[The piqueteros of Argentina are organizations of unemployed workers who organize to fight for their rights and for social changes, using direct action, especially ‘piquetes’, or blockades. They are one of Argentina’s strong social movements, and different piquetero organizations have different philosophies, strategies, and ideas. Dina Khorasanee, an independent journalist, had a discussion about some of their ideas with one of the piquetero organizations, MTD Allen, in December 2003.]
DK: When and how did the MTD Allen begin?
MTD Allen: The history of Allen is slightly particular. It did not start as a group of unemployed. It started as a group of neighbors with a specific claim that was based on the unfair partition of the food baskets. It was controlled by government officials. This became very political. It was a group of neighbors that came together with other neighbors in the events that took place on the 23rd of July. They made a specific demand when the governor of the province, who was Paulo Verani-time was the minister of social action-came to the neighborhood called Progreso, near where we are now, in order to inaugurate a first aid program.
People came together and made demands in a specific fashion and with a lot of strength. There people started to work with the objective of demanding from the province and the minister of social action specific things that involved the unemployed in the region; a region that was involved very much in the production of fruits. It is known in the world for its production of apples and pears. But at that time the farms could not develop the work that the big companies were able to do. This resulted in high levels of unemployment that has effects even up to now. This is when the first groups of unemployed people were born; people who did not find employment for reasons of competitiveness between the companies and for reasons of age. People older than forty and fifty now were not even considered.
DK: Do you think that this has a direct connection to the privatization of the companies?
MTD Allen: Yes, very much so. Here we almost do not deal with the State, but with the State companies more than anything, in Neuquen one of them was YPF, a petroleum company.
Here almost everything was fruit agriculture, but with more of the medium size farms disappearing because of the large monopolies, the sheds started to disappear and cooperatives started to appear; cooperatives that did not have in any way a cooperative way of organizing. They did not have the base of cooperative organization or the thinking that goes with a cooperative. All of a sudden a person came, grouped the workers, pretended to form a cooperative. It was all false. A cooperative has its bases that in these cases were not respected. And through this the economics of the area was personified, particularly in Allen. This is when there started to appear a notable number of unemployed. People that were left with no work in the small farms, companies, etc. There was a great deal of unemployed. Later there were the first demands for unemployment plans, starting with fifteen people. They started to fight against the province and the municipality. This is where the struggle was the strongest, because Allen, like Cipolletti, showed one thing when really something else was going on. It showed a development, that when you see the Automotive Park, the housing projects, they all seem to be really prosperous, when really they hide a lot of necessities of the unemployed that they do not want to see and hide through government officials, politics, and all the things that they want to control. This is when at the end of 1999-a very critical year end-the people started to take food from the supermarkets to feed their families. Many people were unemployment. At that time the group had risen to six hundred. After the holiday season the people in the group started to reduce because now the group was more specifically a group of unemployed, without work, with specific needs. This is when it became an MTD. It was called the 23rd of July because this was the exact day when they started their demands as a group of neighbors. The MTD started as a small group that fought directly with the government.
DK: And at that time how did you make your claims?
MTD Allen: They immediately started with road blocks because other groups started to appear. They started to support all that has to do with the work of the unemployed here in the area, because there were few unemployed that appeared after the road blocks, specifically concentrated in Allen and Cipolletti as two of the strongest movements. Now the road blocks and other struggles were being coordinated. But later other situations arose and differences between certain unemployed groups, including us. Soon we started to look for a different path and work from autonomy, because there are many movements of unemployed that are controlled politically, by parties or unions. So we wanted to separate ourselves from this; we really wanted to live an experience from the principles of work; from the essence of the worker. We did not want to be involved at all with politicians, unions or any of that.
DK: Are there people here that formed part of the first repressions in Cutral-Co?
MTD Allen: No, they are still living in Cutral-Co.
More than a piquete it was a population where all intervened, including the manager. The manager stepped down and the entire population blocked the road, that later was called piquete. In reality it was an entire population. From there was born all the road blocks as a methodology of protest. They started to receive politicians, people in the political area, and even today it is very political.
