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(en) Aufheben #11 "Picket and Pot-Banger Together: Class Re-Composition in Argentina?" III (3/4)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 28 Feb 2003 13:57:34 +0100 (CET)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

> 6. The Piqueteros.
The new forms of organisation which emerged drew some of
their very strength from the drastic nature of this
?neo-liberal? restructuring. Whilst the economic experts were
accusing Argentina?s political class of implementing the
changes too slowly, the bourgeoisie in fact created a new
problem for itself by having implementing them too
quickly. When a large number of closures and redundancies
hit almost overnight, the workers laid off en mass found
themselves with common needs in a new situation where
their social ties and continuing links of solidarity could be
turned into new form of organisation. The mass worker
becomes the mass unemployed worker. The first visible
expression of these proletarians against their growing
immiseration were sporadic street riots. In 1989 the province
of Chubut in Patagonia exploded in a week of struggle,
which ended with the resignation of the governor. The same
year riots started in Rosario and Buenos Aires, where
supermarkets and grocery stores were looted. From then on
riots occurred throughout the country. However, the growing
number and worsening situation of unemployed workers
deprived of their means of survival necessitated more
concerted action.

Whilst the tactic had been used from about 1993 onwards, the
co-ordinated piqueteros movement was born in Cutral Có and
Plaza Huincul, two towns of Patagonia created around
the State oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales. It
was privatised by Menem in 1994-5, and as a result 80% of its
workers were suddenly laid off. Privatisation
means more efficiency: whilst in the past it was the only
major oil company in the world to report losses, due to the
high wages and benefits conceded to its workers, after
privatisation its profits rocketed while the living standard of
the populations of the oil towns declined. By 1996 the two
towns had an unemployment rate of 37.7%. The
first riots exploded in June 1996 when the local government
failed to reach an agreement with a Canadian corporation to
set up a fertiliser plant in the area. The rioters
were placated by promises made by the authorities. In March
1997, a teachers' strike against layoffs and wage reductions
evolved into the first of the now famous road
blockages. When the police attacked the blockade, the towns
of Cutral Có and Plaza Huincul mobilised in support. The
popular assembly set up to negotiate with the
authorities demanded jobs, tax moratoria and investments in
the oil company. They decided to demobilise when some
promises were made, including the creation of 500, (badly
paid) jobs. The moderation of the assembly was due to the
fact that people could see no good, in the situation, in an
escalation of the protest. By the same token, the
intervention in the assembly by local politicians was
The piqueteros? tactic of blocking roads was soon being taken
up in other towns. It was used in Jujuy and Salta the following
year, provinces in the north of the country.
In Jujuy on May 7th 1997, piqueteros blockaded the Horacio
Guzmán Bridge, Argentina's main link to Bolivia. Over the
following four days, protests and blockades spread
through the province, amongst both employed and
unemployed. The movement was attacked by troops, (tear gas
and rubber bullets were used), but provincial officials
eventually capitulated and promised to create 12,500 jobs and
increase welfare. The spread of piquetero tactics and their
forms of organisation moved first through the
provinces, but then came closer to the capital when they
reached La Matanza, in Greater Buenos Aires. This sprawling
industrial suburb, with a population of two million,
had been badly affected by unemployment. Here piquetero
numbers grew substantially to 4,000-6,000 people. This new
area of piquetero activity was also important because
piquetero actions could now strangle the capital by blocking
its major arteries, all within easy reach. We should also
mention at this point events in Tartagal and Mosconi,
both towns were occupied and held for a few days from the
police in winter 1999/spring 2000, by forces including
piqueteros. After the death of a demonstrator in November
2000, Tartagal was again rocked by riots ? government
buildings were set alight and cops taken hostage.
Typically, a piquetero highway blockage would have demands
such as the withdrawal of police, the repudiation of state
repression, the release of jailed comrades,
unemployment benefits, food, health facilities, and demands
for both ?genuine? jobs and Planes Trabajar or Work Plans ?
the later being effectively small unemployment
subsidies (120-150 pesos a month per family, only available to
those with families, and paid in ?Lecops?, a national parallel
currency or ?bond?) . The state would give out
these work plans to defuse situations. Over the years,
piquetero actions for Work Plans have often met with success.
