BY FEDERICO FUENTES
BUENOS AIRES Two separate delegations travelled to the northern province of Tucuman, one of the poorest provinces in Argentina, in January. Each represented the deep gulf that divides Argentinian society and politics.
One delegation, led by Hilda Chiche Duhalde, flew to Tucuman on January 9. Chiche is the wife of Argentina's President Eduardo Duhalde. The visit was part of Operation Rescue, a program to combat hunger. In Tucuman alone, more than 18,000 children are malnourished. According to one local doctor quoted in the December 29 La Gaceta, Operation Rescue, which began several months ago, up to now has done nothing except demonstrate that it is inefficient and demagogic.
Chiche Duhalde's visit was a political stunt, many Argentinians believe, in particularly because it coincided with internal elections in the Justice Party and with national elections scheduled for the end of April. Most newspaper reports focused on speculation over what position Chiche" would run for in the national election.
The second delegation to Tucuman left Buenos Aires on January 10 by train to deliver more than 900 kilograms of food, as well as toys, clothes and medicines. It consisted of seven cartoneros (the estimated 25,000 people in Buenos Aires who survive by roaming the streets in search of recyclables to sell) and five assemblistas (members of neighbourhood assemblies in the capital).
A month before, several cartoneros had received letters from family
and friends in Tucuman asking for help to feed the region's children. In
response, the poor of Buenos Aires and the burgeoning network of neighbourhood
assemblies launched a mission to help the poor of Tucuman. This selfless
effort symbolises the growing working-class solidarity that the economic
crisis is fostering across in Argentina.
The phenomenon of cartoneros and assemblistas working together, according to Lidia Quinteros, one of the cartoneros who started the project, is something new. The relationship with the assemblistas changed our lives. Before, when we got off the [White] train [a train service which now operates after the cartoneros and poor fought for it] people would insult us and look down on us. Now, many of them even greet us. We started to notice this after we did, amongst other things, the vaccination campaign for cartoneros.
The vaccination campaign was a joint struggle by cartoneros and assemblistas. Cartoneros often cut themselves during their work but they cannot afford anti-tetanus shots because they have no health insurance. During the campaign, more than 2000 cartoneros were vaccinated against tetanus and diphtheria. The neighbourhood assemblies are carrying out similar work in their communities.
This was not their first coordinated struggle. After cartoneros were repressed by police, including with bullets, while attempting to enter a rubbish tip in search of food and recyclables, 400 cartoneros and assemblistas blockaded the entrance to the tip. They also organised a joint struggle against Transporte Buenos Aires when it attempted to close down one of the stations which the cartoneros used to catch the White Train.
Although the number of neighbourhood assemblies has dropped since last
summer, in Cordoba, according to the January 5 La Voz Del Interior,
the neighbourhood assemblies continue to play an important role. Most
carry out tasks such as maintaining community vegetable gardens, helping
small businesses, collecting and distributing clothing, and the holding
of cultural workshops. The assembly in barrio Los Bulvares hires a room
which acts as a medical centre, library and cultural centre; it aims to
set up a pharmacy which will sell cheaper generic brands.
Assemblies debate 'power'
As well as community assistance, the neighbourhood assemblies are also a forum for political discussion and a vehicle for organising resistance. As Susana Viau noted in the December 22 Pagina 12, the assemblies are a place for debate over whether power is taken or constructed, is it a task of increasing and modifying social and personal relations or is it the first step in change, is it socialism or something different and unknown, still called 'social change', [is it] networks or parties ... Toni Negri, Malatesta or Lenin.
While these debates take place, assemblistas continue to organise and take part in the struggle for a new Argentina. The growing joint struggles of different sections of the oppressed, such as assemblistas and cartoneros, were symbolised by the train to Tucuman.
Solidarity has also been strengthened between workers at more than 140 occupied factories and various piquetero organisations (a movement of the unemployed). Piqueteros have fought with the workers to protect the occupied factories, which are being run under workers' control, from attacks by the state.
In return, the workers have offered jobs to the unemployed. Many assemblistas, such as Cesar Theoux, from the neighbourhood assembly in Los Bulvares see the defence and maintenance of these factories as vital: We want all of them so that the people can take over, but to do that we have to have experience in self-management.
It is the assemblistas, cartoneros, piqueteros, workers from the occupied factories, the militants from the trade unions, as well as the leftist parties, who have been at the forefront of the fight against the government's austerity policies and the dictates of the International Monetary Fund.
This solidarity and organised resistance was demonstrated at the 100,000-strong rally in the capital on December 20 to mark the first anniversary of the Argentinazo popular uprising. It was also on show at the second National Assembly of Workers and Unemployed, which helped initiate the December 20 rally.
More and more Argentinians are looking to this solidarity and working-class fightback, counterposed to the farce of the government and its elections, as a way out of their country's crisis.
From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.
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