Ago - 13 - 2014


“The worker balances on the ledge. Threatening, ‘sticking it out’ he says, he walks up to a white 
column near the roof and clings to it. He looks far below, makes gestures and screams undiscernible 
words 65 ft from the ground, where the people from the press and infantry soldiers stand out.
His eight comrades, also fired from the factory, join in, roaring and beating objects
against de enormous yellow crane bridge that’s been serving as a trench
for the past 72 hours. This is the unusual scenery these workers manufactured in an
attempt at getting their jobs back.”

(Francisco Jueguen, La Nación, May 30, 2014).

Gestamp worker’s fight is already historic, even when it’s still not finished and a core of the fired comrades are still resisting at the camp at the gates of the factory, sustaining an endless number of initiatives while setting in motion, at the same time, trials for their resettlement at their work positions.

Fighting against the firing of more than 60 workers, a heroic group of eight workers occupied the factory, climbed to the rolling crane bridge and managed by doing so to block all the production. In addition to what this represented for Gestamp (blocking the rolling crane bridge prevented the factory from running), some of the biggest automotive assembly plants such as Ford, Volkswagen and General Motors were forced to stop production due to the lack of car parts that were produced in Gestamp. This forced Argentinian president, Cristina Kirchner, to publicly speak about this, catapulting this struggle to the national political scene.

We will now try to provide, however, some lessons to be learned from this heroic struggle, knowing that this article was written in the heat of the moment, in a non-exhaustive way, to contribute to debate, to be enriched by the very comrades who are playing a leading role in this fight.

1. Strategic weaknesses of the “just in time” method

We’re interested in highlighting here two or three lessons or more general aspects of this heroic and historic fight. We will refer, basically, to three aspects: the meaning of this fight in the recovery of the traditional fighting methods of the Argentinian working class, the crisis of the Green list[1] of the SMATA (Automobile Workers Union in Argentina) during the conflict (and their brutal McCarthyism, which isn’t wholly “in sync” with the feelings of the union ranks), and the fact that this has been a fight in a strategic union of the Argentinian industry. We will begin with these last two aspects and then go back to the first one[2].

The most objective matter and what in great measure alarmed the employers, the Green List and the government is, indeed, the fact that the new workers generation, in a fight that went pass traditional union’s structures, has expressed itself in a strategic sector of Argentinian economy.

This is somewhat of a novelty, or a complete novelty seen from a different point of view. It is true that the left wing and the new workers generation had been winning positions in the SMATA. The most noteworthy cases are Lear, where the shop stewards committee (the factory-level structure that regroups all workers delegates) in its entirety is in the hands of independent (i.e. not following the union bureaucratic leaders) or left wing comrades. Some independents are also delegates in Volkswagen Pacheco and, specially, in Volkswagen Córdoba there’s been an important experience, having won at some point the shop stewards committee of that factory, which was at a later point lost but where there still are independent delegates of importance.

There were surely other experiences in the SMATA, we’re forgetting at the moment. What we’re sure of, however, is that none of these experiences and/or fights have raised the issue of the questioning of union bureaucracy in the most concentrated sector of Argentinian industry in such a way as in the case of Gestamp. Even less has it occurred that a workers fight, in a factory of the automobile union, paralyzed at the same time the production in four or five terminals[3] as in the case of Gestamp’s fight.

This is what alarmed the government, the employers and the SMATA union: that delegates and a group of independent workers with ties to the revolutionary left managed to question the bureaucratic control of the union ranks in such a strategically important sector of production.

Even more: Gestamp’s fight uncovered something which had already been theorized about but of which there had been until now very few experiences of magnitude: the weak points of the “just in time” method. What is the “just in time”? A way of organizing production in which factories work without stock, procuring the parts required at the moment they are needed, avoiding like this losses due to the over-stock of parts.

The “just in time” method configures a new form of production organization that imposed itself in the last few decades and that searches what we pointed out before: to avoid losses dues to the over accumulation of stocks; it means parts are manufactured by request and distributed to different factories with a modern logistics system.