The subsidies are given to heads of families ? say, 100
out of 800 piqueteros ? rather than forming the basis of a
universally-shared benefit, miniscule though it would be.
Work Plans are normally intended to be taken in
exchange for light public works, like municipal gardening or
the upkeep of roads. They amount to a pittance, representing
in their value about an eighth of the material
needs of a family of four. Echanges et Movements however,
also mention ?organised looting? by piqueteros in 1999, and an
escalation of violent, direct appropriation of
goods in 2000, especially around the December events of 2001.
Goods vehicles trapped in pickets were looted, warehouses
and supermarkets attacked in a concerted way, and
anger expressed in attacks on government buildings. Already
in June 2000, a violent riot in General Mosconi which left 2
dead, led to a country-wide response with 300
road-blocks. We must not forget these more violent and direct
expressions of piquetero organisation, some of which may be
more hidden.
Small groups of piqueteros, organising locally in their
neighbourhoods in the first instance (eg MTD Lanús ? MTD
stands for Movement of Unemployed Workers), are often
affiliated to a larger ?Coordinator? group, which is in turn
affiliated to one of the four major piquetero confederations.
These are the CCC (Class Combative Current) group
and the FTV (Federation for Land and Housing), ; the Bloque
Piquetero, and the Coordinadora Anibal Verón, which once
formed part of the Bloque Piquetero but which has
increasingly distanced itself from it, insisting on its total
independence from parties and unions.
The FTV has a large membership and wide support in La
Matanza, in the west of Buenos Aires province. It also
includes groups under the banner ?Barrios de Pie? ?
neighbourhoods on their feet. The CCC is the (relatively
autonomous) organised piquetero union arm of the (Maoist)
Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR), It too has a strong
base in La Matanza, and also in the northern provinces of
Argentina. The Bloque Piquetero gathers together dozens of
piquetero groups including the Polo Obrero, (linked to
leftist parties such as the trotskyist Partido Obrero -Workers?
Party), and a handful of other leftist groups.
The CCC and FTV-CTA group are considered the most
reformist elements of the piquetero movement, with a
tendency to negotiate with the government. Divisions within
the movement over this led to the suspension of the third
National Assembly of piqueteros planned for December 2001.
A report from the Coordinadora Anibal Verón describes
Anibal Verón?s eight-hour picket of seven bridges and access
routes to Buenos Aires city on the 21st November 2001,
contrasting it with another action, by the FTV grouping,
which had started a few days before. The FTV piquete had in
fact allowed transport to circulate on one side of the street
from 5am to 10am and again from 5pm to 9pm, so as
not to cause too much disruption in La Matanza. But, as they
say, ?While in La Matanza the third day of roadblocks ?with
alternative routes? passed without a response?the
firmness and organization of each of our bridge-blocks meant
that, in spite of public declarations by the Ministry of Work
that they would not receive the unemployed
because we were ?blocking roads?, in a few hours the same
Ministry was sat in front of us at a negotiating table, publicly
ratifying the commitment we sought.? The
statement goes on to criticise the FTV picket: ?That which is
generated by a road-block ? born as a tool of the unemployed
with which they can interrupt the movement of
goods via national highways, to generate economic problems
which, from a position of intransigence, forces the government
to make concessions to the demonstrators ? in the
hands of these sectors ends up being a blocking ? of the
pavement, by the side of the road, while transport freely
Importantly, Anibal Verón, (and perhaps other piquetero
groups), eschew mediation, literally refusing to meet the state
on its own terrain, forcing government negotiators
to come to the pickets. This helps to ensure that negotiations
over limited aims take place on the piqueteros? terrain
politically. ?Work Plans? and the rest are given out
to families, rather than individuals, everyone can take part in
the negotiations, the work plans are given out in a transparent
manner, and everyone can decide on when to
clear the road etc. Limited aims, which from the outside look
to be merely within the reformist dynamic of capital, are
achieved with an understanding of the needs of
proletarian struggles (such as refusal of mediation), which
point to the importance of the process of struggle ? social
recomposition against the atomisation of capitalist
social relations ? as the real subversive current.
