National Workers’ Assembly
Meeting — a Big Step Forward
by Jordi Martorell
[This is an edited version of an article that
appears on the Internet at
On Saturday, February 16, thousands of workers,
unemployed, and members of the popular assemblies, met in the Plaza de Mayo
square in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. This was the beginning of the
National Assembly of Workers (employed and unemployed). The day after, two
thousand elected delegates met at the Avellaneda Colonial Theatre, representing
unemployed workers’ organizations from all over the country, but also local
trade union branches, groups of workers’ in struggle, neighborhood popular
This meeting is the highest point so far of the
movement toward the creation of an alternative power of the workers and the
masses in Argentina. The movement, which started with the revolutionary events
of December 19 and 20, has advanced very rapidly not only in its organizational
forms but also in the political conclusions that it has drawn.
The popular assemblies, which meet weekly in every
neighborhood, now cover most areas in Buenos Aires and its periphery and are
also spreading to other provinces. Starting on January 12, the popular
assemblies in Buenos Aires have started weekly meetings every Sunday to
coordinate their actions and discussions in common. These meetings of delegates
from different neighborhood assemblies (“interbarrial”) have grown in size
and now are gatherings of 3,000 to 4,000 people. There are reports of similar
meetings taking place in the provinces. For instance in Rosario delegates
representing 24 popular assemblies meet regularly.
These meetings discuss both the program of the
assemblies and the actions to be taken and are run on extremely democratic
lines. Everyone is allowed only three minutes to speak and at the interbarrial
meetings only elected delegates from neighborhood assemblies or groups of
workers in struggle are allowed to speak. At the end of the meeting all
proposals are put to the vote.
The assemblies, which at the beginning were mainly
concentrated on the struggle against the “corralito” (government imposed
freeze on bank account withdrawals), have now adopted a very advanced program of
demands which challenges every aspect of capitalist rule. These include the
repudiation of the foreign debt, the nationalization of the banks, the
renationalization of all privatized utilities, popular election of Supreme Court
judges, the taking into state control of pension funds (AFJP), etc.
The popular assemblies and the workers’ movement
Most important of all, the movement of the popular
assemblies has taken important steps toward linking up with the workers and the
movement of the unemployed. For a few years now Argentina has witnessed a
movement of very militant actions on the part of unemployed workers, which take
direct action and organize roadblocks (piquetes) demanding jobs and subsidies.
These piqueteros organized two national meetings to coordinate their movement in
July and September last year.
The interbarrial in Buenos Aires decided to join the
two piquetero marches called on January 28 and February 5, and various popular
assemblies greeted the piqueteros in their neighborhoods. A new slogan was
coined which expressed the unity between the assemblies and the piqueteros:
“Piquete y cacerola, la lucha es una sola” (pickets and pans, same struggle
– this refers to the road-blocking pickets organized by unemployed workers and
the “pots and pans” protests organized by the assemblies). Furthermore the
assemblies established links with groups of workers in struggle in their
This was the case with the workers of the Brukman
textile company who have now occupied the factory to oppose any layoffs and
demand that the company be nationalized under workers’ control.
The workers’ movement has so far not participated in
these protests as an independent force. This does not at all mean that workers
are passive. In the last three years there have been 8 very militant general
strikes. Workers also participate in the popular assemblies in their
neighborhoods. One of the reasons why there has been no mass strike movement so
far is the fear of unemployment, which has now reached an official level of more
than 20%. Another important factor is the stranglehold of the trade union
bureaucracy of the main CGT federation.
This is why the calling of the National Workers
Assembly is such an important step forward. The September National Piquetero
Meeting of unemployed workers’ organizations agreed to call a new national
meeting which would be composed of elected delegates, one for every 20 organized
unemployed workers. This meeting never took place since the two organizations
with the greatest influence in the unemployed workers movement consistently
refused to call it
These organizations are the CCC (Class Struggle
Militant Current) led by Alderete and the Housing and Jobs Federation (FTV,
linked to the CTA union federation) led by D’Elia. The leaders of both these
organizations are now involved in talks with the government about the management
of unemployment subsidies, which is basically a maneuver to pacify the
unemployed workers’ movement.
Calling the National Workers’ Assembly
But in a period of radicalization of the class
struggle, the more militant sections of the piquetero movement decided to go
ahead with the calling of a Third National Workers’ Assembly on their own.
