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(en) Argentina, Media, Under Workers' Control

From John Holloway <johnholloway@prodigy.net.mx>
Date Thu, 14 Nov 2002 15:42:43 -0500 (EST)


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I think the point about the occupied factories is that, while taken
on their own they may not pose a threat to capital, in the context
of the general social upheaval in Argentina (the asambleas
barriales, the occupations of houses, supermarkets, hospitals,
factories, the piqueteros), the huge discontent and (increasingly)
people's determination to take things into their own hands, they
are part of a very exciting and important movement. This, for the
first time, is Zapatismo in the cities.

    I append a short, light piece I just wrote for a Greek student
magazine.

> Argentina Today: ¡Que se Vayan Todos! by John Holloway
"Yo sueño con eso, que mis hijos y los hijos de mis compañeros
puedan descubrir esto, de encontrar una forma de vida acá, de
dejar los vicios allá afuera. De dejar de ser depresivos, de volcarse
al alcohol y a la vagancia que nos da el sistema y poder encontrar
esa forma nueva de hacer política, sin partidos políticos."

["I dream of this, that my children and the children of my
comrades could discover this, could find a way of life here, leave
the vices outside. Leave becoming depressive, turning to the
alcohol and the vagrancy that the system gives us and that they
could find this new form of making politics, without political
parties."]

It was a young woman who was talking. It was Sunday
afternoon, in Solano, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of
Buenos Aires. I was in a meeting with a group of about forty
piqueteros of all ages.

The piqueteros are groups of unemployed workers. With the rate
of unemployment at about 50%, many of the unemployed in
Argentina are using their unemployment as a basis for organising
and struggling for a better society. Starting in about 1995, the
unemployed began to develop a new form of struggle - the road
block. They go out en masse and block the road - the main
highways or the accesses to the cities - and refuse to move until
the government gives in to their demands, for better services,
more subsidies, whatever it is. The centre of their demands is
often the Work Plans, the job creation schemes under which the
government pays a very basic wage to the unemployed who do
certain jobs.

When the piqueteros of Solano take to the streets, there are
about a thousand of them - and this is just one neighbourhood in
the city. They do not demand money to do boring, meaningless
jobs, but to do work that they want to do, that they consider
important, "genuine work" as they call it. It took them a year of
struggle to win the right to decide themselves what should be
done with the money and the work. Now, when they win a
certain number of Work Plans, they meet and decide what the
priorities are for the neighbourhood - keeping it clean, repairing
the schools, rebuilding the house of a neighbour after it had been
burnt down, running a bakery, a clothes workshop, a dining hall.
All of this is part of the struggle to take their lives in their own
hands, without waiting for the state or capital to solve their
problems, because they know that that will not happen. The
piqueteros of Solana are unemployed, but they do not think of
that as a bad thing. They do not want to go back to being
exploited. They like to think of themselves not as unemployed
workers but as autonomous workers.

The terrible economic crisis, which has lasted now for more than
four years and which has seen the peso drop in the last year from
being equal to the dollar to being worth less than 30 US cents,
has brought great poverty to the country, but the piqueteros of
Solano do not want to restore capitalism but to create something
new. As another woman in the meeting put it, "desde esa miseria
absoluta en que nos han sumergido, y de ese arrebato de la
dignidad que intentaron hacer con todos los trabajadores, lo que
estamos haciendo es construir  desde esa miseria, las bases tal
vez, y tal vez suena muy alto, las bases de una nueva sociedad.
De una sociedad que va naciendo y que pueda crecer con
dignidad desde abajo. Desde la miseria pero digna, libre,
independiente."
["from this absolute poverty in which they have submerged us,
from this taking away of our dignity that they tried to impose on
all the workers, what we are doing is building from this poverty
the bases perhaps - and perhaps it sounds very fancy - the bases
of a new society. Of a society which is being born and which can
grow with dignity from below. From poverty, but with dignity,
free, independent."]