Groups like Anibal Verón criticise the CTA and CCC
piquetero groupings for sending delegations to put their case
to both government and employers (for example in January
2002 CCC-organised piqueteros sent delegates to the oil
company YPF-Repsol to demand 40,000 ?genuine jobs?, and
that working hours should be shared between those working
and those who had been sacked; and another delegation was
received by the Casa Rosada to demand Work Plans and food
and the release of political prisoners). More generally,
we can also see the incursions of the official unions into the
piqueteros movement as just an attempt at recuperation, or
as an opportunity for cross-sector solidarity,
maybe partly initiated by the base, which could eventually
break free from its present limits. The bureaucracy may well
have a need to increase its membership and leverage
on the class by recruiting piqueteros under the banner of
coordination and organisation, but piqueteros have their own
reasons to understand the need for this coordination,
one which, in a generalised proletarian offensive, could
contradict the mediation of unions.
In February 2002 Duhalde, perhaps trying to regain some of
the ground lost to mediating channels, declared that there
would be a universal dole of 150 Lecops per family
(piqueteros have demanded 380 ? both at pickets and in the
assemblies). The contemptuous response to this measly
benefit was clear in the two huge piquetero mobilisations
of May 2002 when hundreds of roads were blocked. The
governments? inability to implement a meaningful, universal
level of unemployment benefit and its insistence on Work
Plans has caused it endless problems. During De La Rúa?s
presidency, the Ministry of Social Development removed the
administration of Work Plans from the local authorities
in favour of their distribution by NGOs, partly to curb
municipal clientelism in the province of Buenos Aires, and to
limit the growth of small piquetero groups in the
city. The policy backfired when unemployed organisations
created their own NGOs to administer the plans and to set up
their own social projects using the funds from them.
This was a factor in the growth of the large and increasingly
powerful coordinations of groups of unemployed activists in
the poorest neighbourhoods, which form one aspect
of the assemblies movement that we will discuss later.
Today, many of the grassroots MTDs (Unemployed Workers
Movements) such as the MTD Solano, part of the Coordinadora 
Anibal Verón, are making use of the work plans to set up
projects in their own barrios, such as bakeries, metal and
wood workshops, schools and vegetable plots, as well as
running workshops to discuss political questions. The
projects are staffed by piqueteros in receipt of work plans
(direct to their bank accounts) who put the four hours a day
they are supposed to do in exchange for the money
to the service of their immediate communities. The northern
town of General Mosconi is perhaps the most advanced in the
use of work plans, with piquetero groups setting up
around 300 projects.
Here we can see that the organisation of the piqueteros is not
demobilised by government concessions; the state does not
have strong enough mediating structures to
individualise people and recuperate them in a settlement.
Whilst the moneys are given to heads of families or other
individuals and go to their bank accounts, they
effectively end up becoming funds for further collective,
autonomous organisation. With the withering of mediating
structures, the piqueteros, forced to meet their everyday
needs autonomously, experience an almost constant state of
mobilisation ? with the heightened level of communication
between social subjects that this entails - in which
the existence of the ?political? as a separate sphere is
increasingly challenged. Ironically, the very practical nature
of official piquetero demands, (jobs, food parcels),
are an expression of this, and are in fact the other side of the
coin to the much publicised ?rejection of politics?, which
seems to contradict them. Even though it forms
part of the attack against the living standards of the working
class - is capital shooting itself in the foot by reducing the
mediating structures of its state?
One problem with ?work plans? on the other hand is that they
sometimes help to further undermine the salaries and
security of waged workers. One kind of Work Plan for women
called Madres Cuidadores (caring mothers) is little more than
a way to replace teachers on the cheap, and has been
denounced as such by teachers? unions. We must also
recall at this point that a neo-Peronist liberaliser like Menem
was able to fall back on the semi-autonomous, tentacular
Peronist neighbourhood organisations when he was
attacking state provision, channelling funds through this
network to cushion the effect. De La Rua, as we have just
seen, had similar policies. Other bourgeoisies across
the region have also opened the doors to NGOs, charities and
aided the informal, grassroots sector as part of the same
process of economic liberalisation. In this maybe the
executives of capital lean too much on forms of organisation
which they will find difficult to control in the long run.

