Solidarity with oil workers in Las Heras, Argentina!

As the Argentine state makes a grab for oil, a class war burns...

Submitted by plasmatelly on March 18, 2014

A lot has happened since 2006 and the death of a policeman during a strike of oil workers in the remote Argentinian town of Las Heras. As the court case against the arrested workers rumbled imperceptibly on, leaving the men and their families in stasis, the world around them moved at breakneck speed. The economy collapsed further, the peso devalued and the company they were striking against, Repsol-YPF, underwent a seizure by the Argentine State. Here's a tale of us and them; how solidarity can be stronger than business, and how there's no honour amongst capitalist thieves.

In the beginning
Back to 2006. This is two years before the world crash but for the workers of Las Heras, Patagonia, austerity had started early. What started as a demand to be included in the union agreement that would have seen better pay and conditions (many of the workers were outsourced) and a protest against a tax on their earnings as well as having to pay an unnecessary levy to enter the gates of their work site, the workers went on strike. After 20 days the spokesperson for the union was detained whilst speaking on the radio on the orders of the Governor of the Province, Sergio Acevedo, a notorious and corrupt politician, who later resigned for reasons commonly understood to be connected to police brutality and corruption. Strikers and supporters protested outside City Hall, and following police intervention, the police station was razed resulting in the death of policeman Jorge Sayago.

What follows next is the militarisation of the town of Las Heras in a crackdown by the Gendarmes. Arrests take place and people are tortured as police search for those responsible for the death. People are beaten in their homes and false statements extracted. Originally, seventeen people are arrested. This goes on for some three years; Las Heras, a remote frontier town, is essentially under a military curfew with torture and beatings commonplace. Eleven workers still remain in prison by 2013 under conditions of extreme physical and psychological abuse, however there is increasing doubt over the forced testimonies, with even the uncle of the policeman stating that the accused were innocent scapegoats. By the end of 2013, four of the men are found guilty of murder and a further six are given five year sentences in prison.

The Kirchner Duopoly
Just how police have been able to get away with torture, false testimonies, military curfews, crushing strikes and wrongful arrests goes right to the top in Argentinian politics. Patagonia is Kirchner country. Nestor Kirchner, (died 2010) former President and former husband of the present President Cristina Kirchner had been Governor of the Province, and Sergio Acevado was his right-hand man. It is nothing less than the Kirchner's decision - both Nestor and Cristina - to allow such obvious human rights abuses to continue in the gas and oil rich region of Patagonia. Indeed, it is this region possibly amongst all others that is pulling the Argentine economy - in recession since 2001 - up by its socks; and, as Patagonia holds possibly the second largest reserve of untapped shale gas in the world, human rights violations may continue to rise for oil workers and their neighbours.

The world around those detained has certainly changed. Repsol-YPF, the company that the men worked for, is no more; a seizure by the Argentinian State of YPF, formerly an arm of the Spanish oil giant, saw Repsol lose around a fifth of its annual profit. Amidst the outcry from the international capitalist class at Cristina Kirchner’s decision to seize a controlling 51% stake in YPF, accusations of illegality and theft have been bandied around – tell that to the workers who had to pay to get through their own gates at work. Spain originally demanded reparations of $10.5billion from Argentina; however a final figure of $5billion has just been agreed. In spite of the seizure, the accusations and legal sparring between the two countries and their respective allies, relations have normalised.

Riding on a white charger - the banks!
Major investors have stayed away since the massive $95billion default in 2001 following the obliteration of the Argentinian economy. YPF have cleared the way to taking the lion’s share of the Patagonian oil and gas fields, especially the massive Vaca Muerta shale gas reserve, where they are seeking to raise $37billion of investment . In order to carry off this plan, and in the face of Repsol attempting to scare aware investors with threats of legal action, YPF – essentially now the oil arm of the Argentine State – are releasing small bonds at a minimum bid of $500,000, these will be sold by Citicorp and HSBC. The fact that Citicorp and HSBC are now trading in bonds in an Argentine State company that is linked to crimes against the workers and townspeople of Las Heras, makes them an extension to these abuses.

The fight back
Since 2013, there has been a growing fight-back across Argentina against the framing of these workers and the subsequent abuses and repression to the people of Las Heras. Pickets and blockades have been regularly attacked by the police, nevertheless the pressure is mounting on Cristina Kirchner's government to call an amnesty for all those accused. It is clear that the State is prepared to try and keep militant oil workers in check at any cost as they move towards their goal of retaining a thicker slice of the pie when flogging Argentia's resources. But as the struggle to clear the names of the innocent increases, it may prove that the solidarity of everyday people is stronger than the state and its banking sidekicks.

FORA - the Argentine section of the IWA - have asked for day of international solidarity against the Argentine Embassies and those corporations dealing with them on March 24th!