Friday, July 14, 2006

Bosses? No, Thank You! Lessons from Argentina's recuperated factories

Orginally published in Clamor Magazine, sep/oct 2005
by Marie Trigona

“What do we know as workers? That we aren’t going to save ourselves alone. We need to fi ght together,” said Jorge Benítez, an Argentinean worker at the ceramics factory Zanon, occupied and managed by its workers since 2001.
Benítez and another Zanon employee recently visited workers occupying a meatpacking plant to share what the 460 workers at the ceramics factory have accomplished. “It’s important that we become onscious of our necessity to unite and build common objectives as workers who are defend- jectives as workers who are defend- defending our job posts,” he said.

La Foresta, the newly occupied meat- La Foresta, the newly occupied meat- meatpacking plant in a barrio called La Matanza packing plant in a barrio called La Matanza on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, was built on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, was built in 1957. La Matanza, which means “The in 1957. La Matanza, which means “The Slaughter” in English, was built to house Slaughter” in English, was built to house workers working in the industrial belt’s meat workers working in the industrial belt’s meat market. In the past decade, many of the fac- market. In the past decade, many of the fac- factories in the district have been abandoned or tories in the district have been abandoned or have severely cut back their personnel. have severely cut back their personnel.

Nationwide in Argentina, thousands of Nationwide in Argentina, thousands of factories have closed and millions of jobs factories have closed and millions of jobs have been lost in recent years. Today, unemployment stands at 19.5 percent and underemployment at nearly 16 percent, meaning that over a third of workers (approximately
5.2 million) cannot fi nd adequate employment. Half of the population lives in poverty. But many compañeros have stood up to resist against this destiny.

For nearly 50 years meat-processing has been the lifeblood of La Matanza, with generations of families working inside the La Foresta plant. Most of the factory’s employees have worked there for decades, through the good times and bad times. In 1999, the plant went bankrupt, and a series of businessmen rented the facilities, making quick profi ts and then abandoning the factory for greener pastures. In January 2005, the last such renter, MEYPACAR, told the remaining 186 workers that the plant would be closing temporarily for renovations. MEYPACAR never reopened the plant.

“A lot of compañeros have left part of their lives inside this factory, some working here for over 30 years. We’re tired of the bosses who come here to make money and then they leave. They don’t care about anyone,”
said one La Foresta worker, unnamed in this article due to the extralegal nature of the plant occupation. La Foresta workers decided to stay inside the plant waiting for past months’ salaries that MEYPACAR had indebted, but management never showed up and there is little likelihood that bankruptcy laws will ever force them to pay back salaries to the workers. Faced with little other option, the workers decided to organize in order to restart production as a worker cooperative. Since March, 70 workers have been occupying the plant to prevent the machinery and equipment from being ransacked. They are in a fi rm political and legal fi ght to keep their factory and start up production without a boss or owner, under workerself management.

Argentina’s occupied factories and enterprises are an advanced strategy in defense of the working class and in resistance against capitalism. The experiences of worker selfmanagement/organization have directly challenged capitalism’s structures by questioning private property, taking back workers’ knowledge, and organizing production for objectives other than profi ts. One of the biggest worries that the workers at La Foresta have is how to self-manage their factory. In the midst of the legal fi ght to form a cooperative, they must also plan how they are going to organize the cooperative and the plant’s production. “We need to prove that we’re capable of successfully running this meatpacking plant,” said the cooperative’s president, during an assembly.

Luckily, they have other experiences of recuperated enterprises to look to. In Argentina, there are some 180 recuperated enterprises employing 10,000 workers. Workers from Zanon visited and shared their experience of worker control in a vital moment in the legal fi ght. On a Saturday afternoon after the weekly assembly at La Foresta, workers sit in a cooler that once held racks of beef for the screening of Zanon: Building Resistance , a
documentary by Grupo Alavío. Two workers from Zanon in their 50s visited La Foresta to express the ceramic factory’s support and willingness to collaborate with them. After the talk, workers expressed a number of
their concerns, asking questions about organization and how the ceramists took on their struggle.

In another assembly, workers at La Foresta were visited by representatives from the BAUEN Hotel, a 20-story facility that reopened under worker control in 2003. Like Zanon, BAUEN Hotel doesn’t hold any legal
status. The current president of the BAUEN cooperative spoke during the assembly, saying, “We don’t need a boss. We are capable of creating more jobs and better salaries. Another thing we know is that the boss always
benefi ts from the state, giving loans that businesses never paid back. Although we don’t have legality, we have legitimacy.” Questions from La Foresta employees included things like, “Did the workers become conscious right away, from being a simple worker to carrying out tasks that the bosses took care of before?” “How did you organize to become skilled in all of the decision making and technical planning for production?”

These assemblies have helped assuage fears, demonstrating that worker-controlled enterprises can help defend people’s jobs and successfully run a business with the support of the community. In one meeting, Benítez explained, “Under worker control, no professional stayed at our factory. Only the workers stayed. Our current treasurer is from the glazing line. We had to learn everything about sales and marketing. We work with lawyers and accountants who we trust, but they don’t make the decisions. The workers’ assembly decides what we are going to do. However, we have relations with professionals to facilitate specifi c skills training.”

The meatpackers’ assembly decided to begin formal skills training workshops and to participate in solidarity actions in the community. There has been interest in literacy training, particularly for older workers who were unable to attend school. Recently, workers have suggested building a library in one of the abandoned offi ces for compañ compa eros to read while on night security duty. Workers have also organized solidarity festivals, participated in marches, presented a documentary fi lm about La Foresta, and given talks in local schools.

“This struggle has forced us to go out and knock on doors. Before this fi ght I never participated in a demonstration. Thanks to our struggle, I’ve been to places I’ve never been to before, government buildings and getting to know other compañeros from different social organizations,” said a La Foresta administrative worker.
Along with the expectation of starting up production in the meatpacking factory, workers hope to begin internships with youths in the barrio. As working culture has been lost with increasing factory closure and joblessness, workers at La Foresta want to take back their culture and their dignity—to teach thecommunity that workers can run a factory even better without a boss or owner.

Grupo Alavío recently premiered a documentary
“La Foresta belongs to the workers”
about the meatpackers’ struggle.

Argentina: Repression Made Easy

Originally published as a Znet commentary September 28, 2005 By Marie Trigona

"Yes, to win power, whether legally or illegally, one needs to have left by the roadside a large part of one's ideological baggage and to have got rid of all one's moral scruples. And then, once in power, the big problem is how to stay there. One needs to create a joint interest in the new state of affairs and attach to those in government a new privileged class, and suppressing any kind of opposition by all possible means. An established government, founded on the passive consensus of the majority and strong in numbers, in tradition and in the sentiment – sometimes sincere – of being in the right, can leave some space to liberty, at least so long as the privileged classes do not feel threatened. A new government, which relies for support only on an often slender minority, is obliged through necessity to be tyrannical. This is why we are neither for a majority nor for a minority government; neither for democracy not for dictatorship. We are for the abolition of the gendarme. We are for the freedom of all and for free agreement, which will be there for all when no one has the means to force others, and all are involved in the good running of society. We are for anarchy."
Errico Malatesta, "Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists"

In 1926 Errico Malatesta wrote in the anarchist publication Pensiero e Volontà that democracies act universally to suppress any kind of opposition. Anarcho-communist Errico Malatesta lived in Argentina from 1885 until 1889. Malatesta had exiled to Latin America from Italy where he was persecuted as a political prisoner. He worked fervently to instigate activities within the labor organizations and trade unions in his adopted home. The tireless organizer helped in founding the Bakers Union, the first militant workers' union in Argentina. Malatesta, undoubtedly formed part of the legacy of labor resistance and the fight against state repression in South America.

At just a month before mid-term elections the national government of President Nestor Kirchner has started a new campaign to get tuff on protests. The institutionalization of violence is not a new phenomenon in Argentina's political arena, with a police and security (coast guard/border guard) force left over from the last military dictatorship (1976-1983).

President Kirchner has adhered to Malatesta's hypothesis that democracies can leave a small margin for liberty, but only when the privileged classes can safely maintain power. Since Kirchner stepped up to the presidential office in May 25, 2003 he's made a number of gestures in favor of human rights. The most recent was the Supreme Court ruling that two laws shielding military officers who committed human rights violations as unconstitutional. However with growing dissent from the right-wing during the upcoming elections, Kirchner quickly changed his discourse on human rights.

"This government says that it's progressive, but it's taken actions that haven't been taken since the military dictatorship," said Roberto Pianelli, subway worker and union delegate. Kirchner's administration has taken on a hardline position to confront growing demands among the working class for better wages and that the public health care and education be preserved. For the past month the national government has deployed more than one thousand police officers and national border guards throughout Buenos Aires to prevent protestors from marching to the Plaza de Mayo. Public health workers from Garrahan children's hospital, who've been striking for weeks lead the marches with other unionists and unemployed worker organizations. Garrahan staff are demanding a eighteen hundred (1,800) peso salary equivalent to 600 US dollars. Unemployed workers organizations' main demand is an increase in 1.6 million welfare subsidies to 350 pesos a month from the current 150 pesos or 50 US dollars.

"This is the first time since the military dictatorship that the government has blocked off Plaza de Mayo. The last time protestors were prevented from marching to the plaza was March 30, 1982," said Pianelli. According to Pianelli, the government's determination to get tough on social demands is a desperate response to social protests as a way to win votes from right-wing voters. During the last march on September 9th to protest against President George Bush's upcoming visit in November, two journalists had to be hospitalized from police brutality. Police hit a photographer, ripping off part of his ear. The independent photographer said that the government is adopting a "palo facíl" or happy police baton policy. Since Kirchner took office there have been at least 229 cases of "happy trigger," or police officers or security forces killing while on duty. Thirty percent of these deaths occurred inside prisons or police precincts, where torture and abuse are part of the justice system.
Institutionalized violence is part of every day life for the 5.2 million people in Argentina who can't find adequate employment, half of the population that live in poverty and prisoners. Meanwhile, the government targets with direct political violence and new laws against workers who stand up to fight against this destiny.
For the workers at Tango Meat the political violence is very harsh and real. The conflict at Tango Meat, a meat packing plant in the Greater Buenos Aires district of Tigre began in July 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. The workers in protest suspect that the owner of Tango Meat wants to shut down the plant for good and move operations to another facility. Daily, police and political lackeys threaten the meatpackers to abandon their camp. The conflict climaxed on September 12 at 3am when scabs with police protection tried to enter the plant. A police car tried to run over workers. They then got out of the police car attacking the workers with clubs, including women who were on night duty.

