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Marie Trigona <[log in to unmask]>
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Marie Trigona <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 23 May 2005 09:00:30 -0700
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This article is based on video collective Grupo Alavío's documentary on a 6
hour work day. We are currently looking for support for a television
programme on labor struggles in Argentina. Saludos.

May 20, 2005

May Day And Argentine Labor Struggle

By Marie Trigona

The First of May was a symbol of the international proletariat's struggle
for emancipation. Neither military parades nor the 'good little boy' marches
of the reformist union federations can blind us to the deep-seated
international solidarity of the struggle. Worker autonomy, direct action -
with no chiefs, guides, Great Leaders or Grand Helmsmen, but organized into
our own rank and file agencies - will turn the revolutionary movement into a
tool for liberation. CLLA - Libertarian Latin American Coordination

Since the turn of the century Argentine labor movements have marked May Day
as a remembrance of class struggle and resistance. Since the 1890's in
Argentina anarchists held their acts in Plaza Lorea to commemorate the
Haymarket Martyrs of Chicago who were murdered for their anarchist ideas and
fight for a eight hour day. This year, workers in struggle held their May
Day act in this same plaza - separate from traditional Left.

"Fighting for a reduced 6 hour work day is similar to the struggle for the 8
hour workday, in the effect of the campaigns. Today, the working class
working doesn’t have time for rest, leisure activities, or for their lives.
The system has transformed us into working beasts. The average working day
for Argentines is 10 hours. This has resulted in a unified struggle among
active workers and unemployed, together fighting against capitalism and
super-exploitation," Roberto Pianelli, subway delegate.

Subway workers who have been organizing wildcat strikes for salary increases
have spearheaded Argentina's movement for a six-hour workday. In 2003,
subway workers (in all sectors from ticket office to train drivers) won a
six-hour workday. Metrovias, the private corporation that was contracted to
take over the once state-run subway lines in Buenos Aires, has had to
respect the 6-hour workday, improve working conditions and gender inequality
and increase salaries. Since this victory, subway workers, other labor
conflicts, economists and unemployed workers organizations have formed a
unitary movement for a 6-hour workday for all workers, with increased
salaries. In addition, Metrovias employees (organized outside of the
bureaucratic UTA officialist transport workers’ union) held weeklong wildcat
strikes in February this year and won a 44% wage hike.

During an interview with several subway delegates they reflected on the
relationship between the struggle for a six-hour workday and the fight of
the Haymarket Martyrs of Chicago, the personal significance of May Day and
anarchist traditions in Argentina. I caught a few delegates after their
weekly delegate meeting at Hotel Bauen, a hotel recuperated by its workers.
Each line has two delegates. There are commissions for press work and
gender. There are over 3,000 workers at Metrovias, who work three shifts,
making it almost impossible to hold general assemblies, except during
strikes. In general, decisions are made during assemblies organized by line
or shifts. The workers hold democratic decision making inside the delegates
union as a fundamental principle.

Walter Varela, delegate from the subway’s D line idealized the struggle for
an 8 hour workday. "The Martyrs of Chicago set an example of struggle, where
they were demanding an 8 hour workday. What we want to do is to create a
movement for a six hour work day. It would be useful for Argentina because
it would create 4 million new jobs and better salaries for all workers, but
our struggle doesn’t compare to the struggle of the martyrs of Chicago,"
said Varela.

He added, "I couldn’t tell you if there are workers more exploited than at
the beginning of the century. In that period, workdays were really long just
as they are today. If we look at the parallels between the struggle of the
anarchists and today, we see that the labor standards have become more
flexible. Today, workers are standing up against the trade unions and are
creating a syndicalist movement made up of struggling workers. I see May Day
as a day to recover the historical fight of workers and to continue with
that fight. The struggle of the workers in Chicago, which ended with a
terrible murder of 8 workers that wanted to put in place an idea is
celebrated on May Day but it, isn’t a party. This is the difference we want
to make."

Today unemployment stands at 19.5% and underemployment 15.7%, which means
35.2% of workers (approximately 5.2 million) have serious job problems.
Businesses take advantage of the desperation of the millions of unemployed—
increasing work shifts, allowing work conditions to deteriorate, hiring
undocumented labor (paying under the table), and lowering salaries to a
humiliating subsistence. The average salary is 600 pesos (around 200
dollars) and the poverty line is 720 pesos. Inflation is increasing rapidly,
it’s expected that 2005 inflation will reach 20%. Wages have been frozen
since the early 90’s, not be readjusted according to the peso devaluation in
2001, which has devalued salaries to a third of their former value.

