Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mercosur: More Than a Trade Pact

Wednesday, Jul 26, 2006
By: Marie Trigona -

Cordoba, Argentina, July 25, 2006—The South American trade pact Mercosur concluded its summit in Cordoba, Argentina on Friday with eight presidents agreeing to work toward regional integration to offset U.S. influence. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez dominated the spotlight with the oil-rich nation making its formal entry into Mercosur during the summit, boosting the regional trade bloc composed of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Fidel Castro made a surprise visit to Cordoba for the regional meeting, signing several trade agreements and encouraging his left-leaning sympathizers to fight against US hegemony.

The Mercosur bloc was established by the heads of state of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in 1991. For many years the trade pact was described by analysts as a novice attempt of a South American version of the European Union. More than 15 years later, the Mercosur trade pact is beginning to emerge as a key economic force with the continent’s No. 1 economy (Brazil) and second largest economy (Argentina) now joined by the third-largest economy (Venezuela). The bloc’s cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) ranks it as one of the world’s largest economies.

Regional integration was a key issue discussed at the summit. Presidents committed to join together to fight against unemployment and lack of access to education and health. The leaders made major headway with trade agreements, natural resource accords and committing to build a new regional bank. Associate members Evo Morales from Bolivia and Michelle Bachelet from Chile attended the meeting as associate members, focusing on gas prices and trade. Even though some conflicts came up during the summit, the central meeting was filled with optimism and inside jokes.

Venezuela’s entry
Argentina’s president, Nestor Kirchner said that Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur was “a historic moment.” Many expect Venezuela’s entry to boost Mercosur economically with the nation’s oil reserves and politically with Chavez’s criticisms of the U.S. In a poll published in the national daily, Pagina 12, seven out of 10 Argentines polled think that Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur is a positive step. However, Brazil, which currently holds Mercosur’s presidential seat, seems uneasy over the possibility of Venezuela taking over Mercosur’s leadership.

Chavez made several key proposals during the meeting, promising oil reserves for the Mercosur trade bloc for the next 30 years. Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay signed an accord for Enarsa (Argentina’s dormant state oil company) and Uruguay’s Ancap to begin oil explorations in Venezuela’s Cuenca del Orinoco region.

FTAA’s death
Leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay followed Chavez’s lead with criticisms of the impact of Free Trade agreements on the third world. Carlos Aznarez, political analyst and editor of Resumen Latinoamericano, said that the regional meeting marked the revival of Mercosur. “With Venezuela’s entry and the possible entry of Bolivia, something which is immanent, the goal of revitalizing an organization that had been inactive has been achieved. For an organization that was dead, it’s a step forward. Venezuela’s entry gave Mercosur an ideological spin, incorporating a courageous discourse to confront Pro-Free Trade policies coming from Washington.”

Nearly 40,000 people attended the parallel people’s summit to hear Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro speak. During his address, Chavez said that the Free Trade Area of the America’s, a U.S.-backed proposal blocked by the Mercosur nations last year, was dead. “10 years have gone by and we have followed the road toward crucial changes. In 1994 almost every Latin American government had to answer to the US empire. By January 1, 2005 the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas should have already been installed throughout the entire continent. Today we can say we destroyed the FTAA and a new Mercosur has been born, a new Mercosur has been built.”

Mercosur leaders openly rejected the FTAA during last November’s Summit of the Americas meeting of regional heads-of-state in Argentina’s coastal city of Mar del Plata. Surprising even U.S. President George Bush, who hoped to push through free trade accords throughout the Southern Cone. In his speech, Chavez referred to that historic summit. Chavez reminded the audience that during previous summits, Venezuela and Cuba represented the only challenge to U.S. free trade policies. “At one of those summits, Fidel passed me a piece of paper with the message ‘Chavez, I feel like I’m not the only devil at these meetings.”

Mercosur’s agenda for integration
According to Aznarez, Mercosur’s revival has many implications for the people of the Southern Cone. “What does this mean for the people of Latin America in the short term? The extension of regional economic alliances, in different industries such as pharmaceutics and energy resources. In the mid-term, the possibility of building a regional gas pipeline that Venezuela proposed.”

Mercosur’s new full-fledged member also proposed the long term project of building an international oil pipeline that will run from Venezuela to Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Securing energy sources has been one of Mercosur’s primary objectives.

During the Mercosur summit, Venezuela also proposed to build a new regional bank for nations frustrated with conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela have already committed 70 million dollars in reserves to get the bank up and running. The regional financial institution will finance infrastructure projects and business investments in those countries at a low interest rate. The bank may function as an alternative to structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF, which are used as a yardstick to qualify for loans from the IMF and other multinational lending institutions.

The Mercosur leaders also discussed the possibility of reaching a unified stance for the upcoming IMF meeting in Singapore. The economy ministers from Mercosur are working on joint proposals to improve their countries’ standing in the IMF that they will present in September at the lender’s annual meeting.

Papermills – Uruguay brought up the dispute with Argentina over the proposal to build a paper mill near the border of the two countries. Argentina’s Kirchner had avoided the pulp mill row during the summit. Taberé Vázquez addressed his Argentine counterpart during his Mercosur presentation. He said that “Uruguay is open to negotiations and is worried about the health of Argentines.” The paper mills project has strained diplomatic relations between Uruguay and Argentina, historically friendly neighbors.

This is the first time Vázquez has addressed the issue since the UN's highest court rejected Argentina's request for an order to immediately halt the construction of the plants earlier this month. Argentina had wanted the World Court to temporarily halt construction of the mills on the shared river, while it weighed its claim that the mills violated a bilateral treaty, which states both countries must consent to all issues that could affect the water of the shared river body. Hundreds from the Argentine town of Gualeguaychu attended the summit in Cordoba to confront Vázquez and to pressure the Mercosur leaders to stop the construction of the plants.

Trade pact with Israel – Mercosur leaders were expected to sign trade accords with Cuba, Pakistan, and Israel. Human rights organizations and Islamic groups in Argentina had requested that the nations suspend the trade negotiations with Israel until Israel suspends attacks against civilians in Lebanon. The Mercosur nations refused to sign the accord and signed an official document calling for a cease fire and end to the attack against Lebanon.

Social agenda for Mercosur
Fidel Castro surprised Mercosur’s left leaning members with his arrival on Thursday. Chavez had invited the island President to participate in the summit. Castro, who will soon turn 80, addressed the people’s summit for nearly three hours in his trade mark green fatigues, urging for social pacts among Latin American nations.

“Today trade between Mercosur and Cuba is at 500 million dollars in imported goods from Mercosur and we export 50 million dollars. We have a tremendous amount of possibilities in our hands. Today in the meeting we talked about Mercosur’s economy. And Mercosur’s social agenda? Don’t forget that word! Mercosur’s social aspects, what that means and what can be accomplished”

The historic revolutionary figure also reminded Mercosur leaders that they mustn’t forget social and humanitarian agenda’s toward building a new Latin America. “We can build a new education program throughout Latin America. In three years we can eradicate illiteracy. We have to believe it to achieve it.” The Cuban leader focused on education and health, applauding Venezuela and Bolivia for the recent initiatives in health and education. “Let’s not forget about globalization. We should globalize solidarity.” Both Cuba and Venezuela have exported their socialism to many parts of the Third World. For many years, Cuba has trained hundreds of doctors and provided specialized surgery for many fellow Latin Americans.

Cuba, a nation with a limited economy, signed several trade accords with the Mercosur nations. Juan Mignetti, professor of political economy at the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo’s popular university, said that Cuba’s participation was a step forward toward globalizing solidarity. “Politically, Mercosur is very important for Latin America. The possibility that Latin American markets integrate and include Cuba means a lot because regional economies will help to break the blockade against Cuba.”

Washington’s silence
Washington’s State Department remained silent over last week’s Mercosur summit. Some Republicans and Democrats agreed that the Mercosur presidential summit was a political meeting, not a meeting leading to trade consolidation and economic pacts.

Aznarez mentioned that the new regional alliance means an end to isolation. “For the U.S., this trio composed of Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro, signifies a true enemy because they are resisting North America’s plans for Latin America. They have rejected the FTAA and the U.S.’s other alternative: individual free trade agreements based on country to country. This regional alliance is going to make those individual accords much more difficult.”

Outcome of Mercosur
Both Chavez and Castro set a strong playing ground for their fellow leaders to follow. The leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay haven’t been as outspoken in their commitment to social policies as Chavez and Castro. Before Venezuela’s entry, Mercosur’s agenda didn’t include a social agenda. In his address, Castro said Latin American leaders need to make a stronger commitment to social programs. He applauded Chavez and Bolivia’s Morales for how quickly they’ve learned the road to socialism. Without saying anything, he criticized Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay for falling short.