The very next day in the city center of Buenos Aires border guard cracked down on telecommunication workers protesting against flexible labor practices at an out-source company. Several protestors were left injured. In the northern province of Salta the coast guard evicted unemployed workers blocking off the Pan American Energy headquarters to demand work. Security officials shot tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at protesters. Police arrested eight from the Union of Unemployed Workers. One had to be hospitalized after police beat him.

Even in soccer stadiums, police violence has gotten out of hand. Police shot and seriously wounded a professional soccer player from the San Martin Mendoza team. The police tried to control fans who got out of hand in the stadium. The player, Carlos Azcurra, was shot at point range in the chest with a rubber bullet. Doctors had to remove a third of his lung.

Although with increasing violent attacks, popular sectors celebrated a very special victory. After spending 14 months in prison without trial, 15 political prisoners detained during a protest in front of the Buenos Aires city legislature were released from their jail cells. Relatives and fellow activists fighting for their freedom waited for hours outside the courthouse for news on the judge's decision, as defense lawyers argued for their release. Five of the prisoners had staged a hunger strike for over 20 days to press for their freedom - two had to be hospitalized.

"Walk in the streets Carmen, the entire block is yours," yelled one of the supporters outside the court house. With her first breath in freedom Carmen Infran shouted , "I'm free!"

Between tears of emotion and embraces from friends and family, 15 political prisoners celebrated their freedom after 14 months of detention. The court's decision for their release came as a surprise. For months the courts refused to release them on bail while awaiting trial.

Margarita Meira, a street vendor, walked out of the courthouse and told reporters that the conditions inside Argentina's jail system are worse than the clandestine torture chambers used during the last military dictatorship.

"This was a political arrest. I've had two operations from lung cancer. I can't throw a rock or hit anyone. The police invent a crime and then the judges approve the case. The jails are concentration camps for women. Women have to wait two years, three years and in some cases 10 years for their trial. If the president turned the Navy Mechanics School, a former Clandestine detention center into a museum for memory, he also has to hand in the jails because they are concentration camps. They kill women who have nothing."

According to relatives and friends who campaigned for the prisoners' release, police arrested easy targets to deter the poor from protesting. They also say that there is no evidence to identify the 15 as attackers among the 3,000 demonstrators who participated in the march. Meira was arrested while protesting with a group in defense of street vendors. However, plain clothed policemen picked her up as she was leaving a café close to the city legislature as the protest was ending. She went inside the use the bathroom.

Meira says she had been unemployed for more than 12 years and needed to sell goods on the street to support her family. She also runs a soup kitchen in the city neighborhood of Constitution. Police arrested the 15 during a protest turned violent in front of the Buenos Aires city legislature last July 16. Demonstrators attacked the building in protest of an anti-solicitation law that makes street vending a crime and prostitution outside of a red zone illegal.

The law also lowered the arrest age for minors to 14 and established legal restrictions for street protests. According to Carmen Infran, she lost part of her body and soul during her 14 months in a jail cell. Infran is part of AMMAR, Association of Argentine Women for Human Rights, an organization that works with women and transvestites in prostitution. Plain clothed police arrested Infran after the protest as she and another AMMAR member, Marcela Sanagua. Infran and Sanagua got off a bus to buy cigarettes and a soda at a kiosk.
"I left good compañeras, good people and that damn personal baggage. I left my life inside. A year of crying, of fighting and waiting for what is just," said Carmen moments after her arrest.

During the military dictatorship Infran spent most of her youth in a jail cell for working as a prostitute. Inside prison, guards raped and tortured her and her cellmates. In a radio interview Infran gave only a week before her arrest, she said that she went to marches so that neither she nor her compañeras would suffer from further gender abuse inside the prison system.

Unfortunately for 28-year old Marcela Sanagua and the other 14 political prisoners history repeats itself. She did 14 months along with her two-year-old son for protesting against the code that makes prostitution outside of a red zone a crime. She said that she will continue to fight against the injustices that prisoners suffer inside the jail system.

Marcela said: "They have you thrown in a cell like a dog for three years. If you get sick in many cases you die because the good care is very poor. We can't allow for justice to always remain on the side of the rich and that the poor are always discriminated against. Inside the prison system, 90 percent of us are poor and workers. The poor can't be punished for just working. I want to go find my children, work and continue to fight."

These 15 women and men will now begin to rebuild their lives in freedom. Some will complete probation while others may be summoned to trial on charges of aggravated conduct and kidnapping. Human rights lawyers expect courts to drop the case for lack of evidence.

Argentine Workers Fight For Wages

August 23, 2005
By Marie Trigona

Why is it that prices go up but our wages don’t? Argentina’s working class is certainly concerned over the matter as labor conflicts are heating up. Public health workers have put the dispute over wages back in the national public spotlight.

Non-medical staff at the Garrahan children’s hospital have been on the strike path for the past three weeks to demand that the minimum monthly salary be increased to 1,800 pesos (600 dollars). The public health workers staged a series of 72-hour strikes at the hospital, which has caused uproar among the National Government. Garrhan children’s hospital is Argentina’s largest and most modern children’s public healthcare facility, which employs some 2,400 people (including medical, administrative and non-medical staff).

“We want to earn equivalent to the basic family basket,” said assembly delegate Mercedes Mendez. Garrahan workers say that they have the right to demand a 1,800 basic salary, the cost of family basic needs. Some 700 nurses, technicians, and janitors are organized in a worker assembly that functions as an internal commission of the ATE state-employees union. The assembly has criticized ATE’s leadership for maintaining a passive position in labor struggles, many times speaking publicly against the workers’ demands and actions. The assembly values direct democracy and non-hierarchical organization – motions are made by the assembly’s body and then the workers vote on the motion.

President Nestor Kirchner’s administration along with the mass-media has launched a massive campaign to demonize the health worker assembly and to divert attention from the urgent need for across the board wage increases and improvements in public services. This month, Health Minister Gines Gonzales Garcias said that protesting health workers were “terrorists, taking children as hostage.” He accused them of sabotaging medical equipment and putting the lives of children at risk. Gonzales Garcias’s characterization is a chilling echo of a discourse used by Argentina’s last military dictatorship.

Despite accusation that the strikers are neglecting patients, relatives of patients receiving care at the hospital spoke out against the attacks saying that nurses never abandoned their patients. They explained that workers covered emergency care when on strike. Again and again, nurses have reported with tears in their eyes from rage and impotence that the hospital doesn’t have enough health supplies for necessities as simple as syringes, tubes and needles for IV’s . Technicians, nurses and maintenance have said that they are the ones that keep the hospital functioning. They often have to stand in for doctors and sometimes even surgeons. For children’s day the workers’ assembly organized a festival with music, gifts and movies for patients and family.

In addition to being dubbed as terrorists, last week the hospital’s administration sent out telegrams to warn staff that if they continue with the strike they will be fired. The hospital this week hired 20 new nurses without sufficient training to break the strike, reminiscent of coal mining companies sending in scabs. However, the workers have not backed down. On August 15 they voted to stage another 72-hour strike.

The Labour Ministry offered a 20 percent increase for workers. Three of the unions involved in the conflict accepted the offer. Meanwhile, Garrahan’s dissident assembly’s general secretary Gustavo Lerer said that the offer is far from reaching employees’ demand of a 1,800 basic salary. Currently most non-medical staff make between 1,000 to 1,200 pesos. The offer would mean a 200 peso hike for most workers, while high-up administration who earn at least 2,000 pesos would receive a 600 peso increase.

In July, the minimum income needed to avoid falling below the poverty line increased from 750 pesos to 786 pesos. However, the average salary in Argentina is 600 pesos. The government worries that if Garrahan workers win their demands, they will set off a chain reaction in other labor sectors to demand a salary that correlates to the cost of family’s basic needs. Public workers nation wide have been on the striking on and off for four months. The labor ministry is trying to halt increasing demands by workers for wage hikes and that price increases cease. The IMF is pushing President Néstor Kirchner to keep salaries stagnated and cut the budget for public services, while inflation is expected to reach at least 15 percent this year. With every 1 percent of inflation, 150,000 people fall below the poverty line.

Salaries have been frozen for over a decade. Between 1984 and 2004, real salaries fell 52.7 percent. During this same period production grew 87.2 percent. This means that workers’ hourly production increased by 257 percent. While workers produce faster during more hour, the purchasing power of salaries fell drastically. For businessmen and managers, pressuring employees to work faster can result in reduced costs through cutbacks and increased production. While employees work faster, there’s a surplus of workers for what needs to be produced. This resulted in layoffs and flexible labor standards – current unemployment is at 19 percent (including the two million unemployed receiving unemployed subsidies).

So if a family needs at least 1,800 pesos to get by, why is it that salaries fall way below this minimum? “All workers, no mater from what category, has the right so that their family can eat properly, have clothes and live in decent shelter,” said subway delegates in their newspaper. All eyes are watching the Garrahan conflict. With direct actions like wildcat strikes and solidarity festivals they are sending a clear message that workers will not accept poverty-level wages. With a steady reserve of unemployed and humiliating average salaries, the government and business sectors have taught the population to get used to living in misery. However, all of this is changing with emerging labor conflicts like Garrahan.

Workers from the ceramics factory Zanon, occupied and managed by its workers since 2001, are donating ceramic tiles to Garrahan children's hospital. Zanon workers said that although the 200 square meters of ceramics tile is only a small gesture they support non-medical staff who are on strike for the third week in a row. The government also worries over a nation-wide network of mutual solidarity among labor conflicts. Hospital staff from other public and private medical centers have held parallel strikes and shown their support for Garrahan workers.

Many workers consider that the fight against increasing prices for consumers goes hand in hand with the fight for wage hikes. Subway delegates have a very direct proposal to improve workers salaries and conditions. “While the possibility of increasing prices is in the hands of businessmen there will never be a salary increase that is enough. This is why prices have to be part of worker production. While this seems like a utopia, we have a small margin to apply this idea with recuperated enterprises under worker control. If the 100 largest companies in Argentina were controlled by workers (like the case of Zanon) we could begin to control prices within the capitalist market. Or outside capitalism.”

