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(en) Organise! #58-Spring - How should we view recent and ongoing events in Argentina? II. (2/2)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 11 May 2003 12:04:26 +0200 (CEST)


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> Asambleas and Movemientos
Both movements have important limitations though - most obviously in their
relation to the State - and there is a definite tension between the two,
which could possibly be a future source of government inspired conflict.
The contradictory nature of the Assemblies is highlighted by their
addressing of demands to the state, rather than relying on their own
autonomous collective power to take what they want - they, in fact, are (for
now, at least) based on the acceptance of the state as the ultimate
legitimate authority. A participant in the Almagro neighbourhood assembly
argues that "When a married couple decides to separate, that doesn't mean
that they won't go on to marry someone else. This is the same thing: we
don't want these politicians. We want a change."
But the same assembly can also publish a declaration stating that: We
have no expectations of the new government coming out of this crisis,
because these people governed the country until a couple of years ago and
govern today most of the provinces, implementing the same economic and
social policy which the people have repudiated a few days ago. That is why
we repudiate both peronismo and radicalismo and all their accomplices..."
"(...) The state of assembly and mobilization (is) the only way to guarantee
our right as workers, neighbours and Argentineans (...) We call all the
neighbourhoods of the Capital to create and take part in all the assemblies
and forms of organization set up by their neighbours and organizations. And
we call to create connection commissions (comisiones de enlace) with the
assemblies already formed or about to be formed." (Declaration of the
Popular Assembly of Almagro
(Buenos Aires) "The People Say Enough: Let Us Have Politics Through Popular
Assemblies"). This contradiction is also demonstrated by the support given
for forming 'Workers Defence' units, under the control of the assemblies,
whilst also voting for a Constituent Assembly, which could only serve to
direct anger back into limited and representative forms.