These included unemployed workers’ organizations from all over the country,
many of them linked to left-wing parties like the Communist Party, the PO, the
MST, the PTS, etc. They issued an appeal to employed workers, militant trade
union branches, and the popular assemblies calling on them to send delegates to
The calling of this meeting provoked a split in the CCC.
One of their leaders, Raul Castells of the MIJDP, who is now under house arrest,
came out publicly in favor of the National Assembly, and was expelled from the
CCC for that reason.
The Buenos Aires popular assemblies had decided to
remain in the Plaza de Mayo square overnight after their weekly “cacerolazo”
(pots and pans protest) on Friday, February 15, in order to greet the delegates
to the National Workers Assembly arriving from all over the country from early
Saturday morning. Thousands of people were already crowding the Plaza de Mayo
when the delegations of the different unemployed workers’ organizations
started to march in amid cheering and the chanting of slogans.
Two of the most significant delegations were those of
the workers from the Brukman textile factory in Buenos Aires and the Zanon
Ceramic workers from Neuquén. With a banner reading “Zanon and Brukman: under
workers’ control” they marched into the Plaza de Mayo, to the roar of the
crowd, beating their drums. According to all reports the mood was electric.
Delegations came from all over the country, from the
provinces of Santa Fe, Nequén, Chaco, Tucumán, Rio Negro, Córdoba, La Rioja,
Salta, Jujuy, etc. At one end of the square there was a podium with a big banner
reading “National Assembly of Workers (Employed and Unemployed).” At the
front there was a space reserved for accredited delegates, which was guarded by
a line of workers with batons and metal pipes.
The mass meeting only got started in the afternoon,
after having waited for all the delegations from the provinces to arrive. Dozens
of speakers from different organizations from all over the country took to the
stage, each one having ten minutes to address the crowd.
On Sunday, a delegates-only meeting continued the
debate at the Avellaneda Colonial Theatre. Two thousand delegates were present,
all of them representing at least twenty people. These were not only unemployed
workers but also popular assembly delegates and, most importantly, trade union
delegates as well.
One of the main focal points of the debate was the
question of how the workers could solve the crisis facing the country. A
resolution sent by the Union of Ceramic Workers and Employees of Neuquen (SOECN,
which is occupying the Zanon factory) and the Neuquén Movement of Unemployed
Workers (MTD), made it clear that “the effective unity between employed and
unemployed workers is the first condition for the workers to be able to head the
necessary alliance with the ruined middle classes and the only way we can impose
a workers and popular solution to the national crisis.”
They further added: “Only the working class, employed
and unemployed, state and private sector workers, can solve the national crisis.
The employed working class produces all the wealth of the nation. It runs
transport, pulls all the levers of the economy: from energy (gas, oil,
electricity) to the financial and banking system. Together with the militancy of
the unemployed (who we consider to be part of the working class) with their
blockades of the country’s principal roads and highways, and of course with
the salaried state and municipal workers who are already in struggle and have
made themselves part of the movement, this is the fundamental social force that
can give rise to a progressive outcome to the capitalist crisis.” Correctly,
the Zanon workers also made an appeal to work among the rank and file of the
trade unions to win organized workers away from the trade union bureaucracy.
The meeting finally voted a resolution which stressed
the idea that the Duhalde government is an enemy of the working class and that a
popular solution to the crisis means “expelling Duhalde and the class of
looters which put him in government”. The Assembly rejected all attempts at
establishing a “social contract” (concertación), i.e. the process started by
the government to coopt the unemployed workers’ organizations. Point 4 of the
resolution states: “We must take into our own hands the solving of the most
pressing problems of the masses: jobs, health, education, housing, which means
spreading and promoting these organizations [popular assemblies, piquetero
organizations, and workers assemblies], up and down the country as an
alternative which belongs to the workers. We define the strategy of the
piqueteros and the more militant trade union sections organized in this National
Assembly as one of incorporating the industrial workers’ movement and that of
the privatized utilities to the struggle of the piqueteros. Any serious attempt
to defeat the current government and the ruling regime cannot avoid the
fundamental role of the working class, which today makes the main production
centers and services work, such as electricity, gas, telephone and transport.”
