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Capital & Class
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DOI: 10.1177/030981680308100101
2003 27: 1 Capital & Class
Ana C. Dinerstein
Argentina post-crisis
Power or counter power?: The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in

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1
The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in Argentina
Power or counter
power?
Ana C. Dinerstein
The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in
Argentina post-crisis
The profound political and economic
crisis of December zoo1 in Argentina
brought in its wake dierences within
the labour movement on what form of
class action to take to radically trans-
form society. After the crisis, as a re-
composition of political and economic
power was taking place, divisions
among dierent sectors within the
Piquetero movement intensied between
those who advocate the construction of
a counter-power, based on the creation
of new values through territorial
community work, and those who search
for the construction of a new power of
the working class. Whereas the former
claim that the search for dignity is the
driving force for social change, the latter
believes that the struggle for income
distribution constitutes the basis for a
political project based on national
autonomy and democratisation. This
paper explores the dilemma, faced by
the labour movement, of whether to
support the power or counter-power
road by looking at some of the current
developments of the labour movement,
particularly the Unemployed Workers
Movement.
The unemployed workers movement
One of the novelties in the re-
composition of the Argentine labour
movement during the 1os was the
emergence of the unemployed workers
movement. The neo-liberal transforma-
tion produced signicant changes in
T
his paper explores a signicant dilemma brought about
by the crisis of December for the Unemployed Workers
Movement in Argentina: the construction of a political
movement to dispute institutional power or the development of
territorial community work directed to the construction of a
counter-power. The argument put forward is that the dierences
between these two projects might represent a false dichotomy. This
will require further interrogation on the relationship between the
state, the labour movement and the anti-institutional forms of
resistance which emerged in December . This is a dilemma
for the politics of resistance worldwide.
Capital & Class #81 2
social and labour conict and protest.
Decentralised and non-institutionalised
forms of protest emerged, run by whole
communities, social organizations and
the unemployed, with the support of
trade unions; the most eective of which
were roadblocks. These roadblocks were
the scene of the emergence of the
Piquetero identity and the organization
of the unemployed into a movement
(Dinerstein zoo1).
Some of the local organizations of
unemployed workers joined the
Argentine Workers Central (Central de
Trabajadores Argentinos c1a), created in
1z to organize fragmented struggles
against unemployment and for welfare
provision and to integrate the unem-
ployed and those who were technically
socially excluded (Dinerstein zoo1).
The c1a integrated into its structure one
of the organizations of the unemployed
in La Matanza, Great Buenos Aires:
Land and Housing Federation (Federa-
cin Tierra y Vivienda, r1v) and have close
relations with the Classist Combative
Current (Corriente Combativa Clasista,
ccc). The r1v leaders became members
of the executive committee of the union
and both manage the unemployment
programmes for the region.
Other sectors of the unemployed
formed locally and independently from
labour and political organizations. The
Unemployed Workers Movement (:1b)
Coordinadora de Trabajadores Desocupados
Anbal Vern (c1bav) is one such case. It
comprises fourteen independent organi-
sations of the unemployed in the south
of Great Buenos Aires, and is guided by
a criterion of territoriality. It co-ordinates
the activities of dierent neighbourhood
organizations, according to local needs,
by means of a system of alternate
delegates and communication networks,
as well as organized workshops and
seminar discussions. Signicant features
of the Coordinadora are the lack of
leaders, the practice of direct democracy
and horizontal organisation. A third
sector, the heterogeneous Bloque Pique-
tero Nacional, comprises several organi-
zations that are closely linked to left
political parties and dier from the other
two groupings in that they believe that
in December zoo1 Argentina entered a
revolutionary situation, which is why
they see the role of the Piquetero
movement as paramount.
1
Piqueteros: power and counter power
The December crisis and its aftermath
served to intensify the dierences within
the Piquetero movement. Whereas the
r1v and ccc matches the institutional
logic of the c1a trade unionism, the
c1bav rejects traditional forms of
political and labour representation,
presenting a more radical proposal that
attempts to change the logic of power
and capitalist work. To the c1a leader-
ship trade unions power is the capacity
to articulate geographical, political and
social dierences and experiences of
resistance: we cannot separate trade
unionism from politics. Trade unionism
is eminently political in terms of the
capacity to construct power and the
construction of power is inextricably
linked to the most elemental workers
demands (De Genaro, authors inter-
view 1;). The c1a aims to build a
political movement mirroring the
experience of the i1 in order to promote
Income Distribution Shock, National
Autonomy and Democracy (www.cta.
org.ar/instituto/notas18o). On zo June
zooz, the c1a together with the r1v and
ccc launched a new social and political
front: we will only throw the r1a out of
this country if we build up a government
of popular unity (Alderete in Pgina/,
z1.6.oz: 8). On this platform the leader
of r1v launched his candidature to run
3
The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in Argentina
for governor of Buenos Aires for New
Democracy, thus deepening the
divisions between power and counter-
power factions within the movement.
