Fw: [FI-P] IV328 Argentina

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at SPAMgmx.net
Mon Feb 19 06:09:33 MST 2001

This just came through the USec list server. I think it is to be published
in International Viewpoint. I wonder if Argentinian comrades would like to


> Old and new forms of struggle
> Eduardo Lucita*
> In the final days of November 2000 workers in Argentina observed a 36-hour
General Strike, called by the country’s three major trade union federations.
New forms of struggle were used that grew out of the past and were
generalized in this strike. This article attempts to give an account of
these events.
> For the third time in its current term - less than one year - the
Argentine Government has had to face a general strike, with marches,
protests and street meetings jamming the streets, roads and means of
communication throughout the country in a combination of old and new forms
of struggle and organization corresponding to the transformations going on
within Argentinean capitalism.
> The capitalist restructuring that has taken place in the country since the
mid-1970s acquired a vertiginous rhythm in the 1990s leading to profound
changes in the socio-economic structure of Argentina. In opposition to this
violent process of change, there has been a spreading of resistance
throughout the whole country in the last decade.  However, this enormous
social conflict has never had a centralizing focus that could guarantee its
continuity.  On the contrary fragmentation and dispersion were its
characteristics, despite the numerous struggles and general strikes that
also took place in the period.
> This combination had a strong impact however on the relations of state and
civil society and in the mediations of the traditional system of
representation. The parties,  the institutions of parliamentary democracy
and the unions, had all internalized the crisis of the interventionist
state*1 characteristic of populism and proved unable to channel social
conflict, or at least encountered serious difficulties in doing so. In an
economic and political context that differed from the previous period, the
social movement has searched for new paths through which to raise and
express its resistance to the advance of the neoliberal order that
day-by-day reduces the living conditions of the workers and lower classes.
> The so-called cortes de ruta (mass roadblocks) which first appeared at the
beginning of the 1990s have extended to practically every part of the
country - in large and medium sized cities, localities and towns, and rural
areas.  They appeared as the form of autonomous self-organization
characteristic of this period, used by part of society to express resistance
to conditions of increasing day-to-day impoverishment.
> According to a recent study by the liberal Centre of Studies of the New
Majority, “the cortes de ruta are replacing strikes… as an expression of
social protest”.  This is expressed in the following figures.
> Industrial conflicts reached a peak in the period 1986/89, climbing to
3,575, falling in 1990/94 to 2,222 and in 1995/2000 to 1,228. On the other
hand the evolution of the cortes showed the following sequence:  1997:140;
1998: 51; 1999: 252 and in the first ten months of 2000: 238.
> “The average appearance of a corte de ruta has been one every 2.6 days in
1997, one every 7.1 in 1998, one every 1.4 last year and so far this year
one every 1.2 days”*2
> Although this data expresses the magnitude and the evolution of the
distinct forms of struggle throughout the decade, in our view it does not
point to the disappearance or the loss of centrality of the conflict between
capital and labour or the consequent social relations engendered by the
capitalist mode of production. Rather it shows that they are being expressed
in new forms.
> Faced with structural unemployment and the exclusion from production and
consumption of increasingly large sectors of society, faced with insecurity
and the despotism of the bosses which reigns in the factories and
workplaces, the workers and popular sectors meet serious and growing
difficulties in acting in the centers of production and accumulation of
> Hence they concentrate on disrupting the distribution and circulation of
commodities and persons, thus preventing, at least temporarily, the
realization of profit. It is clear that  we are not talking of a conscious
act, but rather an objective process, combining the struggle of the employed
against capitalist exploitation and those excluded from production and
> In practice these new modalities of action produce a reconfiguration and
relocation of the boundaries of social confrontation.
> Other studies*3 question what they call a “superficial vision”  that
assigns the motor role in the cortes only to the structurally unemployed
demanding work.  In fact the forces driving the cortes include a variety of
social subjects according to the objectives being pursued in each case.
> These include workers (employed or not),  the structurally unemployed  and
diverse fractions of the petty bourgeoisie – farmers or raisers of
livestock, small businesses, students - who have mobilized in order to keep
their jobs or subsidies for working class communities: against arrears in
pay or reductions of salary: in support of demands for reductions in taxes:
for easy credit: for the reconnection of public services cut off for non
payment (gas and electricity): for the creation of jobs, for diverse state
subsidies (food, medicine, clothing, building materials, hospitals,
transport, the refurbishment of public schools, the paving of streets) that
improve the quality of life of the people.
> All of this has built a unity of demands which is articulated in a complex
form - some demands through their immediate character cannot go beyond the
level of existing political consciousness but others exceed it – those which
demand changes in policy at the state, provincial or local level. In many
cases this diversity of subjects and demands comes together in a single
corte leading to a mobilization with strong popular support.
> This is particularly the case for cortes in medium sized cities which have
developed around a hegemonic activity - mineral, oil, railways , oil - in
general centralized in a state enterprise.*4.  The policy of privatization
altered in a very short time the order of things established over many
decades leaving the working population unprotected and vulnerable - in many
cases highly qualified and previously  protected through labour stability
