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(en) Organise #61 - Interview with Neka: representative of the Argentinian autonomous movement

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 19 Oct 2003 10:37:30 +0200 (CEST)


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On June 19th we had the opportunity to interview Neka, a
representative of the Argentinian autonomous movement. She is a
member of the piqueteros, the movement of the unemployed, so
called from the Argentinian word for blockade.
Though they are best known for direct action, they carry out much
wider projects, developing neighbourhood networks, education and
health intiatives and microcompanies, self organised workshops in
which the unemployed make first what they need then products for
sale to get some income. This is especially important since there
has been no dole or benefits in Argentina until recently. Even the
very limited dole came as a result of the direct action of the
piqueteros.
Argentina made headlines a year and a half ago, due to the collapse
of the economy and political institutionals. Millions of Argentinians
lost their savings and money in December 2001 when the economic
policies implemented at the orders of the IMF and World Bank and
others crashed; this certainly increased resistance. But the
struggle of those affected by harsh living conditions has been a
constant for a long time. The state continues to decine due to a
lack of legitimacy and resources, abandoning responsibility for
health and social services for instance. This makes
self-organisation a necesssity for most Argentinians, who need to
build their own structures so they can go on with their every day
lives.

This has provoked a debate about the role of the state. Though
most of the time services are delegated to it, there’s no need to
do so. Self-organised workers can do the work, providing health,
education and other services to higher standards.


After all it’s us, the workers, who do the real work and not
state bureaucrats. But while the state collapses and retreats from
a lot of its supposed duties, it has never had any problem to keep
up, or even increase, the level of repression, thus disclosing its real
nature and priorities. Even in the days of December 2001, when
governments were made and unmade in a matter of days, if not
hours, the only fully working state organisation was the riot police,
which killed many demonstrators.

It’s difficult to think of any possible solution for the
Argentinian crisis in the foreseeable future, especially via
capitalism. The fact that international organisations such as the
World Bank or the WTO are demanding more of the same policies
that led to the crash, and that international banks are pressing for
debts to be repaid, is not helping at all. Through these last years,
only the will of the people to resist, finding new ways of social
organisation, has allowed them to keep their lives going on. Even if
it had a lot of problems and set-backs, as we would expect when
someone is exploring new ways, it was a very important and kept
hospitals, schools and factories open. Now the bosses and the
state are coming back, as if nothing had happened, to reclaim the
companies or areas that they left when the crisis struck. Their only
argument for this is coming from the barrel of a gun. There’s
still a future of struggle for the Argentinian people ahead. We can
only hope that we can support and help them.

Interview with Neka, representative of the Autonomous
Argentinian Movement.

Could you explain to us who are the piqueteros, how they are
organised and how they first appeared?

Let me introduce myself. I’m Neka and I am a member of the
MTD Solano. We are part of a coordination of different movements
called MTD Aníbal Verón. We began to get organised at the
end of 1997, mainly out of meetings and assemblies in the
neighbourhoods, as we began to be badly hit by unemployment.
That was our starting point.

These assemblies and meetings, did they begin spontaneously, or
were they an initiative taken by some existing political group?

No. Most of us had met each other through the every day reality of
the neighbourhood, as we were engaged in different projects. For
example, I was part of a team working on health issues in our
barrio. We had been in touch, there was a bond between us. And
there were also some compañeros who had been involved in
other projects in the area. When we first decided to get together
and discuss the problems brought by unemployment, most of us
had a deep and sound knowledge of our barrio.

So there was a previous experience of organising at a local level?

Yes. The area where I come from, San Francisco Solano, is a town
of 80,000 people. All the barrios are the products of asentamientos,
the squatting of land to solve the housing problem. That started in
the 80s, so there is a history of struggle, very strong and hard in
this area. We had already been doing together different actions,
assessing different ways of getting organised and of solving the
main problems in life.

The piqueteros are represented all over Argentina...