Castro criticized South America’s second largest economy for its high child mortality rate. He also said in his speech that continental governments should commit to humanitarian needs: train more doctors, teachers and university teachers. Argentina has long recovered from its 2001 financial crisis but this recovery hasn’t reached the ranks of the working class.
What remains clear is that Venezuela’s fellow Mercosur leaders are excited about Venezuela’s economic might, but wary of his socialist discourse. With the exception of Castro and Chavez, the Mercosur presidents departed as quickly as they could after the summit. Not a single government official from Nestor Kirchner’s administration attended the parallel people’s summit. Chavez reminded the some 40,000 spectators that the crucial changes in Latin America came thanks to social movements’ resistance to imperialism.

The Mercosur presidential summit marks a clear separation from U.S. imposed economic policies. However, most of the accords set during this summit benefit the major economic groups of the corresponding nations, not the people. Castro hit a strong point when he reminded his admirers that Mercosur should include a social agenda.

Zanon: Worker Managed Production, Community and Dignity

Written by Marie Trigona
Thursday, 13 July 2006 Toward Freedom
During Argentina's financial meltdown, many unemployed workers occupied their closed factories and forcibly reopened them – under employee control. Four years later, Argentina's economy is well on the road to recovery, and many worker-run factories are seeking permanent legal status. Workers from the Zanon ceramics factory in the Patagonian province of Neuquen held a rally on July 4 to demand the government expropriate their plant and give permanent legal status to FASINPAT (Factory without a boss), their worker cooperative. If there’s no action, it will lose its temporary legal status in October.

As the largest recuperated factory in Argentina, occupied since 2001, Zanon now employs 470 workers. The long term demand at Zanon is for national expropriation under worker control. However, the workers from Zanon have fought a parallel battle in federal court to legally recognize the FaSinPat cooperative. In October 2005, the FaSinPat cooperative won a legal dispute, pressuring federal courts to legally recognize the FaSinPat as a legal entity that has the right to run the cooperative for one year.

FaSinPat’s Legal battle

"The workers built this factory." COMMUNITY "All of us defend the factory." DIGNITY "We’ve put the plant back into production." PRODUCTION "We’ve created more than 250 jobs." WORK "Today, the factory is at the service of the community." SOLIDARITY "Zanon belongs to the people, join us."

As part of the campaign for the definitive expropriation of FASINPAT, Zanon workers produced a television commercial inviting viewers to participate in the march. For the rally, Zanon workers stopped production and brought trucks carrying machinery out into the streets to show senators and the community what the workers have achieved in their factory. The FaSinPat cooperative has presented a legal proposal, backed by 17,000 signatures, requesting the definitive expropriation of the factory.

Alejandro Lopez, a Zanon worker said the cooperative needs a permanent solution after four years of worker control. "Soon in October the cooperative’s legality expires. We don’t want to go back to the old story of eviction threats and put the new jobs we’ve created under worker management at risk. Even with everything we’ve accomplished the provincial and national government hasn’t listened to us. We’re organizing a different kind of rally. We want the senators and community to get to see what worker management looks like. All they see when they drive by on the highway is a factory, but Zanon is much more than a factory."

Production is political

Many workers say the legal status of the cooperative has allowed the cooperative to catch an edge on the market by to getting rid of middlemen. Currently, the FaSinPat cooperative is invoicing all sales, purchases and payments with legal status. In June the plant produced over 400,000 square meters of ceramic tile, a record for the factory since the take over in 2001. "Quality control is the responsibility of all the workers," said the plant’s production coordinator, Francisco Murillo who has worked at Zanon for 15 years. The factory has competed successfully within the domestic market which is growing. The Zanon ceramics plant is one of Latin America’s largest and modern tile factory. While the former owner Luis Zanon exported over 80 percent of the factory’s production, the FaSinPat cooperative has marketed high quality and low price products to markets locally and nationally.

Murillo said that increasing production hasn’t been easy due to the lack of government support and capital investments. "In 4 years of worker management we went from producing 15,000 square meters per month to over 400,000 square meters in a factory that was equipped to produce one million square meters per month. But we’re producing in a factory that was run down due to neglect and lack of maintenance by the former owner." He adds that the Zanon workers have done what bosses aren’t interested in doing: creating jobs and support community projects. "Now that we’ve increased production, improving quality and production output will become easier. Part of the profits are being put towards creating new jobs, improve machinery and replacements for the machines. The other part of profits generated are being put towards society."

Democratic social relations

Under worker control, no management or professional stayed at the factory. The workers not only had to re-learn the process of production but also other traditionally administrative areas like sales, book keeping and production planning.

Carlos Saavedra, a Zanon worker with over 10 years laboring on the glazing sector says that every worker in the plant has equal standing. "For the workers the decisions should be decided by the assembly as the only authority in the factory. It shouldn’t be like the old administrative system with managers, unionists or one delegate who decides what is to be done." At Zanon every worker is paid the same wage, with the exception of a small pay difference based on seniority, but seniority based on who withstood the old boss, firings, stand off and occupation.

The workers at Zanon have developed a coordinator system to organize production and basic functioning. Each production line forms a commission. Each commission votes on a coordinator that rotates regularly. The coordinator of the sector informs on issues, news and conflicts within his or her sector to a assembly of coordinators. The coordinator then reports back to his or her commission news from other sectors. The workers hold weekly assemblies per shift. The factory also holds a general assembly, during which production is halted.

On the day of the rally, the cooperative held its monthly general assembly. The assembly began at 6am, long before dawn during Neuquen’s winter. Some 400 workers huddled into the
factory’s tool and die shop to discuss aspects of worker self-management. The assembly began with an evaluation of the TV commercials produced by Zanon workers developing an audiovisual area. Every month the bookkeeping coordinator gives an extensive report on the income and expenditures at the plant. During the assemblies workers decide how profits should be used. This month, the assembly voted on a pay bonus workers went beyond the production quota goal for June. Workers also voted in favor of hiring 15 new workers. Who will get the job is decided on a criteria based on family needs, political commitment to the struggle and technical experience. One participant also brought up the possibility of workers rotating to explore other areas of worker management.

The assembly concluded with the political aspects of "gestión obrera" (worker management). Zanon invited representatives from a wide range of labor conflicts nationwide. Zanon workers have remained true to their roots by building a network of mutual support with other worker conflicts and recuperated enterprises. Mercedes Mendez, a nurse from Garrahan, Argentina’s largest public children’s hospital spoke during the assembly and address the importance worker self-management has for Argentina’s workers. "It’s very moving to visit the factory. You have worked so that the entire working class feels that Zanon belongs to them. We hope you win the expropriation of the plant so that the factory can remain at the service of the community."

Producing for the community

Besides producing ceramics the factory has committed itself to projects like donating ceramics to community centers, building homes for working class families, hosting student field trips and printing ceramic alphabets for schools. During an interview with Omar VillaBlanca, we were interrupted by a phone call from a public school teacher coordinating a visit to the factory. "One of our slogans is that we have opened our doors to the community. We bring the school children to visit to find out for themselves what a factory in production looks like and so they know they can build another kind of society." In the press office at the factory, the walls are lined with thank you posters hand-made by grade school students. For many students visiting Zanon is a curious and moving experience. VillaBlanca said that the students usually ask a long list of questions. "The first question they ask is, why isn’t there a boss?" The school visits have served as an outreach tool because most of the students talk about their visit with their families at the dinner table.

One of the keys to Zanon’s success has been the insertion of the workers’ struggle into the community. According to VillaBlanca the workers have a lot more at risk than a factory. "First all the jobs are at play, secondly the community work we’ve developed wouldn’t be possible. Also we’d lose an experience developed over five years that has become very valuable for workers nationally and internationally."

The Zanon workers insist that demanding the definitive exploration of the plant isn’t a utopia. Provincial governments have expropriated over 150 businesses abandoned by their owners and taken over by the workers since Argentina’s financial meltdown in 2001. The Zanon workers are planning future rallies and festivals in Buenos Aires before the legality of the FASINPAT cooperative expires. and

Argentina’s soccer passion

by Marie Trigona
Originally published as a Znet commentary June 28, 2006
The world cup is here. Until July 9th, 32 national teams will play for the Word Cup title. It is estimated that the World cup will draw five billion viewers world wide. Argentina is no exception to the frenzy. South Americans are the wildest about their soccer, with the highest TV ratings. Argentina’s passion for soccer is a cultural mainstay and part of national identity regardless of class backgrounds.

This year’s World cup tournament has brought back a wave of fervor for Argentina’s national soccer team. Argentina is expected to have a good chance at the World Cup title with super stars like Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, young soccer magicians leading the offense.