This is basically a recognition of the potential power
of the working class to paralyze society. In this regard the Assembly heard a
proposal of the railway workers (who are now threatened with thousands of
layoffs) to paralyze rail transport in the country and spread the piquetero road
The resolution also calls upon the leaders of the CCC
and the FTV-CTA, who refused to call for this National Assembly, to break off
any negotiations with the government taking place behind the backs of the
movement and to join the plan of struggle which had been approved. The meeting
rejected any attempt to foster illusions “in governments which basically
represent the interests of the exploiters, native and foreign.”
The program approved was the following:
Freedom for Raul Castells, Emilio Ali, Peralta and all
the other imprisoned comrades. Withdrawal of charges against the fighters. The
organizers and perpetrators of the murders on December 19/20 must be put on
trial and punished. The murderers of the comrades in Salta Justiniano, Gomez,
Veron, Barrios and Santillán, and Corrientes must be put on trial and punished.
Repudiation of the foreign debt.
Nationalization of the banks and main companies.
Statization of the AFJP (pension funds).
Outlawing of layoffs and suspensions.
Statization under workers’ control of all companies
that close or sack workers, and reopening of all closed companies under the same
Immediate return of bank deposits to small savers.
Struggle for genuine and permanent jobs, through the
sharing out of working hours without reduction of pay.
Minimum wage and unemployment benefits to be linked to
the cost of living.
Out with Duhalde and the IMF. For a workers’
This program, which is basically a program of socialist
revolution, was passed by these workers’ delegates together with a plan of
struggle. This states that the process of struggle of the last few years in
Argentina opens up “the possibility of solving the crisis of power which
affects the system of exploitation in our country in favor of the workers” and
that “we must act, because the tenacious action of the people has not yet
resulted in a victory, but rather in the usurpation by an illegitimate
government which is the puppet of the looters.”
The plan of action includes the reinforcement of the
road blockades, a national mobilization of pickets and cacerolazos for February
20 on the second [month’s] anniversary of the popular uprising. A national day
of action against the privatized oil companies. These were singled out since
they have been the most profitable privatized companies in the last few years.
The demand is that these profits should be used to create jobs and that the
companies be renationalized. A march demanding the freedom of class fighters for
March 2, a national workers’ march on the capital on March 4 to 8. And finally
a new date was set for the next National Workers’ Assembly, which will take
place on April 2.
On Sunday evening, representatives from the National
Workers Assemblies attended the sixth meeting of the Buenos Aires interbarrial
to explain their decisions and get support for their plan of struggle. The
interbarrial decided to support the plan of action and also passed a number of
other programmatic demands. The most significant of them are:
e) The calling of a National Popular Assembly with
representatives from the popular assemblies, the interbarrial, and assemblies
from the provinces for March 16 and 17.
k) [The] Duhalde [government] and its economic plan
must go. For a government of the popular
The resolutions of the National Workers’ Assembly and
the interbarrial are basically a program of workers’ and people’s power.
Interestingly the slogan of a Constituent Assembly (which we have polemicized
against) does not figure amongst the resolutions of the Workers’ Assembly or
Ruling class terrified
The key question is that this is not just a program
which has been passed, but that sections of the organized workers are being won
over to this program. The deepening economic crisis will force more and more
sections of active workers to join the struggle to defend their jobs, and it
will become clearer that this can only be done effectively by replacing the
capitalist system with a system of nationalization and workers control.
As the leader of the CGT, San Lorenzo put it at the
Saturday rally, “the working class, and specifically the industrial
proletariat must regain the center stage in the Argentinian political scene”.
The leader of the Union of Ceramic Workers and Employees of Neuquén (SOECN)
insisted that the key was winning over the organized workers to the struggle,
“having a picket outside the Repsol-YPF refinery is very good, but it would be
better if we can get the oil workers to come out, if we can get the electricity
workers [also present at the Workers’ Assembly] to switch off the power.
Having a protest outside a bank is good, but it would be much better if we can
get the bank workers out on strike”.