Garrahan workers can be reached at

BAUEN HOTEL: Struggle, culture and work

Originally published as a Znet commentary July 03, 2005
By Marie Trigona

"I came back to BAUEN in a different way, working as part of cooperative under worker self-management/organization. This isn't easy for workers because we have been oppressed and exploited for centuries," said Marcelo, current president of BAUEN cooperative, an impressive 20-story hotel in downtown Buenos Aires.

On December 28, 2001 after systematic firings and management ransacking rooms, 150 hotel workers were left in the street. The hotel was constructed in 1978, in the glory of the military dictatorship, with government loans and subsidies. For almost three decades, the hotel has been emblematic symbol of Argentina's bourgeois class.

On March 21, 2003 the workers decided to occupy the hotel. Some 40 members of the current cooperative met secretly and early in the morning they met on the corner of one of Buenos Aires' busiest street intersections. Along with workers from other recuperated factories and the support of MNER (National Movement of Recuperated Enterprises) the group took over the building, cutting the locks on the side entrance and walking into the lobby. The workers found the hotel dilapidated, without electricity and ransacked. For months the cooperative members stood guard inside the hotel, while they put up a legal fight to form up a cooperative.

They cleaned up the hotel and slowly began to rent out services. In December 2004 they inaugurated the front café, an eye-catching space in Buenos Aires' theatre district. The floor is covered with beautiful high-quality porcelain tile, a trade between worker controlled Zanon ceramics factory and BAUEN. Regularly, Zanon workers and other social activists put on activities and stay at the hotel while visiting Buenos Aires. On any given night the hotel is bustling with culture: theatre, cocktail parties, tango performances and radio shows to name a few. Marcelo says that the cooperative knows that workers are able to do what capitalist employers aren't interested in doing: created more jobs and better salaries. "Today, everyone employed at BAUEN makes 800 pesos. We hired over 85 workers. Thanks to the workers' efforts, we opened up the café, improved the facilities and equipped more than 200 hotel rooms."

The weight of oppression on the shoulders of the working class is heavy and constant. The 150 workers have finally lifted up their heads and defiantly looked in the eyes of the symbols of employers, the BAUEN hotel has become a symbol for the working class."With worker self-management/organization we are in a process of creating workers in solidarity, people who aren't only worried about a wage. Instead they're trying to improve social conditions, culturally and politically," explains Marcelo.
"Let's go BAUEN, we're never going to close!" Damián, a young workers recently hired by the cooperative, yells out rallying solidarity activists at the hotel's entrance at 8am on a Sunday morning. On June 5, hundreds gathered outside the hotel to prevent city inspectors from raiding the hotel and closing it down. A few days before the inspection, the cooperative marched to Buenos Aires city legislature to demand a legal solution. For two years, the cooperative has functioned without legal permits to rent out the hotel's rooms. The delegates, who entered the city legislature said, "the government officials were annoyed because they say we are negotiating and they we don't need to protest." However, the government has been dragging its feet to provide a legal solution for the cooperative.
The recent closure was ordered by a judge after the former management (owned by Icovich, who is now running other hotels in Buenos Aires and Brazil) reported the cooperative for renting out the hotel rooms. City authorities strategically showed up on a Sunday morning, expecting a lonely hotel. However, when the inspectors showed up hundreds were waiting for them in the reception area, shouting slogans: "BAUEN belongs to the workers and if you don't like it go to hell!" The inspectors nervously ordered the hotel's closure, knowing that the cooperative would defy the order.
Gladys a combative and vehement worker at the cooperative has warned that the workers will never give up their hotel. Since a tragic fire killed 194 people in the Cromagnon night club, the government has used fire inspections as an excuse to close down independent culture in the city. The club's owner, Omar Chaban (a businessman now walking free after his release from jail last week) insisted that the club's emergency exits be chained. Rather than investing in proper installations (ventilation fans, sound absorption and emergency exits) he had a Styrofoam ceiling built and only one ventilation fan. Most of the fans at the rock show died of toxic asphyxiation while trapped inside the club. "If they remove us from the hotel, the government is going to have a second Cromagnon because they're going to have to kill all of us and our families," said Gladys.
"It's easy to cover your eyes, turn into businessmen in order to create wages. And then begin to exploit our compañeros. We can't lose our roots as workers and more than anything we know that BAUEN should belong to the workers," said Marcelo. In the midst of a legal struggle and successfully running a prominent hotel the cooperative's members haven't forgotten their roots. BAUEN has become a political center. "Today the hotel is successful and working in solidarity with many worker conflicts. Groups working for the release of political prisoners, 6-hour work day and many other social movements meet here in the hotel," explains a train worker delegate, "Pollo" Sobrero.
The government has refused to pass an expropriation law and give BAUEN's workers a permanent legal solution to continue working. Politicians have expressed their disapproval of the hotel opening its doors to workers in struggle. However, BAUEN aren't won't give up their fight for their hotel and to defend all workers in struggle.
Claudia, a health worker in the southern province of Neuquen recently visited the BAUEN hotel for the first time. Public health workers in this province have been on strike for over two months and provincial police cracked down, using repressive methods against the workers. Neuquen is also the home to worker controlled factory Zanon. She explains, "This hotel is an open space for workers in struggle. When we visit Buenos Aires we stay at the hotel. As the community in Neuquen are willing to defend Zanon, we all are willing to defend BAUEN."
The BAUEN cooperative is in a permanent assembly, struggling against the threats and possible permanent closure of the hotel. The workers at BAUEN need and deserve international solidarity. BAUEN has been a concrete experience in the fight against exploitation of oppressed sectors and continues planting seeds for new social relations.
To contact Hotel BAUEN:

May Day And Argentine Labor Struggle, 2005

Originally published as a Znet Commentary, May 20, 2005
By Marie Trigona

The First of May was a symbol of the international proletariat's struggle for emancipation. Neither military parades nor the 'good little boy' marches of the reformist union federations can blind us to the deep-seated international solidarity of the struggle. Worker autonomy, direct action - with no chiefs, guides, Great Leaders or Grand Helmsmen, but organized into our own rank and file agencies - will turn the revolutionary movement into a tool for liberation.
CLLA - Libertarian Latin American Coordination

Since the turn of the century Argentine labor movements have marked May Day as a remembrance of class struggle and resistance. Since the 1890's in Argentina anarchists held their acts in Plaza Lorea to commemorate the Haymarket Martyrs of Chicago who were murdered for their anarchist ideas and fight for a eight hour day. This year, workers in struggle held their May Day act in this same plaza - separate from traditional Left.

"Fighting for a reduced 6 hour work day is similar to the struggle for the 8 hour workday, in the effect of the campaigns. Today, the working class working doesn’t have time for rest, leisure activities, or for their lives. The system has transformed us into working beasts. The average working day for Argentines is 10 hours. This has resulted in a unified struggle among active workers and unemployed, together fighting against capitalism and super-exploitation," Roberto Pianelli, subway delegate.

Subway workers who have been organizing wildcat strikes for salary increases have spearheaded Argentina's movement for a six-hour workday. In 2003, subway workers (in all sectors from ticket office to train drivers) won a six-hour workday. Metrovias, the private corporation that was contracted to take over the once state-run subway lines in Buenos Aires, has had to respect the 6-hour workday, improve working conditions and gender inequality and increase salaries. Since this victory, subway workers, other labor conflicts, economists and unemployed workers organizations have formed a unitary movement for a 6-hour workday for all workers, with increased salaries. In addition, Metrovias employees (organized outside of the bureaucratic UTA officialist transport workers’ union) held weeklong wildcat strikes in February this year and won a 44% wage hike.

During an interview with several subway delegates they reflected on the relationship between the struggle for a six-hour workday and the fight of the Haymarket Martyrs of Chicago, the personal significance of May Day and anarchist traditions in Argentina. I caught a few delegates after their weekly delegate meeting at Hotel Bauen, a hotel recuperated by its workers. Each line has two delegates. There are commissions for press work and gender. There are over 3,000 workers at Metrovias, who work three shifts, making it almost impossible to hold general assemblies, except during strikes. In general, decisions are made during assemblies organized by line or shifts. The workers hold democratic decision making inside the delegates union as a fundamental principle.

Walter Varela, delegate from the subway’s D line idealized the struggle for an 8 hour workday. "The Martyrs of Chicago set an example of struggle, where they were demanding an 8 hour workday. What we want to do is to create a movement for a six hour work day. It would be useful for Argentina because it would create 4 million new jobs and better salaries for all workers, but our struggle doesn’t compare to the struggle of the martyrs of Chicago," said Varela.

He added, "I couldn’t tell you if there are workers more exploited than at the beginning of the century. In that period, workdays were really long just as they are today. If we look at the parallels between the struggle of the anarchists and today, we see that the labor standards have become more flexible. Today, workers are standing up against the trade unions and are creating a syndicalist movement made up of struggling workers. I see May Day as a day to recover the historical fight of workers and to continue with that fight. The struggle of the workers in Chicago, which ended with a terrible murder of 8 workers that wanted to put in place an idea is celebrated on May Day but it, isn’t a party. This is the difference we want to make."

Today unemployment stands at 19.5% and underemployment 15.7%, which means 35.2% of workers (approximately 5.2 million) have serious job problems. Businesses take advantage of the desperation of the millions of unemployed— increasing work shifts, allowing work conditions to deteriorate, hiring undocumented labor (paying under the table), and lowering salaries to a humiliating subsistence. The average salary is 600 pesos (around 200 dollars) and the poverty line is 720 pesos. Inflation is increasing rapidly, it’s expected that 2005 inflation will reach 20%. Wages have been frozen since the early 90’s, not be readjusted according to the peso devaluation in 2001, which has devalued salaries to a third of their former value.

This has made the situation for workers unbearable, and many sectors have held a number of actions (strikes, occupying business building and recuperating bankrupts businesses). May Day, 2005 arrived in the midst of hospital workers, airline workers and teachers labor conflicts. Many other anarchist slogans were reminiscent during this year’s May Day, freedom for all political prisoners and defense of worker controlled enterprises.
Pianelli drew a direct connection, "There are fundamental nexus. In this past century, there haven’t been relationships as strong as with the turn of the 20th century in respect to working conditions as there is today. The first nexus is the level of super-exploitation that workers are suffering. Today, workers work incredibly long shifts, with miserable wages and an army of reinforcement."

