general views that would undoubtedly be key to enriching the still predominantly political views on the dictatorship with other crucial dimensions.