The car industry workers have already announced strike
action against threatened redundancies [layoffs]. Civil servants in the
provincial governments up and down the country have been taking strike action
demanding the payment of their wages. The government has also just intervened to
stop the threatened oil workers’ strike. The privatized oil companies had
announced thousands of layoffs as a response to an increase in the government
tax on petrol. This had forced the bureaucratized oil workers’ union leaders
to announce an all-out-strike to start on Monday 18. The terrified government
imposed compulsory arbitration, which for the moment means the suspension of
layoffs and strike action. In this example we see the contradiction in which the
Argentinian ruling class is trapped. On the one hand they can only maintain the
system of capitalist exploitation by launching ruthless attacks on the living
conditions of the workers and the middle class. But at the same time, in doing
so, this threatens to provoke a revolutionary movement in which they could lose
In the meantime the economic crisis continues to
deepen, with the peso falling to 2.10 to the dollar, its lowest level since the
beginning of flotation just a few weeks ago. Industrial production collapsed by
18% in January, a record fall after an already steep fall in December. All
sectors of the economy were affected, but among the worst hit were the textile
industry (–56,1%), car production (–65%), and engineering (–54,1%). And this is
despite the fact that in theory devaluation should have boosted exports.
The Argentinian bourgeois can also see the dangers
involved in this whole process. In the last few days they have published two
hysterical editorials in La Nación, denouncing the movement of the
assemblies. On February 14 they declared that “although the rise of these
assemblies appears as a consequence of the public being sick and tired of the
untrustworthy conduct of the political class, we must also take into account
that such mechanisms of popular deliberation present a danger, since because of
their very nature they can develop into something like that sinister model of
power, the ‘soviets.’” And the article continues: “Experience shows that
these assemblies are sometimes taken over by agents of extreme ideologies, which
take advantage of the legitimate indignation of the majority for their own
purposes, trying to achieve in this way what they could never achieve through
the ballot box. It is not a bad thing that people want to express themselves…But it is important to point out that it is one thing to engage in noisy protest
and it is something completely different to take government decisions that touch
on public interest and the common good.”
What they are basically saying is that the people have
the right to say what they want... as long as they do not threaten the rule of
the capitalists and the bankers!! As in every revolution the bourgeois media
raises the specter of “extremist agitators” as the cause for the
revolutionary mood amongst the masses. In reality it is the complete bankruptcy
of their own system which has created a fertile ground for revolutionary ideas
to be adopted by the masses, as we see in Argentina in these days.
Harping on the same theme, La Nación of February
17, accuses the movement of assemblies of organizing an “undercover coup
d’état”. The editorial insists that “it is necessary for Argentinians to
calm down and recognize that a country cannot work in a state of permanent
popular deliberation.” (Why not?)
[La Nación continues:] “It is not reasonable
that [a neighborhood assembly] meets to declare the illegitimacy of the
president of the Nation, to declare null and void the mandates of all members of
parliament without exception and to demand the resignation of all members of the
[Supreme] Court.” Once again this exposes the real character of what bourgeois
democracy means. The people can participate, as long as this participation is
limited to voting every few years. But once the people start to actually take
affairs into their own hands, then that is a coup! The problem is that the
majority of the people in Argentina have voted for every available political
option over the last 20 years, and none of those options has been able to solve
the problems facing the majority. Now the masses of workers, unemployed, and
middle layers have said enough is enough and have started to take matters into
their own hands through democratically elected and accountable committees.
The editorials of the bourgeois papers are calling on
the government not to make any concessions, since, they argue, this would only
further encourage the movement. After violent protests of small savers, who
attacked a number of banks in the financial district of Buenos Aires, the
government warned that if such actions continued they would use repressive
measures. The police have already been used in a number of clashes with the
piqueteros. It is clear that this time the ruling class is more prepared than it
was in December.
This is why it will take a more organized movement to
carry the revolutionary process forward. The main tasks are those voted at the
National Workers’ Assembly: the strengthening and spreading of the assemblies
and above all the organizing of the industrial working class into workers’
committees capable of organizing a general strike.
The way forward
(A footnote by Alan Woods)
From the above information it is clear that the
revolutionary movement in Argentina, far from dying down, is advancing and
acquiring an increased breadth and depth. The bourgeoisie and its government are
unable to halt it, and are reduced to making dire warnings and threats from the
The quotes from La Nación clearly show the
growing alarm of the ruling class. They understand from their class point of
view what we understand from the standpoint of the working class. It is no
accident that La Nación in its editorial columns rages against the
popular assemblies, which it correctly sees as embryonic soviets — that is to
say, embryonic organs of workers’ power. Yes! That is just what they are. The
only difference between our analysis and that of La Nación is that this
bourgeois paper sees in this something dark and sinister, whereas the working
people see in it the only hope of salvation.