Jorge Mendez is a young worker. After the subway was privatized, Metrovias cutback personnel and hired mostly young workers. This year was the first time Mendez spoke on a platform, he said that this May Day was a moving experience. Not only because he spoke but because workers could organize an important act and mark their own path without being blocked by the traditional left. What workers are proving they can set their own dynamic of struggle without Marxist/Trotskyist parties with electoral platforms. He mentioned that syndicalist anarchist methods of democratic organizing workers funds and direct action methods such as the strike, sabotage and collectivization were an inspiration.

"Capitalism has evolved to always fix itself and to continue exploiting the workers. We are organizing so that our fight is similar to the struggles of the workers who died for a 8 hour workday. We want to recover May Day as a day of struggle. Today, when there is so much unemployment we are convinced that our struggle in the subways that a reduced 6 hour work day can be a solution for the millions of unemployed in Argentina," said Mendez.

In 1909 the anarchists organized a May Day demonstration in Buenos Aires, in Plaza Lorea. Police attacked the rally and killed eight people. Chief of police Colonel Falcon ordered the brutal repression. Simon Radowitzky, a nineteen-year-old immigrant from Russia and anarchist made history when he killed Colonel Falcon. He was present at the May Day demonstration and watched the death of his fellow comrades. A week after the repression Radowitzky decided to act in solidarity and threw a packaged bomb into the Falcon's carriage. Radowitzky spent 21-years of his life in prison.

In April, subway workers staged a strike in solidarity with airline workers who are against the government’s
decision to sell the state-run airline LAFSA to LAN Chile. Police attacked a workers assembly at Jorge Newberry metropolitan airport, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at workers on April 19. 20 demonstrators were injured. Subway staff immediately announced they would stage surprise strikes in solidarity with LAFSA employees.

Subway workers have pledged their willpower to use striking as a direct action against state repression of labor conflicts. In recent months, with a crackdown on worker controlled ceramics factory Zanon, subway workers have promised that if the factory is evicted there will be a price to pay in Buenos Aires subway lines. During the May Day act this year many workers from different labor conflicts spoke of mutual solidarity and support as fundamental objectives of struggle.

Pianelli reflected on the importance of this year’s act. "This May Day was really important because in this year a ton of struggles and conflicts emerged. We staged a huge act, led by workers organizations, without the participation of the traditional leftist political parties as part of a vanguard of workers in struggle. This is why we did an act in plaza Lorea."

He added, "The working class has inherited may the slogans from anarchists at the beginning of the century such as struggle for political prisoners and organizing working class trade unions. For me it's important to recuperate the ethic, actions and democratic organization from the anarchists. The anarchists' actions at the beginning of the century to raise a working class subjectivity and to take in their own hands their destiny have been lost in the past decades of Argentine history. For many sectors of the left whoever (activists/workers) acts differently from their electoral objectives, they try defame the dissident (a practice from Stalinism). Workers need to recover the best traditions from anarchism—self determination, respect for dissidence and creating a new working class subjectivity."

Since the mid-1990's with swelling unemployment the road blockade became the central tactic of the piquetero movement. Without access to the factory and the ability to strike, sabotage machinery and occupy factories, unemployed workers sought out a new practice for struggle-the road blockade, which is a method to prevent merchandise from arriving to the market. In the past few years, active workers gained ground in terms of accessing the work place to pressure owners and bosses for better wages and working conditions. The dynamic of workers’ struggle has changed and strengthened in search of new victories.

Mendez summed up this new dynamic. "Today I think that its us, the employed workers who have to fight for all of the compañeros, who were excluded from the system, can be reinserted into the labor market with better conditions and salaries. We think that we have the possibility to unite all of the struggles."

Grupo Alavío produced a documentary about the struggle for a 6-hour workday.

Zanon under attack

Originally published March 11, 2005 as a Znet commentary
By Marie Trigona

The workers of Zanon are once again under attack by the government and business interests which are trying to evict the ceramics factory in the southern province of Neuquen. Since 2001, the employees have successfully managed the factory, setting an example for the working-class worldwide that workers can produce and manage even better without a boss or owner.

In the past four years, workers have battled against eviction threats and intimidation, but in the past weeks the government and security forces representing the factory's old ownership have used tactics of torture and kidnapping - reminicent of Argentina's military dictatorship (1976-1983) in which 30,000 people, mostly activists, were disappeared in the dirty war.

Zanon's workers and social movements are mobilizing to stand up to death threats and attacks - to tell the government that workers and their families will not give in to the threats. More than ever the workers, with the support of the community and other sectors acting in solidary, are proving their strength as a sucessful case of self-management.

Some 5,000 protestors participated in a march to Neuquen's government house on March 8 to denounce cases of death threats, phsyical attacks and torture. Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, social movements and human rights groups organized another protest outside of the provincial government's offices in the city's center.

On Friday, March 4 a group of four individuals (three men and a woman) kidnapped the wife of an employee at Zanon. The forced her into a green Ford Falcon, a model of car security operatives used to kidnap activists during the dictatorship, sending a chilling reminder of the dirty war. They tortured her and cut her face, hands, arms and breasts. They gave details of how they carefully followed her and have detailed information about her movements.

Again, on Saturday, the woman was attacked by the same group of people in her home. Police were guarding at the front of the house, but the group snuck in through the back door. While the men were cutting her they threatened to kill Raul Godoy, Zanon worker and General Secretary of the Ceramists' Union; Mariano Pedrero, the union's lawyer; and another worker, Alejandro López. At a press conference at Hotel Bauen (a hotel managed by its workers) in the the city centre of Buenos Aires, López reported that the woman's attackers threatened: "We want you to go home with your face and hands dripping with blood, and tell Godoy and López what is going to happen to them, that this has to do with Zanon. That union is going to run with blood."

In the past weeks, Godoy and Lopez recieved telephone death threats and messages. Delegates from the subway's wildcat union, which recently won a 44% wage hike after week-long strikes, have also recieved phone threats. Many workers expressed that these threats are not a coincidence. The government is targeting Zanon because it is at the vanguard of the many recovered factories and enterprises that are proving that occupying and taking over production is a solution for workers to defend their jobs.

They have also said that it is not a coincidence that the delegates from the subway are also receiving threats. Subway workers set an example that it is possible for the working-class to fight for wage hikes, even though the Argentinian average monthly salary has been stagnated at 600 pesos (200 dollars) for over a decade.
"This government is holding political prisoners, women in Caletta Oliva and around the nation. We are not going to wait for a death inside Zanon to go out into the streets," said Elisa, a worker from Brukman, a suit factory in Buenos Aires run by a worker cooperative. Workers from the Chilavert printing factory, Bauen Hotel and other re-occupied enterprises also participated in the actions in defense of Zanon.

Subway workers who have been organizing wildcat strikes have expressed their committment to defend Zanon. "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. Organizations are mobilizing a caravan to Neuquen on Wednesday, March 16.

In 1908, women went on strike and occupied a textile factory in New York. The management and owners locked the women in and lit the plant on fire. One hundred and twenty-nine women died inside the factory. "Nearly one hundred years later, a working class woman was tortured. We decided that the act for International Women's Day (March 8) should take place in front of the provincial building of Neuquen to denounce the threats and to protest against a boss and government which tortures women and puts them in jail," declared an activist from women's rights group Bread and Roses.

Alejandro Lopez, outside of Neuquen's provincial offices, expressed passionately the importance of standing up to the government and security forces even in the face of threats. "Today is International Women's Day, and I want to say just one thing about what March 8 means for us. The wife of a compañero, who was kidnapped and then tortured, has decided to stand up. Even though her attackers made sure she knew details of how they followed her for over a month.

They told her that they had followed her entire family-husband, daughter, and parents. Even though they cut her arms, breasts and face, in a brutal and cowardly way to intimidate her, after they left her out of the car, after she went through all of this, she decided to stand up and confront her attackers in the best way she could. Yesterday (a day before the March 8 protest) she told the workers at Zanon that today she was going to lead the march in Neuquen. This is not a question of honour. That this woman who never participated in a protest and today, International Women's Day, led the march, marks a victory for the workers in Zanon and all of the compañeras in struggle."

The workers from Zanon have declared that they are going to intensify the battle against these threats and defend their factory. However, they are making it clear they are not on the defensive. "We have a lot of enemies to fight against-the bosses, the bureacratic unions, provincial government and the national government. We are not going to accept that this national government, which says it respects human rights, can turn a blind eye to our reports of death threats and a case of a compañera who was mutilated," said Lopez. He added, "It's probable that the situation will get worse, so we need to fight even stronger. We are going to take the conflict to a national and international level."

The workers of Zanon have self-organized and managed the factory, gradually increasing production without any government subsidies. They have hired over 200 new workers. They have defended the factory against five eviction orders along with compañeros from unemployed workers organizations and other social movements. "They aren't going to win by threatening us and telling us that we can't run a factory."

The workers are prepared to temporarily stop production and fight. Lopez concluded the protest in Buenos Aires by saying, "We are strong in our position and we aren't going to take a step backward - we are going to continue with our fight for the expropriation of our factory."

In defense of Zanon and all worker occupied factories!
If they mess with one of us, they mess with all of us!
Permanent expropriation of all factories and companies producing under worker control!
For the release of all political prisoners!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Pismanta Hot Springs Undergo A New Approach To Management

by Marie Trigona
Originally published in The Buenos Aires Herald April 27, 2005

The old Pismanta hot springs hotel, located in the Iglesia Valley at the foot of Argentina's Andes 180 kilometers north of the city of San Juan, has undergone a notable remake that includes a new sauna, steam bath and spa. But in this case the improvements were not made by a new concessionaire or owner. They're the work of the hotel workers who formed a cooperative and took over management when the former concessionaire went broke.

The members of the Pismanta cooperative aim to not only hold onto their income source, but also provide better services for tourists and give new life to their community's economy.In 2001 the hotel, deteriorated by years of neglect, had a very low occupancy rate. The concessionaire began to strip it of its assets and stopped paying wages. After six months, the workers went on strike. With the help of a legal team, they formed a cooperative and took over management. In order to attract a new clientele, they made extensive repairs to the newest wing of the building (built 30 years ago) and offered several new services to bring it up to the level of modern-day hot spring establishments. Since 2002 they have been a successful case of self-management.