This has made the situation for workers unbearable, and many sectors have
held a number of actions (strikes, occupying business building and
recuperating bankrupts businesses). May Day, 2005 arrived in the midst of
hospital workers, airline workers and teachers labor conflicts. Many other
anarchist slogans were reminiscent during this year’s May Day, freedom for
all political prisoners and defense of worker controlled enterprises.

Pianelli drew a direct connection, "There are fundamental nexus. In this
past century, there haven’t been relationships as strong as with the turn of
the 20th century in respect to working conditions as there is today. The
first nexus is the level of super-exploitation that workers are suffering.
Today, workers work incredibly long shifts, with miserable wages and an army
of reinforcement."

Jorge Mendez is a young worker. After the subway was privatized, Metrovias
cutback personnel and hired mostly young workers. This year was the first
time Mendez spoke on a platform, he said that this May Day was a moving
experience. Not only because he spoke but because workers could organize an
important act and mark their own path without being blocked by the
traditional left. What workers are proving they can set their own dynamic of
struggle without Marxist/Trotskyist parties with electoral platforms. He
mentioned that syndicalist anarchist methods of democratic organizing
workers funds and direct action methods such as the strike, sabotage and
collectivization were an inspiration.

"Capitalism has evolved to always fix itself and to continue exploiting the
workers. We are organizing so that our fight is similar to the struggles of
the workers who died for a 8 hour workday. We want to recover May Day as a
day of struggle. Today, when there is so much unemployment we are convinced
that our struggle in the subways that a reduced 6 hour work day can be a
solution for the millions of unemployed in Argentina," said Mendez.

In 1909 the anarchists organized a May Day demonstration in Buenos Aires, in
Plaza Lorea. Police attacked the rally and killed eight people. Chief of
police Colonel Falcon ordered the brutal repression. Simon Radowitzky, a
nineteen-year-old immigrant from Russia and anarchist made history when he
killed Colonel Falcon. He was present at the May Day demonstration and
watched the death of his fellow comrades. A week after the repression
Radowitzky decided to act in solidarity and threw a packaged bomb into the
Falcon's carriage. Radowitzky spent 21-years of his life in prison.

In April, subway workers staged a strike in solidarity with airline workers
who are against the government’s decision to sell the state-run airline
LAFSA to LAN Chile. Police attacked a workers assembly at Jorge Newberry
metropolitan airport, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at workers on
April 19. 20 demonstrators were injured. Subway staff immediately announced
they would stage surprise strikes in solidarity with LAFSA employees.

Subway workers have pledged their willpower to use striking as a direct
action against state repression of labor conflicts. In recent months, with a
crackdown on worker controlled ceramics factory Zanon, subway workers have
promised that if the factory is evicted there will be a price to pay in
Buenos Aires subway lines. During the May Day act this year many workers
from different labor conflicts spoke of mutual solidarity and support as
fundamental objectives of struggle.

Pianelli reflected on the importance of this year’s act. "This May Day was
really important because in this year a ton of struggles and conflicts
emerged. We staged a huge act, led by workers organizations, without the
participation of the traditional leftist political parties as part of a
vanguard of workers in struggle. This is why we did an act in plaza Lorea."

He added, "The working class has inherited may the slogans from anarchists
at the beginning of the century such as struggle for political prisoners and
organizing working class trade unions. For me it's important to recuperate
the ethic, actions and democratic organization from the anarchists. The
anarchists' actions at the beginning of the century to raise a working class
subjectivity and to take in their own hands their destiny have been lost in
the past decades of Argentine history. For many sectors of the left whoever
(activists/workers) acts differently from their electoral objectives, they
try defame the dissident (a practice from Stalinism). Workers need to
recover the best traditions from anarchism—self determination, respect for
dissidence and creating a new working class subjectivity."

Since the mid-1990's with swelling unemployment the road blockade became the
central tactic of the piquetero movement. Without access to the factory and
the ability to strike, sabotage machinery and occupy factories, unemployed
workers sought out a new practice for struggle-the road blockade, which is a
method to prevent merchandise from arriving to the market. In the past few
years, active workers gained ground in terms of accessing the work place to
pressure owners and bosses for better wages and working conditions. The
dynamic of workers’ struggle has changed and strengthened in search of new

Mendez summed up this new dynamic. "Today I think that its us, the employed
workers who have to fight for all of the compañeros, who were excluded from
the system, can be reinserted into the labor market with better conditions
and salaries. We think that we have the possibility to unite all of the

Marie Trigona forms part of Grupo Alavío, direct action and video
collective. Grupo Alavío produced a documentary about the struggle for a
6-hour workday.