Yes. It’s a very diverse movement. This word, piquetero, we
never branded ourselves like that. It started being used by the
media, that is the state, in a disrespectful and pejorative way, to
imply that we were criminals, subversive elements. When we
began to get organised there was still a middle class, which
doesn’t exist today any more, and it was really hopeful, waiting
to see what capitalism and neoliberalism had to offer. So when we
began to blockade roads and occupy public buildings, it was a very
shocking thing. Since then the social and political situation in the
country has affected wider sections of the population. They have
deeply felt the consequences and awakened from the golden dream
of capitalism, the dream of progress for some through the wage
labour, the exploitation of the rest; comfort, consumerism...

Was there a particular time at which you decide to start with these
actions, road blockades, etc? Was it from the start, or was there
first a process of radicalisation that you went through?

There’s not a single unified movement, there are lots of
different ones and each one of them has its own way of organising.
For some, the piquete, the blockade on the road, is the most
important stuff. They look for a more media-focused way of
building up the movement or the political party. For us the main
thing is behind the blockade. As the MTD Solano we say that the
road blockade or squatting a public building is only a means, and
the most important things are happening in the barrio, at the
assemblies, through the collective way of making decissions.
Before we do any action we discuss a lot in the meetings why we
are going to do it. What is the meaning, for example, of blockading
a factory or a mill, places where the raw materials that we need to
produce or to feed ourselves are kept. Before we squat a Carrefour,
the multinational supermarket, we discuss the meaning of this
capital concentration, as well as why the food is concentrated
there, and not where it should be. Direct action and project
construction in our barrio come together; we construct every day in
our neighbourhood what we demand in the street.

What’s the impact of all these projects in the lifes of those
taking part in them? Has it come together with an evolution in
political ideas, in the nature of demands made?

I think there was a very important break with traditional politics
and political issues, and it is precisely related to all this.
We’ve been through a lot of different organisational practices,
lots of experiences and what we’ve finally learnt is that we can
build up better projects without leaders. We don´t need any one
speaking on our behalf, we all can be voices and express every
single thing. They’re our problems and its our decisions to
solve them. The fact that we have education, popular education, as
a central axis of our project, allowed us to open space for
discussion and thought, to start building up new social relations, to
deeply know each other, so we could feel we are all part of
everything we are building. Getting back our dignity depends only
on ourselves and not on a boss or anyone else imposing on us a
way to live.

What you have said about popular education, is there any practical
project on that, or do you mean more like sharing the experience of
social construction?

No. As we understand society it is based upon domination
relationships, so anything coming from its institutions will be based
on this same principle of domination. Education is education for
domination. Same as the family. So when we propose social change
we have to begin at the beginning and devise new relationships. I
think this is the challenge. When we decided that we had to
produce our own foods, to struggle against the monoply of food
production we understood that new relantioships are born of this
practice, through discussing all these issues. And also
horizontality and autonomy, and all the things that are not abstract
ideas or theories, but a practical issue and a process. Popular
education, the dynamics of the meetings and assemblies, are all
part of the effort to change these relationships.

What are the relations of the movement with more traditional forms
of the left? Have they tried to use you to achieve their goals?

I don’t know how it is in other places, but that’s a usual
thing in Argentina. When there is something interesting happening
any where, the parties first either criticise or try to manipulate it.
So there’s not only the need to fight against the right, but also
against attitudes and deformations from the left. We understand
that there are areas in which we can work together, like against the
debt or repression. This causes problems for those of us who
believe we need to build the movement up from autonomy as much
as for those who believe in a more classical way. But we think
from a very different logic and the new society we can think of is
very different from theirs. I think they’ll have to learn.
They’ve gone through a lot of setbacks and they’ll finally
learn that there are ways that don’t work out, as they became
as authoritarian as all that they criticise.

Have you ever had any problems to keep the assemblies
independent?

A lot. We are all the time being criticised, and there are always
attempts to manipulate and infiltrate us. We are all the time
discussing how to take care, not only on a personal level, but also
of the construction of our projects.

Could you tell as a bit of how all this is practically implemented,
how the assemblies work and how they are co-ordinated between
each other?