Today, the Pismanta hot springs hotel provides a top-class service at surprisingly economical prices. Any guest will note that the workers take great pride in their work. Since forming the cooperative, they have renovated much of the hotel. Those who knew it before its changeover will be pleasantly surprised by the new mattresses, sheets, bed covers, curtains and bath fixtures in the rooms and the re-tiled thermal bath stalls. A new bakery and use of part of the property's extensive grounds to raise barnyard animals has enabled the cooperative to expand the menu with dishes that feature always-fresh products.

"Since forming the cooperative we've recuperated a clientele, lowered priced and we are providing more services," said Victor. The cooperative has hired 16 workers, mostly young people and currently employs 33 workers. Alberto, who has worked in the hotel's maintenance for 30 years explains that the decisions are made by a worker assembly. "Once a month we hold an assembly to plan what we are going to do in the next month. All of the compañeros can discuss and decide whether the it's a good idea or not."

Far away from highways and noise pollution, Pismanta is a real oasis for travelers who want to rest and rejuvenate their health. The thermal water that runs through the hotel's bathrooms, thermal bath stalls and outdoor pool is beneficial for those who suffer from rheumatism, arthritis, allergies and other skin problems. It also optimizes blood circulation and purifies the skin. The water helps digestion and metabolism, and helps control high blood pressure. Use of the cooperative's new sauna is included in the room rate. Monica Vega, an employee at Pismanta for 14 years, explains the routine (sauna, steam bath and Scottish shower). Guests must rest between sessions, so the sauna has a great relaxing area with soft lighting, comfortable chairs and aromatherapy oil. The sauna and steam bath open skin pores and detoxify the body. As Monica showed me the routine, I was somewhat intimidated by the Scottish shower (stationary shower jets that massage the head, neck, back and legs). But she laughed and convinced me that although most guests feel the same, they end up loving it. She was right!

One of the cooperative's major challenges has been to make sure that the cooperative makes decisions democratically and horizontally. It has taken a lot of time and work to make progress against internal discrimination and machismo. However, the women have gained ground in the cooperative. They have made sure that their voice is heard in the assembly and participate in the cooperative's political work. Monica, for example, traveled on a delegation to Buenos Aires to meet with other recuperated factories and enterprises. Romona this week is traveling to Buenos Aires to present a documentary about the success of the cooperative Pismanta in Bauen Hotel, a recuperated hotel in the heart of Buenos Aires.

Another gem at the hotel is the 30-metre outdoor pool whose hot spring water is cooled down to 25 degrees Celsius. Guests can settle into a soothing spiritual cocoon comprised of the warm, pristine water, the surrounding mountain ranges, and silence. Most local residents never visited the hotel. One of the cooperative's projects is to bring residents to the hotel. Currently, residents can use the hotel's facilities at an accessible price (1 to 3 pesos). They are also working to bring students from nearby schools to use the pool during the week when guest occupancy is lower.Guido Marinero, the cooperative's president and cook, said that there are long-term plans to renovate the oldest part of the hotel built in the '50s and now out of service due to decades of neglect. They want to build large luxury suites.If the hot springs are the life of the hotel, the kitchen must be its soul. The restaraunt's expanded daily menu includes a wonderful salad bar - a table loaded with a wide array of local fresh product (pickled eggplant, cured meats, artisan olives and tarts, to name just a few). Soup is served at lunch and dinner. During my stay I tried a wonderful onion cream soup, a squash soup, and a light vegetable soup.The main course varies from night to night. To name a few: kid roasted with onions, tomatoes and carrots, rabbit braised in a herb sauce, prime rib, and chicken stuffed with greens, cured ham and herbs. The desserts, prepared daily, include wonderful creations such as a fruit tart that looks like a work of art, and an erotic pear poached in sweet wine sauce and topped with delicately whipped cream. Another classic option is fresh goat cheese covered with local artisan preserves.Domingo Montaña, the cooperative's head baker and secretary, says that presentation is very important. Workers are passionate about their work and food. They are constantly taking courses in cooking and hotel service. Waiters go out of their way to make guests feel comfortable, answer questions and make sure food is served timely and hot. The hotel serves as many local products as possible.

Most of the meat served is free-range, some of which is raised on the hotel's grounds. The hotel grows fresh herbs and apples, and raises pigs, turkeys and rabbits. The cooperative has built a strong relationship with local producers. It buys fresh goat cheese from Magdalena, a small independent farmer who lives a few kilometers away. Her son, Clemente, grows an array of fruit and vegetables that also make their way to Pismanta's tables. "The former management didn't buy anything from us before. We are tiny producers, if the hotel wouldn't consume our products, we almost wouldn't have a market," said Clemente. All of the jams and preserves served are produced at a local cooperative in the neighboring village of Tudcum.

The cooperative recently bought a minibus to take guests on guided tours. Tour guide Freddy Espejo, a historian who is working on a book on local history, is well verse in the region's topographical and anthropological riches. Cooperative can now use the minibus to facilitate visits to the hotel. The region is extremely isolated and rural, deep in the Andes Mountains. There is no public transport, most workers who live some 5-8 kilometers away ride their bikes to work, some walk to and from work.

"Cooperativism is having insertion in the community. The cooperative is formed not only for internal benefit, but also for the benefit of the entire community," explains Guido. For a neighboring school, the cooperative pulled together funds to buy tennis shoes for students. They bought the shoes from Gattic (cooperative united for shoes), a recuperated factory in the Greater Buenos Aires district of San Martin. They also cook lunches daily for children in the school.

The hot springs area where the hotel is located is named after Gabriel Pismanta, the son of Chief Angualasto. Born and raised in the Iglesia Valley, he went to Chile just before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, and when he returned he found his tribe enslaved by the newcomers. He led a rebellion against the colonists and went into hiding with his family when the defeat was imminent. They retreated to caves deep in the Andes, where they finally died of hunger.

Legend has it that Pismanta died but was never defeated; his rebellious spirit was reborn and continues to live in the hot thermal waters welling up from the earth. The Pismanta cooperative workers consider their undertaking another rebirth of Pismanta's spirit. They are determined to keep their hotel running and to protect the purity of the extraordinary hot spring waters that make it a fountain of health in the middle of the desert.

They have a good chance of remaining in charge of the hotel, but they - and other farmers in the Iglesia Valley - face a threat far greater than the one pose to Chief Pismanta by the conquistadores: a big mining company high in the Andes whose destruction of glaciers and use of cyanide to separate disseminated gold ore from rock threatens to pollute the valley's water supply.Currently, the workers are in the midst of a legal fight for San Juan Governor Jose Luis Gioja to sign over the concessionaire to the hotel's employees. "They want to kick us out of the hotel because we are poor, if we were rich and we would put all of the profits in our pockets they would give us the concessionaire," expressed Romona.

Nevertheless, Guido Marinero expresses hope for the future of the hotel and the generations to come. "Those of us working in the hotel are the first generation of many who are going to self-organize and manage it and protect this resource (hot springs water) on which the future of our families depends." The Pismanta hot springs hotel is open all year round.

For further information call (02647) 497-092, or visit
Grupo Alavío just finished a documentary about the success of the workers struggle, visit

Scenes from a revolution: Anarchist film during the Spanish Civil War

The anarchists used the camera as a political organ and as a tool to reflect the subjectivity of the revolution.

Originally published in the Buenos Aires Herald November 22, 2004
By Marie Trigona http://

The Leopoldo Lugones theatre is showing the retrospective, Anarchist film during the Spanish Civil War: Images from the rearguard, a series of documentary and fictional film reflecting ruffian counter-culture, working class struggles, women’s emancipation and land collectivization during the years 1936-1938.

Ángel Santos Garcés, curator of the series organized by the Huesca film festival, said that with little resources, “the filmmakers struggled to maintain an ideal and promote ideas.” Santos Garcés added that these films reflect how the anarchist vision for a working class revolution changed with the war. The anarchists were not only fighting to defeat the rise of Francisco Franco but also fought for a utopia.

The Spanish anarchist umbrella union, the National Confederation of Workers (CNT), produced over 100 documentaries and feature length fiction films between 1936 and 1937, in the midst of the war against fascism and a revolution. Film production during this period was collectivized and theatres functioned as political centres. The anarchists used the camera as a political organ and as a tool to reflect the subjectivity of the revolution. Film directors envisioned the films to show daily realities and social conflicts behind and on the battle front.

Santos Garcés explained for the series in Argentina organisers decided to show the feature length films accompanied by short documentaries for the simple reason of time constraints and convenience. However, the CNT used the documentaries as a way to inform audiences of what was happening on the battle front in a time when television didn’t exist. First the news reel was shown and then the entertainment film came.

These films had wide distribution because of the reach and support of the CNT. The CNT managed 110 theatres in Barcelona alone. Films were also taken to the countryside with mobile movie theatres. The film workers union financed political cinema by selling tickets to Hollywood films. The CNT didn’t see this as a contradiction because it permitted the union to produce cinema which reflected the interests of the working class and exploited sectors. But like most film makers today documenting social conflicts, the films were made with very little resources.

“Many of the cameras went to the front lines and most of the best filming was done on the front. Frente y la retaguardia (The front and the rearguard) is the best one they made,” said Santos Garcés. He added, “those that stayed behind had little training.”

However, the retrospective includes narrative films that maintain technical, artistic and political qualities in the script, photography and montage. These movies border traditional genres of cinema but with a particular libertarian vision and aesthetic. Santos Garcés said that even in the time of war the anarchist thought a lot about the importance of what went on behind the battle front. Filmmakers felt that the battles and victories in day to day life needed to be documented. “When we organized the festival, we decided to forget the battle front so that the images of the war also represent life behind the front line, which the majority of the population lived,” said Santos Garcés.

Many of the films included in the retrospective were recuperated, restored and premiered 70 years after the films’ original premiere. Not only did Franco liquidate soldiers and activists fighting for a democratic republic, his regime destroyed much of the historic documents from the anarchists and socialists. “When Franco took power in Spain, material produced by the Left was confiscated and destroyed,” said Santos Garcés. Representatives from the Huesca film festival found much of the material housed at the Spanish film archive in Barcelona. However, organisers found 100 rolls of anarchist film in Mexico. A descendent of a combatant in the Spanish Civil War had smuggle the film out of Spain. Among this material, Aragón trabajo y lucha 1936 (Aragón works and struggles) was found.

