Reports from Argentina
Posted: Feb. 04 2003, 01:34The weather in Buenos Aires really doesn't make any sense. Every day last week it was miserably hot, with temperatures around 36 degrees celsius (97 degrees fahrenheit) and humidity that could drown a bear. Then all of a sudden on Saturday morning the wind started to blow and the rain started to fall, and it was chilly with pouring rain all through the weekend. And today it's blisteringly hot again. Just as I was recovering from my last sunburn I get a brand new one. People are starting to call me "el rojo" ("the red") for more than one reason!
But you guys don't want to hear about the weather, right? You want to hear about the HUMONGOUS PIQUETERO MARCHES that took place all over the country today.
A little background for the uninitiated: The piqueteros movement is how Argentina's six million unemployed are responding to the economic crisis. Thousands of unemployed workers get together to block streets, freeways, bridges, railroads, businesses, etc. so they can make demands to the ruling class. These demands usually involve either more government subsidies for the unemployed or more jobs so as to end unemployment. Some organizations are more radical than others – a few months ago one group of piqueteros threatened to blow up an oil refinery with dynamite if they weren't given jobs – but most stick to your basic picketing stratgies: get a mass of people in the street and burn a few tires.
Today there were a total of 37 piquetero actions throughout Argentina. I went with a small contingent of comrades from the PTS to picket an oil refinery in the "industrial belt" in the south of Buenos Aires. This march was convoked by the "Bloque Piquetero", an alliance of leftist piquetero groups including the Polo Obrero, the MTL, MTD Resistir y Vencer, and the FTC. Other independent piquetero groups participated as well, such as CTD Anibal Verón, Barrios de Pie, MIJD, and the Frente Barrial 19 de Diciembre. Notably absent were the "rightist" piquetero groups, the CCC and the FTV, who prefer to contain their actions to "pressuring" the government for more subsidies.
(Now I know all these acronyms are confusing, but if it's any consolation, rest assured that I am far more confused than you. There seem to be a million different piqueteros organizations, political parties, popular assemblies, youth groups, etc., all with their own flags and politics. As soon as I scribble down a few observations about one in my notebook, three more come marching round the corner. MTL, MTR, MTD, CTD, CCC – WTF?* At some point in the future I will compile a complete list of Argentinian acronyms, but not today. It's getting late and I don't want to spend six hours in this internet café!)
This march involved about 5,000 people going to an oil refinery and peacefully attempting to block off all the entrances. The problem was that this was a strategy that had been used before – one year ago the piqueteros sealed off this oil refinery for five full days – so the police were well prepared, well before we arrived. There were police lines in front of all three entrances, which kept us several hundred yards away from the refinery.
Comparing this march to the CCC's march last Tuesday, we see the difference between the "left" piqueteros and the "right" piqueteros. The CCC mobilizes to the Ministry of Labour in order to demand more and better unemployment subsidies, the so-called "Plans for Heads of Housholds," which currently offer 150 pesos a month to two million families. A portion of these plans are then distributed by the piquetero organizations themselves, so it works out to be like a business. The CCC gets unemployed people to come to their marches, and in exchange these people get their subsidies from the CCC. And the leaders of the CCC get nice, comfortable bureaucrat jobs organizing all this mess. That is why President Duhalde calls these organizations "clientalist."
The "left" piqueteros of the Bloque, in contrast, go to an oil refinery operated by Repsol YPF and Shell (two imperialist companies that made a fortune from the privatization of Argentinian oil and are now making a fortune because the devaluation of the peso) and demand genuine work in that facility.
The difference is basically that the CCC seeks a slight alleviation of the suffering caused by unemployment, while the Bloque, at least officially, seeks to end the suffering by ending unemployment. (It is worth noting that in December, when Duhalde began to make wild accusations about the piqueteros, about how these were "conspirators" seeking to end "democracy" by violence, all piquetero organizations turned a bit to the left, that is, stopped to depend so heavily on the government, but the basic left/right dichotomy between the various organization, like the basic dependence of piqueteros on government subsidies, remains the same.)
