Blocking the Panamericana

A few day ago I made the trek north to observe the Lear workers blocking the Panamericana highway. I decided not to participate largely because there was a significant chance of getting arrested, something I would rather not do in a foreign country only a little more than a week after arriving here. Nonetheless I was able to observe quite an action and take a number of good photos for this blog.

The protest was to be in two parts (although I didn’t know it at the time). First, there was going to be a march along the Panamericana highway. Second, there was going to be a caravan of cars driving slowly to block the road.

I arrived early in the morning alongside my friend Carlos, a member of the PTS who has been introducing me to the political scene here. We were greeted by a lot of riot police, both from the local police force and the national guard, lined up in groups along the road (which made their numbers difficult to convey with pictures). They were equipped with shields, batons, shotguns, attack dogs and, as I would later discover, mace. There was even a police helicopter above.

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As protesters began to arrive we heard that a deal had been struck with the government: So long as the protesters left one lane open the police would leave them alone. This was quite a good deal for the protesters, the government was obviously a little scared and trying to avoid any incidents after the media fiasco of the week before (see post about background). The protesters would essentially still be allowed to carry out the action, make an impact and get media attention without being repressed so long as they made this small concession.

At about 8am two busses arrived on the street and deposited a group of about 200-300 protesters in the street. They waved large banners and started chanting a variety of slogans. Some of their chants were quite long and complex, and being only partially fluent in spanish I was not able to catch all of what they were saying.

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Immediately the police began to surround the protest. Once this was accomplished they began to force the protesters forward using their batons and mace liberally to force the unarmed protesters forward. Protesters sprayed in the face by the mace started to trickle out of the protest to recover. However, not satisfied with this, they then began forcing the protesters off the road. Obviously, they considered that the government promise did not apply to these protesters, since they had left a lane open. Either that, or they were simply breaking the promise. The slow trickle turned into a flood as protesters tried frantically to step over the barrier at the side of the street fast enough.

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The protesters soon rallied and resumed chanting on the side of the road. This continued for a good hour at least until the cars arrived. This time the police left them alone. The cars proceeded to block the road, honking their horns and joining the chants of the protesters at the side of the street.

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All in all, in spite of the police forcing the protesters off of the street the action was quite a success. There was a whole host of media, including at least ten television trucks. Reporters were interviewing protesters at any time they were able, particularly those hit with mace. The highway was essentially blocked twice and the government is clearly somewhat fearful of these protesters.

A further note of interest was that this protest seems to have been organized largely, if not exclusively by the far left. I was told that the majority of the protesters were from the PTS and the PTS clearly had a large hand in organizing this. Their presence in the workplace has paid off significantly here. One of the difficulties that we’ve come across in the US is that members often tend to be scattered in various different workplaces, few if any of which are involved in struggle. I will have to remember to ask exactly how it is that they gained such a presence and influence in LEAR.

But most importantly, this is part of a long term struggle for the workers of LEAR that has a clear strategy and does not in any way seem to be losing momentum. Here is a serious and militant struggle of workers fighting for their rights in the long term. In these ways it reminds me of the hotel worker’s fight back in Providence, where I went to college. However, the workers here feel like they have more power than in Providence. There are more of them, they are organized and they are able to disrupt things.

One final note about the day. After the protest I was invited by a student member of the PTS to a performance of Marx in Soho at the University of Buenos Aires that night. The auditorium could contain 300 people according to the publicity online, and it was packed! The performance was a lot of fun, I highly recommend you see the play if you haven’t had the opportunity yet. Then at the end of the play workers from LEAR and Donnelly came up on stage to talk about their struggle. The event had the clear purpose of getting more people involved in the protests as well as in Marxism. The PTS students were clearly well organized and linked with the workers movement, something that in my experience is pretty rare in the States. My group only really started to get involved in the worker’s struggle last year. There is a lot of organizing to be done on campus, and I’m sure the PTS is doing some of that as well. But a thriving socialist student group must also look outwards to the city and be involved to the fullest extent possible in workers’ struggles there.

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