Friday, July 28, 2006

Anarchist Visions Argentina

Orginally published as a Znet commentary January 27, 2006

This past month activists in Argentina marked 87 years since the violent army attack against striking workers in what is known as “La Semana Tragica” (The Tragic Week).

In January 1919, a major insurrection broke out in Buenos Aires. Military officers attacked workers on strike at the Vesena ironworks plant for an eight hour workday and better salaries, killing four workers on January 7th. Argentina’s anarchist union federation, the FORA—Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina called for a national general strike paralyzing the economy to repudiate army attacks against the metal workers. On January 9th, a brigade of armed workers led a march of 200,000 people. The procession turned into a battle ground. In the midst of police open firing on the crowds and reactionary terror squads, workers struck back burning down the Vasena factories, raiding armories and forming worker militias. Historians estimate that police killed seven hundred workers, wounded 2,000 and arrested 55,000 during The Tragic Week-1919.

Activists this year organized a popular “escrache” or exposure protest against the Jesus Sacramentado convent and cathedral. Military sharp shooters targeted protesting men and women from the rooftops of the Jesus Sacramentado cathedral in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Almargo during The Tragic Week. The Catholic Church clearly supported the violent crackdown against workers in 1919. Throughout Argentina’s history the Catholic Church has backed each military dictatorship (from General Felix Uriburu 1930 to the latest military dictatorship 1976-1983). In memoriam with the victims, local popular assembly participants and anarchist groups painted graffiti and threw garbage in front of the cathedral.

The Tragic Week of 1919 has left an unforgettable effect on the working class in Argentina. Many working class struggles have emerged in recent years that carry a spirit reminiscent of anarchist labor organizations in the early 1900’s. Struggles in the subway, public hospitals and recuperated enterprises have lifted up many anarchist visions for creating a new social relations and fight against employers. Several anarchist principles: direct action, mutual solidarity and worker self-determination have become indispensable tools in defending workers and unemployed against exploitation in today’s Argentina.

Direct Action

Since the turn of the century the strike has been used as a weapon against employers. Direct action is only possible if we perceive that our own activity can make change. Telecommunications workers, public health employees, train laborers and Buenos Aires subway workers are setting a good example of how the use of direct action can help workers change their destiny with their employers.

In 2004, the subway delegates won a 6-hour work-day with a series of surprise strikes. Again in 2005, with wild-cat strikes, subway workers won a 44% pay increase. Some 500 subway janitors and security guards from three temporary employment agencies went on strike and shut down all 5 subway lines to demand the re-hiring of workers in October, 2005. The strikers also wanted to be included in the collective labor contract between formal employees and Metrovías, the private company that runs the Buenos Aires subway system. Telecommunications workers have led a fight against flexible labor standards. Between 2003 and 2004 workers from the Spanish telecommunications companies, Telefonica and Telecom, occupied operating centers. They won better salaries.

Anton Pannekoek wrote in his text Workers’ Councils: “In the strike for the first time the workers discover their strength, in the strike arises their fighting power. From the strike springs up the association of all the workers of the factory, of the branch, of the country. Out of the strike sprouts the solidarity, the feeling of fraternity with the comrades in work, of unity with the entire class: the first dawn of what some day will be the life-spending sun of the new society. The mutual help, at first appearing in spontaneous and casual money collections, soon takes the lasting form of the trade union.”

Mutual Solidarity

Many of Argentina’s labor organizations like the subway workers, public health workers and several worker run enterprises have fostered a broad mutual solidarity network. Pannekoek describes this as mutual help, which appears spontaneous and then takes an organized and lasting form. Argentina’s mutual solidarity network has become extensive and very effective.

The general assembly at the worker controlled FaSinPat ceramics factory has regularly voted to use funds from production for workers’ strike funds. During the months long conflict at the Garrahan children’s public hospital, FaSinPat provided funds for employees who had their salaries cut for participating in the strike. The long standing conflict at Tango Meat, a meat packing plant in the Greater Buenos Aires district of Tigre is another example of the importance of a strike fund. Regularly, worker organizations contribute funds so that the workers from Tango Meat can sustain the conflict which began in July 2005 with the firings of union delegates demanding a wage increase for workers. Since the initial firings, workers have camped out in front of the plant's entrance. The union went on strike to demand the re-hiring of workers with a wage increase. The management then fired all the workers, without paying back pay or indemnity.

Beyond strike funds, direct action is another element of a mutual solidarity network. Last March when a group of men physically attacked and tortured a wife of a Zanon worker, social organizations quickly mobilized to denounce the attacks. Subway workers said that they would paralyze the Buenos Aires subway system if the attacks continued. "Zanon has helped to coordinate workers in struggle. We are ready to do whatever is necessary to defend the struggle of the compañeros in Neuquen," said Arturo, a subway delegate.

Worker self-determination

A fundamental characteristic of these worker organizations fighting today is their commitment to democratic organizing. This past year the workers at the Garrahan children’s hospital have led a fight for a basic livable salary. They’ve also had to put up a fight against the legacy of bureaucratic union that has acted in accomplice to the privatization and destruction of public health. 700 nurses, technicians, and janitors are organized in a worker assembly that functions as an internal commission of the ATE state-employees union. The internal assembly values direct democracy and non-hierarchical organization – motions are made by the assembly’s body and then the workers vote on the motion.

On January 20, Subway workers presented a draft for a new collective labor contract they are set to negotiate with the Metrovias company. This is the first time in Argentina’s history that a body of workers (over 300 in this case) drafted a labor agreement. The draft is titled “The workers building their own destiny.” They published the book explaining how workers can use a collective labor contract to protect themselves against employers. They printed over 3,000 copies so that each worker can review the draft and give his or her opinions. The draft lays out the parameters for workday, vacation, safety standards, wage scales, etc.

Class struggle movement

Worker organizations are proving that they organize themselves effectively and democratically. Subway workers along with public health employees, public school teachers, telecommunications workers, train workers, and unemployed worker organizations have formed a coalition of grass-roots worker organization in what is known as The Inter-Sindical Clasista (Classist Union Coalition). The Coalition’s 14 principles state a commitment to democratic organizing and unity among workers struggling against exploitation. Workers participating in this coalition self-define themselves as classist, combative and anti-bureaucratic. This coalition even formed a Syndicalist school. The first workshop was given on “companies’ strategies for flexible labor standards and unions.”

Fighting for peoples’ history

The escrache against the culprits in The Tragic Week 1919 was not only to remember fallen compañeros but also to prevent history from being erased. During the protest activists distributed a flyer: “Many collectives, neighborhood assemblies and worker organizations are building another history. We are doing this through horizontal organizing, autonomy, worker self-management and building solidarity. With the same ties that the workers in 1919 had built in their assemblies and cultural spaces and that the state throughout history tried to destroy.” The state hasn’t destroyed the legacy of activist organizing against oppression and Argentina’s labor movement is proving that workers can take their destiny into their own hands. “1919-2006: against wage slavery, the same fight.”

1 comment:

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