The participating organizations orient towards class struggle and libertarian practices-grass roots organizing, direct democracy and mutual solidarity. Within the debate of how to build popular power, delegates discussed how people can solve their own problems without depending on the state or any other institution. The current context of Latin American governmental politics emerged as a focal point during the two-day meeting. In each of the corresponding nations, social organizations have faced new challenges due to the resurgence of “progressive” social democratic victories. Take, for example, the case of Uruguay’s social movements. Many of Uruguay’s social movements have demobilized after the inauguration of Tabare Vazquez. All eyes looked to Bolivia with the recent victory of MAS leader, Evo Morales. In all of the workshops, participants discussed how to prevent growing expectations in social democratic governments from impeding the accumulation of popular power.
The workshops focused on the construction of popular power at a grass roots level on each front- Human rights (impunity and historic memory, political prisoners, criminalization of protests), Syndical (worker movements, classist tendencies, recuperated enterprises), Barrio (neighborhood organizations, territorial organizing, unemployed worker organizations and community radios), Student (student movements, autonomy), Earth and Natural resources (land and production, privatization of natural resources).
Galpon de Corrales, a community center in a working class neighborhood in Montevideo, coordinated the conference. The Galpon also features a community radio station, community library and a large space to hold cultural activities. Several times a week they organize a collective pot and take pride in the fact that the Galpon is completely self-sustained and managed. The Galpon works with residents from the surrounding barrio, children and many of unemployed adults. One of the challenges facing the Galpon is meeting urgent needs of participants while moving away from traditional forms of social work. During the conference I interviewed Gustavo, who helped build the Galpon de Corrales as a political space. Gustavo advocates a platform similar to anarchists like Errico Maletesta who argued that anarchist organizations need to carry out a political agenda.
In Uruguay, thousands rallied last year for the release of four prisoners detained during Anti-Bush demonstrations in Montevideo that concurred with the fourth Summit of the Americas held in Mar del Plata, Argentina. They were held for over six weeks. Currently the Patagonian city of Las Heras, in Argentina’s southern province of Santa Cruz, is under siege. Striking oil workers stormed a police station, killing a police officer and injuring 15 others, to free a jailed union leader in February. The government sent over 300 national guardsmen to Santa Cruz to disperse protestors in response to the clash. Oil workers have reported that the situation is very tense, with regular attacks and threats against unionists. In Chile, social acitvists and the indigenous Mapuche people face permanent repression, imprisonment and killings on part of the Chilean state. Since the return to democracy in 1990, hundreds have been arrested for struggling against injustice. More than 30 activists have been murdered since Chile’s return to democracy.
“In Chile, a large number of political prisoners were released after the dictatorship. However, Chile’s first democratic government of Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994) arrested a large number of new political prisoners. While everyone said that democracy returned to Chile, it wasn’t the case. They built a high-security prison to imprison social activists from Frente Patriotico Manuel Rodriguez and the MIR. We’ve come to this congress to strategize of how we can effectively fight for the release of political prisoners. First we have to break with the image of political prisoners as terrorists, so that the population doesn’t imagine a hooded criminal. We want the people to associate the term terrorist with torturers, those who are in government and politicians ordering police repression. The government accuses social activists fighting against oppression of terrorist acts and they throw us in jail.”
Movimento Nacional dos Cartadores de Material Reciclavel (MNCR) says that workers organizing need to develop new tools against exploitation. He said that workers clearly can’t depend on state-run unions or bourgeois labor laws to protect workers from unsafe conditions or firings.
“We concluded during the workshop: first that all workers should be unionized, even the workers who don’t have jobs. Unemployed workers and informal workers also form part of the working class in struggle. Second: for the unions to be completely independent from the government. We also talked about how the labor laws are developed to favor the capitalist. The laws are all pro-bourgeoisie. Laws are used to institutionalize unions. The laws are all bourgeois which is why we can’t look to them as tools for struggle.”
Marie Trigona forms part of Grupo Alavo. She can be reached at [email protected]