However, we must not fall into the trap of simply
cheerleading this process as the rediscovery of grass roots
autonomy and empowerment ? the type of facile endorsements we
criticise elsewhere in this issue. The problem is maybe
precisely there ? ?autonomy?. There is a tendency for this
class experience to become merely the management of
survival within capitalism, tied loosely into the system
through aid, charity and clientelism, but understanding itself
to be autonomous from capitalist social relations.
Identifying capital narrowly with international capitalism,
(multinationals, financial institutions, the US and EU
bourgeoisie) and the comprador bourgeoisie which manage
their operations within the country, ?grassroots? experience
may be ?naturalised?, seen as a given ?thing?. Capitalism is
not seen as a social relation which includes all
social interaction including those within the barrio, but a
rapacious, exploitative class outside the barrio. To put it
another way, the relationship of exploitation within
self-exploitation is externalised. If the class can externalise
this relationship it will always end up preserving capitalism,
in preserving its life and rebelling against
the ?capitalist class?.
Another important feature of the piqueteros movement is the
fact that it has become a node of struggle for different sectors
of the class. People in work, especially those
whose jobs are threatened, have participated extensively in
piquetero actions, (as we noted, the first pickets were
initiated by teachers). This is a critical point to keep
in mind if we want to evaluate the long-term possibilities of
the Argentinean movement. Although the work plans meted
out to the unemployed may sometimes lower the wages of
other workers, more importantly maybe different sectors of
the class are recognising their needs in each other?s struggles.
The bourgeoisie is finding it very difficult to
decompose the class into antagonistic sectors fighting over
jobs. The reserve army of labour is not performing its
designated duty! As an example of this solidarity, on the
4th of April 2002 a Bloque Piquetero march, in the coastal
town of La Plata, passed by the provincial government
building before heading for the Family Office, to offer its
support to state workers on strike there. Protesting at cuts in
overtime, wages and other benefits, the workers had taken
over various buildings and were in permanent
assembly. When the piqueteros arrived, the gendarmería were
inside and the assembly had been suspended. But when the
workers saw the size of the crowd which had come to
support them, they shouted at the gendarmerie to leave and
continued with their assembly. Piqueteros have also defended
the occupied factories from eviction, pushing back
police attacks on numerous occasions, as have members of
local assemblies and other neighbours.
Although in the early years of the movement the state and the
bourgeois press could manipulate broad middle class opinion
against what was painted as a dangerous,
lumpen-proletarian threat, the increased immiseration of the
middle classes has narrowed the gap between the two sectors.
The new possibility of this situation was evident
in the practical solidarity of the events of December 2001on
the streets. It emerged in the days following the national
cacerolazo of the 25th of January, that the police
had blocked Pueyrredón Bridge, the gateway to Buenos Aires,
to stop hundreds of piqueteros crossing to join the cacerolazo
in the Plaza de Mayo. Furthermore, on the 28th of
January 2002, a march of piqueteros from La Matanza to the
Plaza de Mayo was greeted and given food by the
neighbourhood assemblies who accompanied them the rest of
the way. The slogan ?Piquete y cacerola, la lucha es una sola? (
Picket and ?pot-banger?, the struggle is the same?) was heard
that day and soon became popular. In February
2002, after the announcement of the abandonment of the
dollar-peso parity, a piquetero march coming into Buenos
Aires from the poor suburbs, was again greeted by the
?middle classes? of the centre of Buenos Aires with food and
drinks. It was of course understood that the inflation that
would result from the devaluation, (together with
the effect on savings), would affect everyone. Whether these
expressions of solidarity can be further concretised remains to
be seen.
