An interview with a piquetera - "If the aggression is globalised then the resistance needs to be globalised."

"Argentina: Que se Vayan Todos, (let's get rid of all of them), a cardboard piec

In June and July of 2003, two Argentinian women toured the UK to talk about the wave of social change which is sweeping their home country. Graciela and Neka talked about the Piquetero movement. which has seen unemployed workers taking control of over 200 factories and organising a direct democracy through neighbourhood assemblies. The movement has also organised road blockades in resistance to the neo-liberal reforms which are leaving many Argentinians unemployed, The tour was organised by the Argentina Autonomist Project (AAP), an group which seeks to educate people around the world about the struggles in Argentina. I met up with Graciela at the Glasgow event, to find out.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 9, 2021

How did you become involved with the AAP?

Graciela: I was an activist in Argentina for many years. After the dictatorship, from 1984 onwards, I was a human rights activist, a student in college. I organised in a pretty straightforward manner until 1990.

I was a Trotskyist at some point and then I realised that the Trotskyist party was really hierarchical and corrupted. I started also having political differences [with the Trotskyists]; I started not agreeing with the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and all that stuff, So, we started organising a non-hierarchical organisation, with many other people who were corning from similar experiences with parties.

I met with a group that was doing performances in the street, and I started incorporating the little puppets I was building with these performances. I started making them bigger and incorporating puppets into politics.

But in 1994, I left Argentina to go and work with a big street theatre company, Bread and Puppets Theater of the US, and I worked with them for quite a few years. At the same time, I was going down to Argentina to organise street performances, with the mothers and children of the Disappeared.

Finally, when the insurrection started in Argentina, I had no money whatsoever, so I couldn't go back at that point. It was very frustrating for me in December 2001 to be in Vermont just watching it on TV! Then I went with Bread and Puppets Theater to organise a protest against the G8 in Calgary. I heard, because a friend phoned me, that friends of my friend had been killed in a road blockade in Argentina. So I went back to Argentina and I helped organise a big puppet theatre thing to protest the killing of these two companeros. After that I decided I needed to devote a at more time to the struggle in Argentina, because there were many autonomist organisations, and I felt that this was a good time to do some organising. So that's how I started the project.

[b]How important is it that the movement is non-hierarchical? What have been the benefits of organising in this way? [b]

I think it's very important, because during the 70s all our organisations were extremely hierarchical, and some of them even militaristic. I think that because of these issues they separated themselves from the people. So when the repression started [the organisations] were on their own, and people didn't feel they were represented by them... They let whatever was happening to them, happen.

So now that we are organising in a non-hierarchical, horizontal way, we have no leaders, and it will be a lot more difficult to stop us now… One of the organisers was killed on June 26th 2002. Maybe in a normal sense you could think that he was a leader, because he was very committed to the struggle and he was very informed... Well, his disappearance -although it was very painful for us, and it had a huge impact on the organisation -it did not leave a hole. Immediately somebody else came... and we kept on going.

Obviously the piqueteras have been very successful. What are the practical aspects of organising in a non-hierarchical way, in a movement that has so many people involved?

It takes a lot of meetings! It’s not very dynamic sometimes, it takes a lot of time. People need to allow a lot of time for discussions and re-discussions...

I think the biggest challenge is all the old things that keep coming up. People are raised in a capitalist system, so although they might want to change, still, many times, stupid things come up, individualistic things. It's very important for us to allow time to discuss all the issues.

So any project that is done in the neighbourhoods - because more important than the road blockades is the organising in the neighbourhoods, all the micro-enterprises where people cover their own basic needs - that requires an enormous amount of meetings and discussions. It's not fast!

Is there any hierarchy of the groups? Do you have smaller local groups who send representatives to a central group? Or is it completely horizontal?

There are assemblies and groups in every neighbourhood where we are organised. Then there's what we call the "Coordinating Chair", People who go to this Chair have discussions and then bring back to the assemblies what the Chair has discussed. That's where we try to coordinate the different movements, because there are seventeen different groups working. So it takes a lot of going back and forth from this big coordinating organisation to all the little assemblies by neighbourhood. But the people who are elected to this Chair, you can tell them: "We don't want you to go anymore. We want so-and-so to start going now." So in that way we keep it non-hierarchical.

Have political parties tried to take over the movement?