Unlike the c1a, the c1bav claim that
it does not want power: our struggle is
not about how to reach power in a
system impregnated by values which
dont have any response to society. The
starting point for changing the world is
the construction of something new from
below: we are concerned with recover-
ing what is human, with creating
collective solidarity relations among our
mates (Fernndez cited by Viales zooz).
The :1b is a source of counter-power
(:1b Solano zooz). Its members argue
that change comes from below, without
thinking of taking power: We are below
and we dont want to go anywhere. We
will be always rebels. (Interviews in
Colectivo Situaciones zoo1b). The struggle
for dignity contains a fundamental cri-
tique not only of unemployment but of
capitalist work and the social relations
which reproduce and expand it. Their
aim is to move beyond the struggle for
income distribution and social inclu-
sion which characterizes the strategy
of the unemployed workers movement
joining the c1a. Dignity, rather than the
demand for income distribution and job
creation, is the driving force behind their
movement, their motto being Work,
Dignity and Social Change (:1b zooz).
The CTA and the struggle for income
distribution
The demand of income distribution is
central to the c1as idea of building trade
unions power. Accordingly, the
inclusion of the unemployed into the
labour market, as well as the increase in
the number of employment programmes
and state welfare provision for the
unemployed, would revitalize the role
of the working class in resuscitating the
economy. This would provide the basis
for the creation of a new power for the
leaders of the c1a, r1v and ccc.
The demand for income distribution
was made apparent through (i) the
signicant participation of the Pique-
teros de La Matanza, led by the r1v and
ccc in the national roadblocks of July
and August zoo1 against the zero decit
plan implemented by Cavallo (ii) the
involvement of the c1a in the creation
of the National Front against Poverty
(Frente Nacional contra la Pobreza,
rncNaio) in zooo (iii) the popular
referendum launched by the c1a and
rncNaio ve days before the crisis broke
out, wherein two and a half million out
of three million people spontaneously
voted in favour of the demand for the
implementation of a universal unem-
ployment benet of $8o per month for
all bread-winners. The proposal entails
a comprehensive political strategy of
income distribution. Unlike the govern-
mental patchy and assistance-based
employment programmes, the c1as
project would impact on the level of
demand and the development of the
domestic market towards the reacti-
vation of the economy, to overcome
recession and to discipline capital to the
needs of the population (see ibci-c1a
zooo, zoo1; Lozano zooz).
Beyond income distribution:
alternative economy and new social
values
But the Piqueteros of the c1bav claim
that their project is fundamentally against
exploitation. They do not struggle to be
included. The defence of capitalist work
is extraneous, as dignied work is not
compatible with exploitationwe dont
want to be exploited againWe are not
completely against the state; we are
Capital & Class #81 4
constructing from below something
dierent to this repressive state(:1b
Solano and Colectivo Situaciones, zooz:
6 z(;, ).
The c1bavs use of roadblocks to
demand employment programmes
involves also the rejection of workfare
assigned by local authorities and the
creation of productive projects: baker-
ies, brick factories, popular education
and child care. In other words, they
demand the redenition of the tasks
individually assigned to the unemployed
(e.g. cleaning roads) and demand the
use of individual programmes for
communitarian projects.
They do accept state employment
programmes, which consist of a monthly
allowance of $16o per capita but, unlike
the r1v and ccc who are involved in the
management of the unemployment
programmes for the country of La
Matanza, they do not handle the money.
The money is deposited by the govern-
ment in an account, which is used
collectively. These projectos productivos
are not individualized survival strategies,
but tools for ghting against the commo-
died form of production. The object is
to direct them to the production of use
values according to peoples needs.
The creation of an alternative
economy based on solidarity and dignity
depends on the possibility of developing
these productive projects where the
needs of the community rather than
money are the central motivation.
Another example of the struggle for
solidarity is the way that they distribute
the goods purchased by collective
shopping. Each family contributes with
the same amount of money to the
common shopping pot (e.g. $), irres-
pective of their size, thereby increasing
the consumption of some families who
otherwise would have been disadvan-
taged (:1b Solano and Colectivo
Situaciones zooz).
Maxi and Daro: the dangers of
dignity
On z6 June zooz, the c1bav organized a
roadblock in the industrial district of
Avellaneda, Great Buenos Aires, one of
the main arteries connecting the city of
Buenos Aires with its outskirts. They
demanded an increase in the amount
and number of subsidies to the unem-
ployed, a family subsistence allowance,
health services and access to education
for the unemployed, the end of the
criminalisation and repression of their
struggles. During the demonstration,
Maximiliano Costeki (aged z) and
Daro Santilln (aged z1) were assassi-
nated by the police, whilst others were
injured and more than 1oo people were
imprisoned. Although this was not the
rst time that Piqueteros were killed at
a roadblock by the police the death of
these two young activists, which turned
out to be a calculated murder, led to a
political scandal which accelerated the
electoral process. Moreover, it fostered
cross-class political mobilization and
solidarity with the struggles of the c1bav.