I just returned to Argentina in the height of this year’s World Cup fever. Fans’ passion for the sport has inspired even sports nerds like myself. During the recent matches, the streets of Buenos Aires have looked like a western ghost town with everyone shut in their homes or workplaces watching the game. International and national companies like Pepsi, Quilmes beer, Adidas have featured Messi and Tevez marketing their products. Local stores, bars and citizens have been plastered with Argentina’s national colors, sky blue and white. Every news broadcast (morning, noon, evening and nightly newscasts) feature special reports on the world cup. National politics and local events seem to have been frozen in time until the world cup ends and Argentina takes home the cup. With nothing else seemingly happening in the country, it seems logical to write about what Argentine’s know best, their soccer.

Soccer as socialism

At the turn of the 20th century, Anarchists and Socialists founded many of Argentina’s first soccer clubs. They sought the need to use soccer as a social and political tool for organizing. Anarchist historian Osvaldo Bayer has written extensively on anarchism and soccer. Argentina’s large Anarchist movements in the 20th century, influenced by the influx of European immigrants, were alarmed by the working class’ drive to go to the soccer stadium on weekends rather than ideological picnics or other cultural events. The movement’s daily anarchist newspaper La Protesta wrote in 1917 compared the effects of soccer with religion, writing “church and soccer balls: the worst drug for the people.” However, anarchists soccer ideology changed quickly.

One of the first teams Chacarita Juniors was founded on May 1, 1906 in an Anarchist library in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Chacarita. Anarchists had a clear vision. “Soccer is a socialist game. Everyone plays together with the objective of making it to the goal line, that is the triumph, that is the revolution. In soccer you learn how to act in solidarity. You can’t play alone, when someone is in a better position you have to pass them the ball.” They even discussed what would happen when the sport would become professionalized. When the anarchists would win a championship, all the prizes would go toward forming schools for children to learn the sport. Other clubs followed including the “Martyrs of Chicago,” a homage to the American workers hung for fighting for a 8 hour workday. In the 30's the clubs became appropriated by capitalist interests. The “Martyrs of Chicago” later became Argentinos Juniors: “We are Argentines, not anarchists” became the new nationalist slogan erasing the team’s proletariat history. Chacarita still sports red and black uniforms even though the club is run as a commercial team.

Soccer as nationalism

Until the 60's South America’s soccer teams remained inferior to Western European teams. With the upsurge of military dictatorships in the region, Latin America also emerged as leaders in soccer. Argentina won its first World Cup championship in 1978, in the height of the military brutal dictatorship (1976-1983). The coup’s first dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla hosted the 1978 World Cup as a media stunt to show the world that the military had popular support.

The 1976-1983 military dictatorship ushered in unimaginable methods of terror–drugging dissidents and dropping them from planes into the Atlantic Ocean in the “vuelos del muerte,” using electric prods or “picana”on the genitals of men and women who entered the clandestine detention centers, raping women and forcing husbands, wives, parents, brothers, and companeros to listen tot he screams of their loved ones who were being tortured. The dictatorship disappeared 30,000 men and women to wipe out working class resistance and implement the neoliberal economic model.

By 1978, the international community had heard the accounts of the dictatorship’s human right’s violations. An international campaign gained steam thanks to the determination of groups like the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. In the midst of criticism, the dictatorship decided to host the World Cup. Anyone who opposed the dictatorship risked being disappeared themselves. The dictatorship justified the tortures, kidnaping and executions as a “dirty war” against anti-nationalist, communist opponents. The mothers of Plaza de Mayo suffered the most aggression leading up to the World Cup. Three of the founding members were disappeared and murdered following the infiltration by Adolfo Astiz, a military officer, in 1977.

The 1978 World Cup cost Videla several hundred million dollars. Business tycoons who benefitted from the dictatorship’s neoliberal policies joined in the World Cup frenzy. The BAUEN hotel (currently under worker self-management) was constructed in 1978 for the World Cup, with government loans and subsidies.

Many ex-detainees held at the ESMA (Navy Mechanics School), one of the 400 clandestine detention centers, said they could hear the cheers as Argentina won the world cup while being tortured. The River Plate Stadium is less than a kilometer away from Argentina’s infamous and largest clandestine detention center. Some detainees gave accounts that they too cheered for Argentina while tied and blindfolded.

Home players beat Holland 3-1 in the final. Holland along with many nations threatened to
boycott Argentina’s World Cup, saying “you can’t play soccer a thousand meters from a torture center.” The Holland players said openly they would not accept the World Cup trophy from hands of dictator Videla. The military coup used the World Cup to launch its own counter-human rights campaign with the slogan “Argentineans are right and human.” The dictatorship’s national pride campaign overshadowed any international criticism of human rights violations.

Soccer and image

Diego Armando Maradona, by far the best soccer player in history, led Argentina in taking the title again in 1986 during the World Cup in Mexico. Maradona from the working class neighborhood Fiorito, a shanty town in a southern Buenos Aires suburb continues as a soccer god for many worldwide. During the 90's Maradona began to slip in the midst of the golden neoliberal era of former president Carlos Menem. Maradona left the soccer world in 1994 with a drug addiction and weight problem.

As part of Argentina’s image recovery from the 2001 financial and political crisis, Maradona cleaned up his act and had gastric bypass surgery to lose weight. Once again, Maradona is Argentina’s national pride. The best soccer player in history has a tattoo of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on his arm and another of Fidel Castro on his calve. Maradona hosted a weekly national talk show, which broke tv rating records in 2005. Fidel Castro gave Maradona an exclusive interview in which the best soccer player in history pridefully showed the ‘comandante’ his tattoo. During the interview Maradona also promised the ‘comandante’ that he would protest against George W. Bush’s visit to Argentina during last year’s Summit of the Americas.

In popular culture, almost noone makes reference to the 1978 World Cup victory. Fans generally cheer, “we’re going to win just like in 1986!” Soccer, like any sport can be used to uphold authoritarianism and nationalism. The political punk rock band, Las Manos de Fillippi, wrote a song about the 1978 World Cup “La Selecion Nazzional.” The lyrics go: “The World Cup is another state ministry, while the education ministry makes you stupid, the World Cup nationalizes you.” Universally, the state has coopted the World Cup for national interests.

However, sports can also bring people together. It’s no wonder that bosses often ban employees from forming sports clubs or other leisure activities. The workers from the Zanon ceramics factory, occupied and managed by its workers since 2001, launched an interesting campaign during the World Cup. They printed a special ceramics title with the slogan: “Together we are playing for the world cup, together we fight for the expropriation of Zanon.” When the former boss at Zanon prohibited the workers from talking in groups of three or more, the workers began to organize against exploitive conditions in the plant by getting together and playing soccer. Today, the Zanon workers have organized their own soccer tournament inside their factory to create a recreation space and to create unity among the workers.

Recuperated Enterprises in Argentina: Reversing the Logic of Capitalism

Photo: Zanon Assembly
IRC Americas Program Citizen Action in the Americas, No. 19
Marie Trigona March 17, 2006

Argentina’s worker-run factories are setting an example for workers around the world that employees can run a business even better without a boss or owner. Some 180 recuperated enterprises up and running, providing jobs for more than 10,000 Argentine workers. The new phenomenon of employees taking over their workplace began in 2000 and heightened as Argentina faced its worst economic crisis ever in 2001. Nationwide, thousands of factories have closed and millions of jobs have been lost in recent years. Despite challenges, Argentina’s recuperated factory movement have created jobs, formed a broad network of mutual support among the worker-run workplaces and generated community projects.

Argentina’s employee-run businesses are very diverse, each with specific legal standing and forms of organizing production. In almost all cases workers took over businesses that had been abandoned or closed by their owners in the midst of Argentina’s financial meltdown in 2001. The owners usually ceased production, stopped paying wages, and went bankrupt. The workers’ decision to take over their plant was a decision made out of necessity--not necessarily out of ideology. The clear worry of how to safeguard workers’ jobs motivated the act of taking over a factory and making it produce without a boss or owner.

Growing unemployment, capital flight, and industry break-up served as the backdrop for factory takeovers. Argentineans lived through the nation’s worst economic crisis ever in December 2001. Unemployment hit record levels--over 20% unemployed and 40% of the population unable to find adequate employment. Argentina, one of Latin America’s industrial giants, struggled to feed its population between 2001 and 2002, with 53% of the population living below the poverty line. In 2006 unemployment still stands at 12.5%, with over 5.2 million people unable to find adequate paid work to meet monthly needs.

Many worker-controlled factories today face hostility and frequently violence from the state. Workers have had to organize themselves against violent eviction attempts and other acts of state violence. This impacts the workers and the enterprises as employees have to leave the workplace, invest energy in a legal battle and fight for laws in favor of worker-recuperated businesses.

In almost all cases the legal fight to form a cooperative and gain recognition of the business’s ownership creates instability. The workers not only have to figure out how to successfully run their business but also worry whether authorities will pass a law to evict the business. In the past year a number of Argentina’s recuperated enterprises, including worker-run BAUEN hotel, Zanon ceramics factory, La Foresta meatpacking plant, and Chilavert print shop, have undergone major legal battles to keep their workplaces. Workers have found out that proving that workers can control production wasn’t enough, they had to also fight for legality. As many of the businesses became profitable once again after the devaluation, many of the old bosses wanted their companies back.

