Power or counter power? The dilemma of the Piquetero movement in Argentina post-crisis.

Author:Dinerstein, Ana C.
Position:Unemployed Workers Movement - Behind The News 1

The profound political and economic crisis of December 2001 in Argentina brought in its wake differences within the labour movement on what form of class action to take to radically transform society. After the crisis, as a recomposition of political and economic power was taking place, divisions among different sectors within the Piquetero movement intensified 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 recomposition of the Argentine labour movement during the 1990s was the emergence of the unemployed workers movement. The neo-liberal transformation produced significant changes in social and labour conflict 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 effective 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 2001).

Some of the local organizations of unemployed workers joined the Argentine Workers Central (Central de Trabajadores Argentinos CTA), created in 1992 to organize fragmented struggles against unemployment and for welfare provision and to integrate the unemployed and those who were technically 'socially excluded' (Dinerstein 2001). The CTA integrated into its structure one of the organizations of the unemployed in La Matanza, Great Buenos Aires: Land and Housing Federation (Federacion Tierra y Vivienda, FTV) and have close relations with the Classist Combative Current (Corriente Combativa Clasista, ccc). The FTV 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 (MTD) Coordinadora de Trabajadores Desocupados Anibal Veron (CTDAV) is one such case. It comprises fourteen independent organisations of the unemployed in the south of Great Buenos Aires, and is guided by a criterion of territoriality. It co-ordinates the activities of different 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. Significant features of the Coordinadora are the lack of leaders, the practice of direct democracy and horizontal organisation. A third sector, the heterogeneous Bloque Piquetero Nacional, comprises several organizations that are closely linked to left political parties and differ from the other two groupings in that they believe that in December 2001 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 differences within the Piquetero movement. Whereas the FTV and ccc matches the institutional logic of the CTA trade unionism, the CTDAV 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 CTA leadership trade union's power is the capacity to articulate geographical, political and social differences 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, author's interview 1997). The CTA aims to build a political movement mirroring the experience of the PT in order to promote 'Income Distribution Shock, National Autonomy and Democracy' (www.cta.org.ar/instituto/notas1803). On 20 June 2002, the CTA together with the FTV and ccc launched a new social and political front: 'we will only throw the FTA out of this country if we build up a government of popular unity' (Alderete in Pagina/12, 21.6.02: 8). On this platform the leader of FTV launched his candidature to run for governor of Buenos Aires for New Democracy, thus deepening the divisions between power and counterpower factions within the movement.

Unlike the CTA, the CTDAV claim that it does not want power: 'our struggle is not about how to reach...

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