When the toyotist (work in groups, formally without a foreman) and the just in time methods arose, a reflection about the strategic blind spots of this production reorganization had already been made. Well, Gestamp raised the issue, showing the importance of strikes, of occupying the industrial plant, of blocking the gates to prevent production to go out, of everything that paralyzes the flow of car parts towards the big automotive assembly plants and this kind of struggles can affect not only the specific factory they occur in, but also the rest of the productive branch.

The fact that the “just in time” method has entered into a crisis in the automobile industry is surely something the employers will be discussing to see how to remedy this in future scenarios. It must, however, without a doubt be integrated to the repertory of fighting methods of the workers and the revolutionary left new generations.

2. The limits of the “terror regime”

The second aspect we wish to point out here are the limits shown in the conflict by the SMATA bureaucracy, their “terror methods” over the union ranks; methods which don’t entail that the union ranks actually support them.

It has to be said that, actually, the Green List does have a legitimization factor that has material basis : salaries in automotive assembly parts are proportionally bigger than in other industries. These salaries are bigger than in the car parts factories that are also controlled by SMATA, let alone the metallurgic factories, where salaries are way smaller. We are talking about the automotive branch, which has one of the relatively highest salaries worldwide.

Those higher salaries are due to the fact that these industries possess a “higher organic composition of capital”: with a much higher degree of investment in machines and fixed capital than the average of industry. This very fact makes the human work in them much more productive: they make cars, not cookies.

Being a much more productive work, they produce much more value, much more riches. And so, the salaries are higher; which does not take away the fact that, all the same, the unpaid work of an automotive worker is much higher than that of a worker of the food or tires industry. But this happens in proportion to the value or riches made, which does not take away the fact that they earn two or three times more than a worker of any other union.

As a result, the automobile bureaucracy claims as her achievement what is an objective factor of the industry’s branch that they “co-manage” as the employer’s guardian dogs; a factor that in reality is an “objective effect” that comes from the reality of that productive branch. Objective effect which allows them to administrate “production bonus”, extra hours and other “benefits” which makes the comrades tie themselves to their jobs, to salary conditions they consider beneficial.

But when the economic situation deteriorates, when the furloughs start, when the extra hours are cut down, when the salaries begin to drop, when the threat of firings come, then terror is the only alternative of the bureaucray.

What do we mean by terror? The speech of Peronism, which tries to convince workers to fear the “leftist”, that says we “eat kids for breakfast”, which is on some way an “outdated” speech. It is a speech of another historic period, of the 70s, that is not exactly the period we’re living in. It’s not that it doesn’t still have some influence, it does. But it’s losing influence, and without an economic reality to legitimate themselves, or when this economic basis is weakened, the bureaucracy only has terror left, terror’s methods and gangs, the underlying threat that those who “stick up their heads” will end up in the streets, if not worse.

That this is an element of weakness and not strength; that Pignanelli (SMATA’s leader) and the public declarations he made are outrageous, is evident to any attentive observer. Because, in addition, the union bureaucracy of the 70s still grounded itself on some degree of politicization or, rather, of “ideologization” (Peron and his concessions to the working class, the faith on a “savior” that had “already saved them once” and elements of the sort) which are not present today in new generations.

We’ve written that what is left is something like the “bourgeois residue” of the peronist conscience in the usual “reformist” (or more accurately “economicist”) sense of workers conscience, but almost cut off from every ideological element; even if there was a certain kirchnerist ideological and political reconstitution in the last decade, today it looks like it’s all torn up.[4]

If this is so, what does the Green list have left then? Something very important yet fragile, strategically weak from the point of view of their legitimacy in the working class: the control of the apparatus, the complicity of the employers, their relations to the State and the political power, with the kirchnerist government and with employer’s governments to come.

That is to say, something very important, yet still strategically tenuous: the comrades couldn’t visualize how to rebel against this anti-workers alliance (union bureaucracy, governmentm, employers), but that does not mean they believe the Green list, that they conscientiously support it, that they do not sympathize with the fighting workers. This is why the working comrades who were not fired in Gestamp or, for example, those in Ford and Volkswagen, didn’t stood up in public against the attacks of the bureaucrats agains the left and the workers who were in struggle.; many even left confused, but at the same time, many more muttered against bureaucracy and sympathized with the guys in the rolling crane bridge!

