Rebellion in Argentina

Workers Fight for Survival, Defying Cops — Government Declares State of Siege

by Charles Walker

“We don’t have any money, we are hungry, and we have to eat!” shouted a woman taking what food she could get her hands on, as cops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on a desperate crowd breaking into markets, “carting away slabs of meat and plastic bags full of food and clothing.” Shop owners killed at least three people, the press reported.

“Hoping to blunt the rising hunger and poverty, the government this week began disbursing more than 400,000 pounds of food aid — mostly meat, rice, powdered milk and vegetables.” At the same time, the government declared a state of siege “to contain the worst civil unrest in a decade.”

 In the week before Christmas, anxious, jobless workers in cities across Argentina took to the streets, attempting to cope with the ravages of four years of  “recession” and slashed social budgets. Reportedly, nearly half of the nation’s population is at or below the official poverty line, with unemployment officially at over 18 percent. Industrial production fell nearly 12 percent in November over a year earlier, and hundreds of factories have closed. Argentina’s president “has announced eight highly unpopular austerity plans during [his] two years in power, including a 13 percent cut in the wages of state workers and moves to slash pensions and raise taxes.”

A week earlier, the “whole of Argentina was largely paralyzed [for a day] as a result of a general strike,” which was organized by the country’s three main labor unions. The day before, there were “street protests, which included marches, rallies, roadblocks, blackouts and ‘caceralazos’— in which residents standing in windows or on balconies bang pots and pans at a given hour.”

"In Cordoba, a car-making center northwest of Buenos Aires, workers [were] protesting government plans to reduce wages and apply other austerity measures,” reported the BBC on December 20 (emphasis added). The protesting workers “occupied the town hall, then set light to the ground floor of the building. Police dispersed the demonstrators using tear gas and rubber bullets."

Mainstream reports at first called the hungry Argentines who took to the streets “looters,” “rioters,” and “gangs.” But the day after the state of siege was declared, the press began to call the people in the streets “demonstrators” and “protesters.” That was because the “protesters” had answered the government’s threat to make arrests without court orders and its prohibition of public gatherings by massing in front of the “ornate government palace” and demanding that the government resign.

Despite mass arrests, 16 deaths, truncheons, tear gas, water cannons, and mobilized police forces, the popular insurgency spread throughout the country. After four tough years belt-tightening and waiting for a better day, the politics of food, clothing, and shelter has become the order of the day for ordinary people. The Argentine ruling elite may not lose its control this time around. But its options are narrowing and the rulers say so. The government is pressing the reluctant International Monetary Fund for $1.3 billion in aid. Without IMF money, said the Finance Minister, “we’re dead meat.”

[Note: This account relies on reports by Inter Press Service (Dec. 13), Reuters (Dec. 19), AP (Dec. 19-20), and BBC (Dec. 20).]