Take the example of BAUEN Hotel, worker self-managed since 2003. Employees rallied throughout December last year to pressure the Buenos Aires city government to veto a law in favor of putting the hotel back into the hands of the former owner. The B.A. government refused to veto the law. If the BAUEN cooperative does not succeed in pushing through a new, favorable law they risk losing their hotel.

For over three years, workers have operated the BAUEN cooperative hotel with no legal standing or government subsidies. Since taking over the hotel on March 21, 2003, the workers have slowly begun to clean up the ransacked hotel and rent out the hotel’s services. The hotel re-opened with 40 employees and now employs some 150 workers.

Rather than providing a national expropriation law, the courts consider the legality of the recuperated enterprises on a case by case basis. This has resulted in fragmentation among Argentina’s 180 recuperated enterprises, which are organized in separate segments. The largest is the MNER (National Movement of Recuperated Enterprises). Over 40 worker-run businesses--among them BAUEN Hotel, Chilavert printing factory, Pismanta Hotel and Spa, La Foresta meatpacking plant, Maderera Cordoba woodshop, and Zanello tractor manufacturer--belong to MNER. The Peronist MNER, led by Eduardo Marua, has been very effective in creating legal tactics for the occupied factories.

A small sector belongs to the MNFR (National Movement of Recuperated Factories), led by Luis Caro. Caro, a procapitalist lawyer, has run as a candidate with the nationalist Christian Democratic party. MNFR functions by capturing and co-opting worker cooperatives when the company faces a legal or market crisis. The most infamous case has been the Brukman suit factory. Many Brukman workers have said that Luis Caro has become their new boss. The worker-run cooperatives belonging to MNFR have become non-political, closing their factory doors to outsiders and following a tendency to go back to the way things were before with the boss. The CTA--as the Argentine workers’ umbrella union is called--represents a smaller and less significant segment. The Zanon ceramics factory represents another segment. The Zanon cooperative, formally named FaSinPat, functions as an autonomous entity but also forms part of the Ceramists Union in Neuquén. The FaSinPat is the only recuperated factory demanding national expropriation of their ceramics plant under worker control.

One of the biggest worries that the workers at Argentina’s recuperated enterprises have is how to self-manage their business. As the largest recuperated factory in Argentina, Zanon now employs 470 workers. Under worker control, no management professional stayed at the factory. Only the workers stayed. The workers had to learn everything about sales, marketing, production planning, and other highly technical aspects. The workers at Zanon regularly work with lawyers, accountants, and other professionals whom they trust, but the professionals don’t make the decisions. The worker assembly votes on technical decisions. Professionals have provided specific skills training for the workers at Zanon. However, for many of the recuperated enterprises there is a deficit of trustworthy professionals.

Planning systematic skills training has been another challenge. While many of the recuperated enterprises have formed informal knowledge-sharing networks, there is a need for specific skills training. In the midst of running a business and fighting legal battles, long-term production planning and training often times becomes a last priority.

The recuperated enterprises have had to re-start production without investment capital, low-interest loans, or subsidies. In many cases, workers took over small- to mid-size businesses with outdated technology. Government and non-governmental entities working with Pymes (small- to mid-size companies) refuse to provide capital for the recuperated enterprises. Because of precarious legal standing, many of the worker-controlled factories and businesses failed to meet requirements to apply for government credits and/or bank loans.

While some recuperated businesses have developed advanced strategies for creating new social relations inside the workplace, several have held on to the old structures left behind by the bosses. Rather than organizing so that all workers participate in the planning and decision-making, some worker run cooperatives have opted to create top-down organizing and adopted an unequal wage scale. Some have organized according to the traditional worker cooperative model, a directive administration that manages the administrative aspects with very little participation from the manual workers. This conservative tendency to close the workplace to outsiders and organize an internal authoritarian organization is most likely influenced by the fear of losing a legal battle in court or failing to successfully run a business.

Beyond legal attacks, Argentina’s recuperated enterprises have had to strategize to overcome market challenges, with no capital support from the state. Due to lack of infrastructure and outdated technology, many of the worker-run cooperatives have little chance of surviving competition in the capitalist market. The best way for the recuperated enterprises to survive is to create an alternative market for products produced inside the recuperated enterprises. Bartering products manufactured by worker-run enterprises among a network of recuperated workplaces would guarantee that a percentage of production becomes profitable. Building a network of support among the recuperated enterprises, autonomous from the state and market, is the biggest challenge facing worker-run businesses.

Alternative Agenda
Recuperated enterprises are creating a movement of democratic alternatives and worker self-determination. Worker self-management in Argentina is helping plant the seeds so that future generations can reverse the logic of capitalism by producing for communities, not for profits and empowering workers, not exploiting them.

Worker Self-Management

The phrase "self management," derived from the Spanish concept of "auto-gestión," means that a community or group makes its own decisions, especially those kinds of decisions that fit into processes of planning and management. Argentina’s recuperated enterprises are putting into action systems of organization in a business in which the workers participate in all of the decisions.

According to James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, in their essay titled Worker Self-Management in Historical Perspective, worker self-management provides the workers with the decision-making power to 1) decide what is to be produced and for whom; 2) safeguard employment and/or increase employment; 3) set priorities for what is produced; 4) define the nature of who gets what, where and how; 5) combines social production and social appropriation of profit; 6) creates solidarity of class at the factory, sectoral or national/international level; and 7) democratizes the social relations of production.

The recuperated enterprises have developed several long-term demands for worker self-management.

MNER--Occupy, Resist, and Produce. The model of the MNER has been to press for national, provincial, and city legislature to incorporate laws, dictums, and policies in favor of recuperated enterprises. Many of the factories forming part of MNER have at least won temporary expropriation for a minimum of two years. However, the fight for credits and subsidies to invest in machinery, technology, and cultural projects has been largely ignored by government authorities

Nationalization under worker control: The case of Zanon. The long-term demand at Zanon is for national expropriation under worker control. However, the workers from Zanon have fought a parallel battle in federal court to legally recognize the FaSinPat cooperative. In December 2005, the FaSinPat cooperative won a legal dispute, pressuring a federal court to legally recognize the FaSinPat as a legal entity that has the right to run the cooperative for one year.

BAUEN Hotel, Chilavert, and Zanon have worked together in a coalition for a national expropriation law. The government has offered short-term solutions, giving temporary legal ownership to workers who have recuperated their workplace. This legal permit is usually granted for between two and five years. A definitive expropriation law for factories producing under worker control would provide legal security for jobs.

In September 2004 a delegation of workers from some of Argentina's roughly 200 re-occupied factories rallied in Buenos Aires to demand that the government permanently legalize the expropriation of factories and other bankrupt enterprises run under direct workers' control. Workers from Chilavert printing factory, BAUEN Hotel, Brukman suit factory, Conforti printing factory, Renacer electronics from Ushuaia, Junin health clinic, Ados health clinic, Gatic shoe company, Sasetru pasta company, and various unemployed workers’ organizations participated in the march.

Chilavert, a printing factory in Buenos Aires, is one of the occupied businesses that functioned with a temporary permit from 2002 until 2004. The agreement was set to expire October 17, 2004. With the support of the community and other recuperated enterprises the workers of Chilavert won the definitive expropriation of their mid-size print factory in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Pompeya.

Legal Tactics: Using the Worker Cooperative and Bankruptcy Laws

Argentina’s recuperated enterprises have developed effective legal tactics, using laws that were set up in favor of businessmen to defend workers. Some of the laws passed in favor of recuperated enterprises were based on regulations and laws set up for worker cooperatives. Historically in Argentina, worker cooperatives have gotten a bad name. Throughout the 90s cooperatives were used as a way to cover up outsourcing and reduced labor standards. The recuperated enterprises are bringing back a renovated tradition of the worker cooperatives.

Workers have also effectively utilized Article 187--a bankruptcy law that was developed for businesses to more easily file for bankruptcy. In the 1990s the social democratic Peronist party voted in favor of the bill, revamping the bankruptcy law following advice from the International Monetary Fund. Article 187 served as a tool to accelerate corporate concentration of privatized businesses. However, the law passed with a special article defining that a judge handling a bankruptcy could consider giving the business to the workers if they form a cooperative. Application of the article is discretionary and considered on a case by case basis.

Direct Political Action

In almost all cases of the factory takeovers the workers used the strategy of direct political action. The first step was to physically take over the workplace through occupations. The workers from BAUEN cut the lock off a side entrance to occupy their hotel. Obviously, these actions directly questioned the notion of private property. The workers then had to rally within their communities to defend their occupied workplaces from violent eviction. In the aftermath of December 19 and 20, 2001 citizens and activists from piquetero groups, popular neighborhood assemblies and human rights organizations supported the recuperated enterprises with different measures. Recuperated enterprises like Chilavert, BAUEN, and Zanon have carried out innumerable political actions to pressure the courts to legally recognize their worker cooperatives. The government's response to Zanon has been violent, using different tactics to evict the factory workers. The government has tried to evict five times using police operatives. On April 8, 2003 over 5,000 community members from Neuquén came out to defend the factory during the last eviction attempt.