Liberals And Reformists
This reformist tendency within the assemblies is bolstered by the actions of
the left, particularly Workers Power (PO), Workers' Socialist Movement (MST)
and the Union of Argentinean Workers (CTA). These groups have attempted to
use the Assemblies for their own reformist and statist demands. Typically
they will try to get onto executive committees and then push for a motion
proposing nationalisation of various industries (sound familiar?) or other
measures that divert the struggle into legalistic and therefore easily
recuperable avenues. This has not gone unnoticed by the assembly members who
have acted to remove these parasites - the Workers Democracy's group was
expelled from the national assembly of workers in February, and moves are
afoot in other places to minimise the influence of the Parties. What is
needed though is a clear and unambiguous removal of these reactionary
currents, who act as a drag-anchor on the autonomous movement of the working
class, from the centre of the struggle - that means taking them off
executive committees or from responsible positions.
This liberal/democratic tendency is further encouraged by the adoption
of Parliamentary terms and conventions, with 'Partys' forming and official
positions being encouraged. The bourgeoisie has quickly seen the potential
in this and has developed courses on 'Citizens power' which teach people the
correct and democratic way to make institutional changes, which has led to
the formation of a professional middle class strata which holds many of the
key positions within the assemblies - currently the large numbers involved
make it hard for this group to exercise any real control, but the potential
remains, especially if numbers attending drop off over the coming months.
Further evidence of this possibility is provided by the fact that the work
of the Executive Committees is broadcast on local radio for all of 15
minutes a week! Not exactly going out of their way to involve other people.
One dynamic that is militating against this attempted recuperation is
the drawing in of the Piqueteros into the Assembly movement. Presently the
Piqueteros send delegates to the Interbarrias, without fully participating
themselves, as they have their own pre-existing general assemblies in the
Barrios. A tension exists between the two, as the Piqueteros are suspicious
that the P.As are using them as muscle in their plans to apply pressure to
the government, in much the same way that Peron used the might of the
organised working class to gain control of the state apparatus. They are
also dismissive of some of the rather half-hearted actions the P.As
endorse - specifically of the city road blocks that only shut down one main
street whilst allowing sides streets to be used, thereby sabotaging the
protest by minimising disturbance to business. This suspicion is only
enhanced by the all the above factors.
The 'Unemployed movement' also contains its own contradictions, like the
P.As, its attitude towards the state presupposes its legitimacy, despite the
militant nature of their tactics, the content is not that radical; state
employment schemes; better social security provisions; food allowances;
cheaper utility bills etc. These demands are constantly being expanded
however, and are now complimented by support for the freeing of hundreds of
jailed unemployed workers, as well as public investments in water, paved
roads, and health facilities. Room exists for a radicalisation of their
activities into one that questions capitalism itself, this is helped by the
fact that the movement is very careful to retain its autonomy from state or
leftist structures. The whole dynamic of their development has been one of
consistently pushing their demands to a higher level. James Petras notes
that, "The success of the unemployed movement in Argentina today is due to
the fact that it learned from experience to avoid the pitfalls of the past
by organizing independently within the barrios, autonomously from the trade
union bureaucracy, electoral parties, and state apparatus." (The Unemployed
Workers Movement
in Argentina - Monthly Review January 2002)
The possible radicalising effect of a large-scale influx of Piqueteros
will be one of the key things that determine how events will pan out in the
coming months. The P.As need the militant, direct action of the unemployed
movement to push them beyond the current half way house of appealing to the
state, whilst demonstrating in their practical activities that they have no
need of it. Whilst the Piqueteros can learn from the direct democracy
practised in the assemblies and the value of territorial organising. The
joint action of the two would only help to advance the struggle to a new
level.
The limitations and contradictions sketched out above are not set in
stone though - the dynamic of working class self-activity logically leads to
challenging these obstacles. As people become conscious of their own
strength and power they gain in confidence and push beyond their original
intentions, and the movement gains further momentum, leading to a heightened
level of struggle. In just a few months the situation has developed from a
localised dispute about personal savings to a generalised uprising, that is
the dynamic of this struggle. To follow it through to its conclusion could
mean only one thing - revolution.
Another reason to be optimistic is that the methods used to recuperate
past class struggles in Argentina (See last Organise!), and which were based
on large scale welfare programs, co-option of Unions into a corporatist
framework and the whole 'social-contract'/ Keynesian model are now
definitively gone and will not be making a comeback any time soon. This has
led to a more open and unmediated struggle taking place. The ability of the
state to 'pacify' key sections of the working class through rising real
wages, welfare provisions, progressive taxation etc has disappeared, and has
been replaced by attacks upon the very things that had guaranteed the social
peace in the past. The state is trapped in a very difficult situation - it
recognises the need to impose cuts in social spending, but also recognises
that if it does implement these cuts it's very likely to lead to even larger
assaults on itself.
What the recent events have also made clear is that the neo-liberal
project itself is coming under increasing pressure, both from the working
class and from inside certain sectors of the ruling class (The IMFs refusal
to grant new loans during the December crisis). If the post-war social
consensus has been destroyed by neo-liberalism, then neo-liberalism is
beginning to show signs that it also cannot guarantee stable conditions for
capital accumulation - Argentina may be the first step in a cycle of
struggle that is based upon recognising these new conditions, rather than
the essentially defensive battles that the last decades have shown. A return
to offensive struggle may be on the cards.
However events turn out, the past few months have shown that the working
class has not disappeared and that it remains capable of collectively
fighting for its interests against both the state and the left-wing of
capitalism. The rapid spread of bottom-up organising, relying on the
activity of the working class itself, combined with the refusal to accept
representation or mediation can only bolster the anarchist case for the
ability of people to run their own lives free of any outside imposition of
authority.

Argentina - The Struggle Continues (Organise! #60)

In previous issues of Organise! we situated the Argentinean crisis in the
historical context and examined ways in which the situation might evolve. In
this issue we take a look at the forms of working class self-organisation
that have been built in the space created by the actions of the participants
in the original uprising - particularly the factory and workplace
occupations.

On the 16th March 2002 Armed police and hired goons (including members of
the football hooligans Barra Bravas) forced their way into the Brukman
textile factory in Buenos Aires, which had been under occupation since the
owner fled four months previously. They were shortly afterwards driven out
by the combined forces of the occupying workers, piqueteros, members of
unemployed groups and local residents. This direct action was one of the
first that brought together in practical co-operation the various forms of
working class self-organisation that have developed since the December 2001
uprising - a wonderful example of social solidarity put into practice - and
one which helped to speed the growth of working class co-operation and
autonomy.

