Argentina’s War on the Piqueteros

by MARIE TRIGONA

Argentina’s unemployed workers movement is faced with another repressive attack from President Nestor Kirchner and national government. In the past weeks, national daily newspapers have published that the government is taking a firm position against social protest, opening criminal cases against members of organizations and reactivating a discourse against the unemployed mobilized.

This attack has heightened this week and comes after organizations realized an action October 22 in front of the Government Ministry of Work to demand three thousand unemployment plans, fresh food including meat and dairy and infrastructural support for the community kitchens of the organizations. The organizations were told to come back at a later date and officials hoped to ignore demands through procrastinating meetings for negotiations. The minister, Carlos Tomada has claimed that protestors stayed outside, "putting chains and locks" along police fences to block his exit from the government building until 4 a.m. However, there were no chains and locks along police fences. The same police lines and fences that the government ordered to impede protes! tors from entering the building to meet with officials blocked the officials from exiting. The protestors stayed outside in response to officials’ unwillingness to meet with delegates or to come outside and speak with the organizations.

"While the minister stayed in his offices, our families stayed in the streets until the crack of dawn waiting for negotiations that would never happen and without trains running to return home," stated (FUTRADEyO). The organizations have repudiated government accusations. "It is false that we don’t want to have a dialogue and that we only look for conflict. It’s been 5 months since we went to different officials and they made promises that they have not kept. It is also false that we blocked the doors with chains and locks. The same police fences were used that impeded protestors from entering, blocked officials. The officials could enter or leave, but! they didn’t want to listen to the thousand companeros outside."

The government has responded by opening a criminal case against the organizations, accusing, "the illegitimate holding of freedom." President Kirchner, a progressive prototype has had a seemingly soft discourse in using police to control social protests but he used the action as an opportunity to take a firm stance stating, "we are not going to tolerate these type of actions."

Argentina’s economic crisis has swelled unemployment to levels never seen in its history. Today over 44% of the population are either unemployed or underemployed. Of the 14 million in the Economically Active Population (EAP), there are some 2 million with unemployment subsidies. Meanwhile government economic studies report that the business sector is stabilizing, the majority of the population continues to get used to worsening misery. Unemployment continues to rise and monthly unemployment subsidies of $150 pesos (about $50) continue to devalue with sky rocketing inflation and salaries at a standstill. The real salary (workers’ salaries and une! mployment subsidies) has fallen to one-third of what they were before December 2001. Salaries and subsidies have not been adjusted to correlate to inflation (prices of basic food items such as flour and milk are three times higher than 2 years ago) and peso devaluation. With the unemployment subsidies, the government has set standards for salaries. The $150 subsidy requires the recipient to complete 4 hours of work 5 days a week. The government uses these subsidies to provide dirt cheap labor for public works. I’ve met individuals working in public school cafeterias as part of this plan. Many employers, considering how much is paid for 4 hours of work, pay $300 for 10 hours-5 days a week. & nbsp;

The tactics of the piqueteros blocking highways and accesses to demand that subsidies be increased and that food and infrastructure to meet the immediate needs of the poor has been newly termed as extortion. "There are not any proposals from the government for more subsidies, but there is a proposal for a anti-piquetero brigade and raise the ministers’ salaries," stated Santiago Dalmas organizer from MUP 20. MUP 20, Futrade, and TC 29 are some of the organizations charged with the criminal case.

The waiting period for Kirchner take off his progressive mask and show systemic contradictions has arrived, with fervor over national elections died down and local elections over. He has passed laws allowing for private utilities to be raised and supported U.S. troop military exercises in Argentina. One of his campaign promises was to "not pay the IMF at the cost of the nation’s poor." In September he paid 2.9 billion dollars to the IMF while 58% of the population live below the poverty line.

Kirchner has contingent plans to attack unemployment through ending with "piqueterismo." The $150 peso (about $50) monthly unemployment plans have been forever used as a way for the state to keep unemployed worker organizations in check and distinguish between the good piqueteros willing to negotiate and the hardliners who continue to block roads and demand structural changes. Newspapers have reported that the new government plan to disarticulate piqueteros is to "benefit certain friendly organizations with subsidies and to isolate ideological piqueteros." Those ideological piqueteros are those who go out and demand more than minimal subsidies, such as genuine work, free trade, transnational corporations’ accountability, and an end to poverty.

In negotiations with unemployed worker organizations in recent months, national and provincial government officials have given certain organizations subsidies, but making the organizations promise that it would not be released publicly "to avoid hoards of organizations outside government buildings to demand subsidies." This is a tactic used to fragment the movement (creating internal conflicts among organizations) and to avoid having to keep promises to actually provide more plans.

Marking "hardliners no longer willing to negotiate," the State sets a platform for the media to justify government repression against social protest. The theory of the two daemons was used during Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976-83) to justify the systematic terror in which some 30,000 were disappeared, tortured or executed.

Today piqueteros will march to the Presidential palace to confront this repressive wave of police and legal persecution against organizations that continue with demands for dignified work and better living conditions for Argentines. In the recent weeks the government has stepped up police repression throughout the country. Late September there were a number of cases of police using violence against piqueteros in the subway and in front of ministry in La Plata, intimidation of marked activists in neighborhoods, and police killings in the northern province of Jujuy.

We ask for support to denounce President Nestor Kirchner and this campaign.

MARIE TRIGONA works with Grupo Alavio. She can be reached at: mtrigona@msn.com

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