In order to discredit the piqueteros in public opinion and
possibly to prepare the terrain for repression, the State has
attempted to smear the movement. In March, in a
calculatingly menacing tone, Duhalde stated that: ?in the
piqueteros movement we believe that there is a part of
authentic protest which is becoming smaller....and another
part financed by extremist groups. We have been told that the
finances [for the piqueteros in Salta, north of Argentina] may
come from the FARC of Colombia, or in other
words, from narco-trafficking.? It is important to note that a
US military base is planned for the area of Salta that Duhalde
is referring to; the same place where, last
year, US marines carried out joint exercises with Argentinean
troops. This rhetoric also serves to separate the ?good?
piqueteros from the ?bad?. The looting panic whipped
up by the media following the December events (when
rumours, intended to keep people off the city centre streets,
flew around the poor Buenos Aires suburbs that ?looters?
were attacking people?s home and were on their way; fires
were lit on many residential street corners and people
prepared to defend their blocks against attacks which never
came) was another attempt by the state to split the
piqueteros from the ?middle classes?. As we have seen from
the links formed in January, the attempt failed.
On the 30th May, the piqueteros blocked 1,000 highways,
bridges and roads throughout Argentina, as well as railway
lines. Their mass mobilisation was accompanied on the
same day by strike action by airport workers that brough
Ezeiza, Buenos Aires? airport, to a standstill. President
Duhalde indicated his impatience with piquetero tactics,
saying that road-blockings could be tolerated no longer. In
light of this, it is clear that the police attack on the piquetero
action of the 26th of June, in Avellaneda,
that left the young piqueteros Dario Santillán and
Maximiliano Kosteki dead and some 40 injured, were not
simply the work of ?maverick cops?. Importantly, thousands
immediately descended on the Plaza De Mayo in response to
the murders, growing to some 50 000 people two days later.
The alert response to state repression reduces the
options for the bourgeoisie.

> 7. The factories

Whilst the most striking and original feature of the
Argentinian movement is the piqueteros, our interest in this
highly organised and radical movement, based on disrupting
the sphere of circulation of capital, should not blind us to the
question of what the class as a whole in Argentina is doing.
The aspects of radical practice in the
movement which go so far as heralding new social relations
should not make us forget to look at the totality. The question
that has come up in recent months for observers
of the events is - what are the workers in the sphere of
production doing? It is a fact that the radical organisations in
the factories which we have discussed above in the
context of the struggles of the 1970s, were severely repressed
during the years of the military regime. Almost all the authors
we have come across who spoke of the
situation in Argentina today complain of a lack of militancy in
the workplace. The complaint is that the unions are
completely tied into the system, and so are cowardly and
given to manipulating workers in tokenistic strikes, demos or
days of action in order to both safely channel worker
discontent and to increase their bureaucratic power. The
reasons given for this situation in the work place range from
the somewhat vague contention that the workers are simply
sold into this official union structures (this,
understandably, from a member of the independent
motoqueros base union), to the belief that the workers in work
are just too scared to lose their jobs; whilst Mouvement
Communist sketch an effective class compromise recently
patched up between Duhalde and workers in key sectors. They
think that with the possible rejection of electoral
politics ?the support of the CGT, the only mass organisation
capable of ensuring social peace?is essential. Its inclusion into
the government?is a possible hypothesis given
the independent progress of the class struggle. This is why
Duhalde is trying to make the middle classes, the
petit-bourgeoisie and the workers of the state sector
[organised by the CTA] pay for the State?s fiscal crisis. He
traces out a new ?alliance of the producers? composed of the
bosses of heavy industry, the workers in these
industries organised by the CGT and some unemployed
workers bought off by some precarious jobs within the state
administration. To fly the flag of this new Peronist
settlement [Duhalde] didn?t hesitate to promise the general
secretary of the CGT ?Rudolpho Daer? to withdraw the
restrictions on bank accounts as far as they concerned
salaries.? We cannot at this point comment much more on
this, although it is an important point to keep in mind. Some
of the moneys saved in the huge cuts of the past two
decades could well be used to try and buy off the diminished
number of workers in key strategic industries like oil
production. It also gels with the political events in
Argentina since December 2001 - the rejection of the Radical
De La Rua, opening the way for the Peronist Duhalde to try
and limit the damage of the uprising by re-opening
the clientelist Peronist channels still connected to the
workers, through the medium of the CGT.
We have mentioned the frequency of general strikes in recent
years. Although union led and of course limited by the union?s
own agenda, we must not assume that the workers
simply march in step behind their mediators. We note that
railway workers have been on strike more than once over the
last year, and in September 2002 the transport workers
of Metrovia mobilised to demand a reduction of their working
day to six hours, a concession they held until only a few years
ago. There are also numerous, ?hidden? strikes
in small factories over closures, non-payment of wages etc.

