JAMES PETRAS, the author of numerous books on Latin America, has worked for the past two years with the unemployed movement in Argentina.. In the following extract, he describes the growth and influence of the movement of unemployed workers.
“The massive mobilizations have their roots in the large-scale, sustained activities of an unemployment movement which has been gaining strength for the last five years. In the last year it has spread throughout the country and has played a major role in securing subsistence programs from the government and public works for at least a sector of the unemployed.
Its tactics are to paralyze the circulation of commodities and transportation. So the piqueteros, as they’re called, meaning "the picketers," block off major highways in order to make their demands.
The ranks of the unemployed movement include a preponderance of women, especially woman heads of households… In some areas, unemployment is probably 50 to 60 percent.
Many of the piqueteros are factory workers with trade union experience. Many are young people who’ve never had a job. They organize and block the highways. Traffic piles up, trucks can’t move, factories can’t get supplies. …
Then the government can send the police down, in which case there’s a whole confrontation. People have been killed, five or six recently in the north of Argentina.
But the fear for the government is that if the confrontations continue, the crowds come in from the huge slums, and it could turn into a mini-civil war. So the government usually–after threats and mobilizations of police–negotiates an agreement. These agreements are discussed by the participants themselves. They don’t delegate any leaders to go downtown. They make the government come to the highways, and the people there discuss what they should demand and what they should accept….
These demonstrations have been enormously successful within the limited areas in which they operate. But recently, as early as September of last year, there were two national meetings trying to coordinate the committees from all the different cities [which] created a kind of coordinating committee. …
Militants from the unemployed movement [are] clear as far as their immediate demands–which is massive employment projects, living wages, unemployment benefits, and of course, no payment of the debt. And some sectors are calling for the renationalization of the strategic sectors of the economy.
What is, I think, necessary or missing in this context is a recognized political leadership that can carry this dynamic process forward to the creation of a workers’ government. I think the ensuing struggle is going to raise that question very acutely…
Washington will not rest until it buries this movement. … In the earlier dictatorship of 1976, it took 30,000 dead and disappeared. This time, there are many, many more activists and militants than there were at the height of the mobilizations in the 1960s and 1970s.
Go to http://www.socialistworker.org for the rest of the interview. See also Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo http://madres.org/index.htm.