Vale Andres Garin – socialist and internationalist

Issue 
Andres Garin.

Andres Garin died in Wollongong in December, aged 77.

Andres was a founding member of Socialist Alliance as well as an activist with the Democratic Socialist Party and its predecessor, the Socialist Workers Party, for whom he ran as a senate candidate in the 1983 federal election.

Andres was a comrade of great integrity and political conviction. He was always a fighter for justice and a better world against capitalist oppression and exploitation here in Australia and internationally, particularly in the struggles in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Andres was born in Uruguay in the late 1930s during the great depression. His father, an agricultural worker, was killed in a work accident leaving his wife and children without an adequate livelihood. Andres, then 10 years old, left formal schooling and went to work to help support his mother and six younger siblings.

His lack of formal education never deterred his life-long commitment to educate himself and to work with youth to address their needs in adverse economic and political situations which offered few employment or development opportunities.

In 1968 he met and married his life-long partner Elida in Uruguay's capital, Montevideo. In that year a political crackdown began to suppress the labour unrest in Uruguay, leading to a state of emergency and the repeal of all constitutional safeguards. It was accompanied by increased repression, torture, imprisonment, “disappearances” and deaths and culminated in 1973 in a military coup and dictatorship that lasted until 1985.

The period was one of extreme brutality, repression and annihilation of any left-wing forces or progressives in Latin America. There were military coups in Brazil in 1964, Chile in 1973 and Argentina in 1976 as well as the Uruguay coup in 1973.

Andres, Elida and their two children applied to migrate to Australia and arrived in October 1974 to settle and work in Wollongong. Their third child, a daughter, was born a year later.

Andres began work at Australian Iron and Steel, the BHP subsidiary in the Illawarra. He worked there for 10 years, mainly in the coke ovens. As a union delegate Andres led several major struggles to improve the working conditions and occupational health and safety from the carcinogenic fumes and pollution that workers had to endure there. He also attended too many funerals of workmates.

He was a prominent activist in the fight against job cuts that BHP imposed from 1982, onwards arguing for the nationalisation of the steel industry not government handouts of public money to BHP so they could restructure and shed jobs to increase profitability. Similar cuts have and are still continuing today in BlueScope Steel, the current incarnation of AI&S.

Andres was also an active supporter of the ground-breaking 14 year-long Jobs for Women campaign, which finally forced the company to pay out between $4 million and $9 million in compensation for its discrimination against hiring women.

He left AIS in 1984 because of health issues and the grinding regime of rotating day, evening and night shifts over a three-week period which gave little quality time for his family and his political solidarity work. He continued to take a variety of labouring jobs in the Illawarra until his retirement.

He was an active member of many solidarity movements in the Illawarra including the Cuban Friendship Society, the Chile Solidarity Committee as well as the Committee in Solidarity with Central America and the Caribbean, later known as the Committee in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean. He took part in many of the protests against the repression of popular people's struggles taking place in the continent, including the invasion of Grenada.

In Uruguay politics began to change with the formation of the Frente Amplio (Broad Left), which won a majority in the 2004/5 general elections and the presidency. Its vote rose in the 2009/10 elections.

The Frente reached out to the large number of Uruguayans who emigrated worldwide from the 1960s onwards to escape repression or to seek employment. In recognising the size of the diaspora, Departamento Viente (D20) started changes which continue to be made to clarify the political rights of these citizens and their children and their role in the nation. These initiatives are organised through the consulates. Andres and Elida played a leadership role in building and organising these initiatives in Sydney and the Illawarra.

When the next round of national elections took place in 2014 Andres and Elida returned to Uruguay to register and vote, which resulted in the third election of the Frente government. Finally Andres was able to vote for a government that delivered the justice and economic, political and social rights that he had fought for all his life.

Venceremos!

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