When I talk about the autonomists, this is a sector of the unemployed workers, and most of the popular assemblies of Buenos Aires are autonomous too. But there was a time when the assemblies were a lot bigger, immediately after the insurrection of December 2001. Particularly the Trotskyist parties had a really nasty attitude towards [the assemblies], and they destroyed many of the popular assemblies because they evaluated that they were going to be right wing! So they would come with long lists of things that people had to vote for, and if they didn't then they thought that they were done. So that introduced a brutal amount of stress in the assemblies and it lowered the amount of people that participated. People who didn't have political experience just didn't want to deal with them, basically. So a lot of people left due to this.

In the piquetero movement, in the unemployed workers' movement, there are huge organisations of Trotskyists and other hierarchical organisations... The Communist Party also has representation there. Even worse than that, the Peronists have a lot, nationalist leftist groups and the Maoists also have a lot of representation, So there are some of us who are organised autonomously and some who are still organising in the old ways.

What role have the Internet and Indymedia played in making people aware of what's going on?

I would say that Indymedia was key in helping the movement organise itself... Normal people that are not within the movement do not access Indymedia and don't even know that Indymedia exists. But it was very important for us as a movement to have Indymedia there. Many times I think things didn't go even worse because the Indymedia photographers were there and the cops felt exposed by them.

What is the role of women in the piquetera movement? Have you ever come across sexism or other discrimination?

The role of women is very important. At the beginning of the movement it was 90% women who were doing road blockades and organising in the neighbourhoods. Now it's more evened out.

More than discrimination or sexism, what I see in the movement is that women are not yet empowered enough. They rely on the guys still for some of the stuff. Like I was present one day that there was a discussion amongst them where one of the women said, "We want to be the ones to talk to the press." The guys said, "Well, which one of you is going to talk?" And none of them wanted to. So many times I think it's more the problem of the woman who doesn't go and fight that space, than the guys telling them to shut up, There is some sexism, but I would say that in the autonomous movement it's not blatant at all. It's something that people problematise and discuss and think about.

How does your movement connect to other struggles worldwide, and in South America?

There's links with the landless peasants of Brazil, links with some other organisations in Ecuador, and in other parts of Latin America. I don't think that there's as much communication as there should be. I think we're struggling with that.

What do you think of the leftist governments in Brazil and Venezuela? Do you think there's any chance of working with hierarchical leftist movements in other countries?

I personally do not trust that kind of political system. I think we've had experiences similar to that in the past... I think there's quite a clear limit to how much they can progress towards social change, know a lot of people are very interested in this process but I'm personally not very moved by it.

On the Piquetera Tour, you use puppets to educate people about what's going on in Argentina. Do artists have a big role to play in the piquetera movement and the AAP? What other methods have you used to educate people through entertainment?

The autonomous movement is very interested in different ways of telling the story. So there's a lot of folk musicians connected with the movement. Also a lot of folks who do what we call "visual interventions": not necessarily performances like I do, but they will come up with huge sculpted figures, or they will paste a whole city with posters, or they'll do T-shirts at the road blockades for people to wear. There's a lot, I think, of artistic stuff going on around.

What have been your impressions of the anarchist/libertarian movements in other countries you've visited, especially here in the UK?

Unfortunately we haven't had a chance to really get to meet the movement... Our presentations usually last two hours, and people are so interested in finding out what we do, that we never have a chance to learn what they do!

So far, I wouldn't be able to say what I really think about them. They've been extremely cooperative and in solidarity with us. but I haven't seen the work that they've been doing.

What are your hopes for the future of the movement in Argentina?

I hope that it will be able to grow and expand: that that time will be given to us, which is not certain... I hope that we'll keep on working the way we are, and that we'll be able to reach more people.

Finally, how can people in the UK offer solidarity to the piqueteras?

I think the best way to offer solidarity is to organise in your own communities around your own needs. Because the problems of the unemployed of Argentina are the problems that people will have all over the world. Globalisation affects every one of us. and if it's not hitting too hard here now, it might hit really hard in the near future. If the aggression is globalised then the resistance needs to be globalised.

Find out more about the struggles in Argentina on the AAP's website -
{This interview of Graciela Monteagudo was carried out by Morag Forbes. Feel free to reproduce it in its original form, as long as you do so in a not-for-profit way, and acknowledge the author and the interviewee. If you want to publish the interview in an altered form, please ask first: manga_mog at hotmail dot com}.