One of the most important things about the incredible growth of
self-organisation is that the initiatives developed - in the overwhelming
majority of cases - outside of any party or institutional influence - they
are a direct expression of the needs of the participants and the wider
community - as against the needs of a particular political tendency (we're
looking at you trots!). Also, they arose on a classic spontaneous model -
they were formed to meet the demands of the current situation, they are not
simply the mechanical application of forms of organisation that were
determined elsewhere in a different struggle; though it should be pointed
out that to a certain extent, spontaneity is really just the coming to light
of previously submerged networks designed to meet collective social needs.
Spontaneity is what the bosses sneeringly call working class self-activity
when they finally manage to see what is going on under their noses.

With 40% unemployment (100 000 jobs lost a month), inflation around 11% (and
also rising) and the state imposing utility bill increases of 50% on heating
gas, 35% on electricity and other essential services, it's unsurprising that
the first forms of self-organisation were concerned with meeting the
immediate needs of the community. To bypass the supermarkets which were
making the most of the crisis by increasing prices, a whole network of
communal community gardens producing directly for the community developed.
People worked together to clear wasteland or other suitable areas for
growing food, which is given to those who have no other means of support, or
exchanged for goods from the occupied factories (see below).

Meeting Social Needs
Similarly, the piqueteros (see previous issue for background on these) dealt
with the problem of social housing by simply forming a brick making factory
from whatever material they could find and proceeded to collectively build
houses for those in need, whilst being fed from the community gardens and
the factories. In return the piqueteros also turn out to defend them both
from state attacks. The piqueteros, who were previously looked down upon and
called 'le negrada' (the blacks), are now seen as heroes and great examples
by the people they help, who in turn help them - active solidarity is the
key.

A similar approach has been taken to health issues. A number of private
hospitals were abandoned by their owners during the uprising; these have now
been occupied and are operating as profit-free ventures. The same is true of
the system of alternative education, which has mushroomed and operates
entirely outside of the state system. Cultural spaces have also been opened,
where people come to talk about how they can collectively help each other:
plays and songs about working class life and solidarity are performed.
Crches, bakeries and canteens are also set up in these spaces. On top of
all this, local communities turn out en masse to physically oppose evictions
and attempts to cut off essential local services. All of this activity is
carried on outside of the state and it's local representatives.

A less successful venture was the 'truque' or barter network that at its
height of popularity had over 8000 clubs and 3 million members. The problems
stemmed from the network's use of an alternative currency that soon became
the de facto currency in many places - soon 90% of the 'certificates' were
forgeries and credit inflation was at 40%. On top of these problems the
network was being used to finance small-scale local capitalism, and
large-scale producers were taking their goods out of the system and selling
them off at inflated prices outside of the network. (These were not local
problems - they are inherent in systems of this type, but we do not have the
space to deal with that here).

A significant change in people's behaviour is their view of 'the family',
which has expanded to include not just immediate blood relatives, but all
members of the local community. People have grown to see through joint
struggles that their problems can only be addressed through collective
action. Their answers are in working with others, hence the almost
desperate desire to forge new links with others in struggle as demonstrated
by the unprecedented growth of territorial, local, national, occupational
and interest based co-ordinations, which magnificently demonstrate the
desire for human community - communism.

In The Workplace
The movement of factory and workplace occupations has grown rapidly during
the past year, from a handful of isolated and under siege examples at the
start of the year, to a full-scale social movement with hundreds of
occupations, complete with regional and national conferences, 'National
Plans of Action', and attempts at recuperation by state and leftists forces.

The first occupations took place during the December 2001 argentinazo,
notably the Brukman and Zanon factories, which have both played an immensely
important role in practical and symbolic terms. These two have become the
public face of the occupation movement, providing space for others to work
out their own plans of occupation and as a place where the implications of
the occupations can be worked out by those they effect - not just the
workers.

Today there are hundreds of occupied workplaces (and not just factories but
also schools, hospitals and other 'white-collar' sites) covering every
region of the country. A closer look at how these places work, the different
forms the occupations have taken and the states attitude to them reveals
that there are in fact two types of occupation; one that results from
communities organising to directly meet their own needs, and one under the
control of official 'working class representatives' or of representatives of
the local state and capitalist institutions who seek to recuperate this
activity and direct it into support for 'stability' and the state as
benefactor.

The Zanon ceramic factory in the province of Neuquen is probably the largest
occupied workplace still actually producing. Pay remains at the same levels
as prior to the occupation (with inflation being taken into account) and the
ceramic tiles produced are sold at 60% of their former price through a
series of street vendors employed from the piqueteros or at the 'popular'
supermarkets set up in Rosario and other towns specifically to sell the
goods from the occupied workplaces. When new workers are needed piqueteros
and other unemployed groups are taken on, and at the same rates as the other
workers. Decisions are taken by the mass workers assembly (with delegates
from other groups present) and production is organised collectively. A
technical college for members of the local community has also been
established.