And it is not just the piqueteros in Solana. The whole country is
in uproar. On the 19th and 20th of December last year, the
people took to the streets in spontaneous protest against the
government's policies, banging saucepans and marching to the
centre of Buenos Aires. Despite using police repression, the
president fell. The continuing cacerolazos brought forced the
substitute president out after about a week. The people formed
neighbourhood councils (asambleas barriales) in the different
neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires and the other big cities. In
recent months the neighbourhood councils have moved beyond
discussing and protesting to more direct forms of action,
occupying houses, abandoned hospitals and banks, using them
as meeting places, cultural centres, places for the homeless to
stay, organising alternative schools and cheap health care. In
Rosario, when a big supermarket closed down a year ago, the
workers first picketed the door for their wages, then occupied the
building, turning it into a cultural centre and meeting place for
the left, then opening a popular supermarket where they sell,
among other things, the pasta produced in a nearby factory
occupied by the workers (one of very many occupied factories) -
and the next stage is to open a theatre in the basement. And
everywhere the same determination to build from the ruins of the
crisis the basis for a new society, everywhere the feeling that they
are developing a new way of thinking about politics, an
oppositional politics which has nothing to do with parties or the
state.

Argentina is not far from Greece, Buenos Aires is close to
Athens. In terms of the living standards of people until a few
years ago, in terms of the political culture of protest, in terms of
the experience of military dictatorships, in terms of what could
happen - in many ways, Argentina is not on the other side of the
globe but very close. The International Monetary Fund is trying
to use Argentina as an example of what will happen to countries
that do not behave, that do not accept the instructions of the
IMF. But Argentina is turning into an example of another kind,
an example of dignity, an example of how to reject the dictates of
capital.

But where can the Argentinian revolt go? There are basically two
ways of thinking about it. The traditional left see the elections as
the way forward. With a left government, they argue, different
policies could be followed and open repression of the movement
could be prevented. The other view is that the elections are not
relevant, that, even if the left won (very unlikely), that would
mean handing control of the movement to the politicians. The
struggle, then, is not to win the elections, but to strengthen and
develop all the autonomous struggles that are taking place. The
struggles can be seen as fissures, as cracks in capitalist
domination, as spaces where people, out of necessity and out of
choice, are saying very clearly "No, here no, here capital does not
rule, here we are building a different sociality, a different way of
doing things". In this latter perspective, what is happening in
Argentina is important not just for Argentina. It is important
because the fissures of domination in Argentina are part of a
whole world full of cracks and breaks. When the zapatistas rose
up in Chiapas in 1994, saying ¡Ya basta! Enough!, they provided
inspiration for struggle against capitalism throughout the world.
With the Argentinian revolt, zapatismo establishes itself in the
cities on a scale which has never been seen before.

"¡Que se vayan todos!" is the great slogan of the Argentinian
uprising. "Out with them all!" Since December of last year,
politicians have been afraid to show themselves in the streets,
because they are chased by the people. But the anger is not just
turned against the politicians, but also against their capitalist
cronies, and against the banks, which were allowed by the
government to swallow up the savings that people had deposited
with them. The more the slogan is extended, the more it
acquires a deeper meaning. Capital dominates by threatening all
the time that it will go away, and by carrying out its threat. It was
not like that in feudalism. The feudal lord punished his serfs if
they did not behave, but he did not go away and leave them.
With capital it is different. The capitalist threatens all the time "if
you do not behave, I shall go away and leave you". And often
capital does go away, leaving millions without work, whole
regions in poverty, whole generations living under the constant
threat or reality of unemployment, with all the poverty and
isolation that it involves. We all live with that threat or that
reality: it shapes our lives.

But imagine. Imagine if the next time that capital says "do what I
say or I shall fire you and go away", or "do what I say or I shall
close the factory", or (to the government) "reorganise education
in the way that I say or I shall go to another country", imagine if
we could say "fine, if you want to go, then go. We do not need
you. Now we can build other social relations, now we can do
things that seem to us to be important. Go, all of you! ¡Que se
vayan todos!" Imagine if the next time that capital carried out its
threat and left us unemployed, we could say "Good, don't come
back, we have better things to do!" Imagine, how difficult but
how exciting! What a dream! That is what the struggle in
Argentina is about. This is why it is the struggle of all of us.



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