We must not forget the instances of common piquetero
struggles by (mostly) state workers and the unemployed in the
provinces from the mid-90s onwards. Workers in state
industries threatened with privatisation have also used road
blocking tactics on numerous occasions, for example at
Cutral-Co and Plaza Huincul, when the petrol company YPF
was sold to Repsol. 36.8% of all road pickets between
December 1993 and December 1999 were made by waged
workers! The struggles of the state workers has been a major
feature of the Argentinian movement and is still very much a
live issue. It is a question intimately involved with state
clientelism. As we have already noted, with the
expansion of the state, the clientelist structure Peron tried to
incorporate into his Justicialist settlement was partly
achieved with the explosion of ?phoney? jobs in the
central state and local administration. More recently, Menem,
no doubt to placate the IMF which was making business with
the central state and so complaining about its
spending, sacked 110 000 federal state workers (as well as 107
000 provincial state workers). He also transferred 200 000
teachers from the federal budget to local
government budgets. In Buenos Aires province for example
(where Duhalde was governor), the number of state workers
rises substantially from 280 000 in 1991 to 400 000 in
1999, no doubt soaking up the 110 000 workers sacked from
the central state in Buenos Aires. The need for the Peronist
governors (and at one remove, the Peronist president)
to keep their huge electoral clientele is the reason for these
machinations. This reluctance to attack state jobs decisively
show how deep the Peronist class settlement was
rooted, even in the ultra-liberal Menem years. As we have
seen however, the attack did start in the late 90s, but is still
contentious ? recent negotiations with the IMF
have revolved around the issue of the provincial budgets, the
IMF asking for 60% cuts. One would think that more massive
redundancies might ensue, but the game is not so
simple for the bourgeoisie, with an insurrectionary movement
in near permanent mobilisation. Duhalde?s administration is
squeezed between the IMF and the movements ? during
a bout of negotiation with the IMF, one government negotiator
complained that the IMF didn?t understand that the
administration is constrained by the fact that there are at
least 30 actions a day in Argentina!
Most workers may now be keeping their heads down at work
but what has emerged is that many of them are involved
through the neighbourhood assemblies. They take part simply
as neighbours and also report on the workplace organising
that does go on. For example, at one neighbourhood assembly
meeting , a worker from the nearby Buquebus ferry
service across the River Plate to Uruguay, described the
actions that were being taken against redundancies and asked
for support, to the assembly?s great approval, as did
another who worked at the Clarín newspaper. Many other
workers take part in the cacerolazos as well, a form of protest
usually associated with the ?middle class?. It is
vital to keep these things in mind. Workers not actively in
struggle at work may be in touch with the needs and actions
of other sectors in struggle through neighbourhood
organisations. Furthermore they take part in decision making,
in demos and other organisations, as neighbours in concert
with other neighbours, through these organisations.
The positive thing in this is that a directly social dimension of
struggle is available to many workers, one which looks beyond
their specific, sectoral interests in
particular industries. But the limitation may be that workers
separate their everyday needs (which they see as belonging to
their experience as neighbours), from their role
as producers of surplus value at work. The later would have to
be socialised too, and this understanding turned practically
against capitalist social relations, to really
paralyse the system.
The other form of worker organisation to discuss are the much
publicised factory occupations. We must not forget that these
occupations, and the startling expressions of
solidarity that they have engendered, are few, but at the same
time they do come out of a material situation now nearly
universal for the Argentinian proletariat, hence
their radical potential and their maybe inflated fame.