So from there we decided to build our own road as an autonomous movement. Cipolletti started after Allen on the basis of the work that we started here. There were some compaÃ±eros in Cipolletti that came and shared with us this experience and from there they went back to organize themselves in Cipolletti and also in Servant [a locality]. They have a very small movement, but because of distance we have not been able to continue to support or be with them, but we have been able to get them unemployment plans through us. With other organizations that are more political we can coordinate some protests, road blocks, if we are going to go out and confront the repressive forces, but not on the principles of our MTD. Where we are going is different, totally different. We are on the road towards autonomy and are moving forward. We do not have clear as of yet what exactly we are heading for because it is something that we are building everyday. It is something new that is built along the way. Later the MTD went through different moments of development.
DK: Why did you decide to separate for the coordinating group Anibal Veron?
MTD Allen: One of the processes of the MTD here was to coordinate with the MTD Anibal Veron and we started to articulate with the movements in Buenos Aires. Not only did we coordinate, but we also expressed ourselves as a group. The coordination meant struggling together, but articulation meant doing an analysis of the different philosophies of the groups. But clearly when we involved ourselves with the coordination of Anibal Veron we started to develop projects with the movements in Buenos Aires without each movement loosing its autonomy, but this eventually lead to a point where the differences were obvious between each movement. There were some movements that were functioning primarily through a patron-client relationship with the state, that fought for food, for the unemployment plans, but they did not go beyond that. We said that the plans are necessary because we need some money to survive and food is also necessary. We wanted to create other things though, things that would allow us tomorrow to have a better future; not always living from the state. One day the state will say, “We do not have any more for you all,” and we will be dancing circles around each other. So the idea was to look for other forms, other alternatives to say that we wanted to arrive at something more. We do not want to depend on the food subsidies. In bringing these things forward it was obvious that there were certain differences. Then we were able to clearly see what each movement was like. We are organizing our projects while they continue to fight for government assistance. We would like to move away from the state so that tomorrow we will not need to depend on the state and we can sustain ourselves with our own projects. This continued to mark clear differences that at the base one could see a politics, a game, and a strong discussion on power. We did not have any intentions towards power, but it was obvious that they were fighting for just that. So this hegemony that is formed in the struggle for power had confirmed our distance from them.
As they say in Solano, we can separate some things, but when everything is mixed it is impossible. This was a clear difference. We said that we can no longer continue there. It was very difficult because together we were many.
We were always united with Solano. Solano is a movement that has a very similar philosophy to yours, very similar. Therefore it was with other movements, Guernica, Solano, and others, that we focused on. We had internships with various compaÃ±eros. Together we really felt that we were going along the same path. So today we know that there are certain steps that we need to overcome, and it was traumatic after being so long with a big group and with a lot of strength. But today we have an organization that is called COA, the Coordination of Autonomous Organizations. We are grouping all these movements that are clearly thinking in terms of autonomy, like Solano, Guernica, and Allen. After separating from the Veron we formed another group in Cipolletti, because the original movement in Cipolletti remains with the Veron. There were two or three compaÃ±eros that separated and we formed another group in Cipolletti called Dignity.
DK: Have you seen a change throughout the years with the compaÃ±eros in Allen/Cipolletti, speaking ideologically and substantively?
MTD Allen: What we produce translates into social change. Social change means new types of relationships. We take ourselves out of the system, the market, work, competition, and all these things that form part of the system. And we as the unemployed by not having work are excluded from a number of things, including even social relations. Those that have work are different to us. We have nothing. We had to start to create a new sociability. And this is what is the hardest. We say that the struggle is not so much with the government, or with the police, or in the road blocks, or in the demonstrations. The most difficult struggle is within ourselves. What we need to change are our values. This is the problem that we have. And with the entire system in each of us it is very difficult to change. We say that social change has to do with thinking of the other compaÃ±eros, thinking of what could happen, if he or she has the unemployment plan, if he or she doesn’t, someone that is going through a rough time. This is what we mostly fight for; what we talk about the most. For example, Friday, the day that we focus specifically on reflection, is the time that we most work on this. How can we continue to learn with this group of compaÃ±eros that I have at my side; what needs do they have? What we have achieved has been through struggle. The municipality did not say, “Hey guys, I think that you need 50 more food baskets or 50 plans.” So we have to struggle and fight for everything. So this is what we all have to understand. Sometimes we do not defend ourselves and we let things go by. There are many compaÃ±eros that do not participate. We have to get past this and continue to move forward, demonstrating initiative, demonstrating capacity, that there is a lot of. The compaÃ±eros have a lot of knowledge and much capacity. We say that development is for the good of all, and this is the biggest struggle that we have. Social change is very difficult.
