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IW 06

Argentina

LAS HERAS (ARGENTINA)

An heroic struggle of the oil workers

OUT WITH THE GENDARMERIA (BORDER INFANTRY)!

Las Heras, Santa Cruz, Argentina

The tireless struggle of the oil workers of Las Heras, in the North of Santa Cruz (Province) - President Kirchner’s Province- has stressed the anti-worker nature of the government of the national bourgeoisie.

Since the privatization of YPF- under Menem’s government, with Kirchner’s backing, at that moment Governor of the Province- , Repsol and the big oil monopolies have been the true owners of the North of Santa Cruz.

The strike demands the elimination of income tax applicable to people who earn over 1,850 pesos, a figure below the cost of living; it confiscates one salary a year from the workers. Minister of the Economy, Felisa Miceli, has defended the income tax as “progressive”, probably because it contributed towards subsidizing the national bourgeoisie (and even international finance capital operating in Argentina) with billions every year .

The other main demand was the passing of workers from the Uocra (construction union) to the oil workers' collective bargaining agreement, for hundreds of “outsourced” workers working for the sub-contractors under the conditions of the former agreement (of the Uocra), with much lower wages.

A New Leadership

During the struggle a shop steward committee was set up which had to overcome the boycott of the bureaucracy of the oil workers trade union (allied with Kirchner since the time of the privatization of YPF). The shop steward committee took upon itself the leadership of the struggle; they occupied the union trade branch offices and launched the strike. The roadblocks that accompanied it paralyzed the activity in the oil wells. In a locality of barely 12,000 inhabitants, several thousand workers mobilized themselves in the roadblocks and the demonstrations in support of the oil workers. The strike was really a town uprising.

Governor Acevedo committed himself to busting the strike. After repeated failures, he set up a provocation by placing under arrest the spokesman of the shop steward committee, Mario Navarro, which triggered a huge popular mobilization on the police station where he was imprisoned in order to demand his release.

The mobilization was received with rubber bullets and tear gas (there are testimonies of the utilization of lead bullets). During the repression, the death of Officer Sayago occurred.

Immediately, the government held the strikers and the Partido Obrero responsible for that death. However, according to the reports of the newspapers those responsible could very well have been either agents of the intelligence services or the security agents of the oil companies themselves that were bent on militarizing the town in order to break the strike. In any case, the death of Sayago was Kirchner's excuse for sending in the Gendarmería (Border Guard) to the Province. The zone was militarized and the roadblocks lifted at gunpoint. The raids against the shop stewards began with the excuse of the “investigation”. The presence of the special operations groups was reinforced by the Gendarmería, responsible for all kinds of provocations against the worker population. The operations carried out against the workers by the Gendarmería, the hooded special operations groups and the kidnappings repeat the methods of the dictatorship.

Despite the repression, the strike was kept going. The government and the oil companies had to stand down. The Ministry of Labor ordered the passing of almost all of the 300 workers from the Uocra (construction union) to the oil workers' collective bargaining agreement. At the same time, the government committed itself to raising “the minimum taxable income”. Payment was obtained on 50% of strike days pay; the Catholic Church, which acted as a “go between” (repeating the old game of “good cop bad cop”) got its cut: the remaining 50% of strike days pay went to “charitable organizations”.

It was a huge victory for an exemplary struggle; however, the provocations have become more accentuated. The raids inside the shop stewards and the workers’ homes were accompanied by the destruction of those homes and fierce beatings of family members. Those imprisoned were obliged to denounce others. A huge popular demonstration called by the shop stewards committee marched all through Las Heras demanding their freedom and the immediately withdrawal of the Gendarmería.

A fight among pro-Kirchner cliques became apparent, -one led by Minister De Vido, another led by the President's sister, and another led by Governor Acevedo. The cliques are in dispute over the management of the oil industry, the mining industry and fishing.

The bosses are refusing to make effective the agreements which permitted the lifting of the strike. They want to break the strike with the support of the Gendarmería. But neither the militarization of the zone, nor the beatings, the firings, pressures and the refusal to pay strike days were able to break the workers. In early March a group of workers at several companies went back on strike demanding the observance of the agreements.

The oil strike emphasized a national program of demands: against taxes on wages, against flexibilization and in defense of the trade unions regained from the bureaucracy. And it also emphasized a way to win: the workers movement in Santa Cruz is the one which has gone the furthest in applying the method of the picket and the roadblock.

The roadblocks against the paper pulp plants in Entre Rios (Province), the resurgence of the Popular Assemblies in Cordoba against the utility rate hikes, the strikes for better wages in a large number of companies and branches of industry, the continuous backing down of the government itself in the face of the popular rejection of its measures (such as the annulment of the utility rate hikes), make for a picture of popular uprising of a generalized character.

The oil strike of Las Heras has made very clear the complete incompatibility between the government of the cliques in league with the oil cartels and the most elementary of popular demands.

 

by Nicolas R.