Legality vs. Legitimacy

Many of the recuperated enterprises were forced to start up production without any legal backing whatsoever. Such is the case of the BAUEN Hotel, whose turbulent history combines starlit inaugurations, closures, and worker determination. On December 28, 2001, after the management began systematic firings and emptied out the hotel, 150 workers were left in the street. The hotel was constructed in 1978, during the glory of Argentina’s last military dictatorship, with government loans and subsidies. For almost three decades, the hotel has been emblematic of Argentina’s bourgeois class.

However, all of that changed on March 21, 2003 when the workers decided to occupy the hotel. Some 40 members of the current cooperative met secretly early in the morning on the corner of one of Buenos Aires’ busiest intersections. Along with workers from other recuperated factories and the support of MNER, 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 a cooperative. Three years later the BAUEN workers cooperative still functions without any type of legal standing.

In December 2004 they inaugurated a street-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. On any given night the hotel is bustling with culture: theatre, cocktail parties, tango performances, and radio shows to name a few. Many of the workers say that their cooperative is doing what capitalist employers avoid: securing jobs and paying livable salaries. Since the BAUEN takeover the cooperative has hired over 80 new workers. The cooperative pays a monthly salary of 800 Argentine pesos (US$260) for each worker, regardless of their professional task. In addition, the hotel has expanded services and often has full occupancy.

Democratic Relations Inside the Workplace

In almost all the worker recuperated businesses, a general assembly and coordinators have replaced a hierarchical system of foremen and bosses. Since the workers took over the BAUEN Hotel, the cooperative has hired over 85 workers, almost all former BAUEN workers and family members. The workers all earn the same wage. The BAUEN cooperative has a formal board of directors made up of a president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer, but political decisions are made in a general assembly.

In the case of Zanon, the hiring of workers and organization of production is based on the ideals of horizontal relations, direct democracy, and autonomy. Everything is decided in an assembly, there is no hierarchy of personnel or administration. Each area, including the production lines, sales, production planning, press, etc, forms a commission. Each commission votes on a coordinator. The coordinator of the sector informs on issues, news, and conflicts within his or her sector to a general assembly of coordinators. The coordinator then reports back to his or her commission news from other sectors. The workers hold weekly assemblies per shift. The factory also holds a monthly general assembly, during which production is halted.

Many of the workers at the recuperated enterprises say that their work rhythm has changed. According to Isabel Sequeira, a maid who has worked at the BAUEN Hotel for over 11 years, when employees reopened the hotel it became her hope for a changed future. “We work with our conscience, we don’t have anyone looking over our shoulders or telling us what to do. We are working so that the hotel is clean and beautiful,” she says.

Prior to the workers' occupation, production inside Zanon was set to maximize the company's profits, reducing salaries to the minimum possible level, cutting corners on worker safety measures, and pressuring workers to produce at high levels with the least amount of workers necessary. These conditions led to an average of 25-30 accidents per month and one fatality per year. A total of 14 workers died inside the factory. Since Zanon's occupation by its workers not one accident has occurred inside the factory.

At BAUEN all of the renovations were self-financed by the workers. In the first year of operations, the workers opted to put profits back into their cooperative rather than take home a pay raise. The workers spent $30,000 dollars alone on the new street-front café. In 2006, the cooperative is scheduled to inaugurate a renovated pool area. They’ve also improved safety regulations within the hotel and fire-proofed rooms.

One of the keys to the recuperated enterprises’ success has been the insertion of the workers' struggle into the community. Along with defending jobs, the recuperated enterprises are also creating a new culture. Both Zanon and BAUEN have held rock concerts and theatre productions open to the community. The massive concerts have been very effective in generating support for the recuperated enterprises. The concerts have received major news attention from media outlets reluctant to publish news about the recuperated enterprises.

Last December, more than 11,000 fans and supporters attended a concert featuring rock veterans La Renga in Zanon's stock lot. The 460 workers from the worker-controlled factory organized the entire event--building the massive stage, putting up posters, and selling the low-cost tickets.

The workers at Zanon regularly donate ceramic tiles to cultural centers and other community-based organizations. In 2004, the workers built an emergency health care clinic in a neighboring barrio Nueva España.

Local-Global Linkages

“With worker self-management we are in a process of creating workers in solidarity, people who aren’t only worried about a wage,” says Marcelo Ruarte, the BAUEN cooperative’s assembly-voted president. He adds, “Instead they’re trying to improve social conditions, culturally and politically.”

On a local level, BAUEN Hotel has become a prime example of coalition building and development of a broad mutual support network. In the midst of legal struggles and successfully running a prominent hotel, the cooperative's members haven't forgotten their roots. BAUEN has become a political center for worker organizations. Subway workers along with public health employees, public school teachers, telecommunications workers, train workers, and unemployed worker organizations have formed a coalition of grassroots worker organizations in what is known as The Inter-Sindical Clasista (Classist Union Coalition). The Classist Union Coalition regularly meets at the BAUEN Hotel and has proposed forming a union school inside the hotel. These types of actions have helped to form a broad network of support for the recuperated enterprises.

This new phenomenon taking hold throughout Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela continues to grow despite market challenges. More than 30,000 Latin American workers are employed at cooperative-run businesses that were closed down by bosses and reopened by employees.

Representatives from worker-controlled factories and businesses from Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Brazil organized the First Latin American Congress on Recuperated Enterprises October 28 and 29, 2005 in Caracas to build coordinated strategies against government attacks and dog-eat-dog markets. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez inaugurated the event with more than 1,000 self-managed workers present who are putting into practice the slogan: Occupy, Resist, and Produce. The Congress served as an initiative to build an economic and mutual support network among the some 300 businesses and factories currently run by worker self-management in Latin America.

Late this year, the Venezuelan government passed a number of legal decrees expropriating abandoned factories for workers to start up production. During the Congress, Chávez signed a decree for the expropriation of two factories. Recuperated enterprises in other countries look to Venezuela as a model for state-supported laws in favor of worker expropriation.

Many of the employee-run companies had the expectation of signing trade agreements and technological exchange accords during the congress. President Chávez promised to provide support to recuperated enterprises in the form of low-interest loans and bilateral cooperative agreements. However, months after the Congress many of the government-supported initiatives have been delayed or forgotten.

The agreements between recuperated enterprises have had the most concrete impact. Even in the case of Venezuela, Latin America’s recuperated factories have had to learn that workers can’t rely on the state to move a business forward. The occupied factories and enterprises are proving that they are organizing to develop strategies in defense of Latin American workers susceptible to factory closures and poor working conditions. While these experiences are forced to co-exist within the capitalist market they are forming new visions for a new working culture. The experiences of worker self-management and organization have directly challenged the capitalist structures by questioning private property, taking back workers’ knowledge, and organizing production for objectives other than profits.

Imprenta Chilavert Chilavert 1136, Buenos Aires
B.A.U.E.N. Hotel Callao 360, Buenos Aires 4373-9009
Trabajadores del Hotel Bauen Coop <>
MNER-Movimiento Nacional de Empresas RecuperadasContact Eduardo Murua
Grupo AlavíoGrupo Alavío has produced over 30 films about Latin America’s recuperated enterprises including: Zanon: building resistance, BAUEN: Work and struggle, Obreras en Lucha: the Brukman struggle, La Foresta belongs to the workers, Chilavert Recupera, Recuperating our work: Del Valle Ceramics
Articles about the recuperated enterprises written by the author can also be found at:

Made in Argentina: Slave Conditions for Bolivian Workers

IRC Americas Program Report
Marie Trigona April 19, 2006
Bolivian workers in Argentina are pressing the government to take action against slave-like conditions inside clandestine textile shops after a fire in a factory killed six people in Buenos Aires on March 30th. The government has initiated inspections of seamstress shops employing Bolivians and Paraguayans. Inspectors shut down at least 100 of these plants.

“We have had to remain silent and accept abuse. I'm tired of taking the blows. We are starting to fight compañeros, thank you for being here.” These are the words of Ana Salazar at an assembly of textile workers on a Sunday evening. The blaze that killed six people—including four children and two women—has brought light to abusive working conditions inside a network of clandestine textile plants in Buenos Aires.

Representatives from the Union of Seamstress Workers, an assembly of undocumented textile workers reported at least 8,000 cases of labor abuses inside the city's nearly 400 clandestine seamstress shops in the past months. Around 100,000 undocumented immigrants work in these unsafe plants with an average wage of $100 per month, if they are paid at all.