DK: Now that we are coming to Autonomous January, the question of autonomy is every more important to discuss. According to you, what is autonomy? And what is the difference between autonomy and individuality?
MTD Allen: If we see autonomy through practice, I think that autonomy is living a new experience. I am Chilean and was involved in the repression of that time; the time of Salvado Allende. They kicked me out of Chile when I was part of a movement. It was called a movement because it was separate from politics with some concepts of autonomous development. But the MIR, Leftist Revolutionary Movement, did not clearly define autonomy. From there I understood some basic and rudimentary concepts of autonomous development.
It was a movement that was born as a student movement. From there it grew to cover distinct areas, from city duelers to farmers. We followed Allende, but it was not a political party. It was a movement that in its last stage had differences with the government of Allende, but simply because we saw things differently. We thought of this as a rudimentary concept of autonomy, because even the left has its structure. Therefore with this in mind I came here. When I got to know this movement it seemed interesting to me for this reason. That is, saying no to the State, to politics, to unions. Therefore, what is it that is left? From this was born my interest in participating in the MTD. I think that autonomy and practice are realized through our daily work. What we try to say to the compaÃ±eros is that autonomy is daily work. By working hard we can really start to move away from the State, because we are still susceptible to the State. We are not autonomous, but we are only on the road to autonomy, and the road towards autonomy means precisely this: developing from what we have. What we have, the only thing that we have is the experience of being workers and working. After that we do not have machines or tools. We do not have anything more. Therefore, unfortunately, or fortunately, the state has a responsibility to provide these elements so that we can develop our own work. In the working space that we are developing we will encounter autonomy. We will meet there, in the development of our work. We are building a complex to install a bakery, and when we finish we will see what the garden needs. We will struggle so that the garden and the farm are all one thing and that it allows us tomorrow to have enough to develop all the areas and that it gives enough elements for us all to subsist. This is encountering autonomy. Autonomy is built daily. If we get stuck in one thing we are not developing autonomy. Autonomy is built on this basis and it breaks with individuality. Autonomy is sharing with all and continuing to struggle for the rest of the things that we need. If we do not develop our daily work then we will never arrive at autonomy.
DK: For me the most impressive effect of the MTD Solano is that they have created a horizontal space of exchange, liberty and humanity, and it is realized concretely in daily work, what drives the movement forward successfully and at time creates many challenges. How is horizontality realized here in the spaces that are created and the workshops that are organized?
MTD Allen: This is something that we have not been able to overcome up to now. I think that it is a daily struggle. It is about participation. In order to have a complete activity there has to be complete participation. Sometimes we have not been able to achieve this. There is a lot is resistance with the compaÃ±eros. This is why I said that this is a new movement where we have to overcome many things. I think that in time we will and are building this, slowly, but nonetheless we are moving forward. There are compaÃ±eros that don’t say anything, but they are great compaÃ±eros that we would also like to have express their ideas, participate in the assemblies and say if they like or don’t like something, or whatever. What we create is very important, because horizontality is achieved this way: through sharing, not only in the projects but also in our different views and thoughts, in saying, “Yes, compaÃ±ero, I like this, or look compaÃ±ero I don’t like that attitude.” It is about sharing these things. These are the spaces that we say have to open. We say that it is important to talk about these things; to say if something is not going well, or badly. I think that participation is something we have to overcome. For example, we are developing workshops on autonomy to go more or less prepared to the circle of autonomous thought so that the compaÃ±eros that are traveling there have more or less a clear idea so that there they can share or if someone asks a question they can answer it. Now they are more practical and talk a lot more. The compaÃ±eros participate, analyze things, and I think that in those spaces there are more compaÃ±eros that participate. For example, if an email comes we want to share it with everyone; that there are not only two or three but all the compaÃ±eros can ask, “What is this?” That they are interested to find out what it is, in what happens in other places and what others think about our movement. It is for this reason that we try to look for different ways that the compaÃ±eros can introduce themselves into this and participate. It is a challenge but we will achieve it. It is for this reason that we want many compaÃ±eros to go to Buenos Aires. We have spoken a lot about Solano but they have never been there.
For example, I have never been to Buenos Aires. I don’t even know where Solano is.
To know how the compaÃ±eros live there and how it is different to here. The spaces need to open, and the solidarity that they have with us is enormous. It is important that the compaÃ±eros here know about the reality over there. Little by little it is important to create confidence.