It's obvious, of course, that neither side is offering a solution. The unemployment subsides called for by the CCC are not going to end the structural crisis of Argentinian capitalism that has left six million without work. The calls for "genuine work" from the Bloque, on the other hand, are not to be had just by blocking a few streets two days a month. So their only realistic demand was for more subsidies as well!
During the march I – and I hope many others – paused to ask myself, "What exactly are they hoping to accomplish with this?" We went to the oil refinery, we blocked it off, we sent in a delegation to demand genuine work. And? I mean, are the owners supposed to come out with open arms and say, "OK guys, we've seen how desperate you are, there will be 5,000 new jobs at this refinery as of tomorrow"? These are capitalists, folks, they just don't think this way.
When this delegation came out we saw how the leaders of the piquetero movement are really paid political spin doctors: We talked to the managers, and even though they said that they cannot offer any jobs right now, we have arranged a meeting for some distant point in the future, yes comrades, we have our foot in the door, and this is a victory for all Argentinian workers! [piqueteros cheer]
I guess this shows how desperate the piqueteros are. After years of struggle and nothing but a rise in unemployment and a drop in the standard of living, they are willing to celebrate any small victory.
But we can make two conclusions from this episode: 1) all the piqueteros organizations are run by fucking bureaucrats. These people were never elected. What assembly decided they should be the "leaders"? They are just militants of political parties using demagogy to manipulate the desperate unemployed for their own ends. If these were revolutionary ends, that would be one thing, but these leaders are centrists. Do they honestly expect to bring about "profound social change" by blocking an oil refinery? 2) the most important thing in Argentina right now is unity between the employed and unemployed. The piqueteros were able to mobilize 5,000 people to demand "genuine work." But imagine if just 500 workers inside the refinery had begun a strike to demand genuine work for their unemployed comrades? Then we could have seen some results. Take the example of Zanon: the workers in that factory, who have run it under workers' control for over a year, have been able to create more than 20 jobs for the unemployed of Neuquen. WARNING: not original ideas! stolen from the PTS!
(Oh yeah and a side note: today by a complete coincidence I met Raul Godoy, worker in Zanon, leader of the workers' takeover, head of the ceramicist union, militant of the PTS, a true vanguard fighter. He was in a hurry, since he wanted to visit a number of piquetero marches in Buenos Aires, but I had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes and tell him I was going to Zanon later this month. I can't wait.)
I guess that's about all I have to say about that. Which is good because my time is running out rapidly. I wonder if I can fit in one more anecdote from today...
In Argentina the police exist to provoke piqueteros, and today was no exception. The piqueteros were very well organized, with a number of security lines at the front and back of the march to keep the demonstrators and the police well separated.
(In fact, comparing the piqueteros to the police I would say the former were better disciplined – at one point the cops tried to march to one side to let a car pass and it was so chaotic that it reminded one of school kids playing soldier; the piqueteros, on the other hand, had a chain of command that made sure their security personell was always at the head of the march as well as surrounding all the important "leaders.")
Anyway, at one point piqueteros passed individually through the police lines to get water. Keep in mind, I am white and was carrying an expensive "I AM A JOURNALIST"-style camera, and even I didn't try to go through police lines. But I guess these people were thirsty.
These piqueteros were careful to leave behind the rods they used for the security lines – as well as any other weapons ** – when they passed the police. Nonetheless, one of Buenos Aires best and brightest thought he saw a weapon on one of them (it turned out to be a walkman) and attacked. The police beat this poor guy mercilessly and were about to arrest him (for carrying a walkman!) before one of the piquetero leaders intervened and got things under control. This caused a huge protest, since the guy had to be taken away in an abulance and everything, but the piqueteros were able to resist such a disgusting provocation.
– Dzhon Rid
* Movimiento Territorial Liberación, Movimiento Teresa Rodriguez, Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados, Coordinadora de Trabajadores Desocupados, Corriente Combativa y Clasista, What The Fuck?
You get it? I thought it was a clever joke.
** This one kid who must have been about 14 years old asked me for some money to buy food and he was cool about it so I gave him a few coins. Then one of his friends came and one handed A HUGE FUCKING REVOLVER to the other. Can anyone say "lack of revolutionary discipline"?
Edited by Dzhon_Rid on Feb. 04 2003, 18:00