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(en) UK, AF, Organise #60 - Argentina - The Struggle Continues

From ManchesterOldham AF <anarchist_federation@yahoo.co.uk>
Date Sun, 25 May 2003 09:04:10 +0200 (CEST)

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

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. Crèches, 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 -

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!


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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