There are different levels of co-ordination. There are seven barrios
in the MTD Solano and on certain projects they work together, like
on health, education, productivity or economic projects. Through
delegates we put together initiatives in these areas but also plans
for the struggle and more. These delegates meet once a week, from
different places and areas and they represent the decisions made
in their assemblies. Also the MTD Solano itself has its own
delegates, who meet with others and coordinate all this effort and
all this experience through the MTD Aníbal Verón. Some times
they may be leaders or decision makers. In our case the
delegations are taken in turns and can be recalled. If they don’t
voice the decision made by the assembly they can be recalled.

Was all this co-ordination at a wider level this way from a start or
has it evolved and gone through changes? Was there a discussion
on how to have it put in place?

I think it was the needs of the movement at different times which
made us say to ourselves: OK, lets stop discussing political
differences and strategies and lets co-ordinate a bit of struggle
against the issues hitting us hard, such as the repression. In less
than a year we’ve had three compañeros killed in the MTD
Aníbal Verón. This week makes a year since the Avellaneda
massacre, in which two of them were assasinated. This repression
made us stop and think that we had to coordinate a struggle
against it. Also the affair of the corralito, the expropiation by the
state of the savings of the people, we could see it was not only
affecting those deprived of their savings but also the every day life
of the whole country. I think that reality itself has imposed
different levels of coordination on us.

Has there been an evolution in the level of the repression that
you’ve had to confront?

I think that the repression in Argentina has never ended, the
dictatorship has never ended. There’s been a change in the
nature of repression, which is now much more subtle and much
more dangerous, such as different ways of social control and the
means they employ to control the social movements. I think that
the state is repression, that the essence of the system is criminal.
When the state leaves millions homeless, without any benefits or
health service, that is repression. When kids are starving to death
every day, dying of malnutrition or bad health, that is repression.
These policies are repression, economics is represion. Of course
this comes along with batoning and shooting those demanding in
the streets an end to it, asking for what we have right to. An
interesting side of repression lately, is trying to have all the popular
struggles become part of the institutional process, searching for
every mean to buy the leaders. That’s why we don’t have
leaders, because in the end they always agree to something the
people doesn´t want, something the assemblies don’t want.
This is the more subtle way, and through propaganda,
criminalisation, through new laws and organised groups. They are
taking advantage of the situation to organise alternative groups in
the barrios, paying youngsters from the area to work with the
police and the state, killing militants, chasing people down. There
have been more than 300 different cases of faked robberies
involving shootings where some militant is killed. This is organised
by the police itself. For us it’s all part of the same military
dictatorship that ruled in the 70s, only in a different fashion, with
the mask of democracy.

So we can say that every state, either a dictatorship or a
democracy, always follows the same pattern, that of repressing
social movements.

There´s a change in the form, in the shape, but the essence
remains the same. It´s a matter of detail.

It seems to be a situation of class exploitation in both forms of
government, and the role of the state is to ensure and protect the
privileges of the rulers, the rich and powerful.

Of course. As I see it the true democracy is when we all have a
posibility of saying what we want, of choosing how we want to
live, without it being impossed on us. As long as these domination
relationships exists, as long as there is an imposition of how to do
things, there cannot be any democracy, no matter how popular a
government is.

Do you also keep in touch with other types of social movement,
like the workers running the factories, or any other?

Yeah. The network of squatted factories is very diverse as well.
There are about 200 of these and a lot of different proposals on
how to run and defend them. But there is also a network of
co-ordination between them the squatted factories, the assemblies
and the piqueteros. Recently there’s a strong co-ordination
with other squatting groups as well, such as teachers, doctors, etc.
It’s a very interesting process.

Do you think that your movement served as a model for other
groups that began to get organised after theDecember 2001 crisis?

I think so, I think it’s been useful even though we don’t
believe it’s right to become a model or create a dogma, nothing
like that. But I think there are experiences that multiply themselves
and get diversified, which is very interesting. We’re always
having comrades from other places coming along to visit, to stay
with us for a while, work and see, and they’re very happy with
it.

Do you co-ordinate with anarchist groups? Are they simply
organised as members of the assemblies?

No, there were moments in Argentina of a very strong anarchist
struggle, such as those of the so-called tragic week or the
Patagonia Rebelde, when the first unions in the Patagonia were
established. This influence is very strong in areas of the movement
such as education, organisation. We are also interested in the
Spanish Civil War and its different experiences. There are some
compañeros at the MTD Solano who come from the anarchist
struggle. We have big similarities with the historical way of
building up an organisation. But nowadays in Argentina we don´t
keep any big relationship. We do with individuals, but not with any
anarchist organisation.