According to Olga, a textile worker who asked for her last name to be omitted because of safety issues, slave-like conditions in textile factories are systematic. “During a normal workday in a shop you work from 7 a.m. until midnight or 1 a.m. Many times they don't pay the women and they owe them two or three years pay. For not having our legal documents or not knowing what our rights are in Argentina we've had to remain silent. You don't have rights to rent a room or to work legally.”

In many cases the workers were drawn into the network through radio or newspaper adds in Bolivia promising decent wages, room, board, and transportation to Buenos Aires. Workers are transported in trucks and must cross into Argentina illegally. Once inside the textile factory they are forced to work 16 to 18 hours per day and are warned that if they complain they will lose their jobs and will be put out on the streets. Over 40 percent of workers live inside factories and in many cases they are locked inside. Witnesses said that 25 families were living in four square meter rooms inside the plant that caught fire.

The Union of Seamstress Workers (Union de Trabajadores Costureros, UTC) formed out of a neighborhood assembly in the working class neighborhood of Parque Avalleneda. Initially, the assembly was a social center for families on Sundays, the only day textile workers can leave the shop. Families began to gather at the assembly location, situated on the corner of a park. Later, Bolivian textile workers without any union representation formed the UTC because Argentina's traditional unions refuse to accept undocumented affiliates.

Nestor Escudero, an Argentine who participates in the UTC, says that police, inspectors, and courts are also responsible for the documented slave-like conditions inside textile factories. “This organization that's only four months old formed from the labor conflicts in the textile workshops in the neighborhood, where in many cases conditions are reduced to slavery. They bring in illegal immigrants to brutally exploit them. The textile worker is paid 75 cents for a garment that is later sold for $50. This profit is enough to pay bribes and keep this system going.”

Since 2003, thousands of reports of slave-like conditions have piled up in the courts without any resolution. In many cases when workers have presented reports to police of poor treatment including threats, physical abuse, and forced labor the police say they can't act because the victims do not have their DNI, a national identity card. Escudero of the UTC has confirmed that several textile workers have received death threats for reporting to media outlets on slave-like conditions inside the textile plants.

The clandestine textile network emerged in the late 1990s in Buenos Aires, following the influx of inexpensive Asian textile imports. Many of the textile factory owners are Argentine, Korean, or Bolivian. The workers manufacture garments for high-end brands like Lacár and Montage. Clandestine textile factories have grown into an annual $700 million industry.

For illegal immigrants in Argentina, survival is a vicious cycle. Undocumented workers are especially susceptible to threats of losing their jobs. Workers cannot afford to rent a room and many resident hotel managers are unwilling to rent rooms to immigrants, especially when they have children. Many immigrants have been treated for serious health conditions related to sub-human working conditions including tuberculosis and lung problems from the permanent presence of dust and fibers as well as back problems. Finding legal work is almost impossible without a national identity card. Today in Argentina, 45% of the total population works off the books (without any legal contract).

The UTC has formally presented charges against Bolivia's Consulate in Buenos Aires, Alvaro Gonzalez Quint, for charging immigrants up to $100 (equivalent to the average monthly salary paid to textile workers) to complete paperwork necessary for their documentation. Gonzalez Quint has protested against the strict measures that the Buenos Aires city government has implemented in the textile plants. The Argentine League for Human Rights has also charged Gonzalez Quint in a Federal Court for connection to the network of immigrant smuggling into the clandestine textile plants.

Bolivian President Evo Morales sent a delegation to investigate conditions for immigrants in Argentina after the fire incident March 30th. The Bolivian commission called for the Buenos Aires government to legalize undocumented workers. Before the tragic factory blaze, the UTC had also pushed for the government to legalize illegal immigrants. The government has stated that new offices will be open to legalize textile workers free of charge.

Since the closures, a wave of factories has moved to the Buenos Aires suburbs as a way of avoiding the newly imposed inspections. Textile workers are organizing a series of marches to demand that the foremen and owners of the factory that caught fire be brought to justice. They are also pushing for the mass legalization of immigrants, housing for immigrants living in poverty, and an end to workshop slavery.

Marie Trigona is a regular contributor for the IRC Americas Program, online at She can be reached at To learn more about the UTC visit

Argentina 30 Years after the Coup

IRC Americas Program Special Report
Marie Trigona March 29, 2006
This March 24, Argentines commemorated the 30 year anniversary of the nation's 1976 military coup and the brutal nightmare of state terror that followed. Throughout the week, human rights groups remembered the 30,000 people who were disappeared with a series of rallies and cultural events.

Without a doubt, anniversary commemorations were much larger this year than in the past. Massive crowds could barely squeeze into the Plaza de Mayo and tens of thousands spilled over into the connecting avenues during the demonstration on March 24. Along with the masses that returned to the streets for the first time in decades, polemic debate among human rights groups accompanied this year's commemorations.

Terror that Ushered in a New Model
The military coup took power at exactly 3:20 a.m. on March 24, 1976. The military dictatorship immediately released an ultimatum warning that if military or civil police witnessed any suspicious subversive activity they would administer the “shoot to kill” policy. In the days leading up to the coup, representatives from the Catholic Church met with leaders of Argentina's armed forced and witnesses report they left each of these meetings smiling. Two days after the coup then-U.S. Secretary Henry Kissinger ordered his subordinates to “encourage” the new regime by providing financial support, according to newly declassified U.S. cables and transcripts relating to the coup. Washington approved $50 million in military aid to the junta the following month. During Jorge Rafael Videla's official visit to Washington in 1977 President Jimmy Carter expressed his hope for Argentina's military government. Kissinger said in a television interview “Videla is an intelligent man doing the best for his nation.”

The 1976-1983 military dictatorship ushered in unimaginable methods of terror—drugging dissidents and dropping them from planes into the Atlantic Ocean in the “vuelos del muerte,” using electric prods or “picana” on the genitals of men and women who entered the clandestine detention centers, raping women and forcing husbands, wives, parents, brothers, and compañeros to listen to the screams of their loved ones who were being tortured.

According to Manuel Gonzalez, who since the age of 19 suspected that his military parents abducted him as a baby, the dictatorship used disappearances not just to terrorize the opposition but also to put the current neoliberal economic model in place. “I t has been 30 years since a bloody dictatorship took power in our country. Where 30,000 men and women were tortured, shot, killed, and disappeared—and also 500 babies. The military junta used the sinister mechanism of terror to implement the neoliberal economic model in our country. And this is why they needed to disappear our parents. They tortured them in clandestine detention centers. They made our mothers give birth to us in places like this. They gave birth to us in this hospital, a clandestine and illegal detention center.”

Rodolfo Walsh wrote the “Open Letter to the Military Junta” on the first anniversary of the military coup in 1977 reporting the tortures, mass killings, and thousands of disappearances. He also reported on the planned misery of the neoliberal model. The political writer was murdered on March 25, just one day after publishing his famous letter. “With its economic policy this government is not only looking to explain its crimes but also the worst atrocity it has committed—punishing millions of human beings with planned misery.

“In a year the real salary of workers has dropped 40%. (They are) freezing salaries with the butts of rifles while prices are going up at the point of a bayonet, destroying any form of collective demands, prohibiting internal labor assemblies or commissions, making work hours longer and raising unemployment to the record level of 9%. When the workers protest, the dictatorship characterizes them as subversive, kidnapping entire delegate commissions. In some cases the bodies turn up dead and in other cases they never turn up.”

In factories and workplaces unionists were sorted out and disappeared. At the Ford Motor plant 25 union delegates were detained and disappeared inside the plant's very own clandestine detention center for days, weeks, or months until they were secretly transferred to the local police precinct transformed into a military cartel. Pedro Troiani was a union delegate for six years in the Ford plant in the Greater Buenos Aires district of Pacheco until the 1976 coup. “The company used the disappearances to get rid of unionism at the factory,” said Troiani. The Mercedes-Benz plant was also transformed into a clandestine torture and detention center. The exact number of workers who were disappeared from the Mercedes-Benz plant in Argentina is still unknown. Estimates say at least thirteen, but the number is most likely close to 20. Many times workplaces and government buildings turned into clandestine detention centers were situated in the middle of barrios.

At least 46 workers from the Buenos Aires Provincial Bank offices were disappeared, singled out for their union organizing activity. Workers who today are organizing an internal union commission outside of the traditional union held an act to commemorate the 46 disappeared from the Buenos Aires Provincial Bank. They read the names of the 46 and inaugurated a plaque reaffirming the struggle that the disappeared workers left behind.

Over 1,500 workers from the Rio Santiago Ship Yard in Buenos Aires commemorated the ship yard's 48 disappeared. “This is the first time in 23 years that the workers have come together to commemorate the 30,000 disappeared. I want to thank the compañeros who in the 70s gave everything, even their lives to defend their ideals that were little more than improving the work and social conditions of workers,” remarked a worker during this year's commemoration. The workers built a massive sculpture and inaugurated a plaque with the names of each of the 48 workers.