The “seeds of rebellion” Gestamp workers planted will not be easily destroyed, and this is one the most important results of this struggle : it has opened the possibility of progressing in the SMATA and even of questioning the Green monarchy, a reign of decades, which carries on its shoulders the collaboration with the military dictatorship’s repression and that like any other monarchy someday will end up falling: Pignanelli better watch out that the rank and file workers don’t end up chopping off his head like they did to Luis XVI in the French Revolution!

3. The re-appropriation of worker’s historic fighting methods

We arrive thus, to the substantial part of our reflection: the re-appropriation of worker’s traditional fighting methods. This has merited many strategic reflections within the revolutionary left in the past few years[5]. It is clear that a new workers generation emerges in the post Berlin’s Wall world, in the postmodern years of the neoliberal empire, when the string of continuity in historic experiences of the working class was mostly cut, when we live under the hegemony of the rich’s democracy and of legalism within the class, when there are almost no elements of radicalization.

And yet, at some point this has to start changing if you want to change society. Somehow, this is what Gestamp’s fight introduced as a reality. In no way was the idea to climb up the rolling crane bridge just for the sake of it, only 9 comrades with an empty factory. No one could think of that, like some revolutionary left currents too adapted to the employer’s democracy pretend. It was about entering the factory to facilitate the strike of the comrades inside; or even better, the occupation of the factory with all of them.

Of course, the occupation of the factory implies the questioning of the company’s monopoly of property. But it is also a fact that fighting against firings questions another supposedly absolute right of the employers: freedom of contract; the fact that they can dismiss workers as they please. This is also legal. We as revolutionary socialists question this “right” of the employers, we question their right to fire workers, their monopoly of property of production means, we question not only low salaries but also the economic regime that is based on the exploiting of man over man.

It is not true what Cristina said about history being “over”, about the “taking of the Winter Palace” not being at the order of the day and that in Argentina “there is no exploitation”. The statistics of the very INDEK are enough to refute this stupid statement: they recognize that in Argentina (and the world in its entirety) income distribution has substantially worsened in the last few decades: increasingly less people are richer and more people are poorer! That is the reality of Argentinian capitalism, that’s the reality since capitalism is capitalism, it’s called exploitation, and that there are lots of it in Argentina.

It’s not true either that the taking of the Winter Palace (the taking of power by the working class in 1917) is “outdated”. As long as exploitation exists, we will fight against it. The worker doesn’t need to be a “leftie” to rebel against this reality. He rebels, simply, because he feels the sting of need, of injustice. But ever since he feels this sting, this injustice, he rebels (this happens specially, and logically, amongst the youngest generations), and when he rebels he begins to be aware of the real relations, of those who support him and those who don’t. He dislikes the employer because he rapidly realizes he lives off of his work, his sweat: while he goes to work in a bicycle or regular car the employer goes in a Mercedes Benz. He becomes aware of and dislikes the hierarchies in the factory, the exploitation, the foremans, the dictatorial regime which reigns inside the factory without any possibility of questioning, the fact that a co-worker he considers “cool” is fired because he questioned this injustice.

But when he goes out and fights he becomes also aware of the role of the union, in favor of whom it uses its power; he realizes it uses its power in favor of the employers and he dislikes it. And when he goes out to fight, to march, to camp at the gates of the factory he “meets” the revolutionary left, which, also, was actually already “inside”, because the revolutionary left is not an “external” factor to the working class like Pignanelli wants to make it look (who reached the absurd of saying Gestamp’s workers and the revolutionary lef would go and “occupy the Volkswagen from the outside”). In reality, what makes them nervous is the fact that the revolutionary left is inside the factories simply because a sector of the vanguard of the working class is taking incipient steps in that direction and any working sector which wants to go out and fight, which questions the companies, which questions Cristina’s government, which questions the union’s complicity in all these injustices “naturally” leans to the revolutionary left so to speak[6].