DK: According to the Sub. Com. Marcos of the Zapatistas, the revolution is not dead, only that is has changed in the way that it is realized today. What is the revolution for you all? And do you think that in Allen/Cipolletti, or in Argentina, a type of revolution is being realized?
MTD Allen: All change produces a revolution, from distinct concepts and aspects, be it political, structural, or economic. All this means a change. Sometimes the changes are violent, sometimes the changes are in the long term, but they are all changes. I think that the actual revolution is realized in this way. The revolutions in the past demanded a change that was appropriate for its time. Now we are talking about another type of revolution, in the new that is forming, how it is formed and where is it going. It is completely new, because we are on a different path. It is a revolution to decide to confront the system, the system of capitalism, from another angle, from another objective. Not always as it was done in the past or how it is confronted in other places. We are trying to confront it in a different way, changing and overcoming ourselves to say that we have broken a system. We are able to do many things through our work, our thoughts, and our ideas. This is also revolution. Confronting a system and being able to defeat it-not defeating it in order to change it, because the system will never change, much less the capitalist system-means more that we need to change and overcome ourselves. This is what it means to defeat the system. We would have defeated it by saying that we are not longer part of the system. That is also revolution.
DK: If we do not change what we have inside, we have not changed anything. We will not produce an organic change.
MTD Allen: It is more about the inside, our sentiments.
What we try to do is destroy power. It is not that we have the attitude of being outside. Toni Negri speaks a great deal about the exodus of power. Look, that exodus of power can be possible in some organizations, like for example the Zapatistas. If we had the opportunity to isolate ourselves in a community, it would be different, but we are an urban movement. It is very difficult to not constantly be in function of power. Perhaps the fact that we always have to face power means that we have a different dynamic. We constantly live until the sad rein of what is called capitalism. For me at least, I do not like the theory of exodus. I think that we constantly confront power, and this is sometimes confused with the images on television that thinks that confronting power is a violent confrontation that always it shown in the piquetes and demonstrations. For us the greatest confrontation with power is inside the movement. All the values that capitalism has put inside of us many times does not allow us to advance in the projects that we call social change, that generates new relations of sociability, of compaÃ±erismo, of equality, of distribution.
DK: Yes, this is true. We cannot isolate ourselves from power, because power exists. Therefore we have to confront it. But the struggle is to destroy it, not to take it over.
MTD Allen: Power was not invented by capitalism. Through capitalism it arrives at its maximum expression. Capital puts the dynamic in capitalism. When the FTAA is analyzed, it is obvious that it is a declaration of war against the people. It is not only the integration of markets as they put it. It is a war against the people. Therefore, we believe that power as it is, is a product of an entire historic development. The State is not a creation of capitalism, but it existed much before. Anyone that reads the bible very intently will see how the State was being constructed. How the act of building a pastoral society, macho, par excellence, all the tribes, are all what give origin to the question of the State; that reconstruct a political, economic, judicial, and religious superstructure, repressive over the nation and the entire society. It appropriated the law, private property, the nuclear family appeared, and then appeared conformation and the State. This is the superstructure of domination. Power does not only come from capitalism. Capital only brought it to its maximum expression.
DK: Capitalism is the manifestation of power, but there are also other manifestations of power. Before it was slavery, and other forms of oppression. There is a historic development that believes that progress is the accumulation of power and material goods.
It is pure materialism.
MTD Allen: It is pure materialism and it has dehumanized humanity. With the thinking of modernism the human being is in the centre of history, that all works in function of human beings. Today we are starting to live what is called technological barbarism. It is a monstrosity, from genetically modified foods toâ€¦everything. Now not even with market values does one become an object. It is not a question of the market; it is a question of power: necessity until the self-destruction of humanity. And today it seems as though the test of history is this: or the disappearance of humanity, or we have to change things. This is the challenge: we change power, change its manifestation. That is to say, we are not in favor of a change in the system. When we say that we do not want another world that is possible, it is because we want, directly, another world. The problem is not the system or the model; it is a problem of society and civilization. We want another civilization.
DK: So from you, what would be the ideal Argentina?
MTD Allen: What a question!
We said before that we would like it to be like the MTD but bigger, where all can participate, express themselves and decide what each one wants to do, and not like now where they tell us want to do. They do not let us decide on our own.
That is great (with a laugh). Now we do not have to say anything else.
The MTD means: direct democracy, assemblies, collectives, humanity, differencesâ€¦.
And this is how the discussion ended, calling on a compaÃ±era, “Come to drink mate!”