Osvaldo Valdez was one of the 48 workers disappeared from the Rio Santiago Ship Yard. “Ten hooded men entered my house. They put us in separate rooms and questioned me. They tore apart everything looking for information. Then they took him away,” says Cristina Valdez, Valdez's wife. “It's amazing to think 15 days of checking criminal history turned into 30 years. We won't rest until we know exactly who participated in these crimes and until every last murderer is put in jail.”

During the Dirty War in Argentina, much of the population remained silent due to the censorship imposed by the military government. Those who did not stay silent risked being disappeared themselves. This year, in factories, universities, high schools, and barrios, activists organized local events to keep history alive and defend human rights so that history doesn't repeat itself.

Impunity and Escrache Popular
Events to mark the 30 years since Argentina's military junta kicked off with an escrache or “exposure” protest against the coup's first dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla. Over 10,000 people participated in the protest in front of Videla's home, where he is under house arrest in connection with numerous charges of human rights abuse. Human rights group H.I.J.O.S. brought a crane and gave the ending remarks directly in front of Videla's fifth floor apartment.

Nora Cortiñas, one of the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, said that the same leaders responsible for illegally detaining, torturing, and killing 30,000 activists during the military junta dictatorship from 1976-1983 now benefit from state-sponsored impunity. “We are here because we don't forget, we don't forgive, and we don't reconcile. The struggle will continue for as long as necessary. Until they tell us what happened to each one of the women and men who were disappeared. Until all the children who were snatched from their detained mothers find out their true identity. Until all the killers are put in regular jails with life sentences. Until those murderers responsible for this genocide are truly punished. Until the dreams of the disappeared and everyone who continues to fight today for social justice come true.”

In 1996, the group H.I.J.O.S. (Children for Identity Justice and Against Forget and Silence) formed using the escrache as a tool for popular justice and against impunity. During the trial of ex-Navy Captain Alfredo Astiz, also known as the Blond Angel of Death, H.I.J.O.S. attended the trial camouflaged as public. With national television cameras focusing on Astiz, infamous for infiltrating the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and disappearing two of their leaders, the H.I.J.O.S. surprised the nation by yelling “murderer” and throwing rotten tomatoes at Astiz who asked to be excused to go to the bathroom.

Human rights groups H.I.J.O.S. and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have worked for over 10 years to find the whereabouts of the estimated 500 babies born while their mothers were in illegal captivity. Pregnant women were tortured and forced to give birth while blindfolded. In front of the Buenos Aires military hospital, one of the 375 clandestine detention centers used during the dictatorship, sons and daughters who recuperated their identity demanded that military nurses and doctors who participated in the forced confessions be punished.

“A sector of society continues to respect beasts like Jorge Rafael Videla, who led this massacre. And that is why we are going to do the exposure protest at Videla's house—because we don't forget and we don't forgive,” said Victoria Donde Perez, daughter of a disappeared woman. Thanks to the work of H.I.J.O.S. they have recuperated the identity of 82 sons and daughters. She also sent a message to her parents. “We want to tell our dear disappeared compañeros and parents not to worry because we are here and we will find your children. Today we are 82 but soon we will find all of them. Along with your children we are recovering the dreams of the disappeared, their dreams of life, their dreams of freedom, because that's who our parents were, they were builders of courageous dreams.”

In front of Videla's home, at the street address Cabildo 639, Apartment A for Assassin, Marta Vazquez from Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo sent a special message to the crowd of young people. She asked them never to give up the fight for justice and human rights—the legacy that Argentina's some 30,000 have left behind for future generations. Many of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are now in their 80's, working to prevent a chapter in the fight for human rights from closing. They have taught their children and grandchildren to never forget, never forgive, and never give up a fight.

Marie Trigona is a journalist based in Buenos Aires and a regular contributor to the IRC Americas Program. She can be reached at

Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Pass on a Legacy of Defending Human Rights

by Marie Trigona
Toward Freedom March 9, 2006
For nearly three decades, Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have fought for the right to re-unite with their abducted children. The Mothers began their protest in 1977 to demand information about the whereabouts of their children from authorities. Some 30,000 activists were kidnapped and murdered during the military junta dictatorship, which ruled Argentina from 1976-1983. During the Dirty War in Argentina, much of the population remained silent due to the censorship imposed by the military government. Those who did not stay silent risked being disappeared themselves.

On April 30, 1977 fourteen women gathered in the Plaza de Mayo across from Argentina’s presidential palace. A law prohibited groups of three or more people from gathering in public places. These women began to walk around the pyramid in the center of the plaza. They identified themselves by wearing white head scarves, symbolizing the diapers of the their children. For 29 years the mothers have held their weekly vigil in the Plaza de Mayo, to continue to demand justice for their disappeared children and defend human rights.

This past January the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo decided to conclude their annual 24-hour Resistance March, drawing to a close a chapter in the struggle for human rights. The Mothers of Plaza Mayo decided to stop marching because they say Latin Americans now have the opportunity to guide their governments. Many mothers admitted that a quarter of a century of fighting was also a factor in the decision.

Suzana Díaz is a 75-year-old mother from the northern province of Tucuman. Her son was kidnapped from the Flores Sugar Mill in 1976. The military kidnapped and murdered 14 others from the same mill. The military tagged them as dangerous for their union organizing activity. She says that the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo interpret motherhood as guiding young people fighting for a better future. "The Resistance March means a lot of things for us, we resist so those guilty for human rights abuses go to jail. Today is the last Resistance March but on Thursdays we will continue our vigils from 3:30 until 4pm. I come here to the plaza every Thursday. My children accompany me to the Marches. My son is part of all of these young people. I look at them and I see my son, they are all my children."

After her son’s disappearance her husband lost his job due to the Sugar Mill’s closure. She came to Buenos Aires and found other mothers who didn’t know whether their children were alive or dead. For Díaz, the hardest moments made her learn the most. "I remember all of the people who stood with us. We stood firm and decided never to negotiate with the blood of our children. Our children’s blood can’t be bought or sold. We have to fight so that no other mother or father goes through what we went through. This is what we want: for them never to take away another child like they took away our sons and daughters. And for those guilty to be punished. I’m 75-years-old. I don’t know how to read or write, but everything that’s happened to me has taught me a lot. The blows in life make you learn a lot of things."

During the Mothers’ 29 years of struggle they have endured physical attacks and endless threats. Three of the founding members were disappeared and murdered following the infiltration by Adolfo Astiz, a military officer, in 1977. Astiz, like many other former military leaders have been charged with human rights abuses. The full stop and due obedience laws implemented in the early 90’s foreclosed any successful prosecution of ex military leaders for human rights crimes by the courts.

According to Mercedes Moroño, Vice-President of the Mothers Association, the first Resistance March’s marked an important victory for the disappeared. "The resistance march means what it says, To Resist. We started this march in 1981, in the height of the dictatorship. The Mothers were the only ones who came to the plaza. No one wanted to be associated with the word resistance, because it was very dangerous at that time. But we wanted to resist. That day in this Plaza we were 70 mothers and a father who accompanied us. After that they shut off the lights in the plaza. It was completely dark and there were more than 300 military officers around us. We stayed here all night. A French journalist said...that we had won the plaza. We had won it a while ago. It was a very special moment. This march is to resist. We held the second march the following year in 1982 but the police wouldn’t let us enter the plaza. So we marched in the Avenida de Mayo. During the military dictatorship, it was the first time that anybody blocked traffic. We blocked the traffic and held the march."

The Vice President says that even after the military dictatorship ended, the Mothers fought against abuses and injustice. "We continued this protest even during democratically elected governments because they were also our enemies. Do you know why? Because they implemented the full stop and due obedience laws. There are many memories. Some that hurt the most. How I remember when they hit me the last time. We were in the Mother’s headquarters on December 20, 2001. We saw on the television a policeman dragging a kid by his hair to arrest him. And we came straight to the Plaza. What the police did that day marked me strongly."

The mothers completed their 1,500 consecutive round in a plaza enveloped in banners and photos of Argentina’s disappeared on January 26. Sara Brad, a mother from Tucuman said that the mother’s 29 years of struggle will continue in the spirit of her 30,000 children. "The Mothers were born out of our children’s fight, from their ideals and hope for a better world. We think that their struggle is more important and relevant than ever. We were able show the world what was happening in Argentina. For us that’s a very strong memory. All the solidarity we’ve created with our struggle has also impacted us."

Brad says that the Mothers have socialized their struggle and fight to solve the social problems in the nation. "This is the last Resistance March but we are going to continue each Thursday in this Plaza and the plazas of the provincial affiliates like always. Our fight will continue, in other spaces and with other projects but with the same strength. We are never going to put our arms down. The only fight that is lost is one that you give up."