The most widely reported factory occupations are those of
Zanon ceramics factory in the province of Neuquén, and
Buenos Aires? Brukman textiles. The Zanon occupation
started when the 400 workers were threatened with losing
their jobs as the bosses of the factory stopped paying them
and effectively started winding down the business. The
workers responded by occupying the factory, setting it in
motion using the materials still inside. Within two days they
had produced enough ceramics to pay all their wages
for a month. They sell their products at 60% of their previous
price through a network of young supporters who take them
from door to door. Organised through their trade
union, SOECN, though with no support from the national
ceramic-workers? union FOCRA (part of the CGT), the
workers have refused the owners? attempts to negotiate the fate
of the factory. They have totally rejected the ridiculous terms
of a possible return of the bosses ? wage-cuts, laying off 360 of
the 400 workers. Instead they demand ?the
immediate opening of the plant under workers' control, with
no redundancies and no wage cuts, and with full payment of all
outstanding salaries. If the bosses refuse to do
this we will demand the nationalisation of the factory under
workers' control, as part of a scheme to provide public works
to build houses, schools and hospitals, all which
are much needed in our province. In this way, we can help
provide an answer to the problem of unemployment by
creating real jobs.? They propose to share the jobs amongst as
many unemployed as possible. In the 2002 National Assembly
of Piqueteros, a motion was passed that abandoned factories,
or those that made many redundant, should be
expropriated from the owners and self-managed by the
workers. This has also been voted for on numerous occasions
at the Interbarrial, the weekly general assembly of the
neighbourhood assemblies. Zanon workers have, from the
start, forged fruitful links with other groups and won great
respect for their resistance and level of activism. In
the first month of their occupation, October 2001, they joined
piqueteros and other groups to blockade bridges and highways
in Neuquén, and they have visited Buenos Aires
and other cities to take part in assemblies and
demonstrations. In return, as we have already noted, they
have been successfully assisted by piqueteros and others in
attempted evictions.
The Brukman workers in Buenos Aires, capital, decided to
occupy on the 18th of December 2001 after a collapse in wages
in the autumn months, (they were being paid in
?vouchers? of dubious value), and general contempt from the
bosses. One 28 year old worker died after they refused to pay
for vital medicines. They had not originally
planned to set the plant in motion, but when an order of
textiles became due in January, they decided to sell it to pay
their wages. They have since taken responsibility
for the plant - paying bills, fixing a boiler, and reorganised the
factory floor to save on energy costs. ?We maintain our
struggle not through stubbornness but through
principles and logic. The owners have demonstrated that they
are incapable of running this factory ? all they know is how to
exploit us, steal our money and invest in
non-existent companies. If we could get the company on its
feet, why couldn?t they? ? Brukman has a total debt of 8
million dollars, and its major creditor is the State,
with more than 2.5 million owed to the National Bank. So the
demand we make is that the company be municipalized ?
under workers? control.? [Footnote: ?Trabaja y vende?,
from Argentina Arde newspaper #8, 11th April 2002, p5] Like
Zanon, as we have seen, they are not waiting for the state?s
endorsement, but are running the plant with the
assistance of neighbours and others. They also offer to turn
the plant?s production to providing for the needs of the
?community? - especially for hospitals, schools and
the unemployed.
In La Mantanza, the closed Panificadora Cinco bakery was
occupied by its workers with the support of the whole
neighbourhood and put back to work to provide bread at
reduced prices for the locals. There also, the piqueteros
defended the occupation against a police intervention.
The workers? own statements and some of the information
above point to the limits of self-management. Their belief
that they can run the firm better than the bosses may
originally come from their antagonistic relationship to the
capitalist imposition of work on the shop floor. Running it
better may mean making it easier for the workers to
work there, contradicting the valorisation needs of the bosses.
The fixing of the boiler may be one such example ? workers
may experience this both as an everyday nuisance
as well as recognising its need in the smooth running of the
factory, whilst the bosses for their part want to cut costs. The
boss is then both a problem because he doesn?t
recognise the workers needs, but at the same time, he is seen
as a sort of philistine of production, who ignores the
qualitative aspects of production. As the workers
occupy their work place and put it into motion under their
own control however, this once antagonist relationship based
on their immediate and intimate experience of the
production process becomes a necessary identification with
the business in itself - paying bills etc.
At this point the understanding of exploitation fixes narrowly
on the incompetence of their particular bosses, as the
workers, now in charge, need to prove to themselves
and others that there?s a better way of doing things. In other
words, it is forgotten that the bosses are themselves
constrained by capitalism to fuck their workers over.
And when the workers forget this, they gloss over their own
link, as ?self-managers?, to this constraining social relation.
