Monday, July 10, 2006

Unemployed Workers Movement Debates

Originally published in Znet, July 13, 2003
By Marie Trigona

“We were the most forgotten, neoliberal politics created this, we don’t have production value in the face of hegemony. For this we are the untouchables, the most marginalised of all. In the face of this we go into the streets as road blockers, this is how we made them see us, with our faces covered,” reflects Carlos from the unemployed workers movement in Argentina.
June 26, 2002 two activists from Argentina’s unemployed workers’ movement were killed during a road blockade of Pueyrredón Bridge in police repression. The repression was part of a government plan to step-up a state terror campaign to control growing social protest.
At a year since the deaths of Darío Santillán-22 and Maximiliano Kosteki-25, a week of activities were planned to denounce the government’s plan and reflect and analyse the practice and future of the unemployed workers’ movement. Unquestionably, the deaths and repression have left an unforgettable mark on the movement—generating internal debates and criticisms. The right to identity, self-defence and organizing to confront state repression are some of the debates remerging.
Before workers expressed themselves in the factory, stopping the factory, taking the factory, and because the unions betrayed the workers, they took on this method of blocking routes.

Capitalist visions have wrecked Argentina. Industrial centres have been replaced with abandoned, crumbling factories and joblessness. In search for cheaper labor markets factories have moved to new regions or concentrated production. Argentina’s economic collapse has swelled the ranks of the poor and jobless to levels never seen in its history. Today, 58% of the population living below the poverty line and 44% are either unemployed or underemployed.
In the shambles of an economically ruined nation, a new practice of protest emerged, blockading roads. Since 1997, what is now known as the unemployed workers movement has taken root. Without access to the factory and utility of tools for liberation—strike, sabotage, and occupying the factory , unemployed workers sought out new practices for struggle. Today road blockades are used to prevent merchandise from arriving to the market.
June 26 we went to demand food subsidies and that they increase our unemployment subsidies, because 150 pesos is nothing. The government wasn't going to allow the blocking of the bridges. We knew from the start that there was going to be repression but the people didn't care. The people are hungry and they went out to get what's theirs.

Sectors from the piquetero organizations planned to blockade almost all major access to Buenos Aires June 26. Leading up to the killings, the corporate media publicised accusations that unemployed protesters are extremist, subversive and violent. The hype accompanied government threats to repress protesters’ planned blockade of a busy bridge.
“The attempts to totally isolate the capital will be considered a war action,” said former National Security Secretary Juan José Alvarez, June 19, 2002. Behind this threat there was a plan of repression and chain of agreements between the government, security forces and judges. Clear complot for the government to mount a campaign of violence and institutionalisation to soften “hard-line” piqueteros.
We are violent because we go with covered faces to block a bridge, yeah, how violent we are. We have relentlessly brought letters to politicians and they don’t care, our demands don’t interest them. They demonstrated that they don’t give a damn about us, because the answer they gave us were real bullets, lead bullets. They kill us for asking what belongs to us; they kill us for asking for dignity. They killed two brave compañeros.
Repression commenced as a police line situated in between two columns began to retreat to the side, but Commissioner Fanchiotti ordered 9 agents to stay. “They were looking for a prvocation to initiate repression. The formation of police lines gave clear indications of a pre-emptive plan to use violence. Ordering officers to stay in the middle of columns with their backs to protestors was completely illogical," states Sergio Kowalewski, a photographer wo took the phtos inside Avellenada train station which provoked national outrage.
Inside Avellaneda train station, 10 blocks from the bridge Darío Santillán and Maximiliano Kosteki were shot. Photos and witness accounts show that Santillán was shot in the back after kneeling to help already wounded Kosteki. The photos showed Fanchiotti himself dragging and dumping Santillán outside the station.
33 people were wounded with lead bullet wounds. Each shot was followed by an attempt to cover up the use of live ammunition, officers picking up red cartidges that hold lead bullets. Hundreds were shot with rubber bullets and 160 were detained.
Fanchiotti and other officials initially denied responsibility for the killings. National Security Secretary Juan José Alvarez publically claimed the piqueteros had been planning an armed struggle. Many journalists insinuated the piqueteros were armed and that their intentions were violent. Media magnate Daniel Hadad said on his Radio 10 show that the piqueteros provoked the police. Many news daily's censored photos that would incriminate the police or officials ordering the repression.
Photos and eyewitness accounts provided evidence to charge Fanchiotti and his driver, Alejandro Acosta, with double homicide and insinuate national outrage.
Self defense is the defense of a people, because if the people organize they have tools to struggle. The people have always had their defenses. It's not something that we invented. I believe the media taught us to see that the subversive and bad guy are always the ones who use a stick, slingshot and molotov in the street. The moltov has been around forever. Organizations have always had ways to defend themselves against an oppressive system. One of the most important things that we worked towards in the movement was dignity. I believe in what some of the compañeros say: if dignity means life than we were like the dead looking for life, If dignity means peace that we were looking for peace, if dignity means struggle than we took our sticks and slingshots and then we block the road and fight. If dignity means death, which is what we just saw the 26th, then we are wiling to face it, we move forward and struggle for our dignity.
"There's another spirit of resistance," expresses a compañero. Since June 26, many sectors from the unemployed movement have stopped covering faces and carrying sticks. Media and government once again began another campaign to criminalize the piqueteros, in this campaign media distinguishes between hardliners and those piquetero organizations willing to negotiate.
In order to appear willing to negotiate, autonomous organizations have left behind symbols of identity and tools for resistance. One of the criticisms that has generated is that while organizations permanently negotiate to make immediate demands heard (food and subsidies), organizations are unable to build tools for liberation.
June 26 arrives as Nestor Kirchner completes his first month as President. The repressive apparatus responsible for the deaths and injuries continue to function unchecked, although Kirchner has a seemingly soft discourse on the need for police to patrol protests. In the weeks since Kirchner assumed presidency unemployed workers organizations and human rights groups have met with Kirchner, recognizing good intentions and hope he is different from Duhalde.
Many are paying close attention to what Kirchner will do with unemployment subsidies (planes de trabajar) of $150 pesos per month or a little more than $50 U.S. dollars. “The movement seems happy with the unemployment subsidies the government is giving, those plans that were won with piquetero blood and the backs of the working class. Before with the transitory government of Duhalde, the plans were given to tide over the piqueteros.

Now the movement thinks that Kirchner has good will in continuing the plans. There is no more talk of genuine work or boycotting corporations. Many know that if they push for that they will appear as radical and the government will repress,” says Calu, piquetero from the Southern Province of Buenos Aires.
His concerns reflect the contradiction with the new visions of the piqueteros and negotiations in national politics. Negotiations determined boundaries between what is politically correct and illegal. Government can now legitimize the repression during piquetero blockades with the rational that it is illegal to impede transit.
Since the explosion December 19 and 20, 2001, Argentina has been celebrated as an example of autonomous resistance, while this spotlight has brought reflection and inspiration; the celebration has limited space for necessary criticisms to move society closer to social revolution. Without criticisms we are limited to only challenging neoliberal politics and fortalizing progressive officials that uphold exploitation and repressive state apparatus.

We need to make sure that the compañeros didn’t die in vain, to leave the enemy with the victory. When we reach social change or social justice, that’s when the deaths of our compañeros won’t be in vain.

If we don't go out to struggle for what belongs to us this is never going to change. Those on top are always going to stay with what they want, I think that needs to change, I don't know how. But it would be good to kill all of them.
All interviews are part of Chronicles of Freedom: Organizing Resistance, a documentary by Grupo Alavío.

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