The mothers have said publicly that they will continue the legacy of demanding justice and prepare the next generation to defend human rights. They have created a popular university offering courses in human rights, popular education and community media as part of this initiative. This past year the historic human rights group inaugurated a new A.M. radio station.

As the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s military junta nears, the mothers and other human rights groups are preparing a series of events to commemorate the 30,000 disappeared. The human rights group, H.I.J.O.S., has organized an escrache, or "exposure" protest for March 18, against the 1976 coup’s first dictator Jorge Rafael Videla who ruled Argentina from 1976-1981. Videla has been charged in connection with numerous human rights abuse charges, although he is only under house arrest like many other former military leaders. Leading up to March 24, groups are organizing film screenings, open debates and cultural events to prevent people’s history from being erased. March 24 this year— 30 years after Argentina’s darkest chapter —will be marked with a massive march in Buenos Aires’ center.

Photos are from Grupo Alavíos film, Por el Mismo Camino. For more information on Grupo Alavio, visit

Latin America’s Autonomous Organizing

by Marie Trigona Originally published as a Znet commentary March 2, 2006
Activists met in Uruguay for the fourth Latin American Conference of Popular Autonomous Organizations in February.

Over 300 activist delegates from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay organized this year's annual event as a space to strategize autonomous organizing and coordinate direct actions. This year's conference, held February 24-26, focused on building popular power in Latin America among organizations autonomous from the state, political parties and NGO's.

The participating organizations orient towards class struggle and libertarian practices-grass roots organizing, direct democracy and mutual solidarity. Within the debate of how to build popular power, delegates discussed how people can solve their own problems without depending on the state or any other institution. The current context of Latin American governmental politics emerged as a focal point during the two-day meeting. In each of the corresponding nations, social organizations have faced new challenges due to the resurgence of "progressive" social democratic victories. Take, for example, the case of Uruguay's social movements. Many of Uruguay's social movements have demobilized after the inauguration of Tabare Vazquez. All eyes looked to Bolivia with the recent victory of MAS leader, Evo Morales. In all of the workshops, participants discussed how to prevent growing expectations in social democratic governments from impeding the accumulation of popular power.

Everything at the congress was auto-gestionado (self-managed), from the olla popular (collectively cooked meal) to cleaning and maintenance. Artists performed spontaneous theatre and Afro-Uruguayan popular music, Candome, into the wee-hours of the night. The 200 participants represented a diverse array of activist work and focuses that included human rights groups, community centers, alternative media outlets, anarchist organizations, unemployed worker organizations, student groups, popular education teams, movement of card board collectors, and several worker unions participating. Beyond each group's focus, activists within each country are working to create venues for political formation and popular education as part of a larger plan for an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist Latin America.

The workshops focused on the construction of popular power at a grass roots level on each front- Human rights (impunity and historic memory, political prisoners, criminalization of protests), Syndical (worker movements, classist tendencies, recuperated enterprises), Barrio (neighborhood organizations, territorial organizing, unemployed worker organizations and community radios), Student (student movements, autonomy), Earth and Natural resources (land and production, privatization of natural resources).

Neighborhood organizing

Galpon de Corrales, a community center in a working class neighborhood in Montevideo, coordinated the conference. The Galpon also features a community radio station, community library and a large space to hold cultural activities. Several times a week they organize a collective pot and take pride in the fact that the Galpon is completely self-sustained and managed. The Galpon works with residents from the surrounding barrio, children and many of unemployed adults. One of the challenges facing the Galpon is meeting urgent needs of participants while moving away from traditional forms of social work. During the conference I interviewed Gustavo, who helped build the Galpon de Corrales as a political space. Gustavo advocates a platform similar to anarchists like Errico Maletesta who argued that anarchist organizations need to carry out a political agenda.

In the interview, Gustavo summarized expectations for the conference and expressed a desire to for groups to work on a territorial level because of diverse needs within working class struggles. "We've organized this congress as a way to see other experiences and exchange ideas with social organizations in Latin America, to familiarize ourselves with another global reality in Latin America. This practice is needed so we can put into practice the central focus of this Congress: popular power. The first congress was held in Brazil in 2003, the second in Cochabamba, Bolivia and the third in La Plata, Argentina in February 2005. During the fourth congress we will discuss the theme of building popular power. We need to create a strategic perspective of social struggle, while bringing this perspective from all the popular fronts where social movements are organizing. It's fundamental that the people exercise popular power and that they raise class-consciousness as part of this strategic perspective. During the congress, we discussed the debate of how to build popular power: to create participatory spaces and an atmosphere for struggle. We also need to adopt a new political concept, which is the territorial struggle. Resistance on a territorial level is fundamental because the working class is very diverse and fragmented A territorial struggle implies building a space for construction, participation and socialization. We look to the historic banners from society in the beginning of the century, taking from historic examples like the worker councils where they built popular power and values from our class."

Human Rights

The workshop on human rights focused on the increasing criminalization of protests and campaigns for the release of political prisoners. Throughout the conference, participants concluded that progressive governments are increasing attacks against social protest and autonomous organizing.

In Uruguay, thousands rallied last year for the release of four prisoners detained during Anti-Bush demonstrations in Montevideo that concurred with the fourth Summit of the Americas held in Mar del Plata, Argentina. They were held for over six weeks. Currently the Patagonian city of Las Heras, in Argentina's southern province of Santa Cruz, is under siege. Striking oil workers stormed a police station, killing a police officer and injuring 15 others, to free a jailed union leader in February. The government sent over 300 national guardsmen to Santa Cruz to disperse protestors in response to the clash. Oil workers have reported that the situation is very tense, with regular attacks and threats against unionists. In Chile, social acitvists and the indigenous Mapuche people face permanent repression, imprisonment and killings on part of the Chilean state. Since the return to democracy in 1990, hundreds have been arrested for struggling against injustice. More than 30 activists have been murdered since Chile's return to democracy.

According to Maio, a Mapuche activist from the Encuentro por la libertad, social organizations in Chile need to work at both the macro and micro levels. She, for example, has worked for many years for the release of political prisoners in Chile. "Our organization is building a space to fight for the freedom of the people, freedom for social activists. We are working against the anti-terrorist laws implemented in Chile and against the criminalization of protests because working for the release of political prisoners isn't enough. If we don't get to the root of the problem, political repression will continue to be a revolving door."

"In Chile, a large number of political prisoners were released after the dictatorship. However, Chile's first democratic government of Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994) arrested a large number of new political prisoners. While everyone said that democracy returned to Chile, it wasn't the case. They built a high-security prison to imprison social activists from Frente Patriotico Manuel Rodriguez and the MIR. We've come to this congress to strategize of how we can effectively fight for the release of political prisoners. First we have to break with the image of political prisoners as terrorists, so that the population doesn't imagine a hooded criminal. We want the people to associate the term terrorist with torturers, those who are in government and politicians ordering police repression. The government accuses social activists fighting against oppression of terrorist acts and they throw us in jail."

"In the workshop on human rights we talked about the criminalization of protest. We strategized over how we can reverse human rights abuses in our daily organizing efforts. How can we stop the system from advancing? We always talk about this on a macro level, we talk about neoliberalism and capitalism. But how do we deal with oppression on a day to day basis? We also need to strategize how to deal with the aggressions, when we don't have food for our collective meals, when we don't have shoes to put on our children's feet when they go to school, when there's no jobs."

Independent Trade Union front

During the workshop on syndicalism, participants debated strategies for workplace struggles. Alex, from Brazil's National Movement of Collectors of Recycled Material-
Movimento Nacional dos Cartadores de Material Reciclavel (MNCR) says that workers organizing need to develop new tools against exploitation. He said that workers clearly can't depend on state-run unions or bourgeois labor laws to protect workers from unsafe conditions or firings.

"During the congress we've met with compañeros who are struggling, people who discuss strategy and at the same time are truly fighting. The bourgeois control most of the unions, but they are disguised as union leaders. They are paid a lot of money to run a union. I'm talking about Latin America as a whole. Most of the bureaucratic unions are allied with the government. The union decisions don't come from the workers. The government works so that workers can't unite. We've agreed with a lot of what has been said here at this conference."

"We concluded during the workshop: first that all workers should be unionized, even the workers who don't have jobs. Unemployed workers and informal workers also form part of the working class in struggle. Second: for the unions to be completely independent from the government. We also talked about how the labor laws are developed to favor the capitalist. The laws are all pro-bourgeoisie. Laws are used to institutionalize unions. The laws are all bourgeois which is why we can't look to them as tools for struggle."

During the conclusions, participants agreed to coordinate a number of actions against Free Trade Accords throughout the region. The Fifth Latin American Conference of Popular Autonomous Organizations will be held in Chile next year.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Anarchist Visions Argentina

Orginally published as a Znet commentary January 27, 2006

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

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

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

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

Direct Action

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

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

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

Mutual Solidarity

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

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

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

Worker self-determination

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

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

Class struggle movement

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

Fighting for peoples’ history

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

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