What do you think the role of globalisation, and international
capitalism, has been in the crisis that Argentina is going through?

I think that even though national economic institutions and the
state have responsibility for everything happening, I still think that
the pressure has been on a global basis, that the interests of big
capital have out this pressure on. They have effects in countries
like Argentina but also on everything happening in Africa, in Asia,
and on some countries of Europe itself. It’s a conscious policy,
planned and executed by the likes of the International Monetary
Fund, the big corporations.

How do you see the attempts to create an oposition to this
neoliberalist project by building up an nternational
anti-globalisation movement?

We take part in a lot of forums, for instance the Porte Allegre
summit, meeting people from all over the world. But we also meet
many others at a regional or continental level. We find them very
interesting spaces, but we also think that there’s a point in
stressing the issue of co-ordinating only that which can be
constructed or practised. There’s a risk of having only
speeches, agreements, theories and when we come back home,
nothing happens. The system is preying on and living in our spaces,
in our every day life. It gives us an education to make us obey, it
imposes the way our clothes are, and where we have to live. You
and I cannot choose the place, the house or the barrio where we
want to live. I think that the struggle against this taming, this
domestication or discipline that we all receive so make us obey the
system, that’s what we have to co-ordinate afterwards.

Try to get back the decision making on our own lifes.

I think so, yeah.

Talking about practical stuff, what do you think we could do from
here, Europe, to support the struggling people of Argentina?

Where we get strength and hope is from meeting other struggling
people, or those who are doing things in their areas, proposing a
new way of life. There’s also the sharing of resources. Usually
here, as well as in Spain or Italy, there’s more resources,
things that we lack. Support, and sharing things as much as we
can, I think that’s a very important issue. There’s also the
repression. I thing it’s been reduced thanks to world wide
demonstrations, even when it was very strong. Though we
don’t expect much from international organisations, protests
and demonstrations in front of them, of embassies and so on does
call attention to our situation.

If we look into the future, do you think there’s any solution for
the crisis in Argentina within capitalism or would any solution have
to go through a radical redefinition of everything?

At the moment in Argentina we have a big void due to the lack of
legitimacy that the state has had lately. But at the same time the
system is very enduring and goes on creating conditions for it to
survive and thrive. This is happening with the new government but
it doesn´t mean that the right solution is being applied, for us.
There´s no valid answer from any reform or reproduction of what
we had before.

Q.- Can this void of power that state crisis has brought along be
filled by a network of all the struggling sectors? Do you think that
such a coordination could be the embryo of a new society ,
organised in a different way?

We, at least, are not thinking with the same logic that we are used
to. I believe it is possible to imagine a different kind of society. We
at MTD Solano don´t have any faith in a revolution employing the
same methods of the bourgeoisie to govern. There must be a
different logic.

Yeah, could spreading this way of organising, according to these
different logics, could it take over the state, so at the end you get a
network of assemblies managing the every day life of the workers?

Yeah, I think that would be the logical way, wouldn’t it?
Because that’s the only way every one can take a decision on
what affects them.

Finally, how do you think that this is going to evolve? The
movement itself, also the social and economic situation in
Argentina, what do you think is going to happen, and what would
you like to happen?

I don’t think the conditions are ripe for a popular government,
no matter how much they want it. I think that, for a while, they´ll
use some mechanism to create some social consensus, to gain the
support they need to stay in power. But at some point it’s going
to kick off again. They are using a lot of tools to create hope in the
people, as they did when they brought Lula, Chavez, Castro. But all
this, at least as we see it in the MTD Solano, is simply a mask to
fool us. In fact, I think that this government is already having a lot
of problems carrying on. We don’t expect any important
change, any radical one, of any good for the people. The challenges,
at least for us, are to go on getting strong in the barrios, making a
sound organisation, analysing the new situations in depth and
fighting creatively the situations that arise, and don’t let
ourselves become dogmatic, either.

So a future of struggle.

Yeah, the struggle goes on.


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