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Struggle for change grows in Argentina
"Enough of this hunger"

February 15, 2002 | Page 12

LEE SUSTAR reports from Argentina on the ongoing struggle.

SOME 10,000 people poured into the downtown Plazo de Mayo in Buenos Aires February 8 in the latest in a series of protests that have continued since an uprising ousted two presidents in December.

Neighborhood-based Popular Assemblies waited until President Eduardo Duhalde gave his weekly national televised speech at 9 p.m. Once again, the president called for sacrifice. By midnight, Duhalde had his reply, as thousands more people marched into the plaza behind the banners of their assemblies and organizations.

The atmosphere was festive, with children playing and street vendors selling refreshments. Large numbers of young people in every contingent sang songs and chanted slogans, over the din of banging pots and pans.

Many protesters were from Argentina's traditionally conservative middle class. They denounced Duhalde's forced conversion of dollars into pesos as robbery.

But throughout the crowd, you could see the banners of the Bloque Piquetero--the militant movement of the unemployed known for blockading highways--as well as the red flags and anti-imperialist signs of socialist organizations. "There have been other cacerolazos that were bigger, but this has the most interest groups represented," said Valeria, a student teacher and member of the Socialist Workers Front (FOS).

Alejandro, a public school teacher for 15 years, was attending a demonstration for the first time. "The budget in education doesn't exist," he said. "There are huge problems for people. There are no support policies. Children are dying. There are a lot of people hungry."

The struggle in Argentina has continued since the mass uprising that ousted President Fernando de la Rúa on December 20--and a second interim president a week later. While the Western media focus on the government's plan for converting the country's currency, most protests revolve around the everyday needs of working people for jobs, food and decent health care.

Pickets and protests are everywhere. Three days before the February 8 cacerolazo, thousands of workers from the unemployed movement marched on the Plaza de Mayo and sent representatives to meet with the government. "Enough of hunger!" read one protester's sign, fashioned from the side of a cardboard box.

A few days later, workers at the public hospitals picketed an administration building in downtown Buenos Aires to demand back pay and an end to budget cuts that have led to a collapse in the public health system.

On February 10, at an open-air meeting of nearly 3,000 at a park in central Buenos Aires, Popular Assemblies from different neighborhoods met to share experiences. They discussed what are fast becoming popular demands--nationalization or re-nationalization of the banks, oil companies, railroads and public utilities, and the repudiation of Argentina's foreign debt.

And as Socialist Worker went to press, piqueteros had shut off access to Buenos Aires.

Duhalde--who was chosen president by the Argentine Congress in a backroom deal cut by the Peronist party--has tried to divide the movement by making populist speeches. The two wings of the CGT union federation, which had opposed de la Rúa with a series of general strikes, back Duhalde. But Duhalde is trying to get back into the good graces of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Washington with a new austerity plan.

The continued dramatic decline in the economy--expected to shrink by between 5 percent and 10 percent in 2002--will set the stage for further confrontations. And Duhalde's currency scheme--a floating exchange rate between the country's peso and the dollar--will lead to inflation that will eat up wages, something that could pressure the unions into action.

Meanwhile, a new effort to coordinate the various elements of the movement and establish unity will be made February 16-17 at a meeting of Popular Assemblies, piqueteros groups and others.

Among those planning to attend, there is a growing understanding that taking the movement forward will mean building on the mass self-activity of these groups. One challenge will be to build up ties with the organized working class--among rank-and-file union members who have participated in the demonstrations.

Ordinary Argentinians proved their power with the mass demonstrations that toppled de la Rúa. Now, the task is to lay the basis for a revolutionary challenge to the corrupt and illegitimate government that came after.

In the U.S., we can build solidarity for this struggle--by organizing against the IMF, the bankers and the U.S. government, whose free-market policies are responsible for Argentina's desperate crisis.

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