The masses, having begun to move, will not stop until
all their just demands are met. They have found the appropriate organizational
forms through which to express these demands. Moreover, the demands themselves
are daily becoming clearer, more concrete, and more conscious. The programs
adopted by both the National Assembly of Workers and the meeting of the
interbarriales are excellent and correspond exactly to the needs of the moment.
Taken in their entirety, they add up to a program for workers’ power.
Workers everywhere will read these marvelous accounts
with a sense of pride and inspiration. We see here the birth of a new power — a
proletarian power — that is growing up within the womb of the old society. It is
as yet poorly formed, as one would expect in any embryo. It has a long way to go
before it reaches full maturity. But it is already well on the way to becoming a
sturdy infant, with healthy limbs and a strong heart and head.
What is the next step? That is also stated implicitly
in the above resolutions. It is necessary to spread the movement to every town
and village, to every factory, mine, and farm. Everywhere the slogan of popular
assemblies must be advanced and popularized. But there is something else which
the comrades in Argentina are clearly aware of. In order that the popular
assemblies and the movement of the piqueteros should acquire its full force and
sweep, it is imperative that it should be firmly linked to elected workers’
committees in the factories.
When we say that the popular assemblies are embryonic
soviets, what that means is that they do not yet fully express the movement in
the workplaces. But without this, their scope will be too limited to achieve
their objectives. The next step must therefore be linked to a serious campaign
to step up the formation of elected committees in the workplaces.
This demand will meet with the firm resistance of the
trade union bureaucracy. They will not want to see their power undermined by the
establishment of rank-and-file committees. But the power of the union apparatus
is not absolute. The workers are faced with serious problems. Their wages,
conditions, and jobs are all under threat. The union leaders can hold back the
discontent of the workers for a time — but only for a time. Sooner or later, the
critical point will be reached where the workers will say: So far and no
What is absolutely necessary is to link the vanguard
firmly to the masses, and to understand that different layers will draw
conclusions at different rhythms. The vanguard, active in the popular assemblies
and the piqueteros, is in the first line of struggle. They are the shock troops
of the revolution. But the heavy battalions of the working class have not yet
moved in a decisive way. Of course, they will catch up, but in the meantime it
is necessary to avoid going too far ahead of the mass.
The decision to put demands on the leaders of the CCC
and the FTV-CTA, who refused to call for this National Assembly, to break any
negotiations with the government was very good. But the majority of the
organized workers in Argentina are under the control of the Peronist CGT. It is
not possible to carry through a revolution in Argentina unless this decisive
layer is won over.
The Left in Argentina is traditionally hostile to
Peronism, which is quite understandable. But it is one thing to combat the
Peronist leaders politically, and quite another to ignore a large part of the
organized working class. In the past there have been divisions and splits in
In the present situation, with a right-wing Peronist
government carrying out the policies of the IMF there must be serious divisions
within the CGT. We must find a road to the rank and file of the CGT workers and
win them for the revolutionary road by a skilful application of the united front
In all this, a key role is being played by the
Trotskyists of the PO and other organizations and parties. The convening of the
National Assembly of Workers was a great success for the revolutionary vanguard.
We salute this success with every possible enthusiasm. We are pleased to say
that, whereas we disagreed with the slogan of the constituent assembly, we are
in complete agreement with the slogans that were approved last weekend. This
gives us every confidence that, on the basis of the above demands, the Argentine
revolution is now moving in the right direction.
February 20, 2002
Read the full text of the resolution passed on February
Resolution of the National Workers’ Assembly (English
Resolución de la Asamblea Nacional de Trabajadores (Spanish original)
Spanish readers might also wish to check out our new
Spanish language page:
La Revolución en Argentina
See also in English:
On the constituent assembly slogan — Is it applicable
to Argentina? By Alan Woods (February 9, 2002)
Total crisis of capitalism in Argentina: The only way
— the struggle for workers’ democracy by Miguel Jimenez (February 7, 2002)
Argentina — The Revolution Has Begun by Alan Woods
(December 23, 2001)