(typical of this were the cases of Cutral Co-Plaza Huincul, privatization of
FYPF; Sierra Grande, privatization of HIPASAM; Libertador Gral San Martín,
the technological reconversion  of Ing.Ledesma; Tartagal  and the
privatization of Petroquemica Gral, Mosconi.)
> The transfer without mediation of activities from the public sector to the
private  and market deregulation have accentuated social fragmentation,
poverty and marginalization. This process converted areas that had
previously made great social progress into ghost towns without hope or a
> New forms of struggle have always been accompanied by new organizational
> If the corte has as its central novelty the reconfiguration/relocation of
the area of struggle, its organizational forms are no less significant; the
picket and the assembly.
> The picket, the central nucleus of the corte, is formed by a group of men
and women who organize it and assume responsibility for maintaining it,
although not necessarily leading it.  Because the sphere of decision making
is the general assembly, plural and democratic, with the participation of
thousands of people coming together in a plenary session of direct
democracy. Here proposals and demands are debated and a consensus is
articulated, proposals are established, collective identities and new ideas
are constructed, in many cases transitory ones as the crisis sometimes
obliges them to be reviewed.
> In the spreading wave of cortes de rutas that unfolded during the months
of last October and November which constituted the prelude to the 36 hour
General Strike, the level of organization was superior to any known up until
> If there is a debate regarding the spontaneous character and organization
of the cortes‚  what has been appreciated in the course of the last few
months is that, with the deepening of the national crisis, the spontaneous
component was decreasing and an  inverse rise of organization was evident.
> This was particularly evident in the cortes seen in the province of Buenos
Aires, in the industrial area a few kilometers from the federal capital and
in the provincial capital, where for many hours the city of La Plata was
virtually cut off from all connections overland.  In La Matanza, an
overpopulated zone in the west of the Buenos Aires urban conurbation‚ the
corte lasted ten days and according to some accounts involved between four
and seven thousand people.  The changes of picket duty, the internal order
established, the social control, the massive assemblies discussing a global
program of demands, going far beyond demands for subsidies, were among the
outstanding features here.
> Diverse political currents participated, including local leaders of the
major parties of the system and a sort of alliance was established with the
organized workers in the region.  But this did not change the character of
the cortes. They constituted an autonomous movement that exceeded the
boundaries of both union and party.
> In the zone south of the Buenos Aires urban conurbation, Quilmes, Lanus,
Almirante Brown,  other cortes advanced their political definitions and came
together with their own demands, the demand for freedom and the dropping of
charges against social leaders as well as a call for a general strike of 36
hours.  In some cases, they questioned the participation  of local political
officials of the majority parties;  reaffirming its autonomy, the assembly
of the corte refused to accept the mediation of local community leaders as
well as that of the church.
> In general, the cortes received the support of the public and thus
obtained a legitimacy for the used of social force in raising popular
demands. They also showed a growing will to struggle and a readiness to
confront the repressive forces, as is also shown by the covered faces of the
pickets, armed with sticks and slingshots.
> The recent general strike in Argentina was a response by the workers’
organizations to a new package of socio-economic measures that were clearly
anti-worker and anti-popular, but it was also preceded by a wave of cortes
during October and November that expressed the despair of facing an
uncertain future.  It is because of this reality that the general strike
received more support than any in the past decade and was accompanied by a
multiplicity of marches, acts of protest and cortes the likes of which have
not been seen for a long time. The old forms of struggle fused with the new,
with the workers organized and acting in a centralized and disciplined way.
> Argentina is passing through a dangerous period.  The foreign debt is
growing faster than an economy and demands permanent adjustment; the
political crisis renders the institutions of bourgeois democracy exceedingly
weak; the social conflict grows day by day in explosive forms; but the
social movement has not yet created a political force capable of facing up
to the challenge.
> The future is open.
> Buenos Aires, December 2000
> * Director of the  Marxist review Cuadernos del Sur. Member of the
Militantes Socialistas in the CTA trade union federation.
>  (1)   The form taken by the welfare state in Latin America and
particularly in Argentina.
>  (2) “In conclusion, a global view of the phenomenon of social protest in
the last two decades shows that:
> a) During the 1980s, the predominant expression of social protest was
labour conflicts‚ with the unions making claims for higher wages.
> b) At the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, actions
characteristic of non-unionized sectors who faced desperation generated by
hyperinflation, came to be the predominant expression of social protest.
> c) In the second half of the 90s, wage struggles had subsided before the
gravity of unemployment and the chronically unemployed started to used the
corte de ruta as their predominant expression of social protest, a situation
which lasted until the early months of 2000”.
> Centro de Estudios Nueva Mayoría . Bs.As., October 2000.
> (3) Nicolás Iñigo Carrera/Maria Celia Cotarelo, “Los llamados ‘cortes de
> ruta’”- Argentina 1993-1997. Documento de trabajo nº 14 - PIMSA. Bs.As.
>       Nicolás Iñigo Carrera/Maria Celia Cotarelo, “La protesta social en
> '90. Aproximaciones a una caracterización”. Documento de Trabajo nº27.
> PIMSA. Bs.As. 2000.
> (4) O. Favaro/M.A.Bucciarelli/G. Iuorno, “La conflictividad social en
> Neuquen. El movimiento cutralquense y los nuevos sujetos socials”.
> Económica nº 148 - Bs.As. mayo-junio 1997

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