Argentine police break up bus drivers’ protest action

Police attack demonstrators supporting bus drivers of Buenos Aires line #60
Police attack demonstrators supporting bus drivers of Buenos Aires line #60

Argentine National Police attacked a demonstration in support of locked-out bus drivers in the Buenos Aires region on July 27 2015, injuring at least 18 people.

Submitted by Karetelnik on July 31, 2015

Bus drivers of the #60 line of Buenos Aires, which includes 10 popular bus routes, carried out a protest action on July 27 2015, disrupting traffic on a number of arterial roads. Helping the drivers to block roads were workers acting in solidarity, including activists of the FORA (Argentine section of the IWA-AIT). The picket on the Pan-American Highway at the intersection of Highway #197 was brutally dispersed by the National Police, injuring at least 18 people.

Workers of the #60 bus line have been fighting for more than a month with the company owner. They had previously announced that they were going to block the La Noria Bridge and the Pan-American Highway at General Pacheco (a city in Buenos Aires province). The first picket was held without major incidents, but the second, in the northern part of the capital region, was met with repression by the police.

The forces of “order” attacked the protesters around 7:20 a.m., and the drivers answered with a hail of rocks. Three workers were arrested. At least 18 people were injured, including journalists.

Around 10:00 a.m., the scene was repeated at the La Noria Bridge. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets, while the workers defended themselves with whatever they could get their hands on.

One of the workers’ delegates, Santiago Menconi, explained that the protest was held because “currently there is no dialogue” with the company and the Ministry of Labour. “Fifty-three comrades are still fired.” He demanded a signed agreement on working conditions and the rights of workers’ delegates, and also payment to the workers for all idle time since the beginning of the conflict.

The protesters blamed the clashes on the police and demanded the immediate release of three persons who were arrested.

The conflict began on June 25 2015, when the drivers, as a sign of protest, stopped collecting fares from the 250,000 passengers who use the #60 line everyday. They demanded the re-instatement of Ariel Alejandro Benítez, fired the day before without any explanation.

A day later, at a hearing at the Ministry of Labour, the authorities rendered a mandatory decision according to which the drivers were obliged to abandon their protest actions, and the firm – to re-instate Benítez.

However on June 27 Benítez was prevented from resuming his job, and the employer would not allow the buses to leave the terminal, initiating a lockout. In addition, the DOTA company, which operates 46 bus lines in the capital region, issued 50 notices of dismissal. After this, the #60 line did not operate for five days.

Then the workers themselves reopened the route, still without charging fares. The police force, enforcing a court order requested by the company, blocked Ingeniero-Maschwitz depot, and the drivers were forced to sit out their working hours without being able to drive their routes.

The next court order required the resumption of normal services. However, the drivers have stated that it’s impossible to do so, since the company is still not allowing them to drive their routes.

On July 11 and 12, a representative of the official union UTA (Unión Tranviarios Automotor) essentially took the side of the company, blaming the shutdown of the buses on “a small group of ill-intentioned persons” not belonging to the union.

In response, the workers of the #60 line stated: “The workers and delegates are informing users of the bus service that there have never been any meetings about resolving the labour dispute, and that the company continues to enforce the lockout, while we, the workers, are in our depots and ready to work. We’re sticking with our demands for the re-instatement of the 53 fired workers, payment for idle time, alteration of working conditions, etc.”

A few days later, when the workers were holding an assembly in the Constitución district of Buenos Aires, a large police squad appeared with orders to disperse the crowd. A quick response on the part of comrades and various organizations acting in solidarity prevented the carrying out of this order.

Later the drivers staged a festival in Constitución in order to voice their demands and call on the resumption of negotiations with the company. Due to the lack of a response to their demands, the drivers organized the first blockade of the Pan-American Highway, although one lane was left open. On July 27 the second blockade took place.

Thanks to for collating this material.