Three massive mobilizations brought
the c1bav together with other organi-
zations of the unemployed, participants
in neighbourhood assemblies, trade
unions, and activists from human rights,
social movements and the political left.
They marched to the Plaza de Mayo,
Buenos Aires unied by the slogan
tonight all of us are Piqueteros!
(Dinerstein zoo). On the z6th of every
month, at the bridge Pueyrredn in
Avellaneda, the c1bav holds a vigil in
memory of Daro and Maximiliano and
demands the end of the government
repression of the unemployed.
The June events made apparent the
political signicance of the c1bav. The
murders of Maxi and Daro revealed the
states intolerance with those sectors of
the Piquetero movement which are not
5
The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in Argentina
content with the negotiation of their
inclusion in the capitalist system based
on exploitation and repression, but aims
to move beyond this, by working on new
values led by justice, democracy and
freedom (interviews in Vinelli zoo1) and
their assertion of dignity and their silent
revolution in conditions of social misery
in post-crisis Argentina (Dinerstein
zoo).
The c1a called immediately for a
general strike to repudiate police
brutality. But the Piqueteros of the r1v
and ccc did not participate in that road-
block. The day previous to the murders,
the government had publicly threatened
the Piqueteros with repression if they
blocked access to the capital city. The
response from the r1v to this was: we
were aware of the governments repres-
sive plansThe c1bav is responsible for
the lives of their members (DEla,
authors interview z;.6.oz). The murders
fostered a bitter discussion within the
c1a, between those members who
wanted to participate in the solidarity
demonstration called by the c1bav to
repudiate state terror unleashed against
the Piqueteros (human rights activists, left
wing unions joining the c1a) and those
c1a members who preferred to organize
an independent demonstration (the
leaders of the r1v and ccc). Beyond
tactical matters, there had been an
unfortunate complicity of the r1v and
ccc with state repression against the
anti-institutional anarchist attitude of
the c1bav, which could harm the c1as
will to build a social and political
movement.
The re-composition of economic and
political power
During zooz, there was a re-
composition of political and economic
power which ended with the election of
Dulhaldes candidate, Nestor Kirsch-
ner, on z May zoo, after his opponent
former president Menem withdrew
when it became clear he was destined
for defeat. Kirschners appointment has
stabilized the country. Popular expec-
tations arose as his appointment entailed
the defeat of neo-liberal Menemism. The
new presidential appointment was
celebrated in Buenos Aires by Latin
American presidents Fidel Castro, Lula
Da Silva and Hugo Chavez and has re-
energized populist sentiments and
policies to tackle the problem of
unemployment, public work, tax and
education together with the restruc-
turing of the external debt and the
revitalisation of :cncoscn (a free trade
grouping which includes Argentina).
However, by rearming his predeces-
sors policy towards the power of big
corporations and i:r intervention the
prospect of more poverty, unem-
ployment, and economic diculties
seems likely.
In January zooz, the Duhalde
administration succumbed to i:r
demands to contain ination, minimise
the fall in industrial output, to re-
establish trust in the nancial system.
At the behest of the i:r (zooz), the
administration pushed through policy
and legislative amendments/changes
including (i) cancelling the Bill of
Economic Subversion (Subversin
Econmica) that was in place to ensure
the legal prosecution of those respon-
sible for the ight of capital leading to
the nancial collapse (ii) amending the
Bankruptcy Code in order to protect
enterprises from creditors for a certain
period of time as well as give time to
reschedule company debts (Cibils et al
zooz) (iii) achieving a compromise with
the provincial governors to reduce
decits by 6o%. The agreement with the
i:r was to unlock funding for social
programmes to help recreate a sound
Capital & Class #81 6
scal framework to restore the
condence in the banking sector (IMF
survey zoo: 1).
Duhaldes devaluation coupled with
the pesication of debts previously
held in dollars and tax exemption,
favoured concentrated economic groups
such as the powerful new Association
of Argentine Entrepreneurs (Asociacin
de Empresarios Argentinos, aca) constitu-
ted by forty-seven executive members
of the most important nancial,
industrial and service enterprises who
practically own the country. Duhaldes
rescue plan in June zooz allowed them
to save 6,oo million dollars (Basualdo
et al zooz mimeo).
Devaluation also produced ination
hence perpetuating the tendency
towards regressive income distribution
and increasing poverty and unem-
ployment. Unemployment national rate
for February zooz was estimated at z1.8
per cent (i.e. ,zoo,ooo people). As an
absolute record, almost seven million
people fell into poverty between
October zoo1 and October zooz. There
are twenty one million people out of a
total population of thirty seven million
below the poverty line, out of which ten
million are considered extremely poor.