One of the first things the Zanon assembly sought to do was to establish
links with others in struggle, especially the piqueteros and other factory
occupations, and to that end they hosted a national meeting of occupied
factories in April (more on the various co-ordinations and conferences
below) which declared that it would start a plan "of public works,
controlled by workers, to construct schools needed by teachers and students,
public hospitals, and housing."

State Interventions
The Ghelco ice cream factory in Buenos Aires highlights a different approach
to the direct occupation at Zanon, one that the state is increasingly
viewing as both a way out of its stability problems and as a potential
bulwark for co-opting the working class back into its political and
structural programs (a la Peron and the unions). The factory was occupied
by an order of a bankruptcy judge, who decreed that it should be rented back
to the workers. After a set period the factory was then legally
expropriated by the local state and handed over to the workers, thus
building up ties between the state and the occupation from the outset, and
potentially providing support for capital in any future crisis ("after all
you're all bosses now"). The Ghleco workers now earn the same pay as before
but working hours have jumped to twelve hours a day to cover administrative
expenses.

The state has offered quiet support for MNER (National Movement of Recovered
Factorise) which lobbies for legal expropriation of occupied workplaces, for
wiping out debts and for establishing a clear legal framework for further
expropriations. The Brukman factory has been forced by circumstances to
largely follow this path, asking the Buenos Aires government to expropriate
the factory and re-hire it back to them, and to give them a preferential
option to buy the plant after two years, when it will be put up for sale.
Provincial and city legislatures are currently drafting a number of bills to
create a government agency to assist in the formation of co-operatives and
to facilitate expropriations, as presently expropriation is only legally
possible if it is in "the public benefit". This temporary manoeuvre is
designed to speedily introduce stability, all the better to allow the real
capitalists to step back into their old shoes when conditions allow. On top
of this many factories are not actually occupied in the classical sense
since they are still paying the previous owners rent or have written off
months of unpaid work and owed back-wages.

Communication and Networks
This is not say that the people involved are not aware of these dangers:
they are, and a series of conferences and co-ordinations amongst various
groups have taken place to discuss these issues. The Brukman, Zanon and
Grissinopli factories all held national meetings attended by hundreds of
delegates from all of the groups in struggle. "National Plans of Action",
Solidarity commissions, factory committees, National Workers Assemblies,
"Plans of Struggle" were amongst the initiatives thrashed out at these
meetings in order to turn the states plans to their own use. The
co-operation between the groups over the year has built up very strong bonds
of solidarity, a solidarity that was highlighted during the important
National March by Piqueteros last December, made possible through the wider
networks established in the struggle.

This March lasted five days, blocking highways and organising soup kitchens
whilst passing through towns and cities that have played a central role in
the uprising and in building up resistance (Rosario and Cordoba being
particularly noteworthy). The slogan for the march was "Throw the bums
out!" and ended up at the Plaza de Mayo (scene of bitter fighting and many
deaths last year) on the first anniversary of (President) De La Rua's
resignation.

Solidarity actions under the banner of "Que Se Vayan Todos" (They All Must
Go) took place at the same time in every corner of the globe Australia,
Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico,
Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK,
Ukraine, Uruguay, USA, and Yugoslavia. The network now extends far beyond
the borders of Argentina, putting into practical effect the demand for No
Borders!

Prospects
The current state of affairs is a series of self-organised initiatives that
operate to a greater or lesser degree successfully, and largely outside of
the state's institutional structures - but there is a growing awareness and
willingness on the state's part to make use of these initiatives to put
itself back on its feet - to get capital accumulation started again and to
introduce a measure of social stability. There are clear efforts being made
to split the movements through recognising certain useful sectors as
official and taking them under the (local) state's wing.

This should not be a cause for undue pessimism however - as we pointed out
in an earlier Organise! the dynamic of people organising their own lives and
communities logically leads them to organise against the state. The genie is
out of the bottle, and the Argentine working class is in no hurry to chase
it back in. When collective needs are taken as the starting point for
collective activity, without any fuss being made of this - then we can truly
say that struggle has changed people (just like we said it would!).


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