This development has its own “logic”. Of course, it does not go all the way spontaneously, automatically, it requires ties to the revolutionary left, like the “taking of the Winter Palace” did. But the taking of a “great palace” (that is to say, of power) depends on the taking, before, of “little palaces”. And these “little palaces” are the work places where the workers are forced to strike, block gates and even occupy fabrics as a response to the de facto measures (by definition not legal, or even illegal like lock outs) of employers and of bureaucratic gangs and thugs.

What is, otherwise, the action of firing in an undercover and arbitrary way those workers which the employers and the union don’t like? What are, otherwise, the brutal militarization of Gestamp and the dominion of the union gang inside the factory, who do not let more than three workers get together to chat or go to the bathroom unsupervised? As a result of which “acquired right” can the employers question when the workers become strong fighting –from a strike to an occupation if necessary and if the conditions for it are given- to force a solution? Occupation that imposes itself and, we insist, if there are conditions for it, is not the “taking of the Winter Palace” but something much simpler: provisionally occupying the workplace to prevent being left on the streets, without bread for their families and children, only in the benefit of corporate gain.

Gestamp’s fight has brought to the table all these real and symbolic meanings, regardless of their specific or immediate outcome. Rosa Luxemburgo had already pointed out that whether a fight was won or lost (even if of course it is not the same thing!), the most important thing, the fundamental, the strategic, is what it leaves in regards of class conscience and organization, of historic lessons for the working class and their vanguard as a whole[7]. And Gestamp’s fight has left very important lessons for our class and for revolutionaries!


[1].- In Argentinian trade-unions, different internal lists are identified with colours: in the Automobile Workers Union, the green list is the bureaucratic leaders list.

[2].- Let’s point out that there is another element we haven’t taken into account here and that’s extremely important: the one that refers to the relations between bourgeois laws and worker’s fights. This problem expressed itself once again in Gestamp’s fight with the mandatory conciliation signed by the government, which was outrageously abolished by the same authority that had decreed it a few days earlier. This very action by the authorities must serve as an example of the limits of bourgeois law, and of how, ultimately, the only thing that matters is the fight itself and the balance of forces between different actors; that even if you can’t carry on with a workers fight without taking into account labor law (and even criminal law), legal instances and lawyers are only secondary aspects: the main issue is the direct fight of the workers.

[3].- In Argentina, the automobile union regroups at the same time the workers of the automotive suppliers (that produces cables, windows, seats, etc.), and those of the automakers that assembly the cars (Ford, Volkswagen, etc.). As a result of the “just in time” method, the occupation of Gestamp, which produces the automobile body, forced the big “terminals” as we call it in Argentina to stop production for several days.

[4].- When we speak of elements of “residual” conscience we inspire ourselves in this in an acute observation of the bourgeois sociologist Max Weber, who in giving an idealist explanation of capitalism’s emergence (because of “spiritual”, non-material factors), presented the idea of how a determined set of “ethics”, a determined behavior, emptied of its previous content, could however accept new content, put itself at the disposal of different objectives of those which had given it origin. In this case, the previous classic peronist conscience and the current vindicatory bourgeois conscience are both forms of capitalist conscience. But what we wish to stress out with this idea is how that intimately vindicatory bourgeois content survives stripped of all its previous “ideological” elements.

[5].- We remember here specifically the debate with the PTS about Kraft’s fight which was lost in the end; also Pilkington’s fight which was won, a debate about whether factory occupation is a valid method nowadays or there are no conditions to do it.

[6].- A century ago Lenin already said that the worker “leans” to the left because of his experience with injustice, with exploitation, but that this tendency is inhibited one and a thousand times by the bourgeois ideology which will always be stronger. Hence the irreplaceable necessity of the revolutionary party to take this conscience to its logical outcome: a class and socialist conscience.

[7].- Rosa also pointed out that the socialist, revolutionary, working class fight, meant many times a road of defeats that led to a strategic triumph in the end, while the self-satisfying perspective of the union bureaucracy of obtaining a vindicatory “success” after the other only led, in the long run, to the maintenance of capitalist exploitation; that is to say, of capitalism, to strategic defeat.

By José Luis Rojo, Socialismo o Barbarie Nº 292, 12/06/14 (June 12, 2014)

Categoría: English, Movimiento obrero