Isolated in this situation where an inward
looking, voluntaristic mindset is required, the burden of
exploitation may end up being doubly hard, and splits may
emerge, with the most committed and militant driving the
others and effectively becoming the new capitalist bosses as
they try to make the (once collective) project work. Or the
hard won collective control of the production
process may not be relinquished resulting in the workers not
having the necessary capitalist discipline required to make
their enterprise survive in the unforgiving
capitalist market. One way or another, the law of value will
re-impose itself on the activity of the workers.
We must be careful not to simply dismiss these occupations
however. These struggles are a process which form part of an
extensive class mobilisation. Some of their radical
tendencies, such as the proposal to produce for local need,
(Brukman proposed to cover the textile requirements of
public hospitals, Panificadora Cinco provision of bread)
- even if they do not prove possible or ultimately stay within
the frame of exchange relations ? move to concretise the
demand that immediate needs be met, facing up to the
mediation of exchange value. This is the social possibility of
struggles, which can challenge the fetishism of commodities.
This process of collectivisation of proletarian
needs is produced through a heightened level of
communication on the ground in Argentina. These workers
are experiencing every day the solidarity of other proletarians
different sectors, and so materially feel the need and
possibility to reciprocate. Their reformist demands such as
nationalisation could, in a more generalised class
offensive, be subverted by these very social links. The
everyday experience of decision making and power on the
shop floor is another important aspect of their experience.
Whether the Argentinian movement can or will extend enough
to give them the opportunity to realise the radical moments
of their struggles is a different matter. For its
part, as we have seen, the state seems to be aware of the
radical potential of the occupations, using force to try and
retake the factories on a number of occasions and in
fact, in some cases, ending up participating in their
expropriation by the workers.
There are said to be 100 companies involving some 10 000
workers under some form of worker?s control in Argentina.
Brukman and Zanon, along with the Clinica Junin of
Cordoba, form the small, politicised wing, presenting
themselves as an independent movement concerned with
much more than just putting their factories back into production,
and with an awareness of the pitfalls of self-management. As a
Brukman worker said, ?we don?t want to set up a cooperative
?.where we would have to submit ourselves to 11
people who would boss everyone else around.? Brukman
continues to be a focal point for struggles, being a site for
assemblies, workshops, exhibitions and organising. It is
difficult to get a clear picture from the scant information we
have available, but in general the others seem to have a
different political orientation, calling themselves
?co-operatives?, and constitute themselves in official
structures involving state and unions. The two structures
regrouping these companies are the MNER (National
of Recuperated Companies) comprising of 3600 workers, and
FENCOOTER(National Federation of Co-Operatives and
Re-Converted Companies) with 1447 workers. In
such as Ghelco SA., a producer of ingredients for frozen
desserts, or the publishers Chilavert, the workers set up
co-ops to restart production after the companies began
bankruptcy proceedings. On the 12th September, the Buenos
Aires legislature voted unanimously to permit the
?recuperation? by law of these two factories - the deal is that
the government of Buenos Aires will pay the rent of the
building for two years, while the equipment is ceded to the
workers. After two years, the co-ops will apparently
have first refusal on buying the plant.
A comrade from the German group Wildcat recently visited
one of these co-operatives: ?I visited an occupied
metallurgical factory, La Baskonia, in La Matanza. There we met
an advisor from the CGT. We soon realised that they?d opted
for the legal route, for founding a cooperative before setting
the factory to work. They are not interested in
joining together with the other factories in struggle, nor in
workers? control, nor even in nationalisation. ?It?s a Peronist
occupation?, commented my comrades. Another
example is IMPA, an aluminium factory which has been
functioning in the form of a co-op for some time. The good
thing is that they lend out one of the factory floors for
solidarity parties ? a fantastic place for parties! ? but I never
saw the workers from IMPA at any demonstrations or
assemblies.? The last we have heard of the occupied
factories at the time of writing is that Zanon and Brukman
called a meeting on the 7th of September which attracted
around 500 people, including leftist parties, where it
was agreed to set up a national strike fund. On the same day
at La Baskonia, the MNER also called a meeting attracting
the same sort of numbers, but amongst the workers
attending were members of Congress, senators and the
vice-president of the cabinet.


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