Aragón works and struggles was lost after the war and only recuperated recently. It was premiered again after nearly 70 years and was shown as part of the retrospective. This 16 minute documentary shows life in the Aragón region - peasants working on collectivised land, soldiers from the CNT front fight in the trenches, the leader Buenaventura Durruti speaking to a rally, the power of the press, women and men dancing during their leisure time from the revolution.

Carne de fieras, a fiction film which will be shown on Saturday in Lugones, breaks conventions and taboos about sexual attractions and infidelity. During the presentation of the series in the Lugones theatre, Santos Garcés said that in the middle of the film’s production the director, Armand Guerra, wanted to stop production to go and film the battle front. The film workers’ union made Guerra finish so the crew wouldn’t lose their jobs. The film was finished but didn’t premier until the 1990’s. Santos Garcés said that when the film was complete distributors found a full nude scene when a dancer strips in a lion’s cage during a circus performance. They decided the to paint a bikini on the film strip to cover up the dancer, but the cost of this process was higher than the entire film production. Distributors decided to ban the movie from theatres.

This retrospective is a historic document of the rebellious spirit captured by the anarchists’ cameras. These films have never been released in Argentina and no copies will be left behind, so this is a rare chance to view these movies

Monday, July 10, 2006


Argentina’s unemployed workers, or piqueteros, launched a TV project that allows them and other marginalized Argentines to be seen and heard.

By Marie Trigona
Originally published in NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 37, No. 4 January/February 2004

Argentina’s alternative media have commonly limited their role in the social movements to informing the public about corporate media’s misinformation and providing proof of state repression. Developing a role beyond responding to the monopolization of corporate media and integrating into social processes has been a constant challenge for most of Argentina’s alternative media. The bulk of the social movements—the unemployed workers’ or piqueteros movement, the popular assemblies and recuperated factory movement—are in crisis; a crisis marked by drops in participation, increased fragmentation and an inability to identify political objectives. Many blame President Néstor Kirchner’s seemingly progressive discourse for having a paralyzing effect, while making few if any concrete improvements. Nonetheless, from within social organizations, media makers are beginning to harness alternative media in a way that drives and revitalizes their movements.

Grupo Alavío is one media collective that is directly challenging the traditional role of alternative media by producing audiovisual materials that promote action, organization and a new working class identity and consciousness for the piquetero movement. Grupo Alavío along with other organizations from the social movements—primarily piquetero groups—developed a declaration: "It’s immediately necessary to tell the history of struggle with a media belonging to the organizations in order to combat corporate media’s censorship and misinformation." The declaration was made at the first meeting of the Popular Workers’ Front on August 30, 2003. The meeting was held to build unity among unemployed workers’ organizations that demand more than just unemployment subsidies and other short-term Band-Aid solutions. Grupo Alavío and the Popular Unity Movement-December 20 (MUP-20), a piquetero organization based in several neighborhoods in the Buenos Aires province, began working together to launch media projects. From this collaboration, a new and powerful organic media alternative was realized, TV-piquetera.

Media activists Enrique Carigao and Ricardo Leguizamon launched TV-piquetera in the aftermath of December 19 and 20, 2001, but the project did not take off until Grupo Alavío facilitated TV-piquetera’s first major broadcasting experience on September 25, 2003. It was during an ongoing piquetero road blockade at the Argentine transnational beer brewery, Quilmes, where protestors transmitted a live pirate television signal to a local channel. One of the objectives of the transmission was to counter the mass media’s criminalization of the action by informing the neighbors surrounding the factory about the conflict and explaining the piqueteros’ demands for jobs and dignified work. During the transmission, piqueteros expressed in their own words the reasons for the protest, gave first hand accounts of the action and described what it’s like to be a piquetero.

For the group’s third transmission on November 8, 2003, TV-piquetera’s makeshift operating studio was housed in MUP-20’s community center, a shack in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of San Martín, Solano on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. On the day of the broadcast the transmitter arrived as scheduled. piqueteros from MUP-20 and many other participants all lent a hand in various tasks—bringing in the equipment, setting up a studio in the shack, a screening room in the kitchen and raising the antenna on the rooftop. Although it was only their third transmission, everyone learned quickly and participated in every aspect of the community television experience. Participants eagerly took hold of cameras, quickly learned how to focus, pan and zoom, while nearly everyone took a turn introducing the programming and speaking in front of the camera.

The broadcast began at 3:00 p.m. and lasted until 10:30 p.m. The MUP-20’s print publication explained the motives behind the transmission: "[It] demonstrates that we do not need to depend on bosses and owners to make ourselves visible and communicate with our neighbors. To tell our story with our own media is to think with a logic different than that which the system imposes on us."

The day’s programming also included pre-edited news pieces about the previous piquetero blockade, pollution of the local water supply by factories, struggles for political prisoners, Bolivia after the insurrection, resistance in Iraq, the Brukman factory recuperation, recent government attacks against unemployed workers’ organizations and MUP-20’s community projects—popular bakeries, soup kitchens for kids, gardens and sewing workshops. With the introduction to each news piece, participants related that as unemployed workers they are trying to build a better community while fighting for jobs, and pointed out that they, too, are mothers and fathers, not criminals or corrupt freeloaders as the mainstream press characterizes them. The wide-ranging content reflects not only the complexity and consciousness of the piquetero movement, but also the integration of local, national and international issues.

Making techniques and technologies accessible and available to exploited sectors by democratizing audiovisual production and language has been a priority of Grupo Alavío’s work. Says Grupo Alavío’s self-produced documentary, "In the context of mass media’s monopolization of information, we intend to make a space where the protagonist struggling can narrate his or her own histories." From planning the content and the use of necessary technologies to direction of the studio, participants acquire skills that allow them to take ownership of the technology and put TV-piquetera on the air. Accordingly, the flyers posted throughout San Martín advertised the transmission with the slogan, "Programming from our neighborhoods and from our perspectives."
For TV-piquetera, multidirectional media is the ideal, although all too often alternative media only reaches unidirectional or asymmetrical diffusion. A walk through the neighborhood during the broadcast, however, revealed that almost every television set was tuned to TV-piquetera. Into the late hours of the transmission, a few piqueteros went out with a camera and visited households viewing the program. The neighbors were asked their opinions about the programming, problems in the community and how they felt about the unemployed workers’ struggle.

The programming concluded by broadcasting these interviews—creating a kind of feedback loop—which were a symbolic example of what was accomplished during the transmission. "This broadcast was a gesture valuing the process of working class identity and a break with exclusion," reflected Fabian Pierucci of Grupo Alavío. "By presenting people’s daily realities, it allowed neighbors to identify with one another and build solidarity to break the hegemony." And beyond the broadcast, the experience opened a space for media makers and community members to engage in dialogue. During the broadcast, neighbors who were watching the program stopped by MUP-20’s location to see if the transmission was real and to comment on TV-piquetera. In the days following the transmission, piqueteros, neighbors, activists and media makers alike talked about what it meant to see themselves represented on TV and to be able to create their own imagery.

While many in the social movements and alternative media have shied away from self-critiques, TV-piquetera encouraged introspection. Many participants, for example, expressed frustration with the unemployed workers’ movement, citing discontent with piquetero bureaucracy. Since TV-piquetera is fully integrated into the movement, it is expected to discuss specific agendas and internal debates, and to point out contradictions within the movement. Grupo Alavío and participants in TV-piquetera recognize that dulling or transforming political content into a non-critical apology is not useful. Instead, their goal is to produce material that generates debates and critiques, thus promoting the growth and reproduction of the movement. Without integration, intervening and participating in internal debates is impossible, unwelcome or both, as other collectives like Indymedia-Argentina have discovered.

TV-piquetera’s objective is to transmit in different neighborhoods with the intention of ultimately building a network of community television stations that can function autonomously under a larger umbrella of collaboration and mutual support.

During the MUP-20 assembly following the transmission, members discussed the usefulness of the television experience and reflected on its significance. "Some ask us, ‘How is it that you are unemployed and have a television station?’ We say, ‘Who shouldn’t have access to their own media?’" said María Oviedo, a piquetera from MUP-20. "Our neighbors can get to know our struggle, not as the television networks show us, ‘lazy and violent,’ but as fellow neighbors with the same problems of unemployment and poverty. Maybe the neighbor who sees our broadcast will be affected and become a fellow activist."

Marie Trigona is an independent journalist based in Argentina. She is a part of Grupo Alavío and can be contacted at

Vol. 37, No. 4 January/February 2004 NACLA Report on the Americas
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Recuperating Our Work: Del Valle Ceramics Factory

Originally published in Znet, October 10, 2003
by Marie Trigona

Taking this factory to produce without an owner, producing without bosses is what's important for us," worker from occupied factory Del Valle Ceramics. Argentina's worker occupied factory movement has been an example of resistance for workers all over the world.

In response to the process of deindustrialization and flexible labor markets, thousands of workers have said enough to exploitation of the working class by bosses and owners. In today's Argentina there are over 200 re-occupied factories and businesses employing some 15,000 workers. Capitalism's tendencies to concentrate capital and transnationalize have wrecked Argentina. Industrial centres have been replaced with abandoned, crumbling factories and joblessness.

In search for cheaper labour 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 live below the poverty line and 44% are either unemployed or underemployed. In the shambles of an economically ruined nation, a practice of protest remerged: production under worker self-management/control. Historically, the working class has always had tools for liberation--striking, work slow downs, machinery sabotage, road blockades and factory occupations.

"We're part of the method of compañeros trying to work for themselves. The factories that close are factories we'll put to work. This is the politics of the Ceramist Union, like the compañeros are showing. We know if Zanon loses then we lose too. We'll lose the initiative that we have now to put this factory to work," explains Luis Calfueque, worker at Del Valle and the Ceramists Union of Neuquen.

We were introduced to the Del Valle Ceramics factory struggle during a visit to Zanon, a huge ceramics factory producing under worker control and employing over 600 workers. The southern province of Neuquen is home to both factories, where the native clay like soil has provided the region with primary materials to sprout ceramics industries. When we arrive at Del Valle Ceramics factory, night has already fallen. Several workers on night security meet us sitting around a fire, to fight the intense cold and lack of lights. They begin telling anecdotes about how the electric company cut the electricity that day due to the factory owner's past due utility bills.

