Thoughts on Argentina's Conjunctures :: Recuperating Work, Recovering Life (2005-2007)

Monday, July 18, 2005

General observations on my first week in Argentina

Things in Argentina´s current political reality are intense, complex, contradictory, and inspirational. There are many conjunctions at play in all of the social movements and all of the struggles I´ve seen thus far (i.e., the MTDs, the recovered workspaces, homeless rights advocates, the fight for the basic needs of those that live in shantytowns, the piqueteros, the cartoneros, etc). The ravages of capitalism and consumerism are everywhere, especially in the villas miserias. We witnessed how the villeros live - literally - on top of and off of the garbage that wealthier porteños dump along the frayed outskirts of Buenos Aires. And, while there are many contradictions to the social justice movements here (as there are everywhere), it is clear that all are seeking a better way to live life in a society still deeply stratified, intrinsically racist and sexist, and volatile. I´m learning that we can´t generalize anything in Argentina, even within the loose community of 170-plus recovered firms. Actually, especially amongst the recovered enterprises movement as traditional union and party politics are always in tension with the workers' inherently autonomist tendencies (more on this later). Every situation experiences its own unique political quagmire and triumphs.

There is one thing sought by most protagonists of the "newest" social movements here, however: dignity. It is the one word said by most protagonists of the social justice movements that we've met thus far, suggesting a link between all of them, as fractured, emergent and uncertain as they all are. Within the chaos and precariousness of life here, the first thing they all seek - that is, the recovered enterpries workers, unemployed workers, cartoneros, villeros, activist retired people, piqueteros, etc. - after the basic necesities of life are are met (and the struggle of many like the MTDs, cartoneros, and the activists in the villas hasn't gone beyond fighting for basic human rights and the vital needs of the millions of Argentines in need) is to be treated with dignity and to be respected as important members within a greater community.

Notwithstanding their internal tensions and contradictions, and while there is much disillusionment amongst all social classes, there is also much hope, especially within the recovered enterprises movement. Throughout Argentina, life continues to be rich with social activities and joy. Even in the villa that we visted (Villa 21), where many eat the refuse dumped in mass trash sites by multinationals like McDonalds (a cheap and efficient way for McDonald's to get rid their waste), we saw music being played and children doing what children do within the squalor and misery of their daily realities. Here is a brief photo essay that I shot an compiled contrasting Villa 21 and other precarious life situations with pictures of the upper class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires a mere 10-15 km away - the intense contrast provides a clear and simple picture of the deep social and economic divisions currently plaguing Argentina.