In tune with the spirit of the cs-
British war on terror, and the pressure
of the cs government concerned with
Latin America as a volatile region (La
Nacin ;.z.o), a new Parliamentary
project aimed to allow again the use of
intelligence services to repress domestic
terrorism dened as all those activities
which take place within national
boundaries by groups or individuals
who use force in order to achieve their
political, social, religious, economic and
cultural objectives (Verbitzky zoo; see
Project s-oz-zz, Argentine National
Congress). During zooz, repression
increased against the Peasants Move-
ment (:ocasc), workers from occupied
factories and participants in
neighbourhood asambleas and human
rights organizations.
Power and counter-power: a false
dilemma?
In the same way in which the creation
of the c1a in the early 1os was crucial
in recovering combativeness against
neo-liberalism and challenged the
General Workers Confederation (Con-
federacion General del Trabajo cc1) co-
opted by Menem, the inspiring work and
radical project of the c1bav has chal-
lenged the c1a: it forms part of a new
form of thinking politically in post-crisis
Argentina, which requires to be acknow-
ledged by the trade unions. The popular
insurrection of December zoo1 put
forward a deep critique of the system of
political representation, including trade
unions and left wing parties. This
critique or anti-politics was reected
in the forms of mobilization and
participation which, like the asambleas
barriales, advocated direct democracy
and defended self-determination and
the autonomy of neighbours, workers
and social and human rights activists.
Within the context of the deep political,
social and economic crisis, the anti-
institutional reconciliation with politics has
been a crucial moment in the recovering
of the power of collective action and a
sense of dignity: this is a prerequisite
for further development of democracy
and the politics of resistance (Dinerstein
zoob).
But whereas some take the slogan all
of them out! as the driven force for their
resistance, the questions are whether
this is enough to confront the imperial
power of capital and whether it is
possible to build a political movement
able to discuss the problem of income
distribution and hunger and, simul-
7
The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in Argentina
taneously, encourage the territorial and
communitarian development of alter-
native social relations and values driven
by the search for dignity. This is not
just an Argentine but a worldwide
dilemma for the politics of resistance,
which has been intensied in Argentina
due to the deepness of the crisis.
The anniversary of 1 and zo
December revealed a decline in social
mobilization, as well as intestine divisions
within the Piquetero movement.
Kirschners appointment has had
dierent impacts on dierent sectors of
the movement too. On the one hand,
the c1a has expectations in the new
administration in that it will give impulse
to the construction of the social and
political front recently launched, as well
as provide a sympathetic ear to the
demand for income distribution: hunger
aecting ;. percent of Argentineans
millions is one of the most important
political issues of post- crisis Argentina.
2
Despite dierences among them, the c1a
shares with a range of institutions and
organizations the call for the
implementation of a income distribution
shock to stop the social genocide
(Left Wing Economists, Economistas de
Izquierda (cbi) at www.geocities.com/
economistas_de_izquierda).
On the other hand, on z6 June zoo,
during the rst anniversary of the
murders of Maxi and Dario, the c1bav
and its supporters reminded the new
government that they remain loyal to
their conviction that the creation of a
new Argentina cannot be achieved by
super structural agreements with the
labour movement around income distri-
bution and employment programmes,
rather it requires a deeper change from
below and more fundamentally,
autonomy. Are these two projects
incompatible? Does the dilemma
between power and counter-power
represent a false dichotomy for the
Piquetero Movement and for the politics
of resistance in Argentina? The answer
to this question requires further
interrogation about the relationship
between the state, the labour movement
and the anti-institutional forms of
resistance which emerged in December
zoo1. The answer depends also on
global resistance. The Piqueteros of the
c1bav suggest: we walk, we dont run,
because we go far (:1b Solano,
zoozb: 1(().
Acronyms
CCC: Cl assi st Combati ve Current
(Corriente Combativa Clasista).
CTA: Argentine Workers Central (Central
de Trabajadores Argentinos)
CTDAV: Unemployed Workers Movement
An bal Vern (Coordi nadora de
Trabajadores Desocupados Anbal Vern)
FTV: Land and Housing Federation
(Federacin Tierra y Vivienda)
MTD: Unemployed Workers Movement
(Movi mi ent o de Trabaj adores
Desocupados)
Notes
1. Among them, the Polo Obrero (io), the
Movimiento Teresa Rodriguez (:1n) and
the Movimiento Territorial de Liberacion
(:1L). For the purpose of my analysis, I
am leaving this group aside, although it
deserves special attention.
2. As a matter of fact, the government has
launched, on the rst week of July, a
National Programme against Hunger.
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