Del Valle produced cement bricks for constructing buildings. The factory is old, with two warehouses holding elementary machinery, mixers, burners, production lines, and lots for merchandise. "In the beginning of this conflict, we started in 2001. It also started with firings and the factory owner's [Miguel Winter's] disappearance without paying us. This conflict started when two or three paychecks weren't paid in October of that year. Because of our needs, we had to camp outside the factory. We were outside about 5 months in 2001. In that moment we were 23. From the beginning we knew that some were going to hold out and others no," relates Calfueque. After over two years of struggle and factory shutdown, the original fifty workers have been reduced to five. This year the workers occupied the factory.

Every night compañeros rotate shifts guarding the factory to defend it against a government ordered eviction and from the owner stealing machinery from the factory. Calfueque explains security inside the factory, "To block the doors we put piles of material, in all of the doors as security so that they don't come and take more of anything. Maybe we would find ourselves without enough people for security rounds or maintain the factory if a police operative comes. They came many times to evict us, with armed police with rifles to come in here and take us out. But we haven't put down our guard."

After the occupation earlier this year, the owner sent men in the middle of the night to take a piece of machinery from the production belt. Without this piece, production is impossible. The machinery is out of date, absolute and has no having no value what so ever. The piece was taken out to sabotage plans to continue production under worker control.

Hunger and misery have become far more common than a dignified paying job. In the past year and a half, the real salary (workers' salaries and unemployment subsidies) fell to one-third of what it was before December 2001. Salaries and subsidies have not been adjusted to correlate to inflation after the peso devaluation.
"Those of us here now, we have taken this method to make this factory produce. We don't think about begging ever again for an unemployment subsidy because we know that if we relax our position we are really…the working class is really plastered, we're millions of unemployed," affirms Calfueque. Argentina's government has responded to wide-spread unemployment by providing more unemployment subsidies (planes de trabajar) of $150 pesos per month or a little more than $50 U.S. dollars.

The market has used these subsidies to set standards for salaries, the $150 subsidy requires the recipient to complete 4 hours of work 5 days a week. I've met individuals working in public school cafeterias as part of this plan. Many employers, considering how much is paid for 4 hours of work, pay $300 for 10 hours-5 days a week.
"There were compañeros that had to do double the work. Jobs that two workers would do, one would do alone. A compañero contracted to work here lost a finger, also another person that started working here lost his arm in the grinder," explains Calfueque. Levels of exploitation at the Del Valle factory were phenomenal. The factory is a perfect analysis of classist relationships between the capitalist and worker--understanding capitalists methods to increase earnings at the cost of the workers.

The owner raised the level of exploitation two fold, reducing salaries to the very minimum and maximizing workers' production levels. Jorge Pinaequeo delegate from the Ceramists Union and truck driver at Del Valle shows us the production line, "There were 10 people working in this part of the factory. They had the surveillance cameras here. They would watch you from inside with that camera and if you would stay standing or not doing anything, they would see you immediately. And they would come and punish you in a second. We smashed the cameras when we reoccupied the factory." For arriving 5 minutes late salaries were suspended. Raising the intensity of work (producing more bricks per hour), multi-tasking, machines replacing workers and cutting break time set the workers' rhythms of existence.

Jorge Pianequeo describes some of the conditions at the factory as sub-human, pushing the workers to the maximum without any minimum security measures. "There was only one kid working here inside. He wasn't given a respiratory guard so that he could breath o.k.. Because of the dust you couldn't see anything when you were working and the noise from the machinery was terrible. When we entered as delegates into the union, we fought so that all this would have protectors. "

He continues, "This machine worked without any guard or metal protectors. Here in this part is where the kid lost a finger. The pulley caught his finger and cut it off." According to national government statistics in Argentina, 3 workers per day die and 20,000 are injured from accidents on the job. These official statistics do not include black market work which makes up between 30-40% of national employment.
"Lacking all of that we started to demand safer working conditions, we started to demand a ton of things as a labor union. The boss also saw from his side that he wasn't able to do what he did before, cheat and cut corners," reflects Calfueque. Before Zanon and Del Valle recuperated the factory they were able to win back the Ceramists Union of Neuquen (Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados Ceramistas del Neuquen).

Previously, the union had been aligned with the bosses and owners of factories, utilizing bureaucratic union tactics to dilute workers' struggles. He continues to tell us anecdotes of struggles with the union, "Alberto Montes showed up, he was at that time the bureaucrat of the labor union. He said to us, 'boys, if you continue demanding safer conditions, you are going to lose a lot of things you have here.' And we asked ourselves, what privileges do we have? We didn't in any way have privileges. We were demanding safety and we had to do something.
He said, 'if you keep fucking around you are going to lose your food. Lift the strike or I don't know what I can arrive to.' So the compañeros decided to lift the strike because of the advice of the bureaucracy. We lifted the strike but the same we lost the food."

Strong networks have been built between the workers of Del Valle, Zanon and MTD-Neuquen (Unemployed Workers Movement). "The MTD (Unemployed Workers Movement) have supported us taking turns in security. When we start production we think about continuing [providing jobs] with them, because with solidarity we have a front that's a lot stronger," reflects Calfueque.

Worker controlled factories and unemployed workers organizations demand genuine work (no more firings, better work conditions, more jobs, reducing work days to 6 hours with the same pay and raising salaries to correspond to with prices of basis family needs) as part of protest plans. The intention of the workers at Del Valle is not only to restart production and take on new workers but also work for the community to meet basic needs of housing as Calfueque describes.

"You make ceramics to construct houses, making ceramics can bring solutions to a ton of families that today live in wooden shacks, cardboard shacks. For us that's fundamental, trying to reach the community and do something good. This factory is stopped and it's a crime that it's closed. Today or tomorrow this factory can serve the community to bring a lot of solutions. "

On the deteriorating rooftop of the factory Calfueque reflects on the determination of the thousands of workers' struggle for dignified work without bosses, foremen or owners.

"A lot of compañeros have been shut outside of the factories. They've left part of their lives inside these factories. We think this is the only solution, what is the final thing we have to do, to prove and motivate ourselves to produce. We are the ones that drive production in the nation. There's only a few owners but we're thousands and millions of workers. We're the ones who drive production in the countryside, we the ones in the industrial belts, we're the ones who produce materials to make housing. What more can they ask. We need to make an agreement among ourselves and say, factories that close are factories we can put to produce. Without an owner or bosses we can work even better."

30 Years Since Chile’s Military Coup, Allende Lives

By Marie Trigona and Fabián Pierucci October 3, 2003
Americas Program, International Relations Center (IRC)

“Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain. I am certain that at least it will be a moral example that will punish the felony, cowardice, and treason.” — Salvador Allende, Sept. 11, 1973

For Latin Americans, Sept. 11 marked a cataclysmic event well before that same date in 2001 was etched in the conscience of the U.S. populace by terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Organization headquarters. On that date in 1973, Chile awoke to a U.S.-supported military coup against its democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. By 12:15 p.m., Allende lay dead in La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace.

To commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the attack, activists from across the continent gathered in what was more a celebration of the man and his government than a requiem. The International Seminar "At 30 years, Allende lives!" took a close look at the surge of grassroots organizing that grounded Chile's agrarian reforms, as well as struggles for housing and dignified employment during Allende's three years as president. Participants stressed the need for similar popular participation to increase democracy in today's Chile.

U.S. Involvement, End of People's Government
"The armed forces have acted with patriotic inspiration to take a nation out of chaos, a grave chaos that Allende's Marxist government caused," declared a triumphant Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte the night of Sept. 11. Chile's military junta (1973-1990) replaced Allende's democratic socialism with a tyranny of terror that continues to haunt the nation.
Allende's government was targeted as a threat to U.S. strategic policy in Latin America early on. White House tapes reveal that on Sept. 14, 1970, then-President Richard Nixon ordered measures to force the Chilean economy into bankruptcy. "The U.S. will not accept a Marxist government just because of the irresponsibility of the Chilean people," declared Henry Kissinger, Nixon´s secretary of State. "The CIA had a large role in the strike against Salvador Allende and the Chilean people," states U.S. author James Cockroft. "Big corporations like [the] ITT American telecommunications giant also played a large role in preparing the conditions for the coup in Chile. Economic blockades, destabilization of the economy, direct military participation were all part of the imperialist intervention of the CIA and U.S. military," continues Cockroft.
Four U.S. battle ships approached Chile's coast Sept.11, supposedly to participate in regional military practices. They maintained permanent contact with the coup leaders. Leading up to the coup, in July and August right-wing terrorists trained by U.S intelligence agencies carried out over 250 sabotage actions, exploding electric lines, targeting industry belts, and assassinating key civilians. In October 1972 the Chilean Transport Confederation called a general strike, financed by the CIA, which paralyzed the nation. Months before the military coup, the Chilean army began immobilizing worker-controlled factories by organizing operatives and testing the possible reactions of the working class to a coup. "Three years of economic war permitted the White House and internal opposition to win an important sector of the middle class. It's here the official rebels found the base of support to develop their plans," expresses Patricio Guzmán in his moving film The Battle of Chile.
"Economic methods to destabilize progressive governments were perfected in 1973," comments Cockroft. Even while confronting attempts at destabilization, Allende's approval among public opinion rose. On Sept. 4, 1970 Allende, as candidate of the Popular Unity Front, was elected with 36.4% of votes. In March of 1973, Allende's party won legislative elections with 43. 4%. In response to employer lock-outs in industry, factories were nationalized and workers organized themselves to control production. Activists from MIR, the Leftist Revolutionary Movement, tell of expropriating buses with pistols in hand and working armed inside factories to guarantee that production and transportation continued.
Workers, peasants, students, and state workers rallied behind Allende in huge street demonstrations, by organizing community deposit centers where food was sold at cost, and by opening supermarkets closed during the business shut-down. On Sept. 4, 1973, in response to the perceived immanence of the coup attempt and a plebiscite planned for Sept. 11, the largest political act in Chile's history was held in Santiago's center, mobilizing tens of thousands of people.
Cockcroft notes that as a result of the coup, the Chilean oligarchy and the U.S. imperialists were able to install a repressive dictatorship and a neoliberal economic regime that left the majority of the people poorer than during Allende's government, when over half the population improved its economic condition. Pinochet immediately applied U.S.-prescribed measures of privatization and elimination of restrictions on the circulation of capital. Conditions favorable to foreign investors, including tax exemptions, and the lowering of environmental and labor standards sought to lure foreign investors.
But the neoliberal model imposed after Allende's fall was only possible through the brutal control of all political dissent, achieved by militarizing society and implementing a state of terror. "After Sept. 11 all military resources were used to repress the Popular Unity Front, with North American compliance and presence," Guzmán narrates. In the ensuing days, sport stadiums were transformed into concentration camps where thousands passed through the hands of the dictatorship's terror and torture; executions and disappearances became commonplace.

Over the next 17 years, Pinochet's dictatorship insured a submissive and dependent economy and a stranglehold on dissent. It is estimated that about 550 enterprises under public-sector control, including most of Chile's largest corporations, were privatized between 1974 and 1990. During the same period, some 3,000 people were officially declared dead or disappeared.

The Past that Lingers
"After 30 years, our history is still an open, bleeding wound," states Cesar Quirós, Chilean human rights activist from the Manuel Rodríguez Movement. He notes that Chile's transition to democracy has been full of contradictions. Until the late 80s Pinochet's regime maintained strong control. On Sept.11, 1980 Pinochet adopted a new Constitution to stay in power and announced a plebiscite for 1988. With civil society pressuring for elections, Pinochet's regime was rejected in the plebiscite. He remained in power until his executive term ended in 1990.
Pinochet and his supporters formed a political party, the Alliance for Chile. The first candidate of the right-wing alliance was Pinochet's former Minister of Finance Hernán Büchi Buc, who ran as an independent supported by the pro-government Independent Democratic Union (UDI, by its Spanish initials). Center-left forces formed a coalition made up of 17 parties to defeat the new right and it succeeded with the election of Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, with 55.2% of votes in December 1989. Today, the coalition includes the Christian Democrats and center-left politicians, among them many who supported the coup and participated in the Pinochet dictatorship.
Thirteen years have passed since the end of the dictatorship and the much-heralded "return to democracy," but many of the old systems of repression remain. Even now, people continue to denounce new cases of disappearances. Chile has not been able to solve past crimes and current contradictions that have permanent effects on today's society: Some 1,200 disappeared remain unaccounted for; impunity for war criminals continues to be the legal norm; the same military and police forces control the streets; and ex-military leaders of the dictatorship are serving as senators for life. Nelson Mery, chief of Chile's Investigative Police since 1990, resigned his post on Sept. 26 of this year, more than a month after being formally accused of torturing prisoners during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Pinochet.
Quirós maintains that due to pressures from the right-wing and U.S. political interests, Chile's return to democracy has brought little fundamental change. "Chile's democracy is still a dictatorship, nearly intact. Constitutional powers are the same, it's the same Constitution of 1980. When you talk about Chile's armed forces, they are the same as under Pinochet. The armed forces continue to claim that they will not allow another popular government like Popular Unity. They've made sure that popular sectors are not able to embark on a new attempt to change this unjust society that excludes the majority and is anti-democratic."
The Chilean Constitution that Pinochet adopted provides the military with autonomy from civil government, allowing armed forces to act unchecked. Referring to the Constitution, current President Ricardo Lagos has stated: "The authoritarian seeds are there intact. Our transition has not been concluded, we don't have a Magna Carta that has democratic norms." Nonetheless, many feel that Lagos' efforts at political reform have been symbolic, while at the same time guaranteeing impunity and amnesty for those responsible for crimes during the dictatorship and dutifully applying neoliberal policies.
"For 30 years, Chile has been a model of imperialism. Now we have both forms, economic and military control. Economic measures today are the same neoliberalism that Pinochet implemented in the 1970s, but it's more ferocious, sophisticated and complete," Cockcroft asserts. He adds that today these policies are being imposed by free trade accords, exemplified by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the north and the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement in the south.

Although from the same party as Allende, Lagos has been a staunch promoter of the free trade agreement with the United States. In July, the U.S. Congress ratified the free trade Agreement with Chile and the Chilean Congress expects to pass and sign the agreement no later than Oct. 31. The first ratified free trade agreement of this type in South America will then take effect Jan. 1, 2004. The United States is already Chile's primary client for exports, with total sales to the United States at over $2.87 billion. The agreement with Washington will immediately lift 85% of Chile's import taxes and will totally abolish tariffs by 2014. Lagos had already signed a free trade agreement with the European Union in 2002.

Conflicts Unresolved
Chile has adopted a model for development that only benefits a small sector of society, led by transnational businesses, and leaving out most workers and peasants. Nearly 22% of the population is living below the poverty line and the unemployment rate stands at 9.2%. The economy has been globalized through privatizations and is dependent on imported capital and foreign investment. Conditions for macroeconomic policies are set by foreign bodies, especially the U.S. government and the multilateral financial institutions. Like its neighbors Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, Chile continues to borrow from financial institutions to stabilize capital flows, while private debt accumulated under the dictatorship has been absorbed by public sectors. In 1980, Chile's debt was $11.2 billion; by 2002 it had swelled to $40.4 billion.
Agrarian reform carried out under the Allende administration has become a thing of the past. On the contrary, tendencies toward concentration of land have grown stronger in recent years, a cause for concern in a nation where nearly 14% of the labor force works in agriculture. Francisca Ramírez, indigenous activist from Vía Campesina, sees the impact of the transnationalization of agriculture on the small farmers she works with every day. "We are demanding that what we produce and eat not be determined by corporations and capital forces. This government's vision is that agriculture has its basis in the free market, that it's necessary to produce for those with money." She reaffirms the need for Chile to be able to sustain its basic needs through developing agricultural diversity and blocking agri-corporations from further extending systems of monoculture.
The past two decades have also seen increasing conflict between Chile's indigenous peoples--particularly the country's largest indigenous group, the Mapuche--and a series of Chilean governments over questions of land rights and development. These conflicts have resulted in a number of deaths. Most recently a 17-year-old Mapuche activist, Edmundo Alex Lemun, died on Nov. 12, 2002, five days after being shot in the head during a clash with carabineros (police) who were trying to forcibly remove a group of Mapuches occupying ancestral indigenous lands claimed by the Mininco lumber company in Angol Province. There are dozens of Mapuche activists today being held as political prisoners in Chile's jails as part of struggles for land rights.

Washington's policy proclaims that the proposed free trade agreements will help usher in "a hemisphere of liberty." Linking free markets to democracy, U.S. President George W. Bush has declared that "people who operate in open economies eventually demand more open societies." The U.S. continues to support governments that adopt favorable conditions to foreign capital and investments, but today it chooses its tactics more carefully. Making back-door trade agreements, setting financial conditions, and controlling the poor through structural adjustment policies of international lending institutions have replaced financing and supporting military dictatorships.

All-Too-Living Legacy
On Sept. 11, while Lagos attended ceremonies in front of La Moneda to commemorate those who lost their lives 30 years ago, Pinochet attended a different ceremony. Twisting history to celebrate himself as a legitimate statesman, Pinochet commemorated 30 years since the military coup and donated his presidential sash to the Pinochet Foundation. This foundation's objective is to honor the dictatorship. Some 4,000 people attended this ceremony. In a symbolic act, current head of the Chilean military Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre, made a surprise visit to Pinochet's home to chat with the ex-dictator--who was Cheyre's commander-in-chief in 1973. Neither made any public declaration of what they talked about in the meeting. Cheyre also attended ceremonies at the Military School to commemorate the deaths of anti-Allende forces during and after the military coup. In national newspaper headlines he was quoted as saying, "I feel secure about our power to manifest that the Chilean Army has carried out its tradition of military honor."
Jorge Martínez Busch, former military commander-in-chief and current senator, also publicly defended the military coup. In one of the ceremonies he stated that the military should "wake up and take action," referring to the military's power to guarantee immunity for crimes against humanity.
On Sept. 9, family members of the disappeared and ex-detainees peacefully occupied the Mexican, Portuguese, and Swiss embassies to demand an end to impunity for military criminals. "We have organized this action, because at 30 years since the military coup that ended Salvador Allende's constitutional government, the state has not sought justice for crimes against humanity, or executions perpetrated by the Armed Forces and agencies created to repress a defenseless population," stated a woman participating in the action. "In 13 years the government of conciliation has not reached truth and justice with respect to the atrocities committed by the dictatorship. There are more than 200 ex-military personnel exempt from judicial process, including Pinochet. Also exempt from justice are many civilians who investigated, collaborated, covered-up, or participated directly in repressive acts."
Days after the military coup, songwriter Victor Jara was detained, tortured, mutilated, and executed inside Chile's National Stadium. His body--badly beaten, with 44 bullet wounds and wrists broken by rifle butts--was found days later in an abandoned field. Thirteen years after Chile's transition to democracy, Lagos agreed to officially rename the stadium after Jara on Sept. 12. This symbolic gesture marks years of struggle by organizations and activists, but it also marks the contradictions between today's democracy and a system of terror still intact. The night of Sept. 11, hundreds participated in a march to the stadium to realize an act of homage to Victor Jara. As in like cases of so-called "unauthorized" marches, Chile's police force was ordered to repress. Demonstrators were tear-gassed, water-cannoned, and beaten. Four hundred arrived at the stadium, where thousands of candles were lit to give homage to those revolutionaries who died. Outside, hundreds more gathered after marching down the Alameda where they confronted the police.
During what the newspapers called "the night of terror," some 200,000 people in the working class neighborhoods outside of Santiago suffered a blackout when electricity lines were cut. Neighborhoods themselves cut the electricity to make it harder for the police to repress demonstrators. The worst battles between police and demonstrators were fought in these working class neighborhoods. After it was all over, police chief Alberto Cienfuegos sent a radio message congratulating the police for their work "with so much passion and energy." Twelve police officers were wounded in the actions, one shot in the face. There were some 300 demonstrators detained.
History, memory, and personal experiences have not let the events of Chile's past 30 years be erased. Activities and actions commemorating Allende demonstrate that thousands of Chile's workers, peasants, and students have not abandoned what is known as the "Battle of Chile." Chilean organizations and social movements continue to demand justice for the disappeared, an end to impunity, and a real democracy.

"I was here during Allende's government. I learned a lot from the Chilean people. It's important for the world to understand who this hero was. The other lesson to learn is that this president didn't prepare the people for such an attack, an attack so voracious. Many in the government knew that the coup was very probable. It's hard to say this publicly, but we recognize that we need to prepare ourselves to defend ourselves. Prepare ourselves against a military intervention," James Cockroft warned at the 30-year anniversary.

Marie Trigona <> and Fabián Pierucci <> are members of Grupo Alavío.

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