Argentina: In Córdoba and Santa Fe

Autoworkers strike to stop layoffs

December 03, 2008

- Córdoba: Chronicles of an important day of struggle for the auto industry workers

By Fernando Rosso

The day began early in route 9, where self organized Iveco workers (with some of their delegates) to block the road to show their contempt for the firing of 42 contracted (temporary workers).

Close to 500 workers participated in the road block, lasting a few hours, and then voted to march in “caravan†to join up with their fellow colleagues at the Volkswagen plant, to march together to the head of provincial Labor Secretary’s. Exactly at 9 in the morning the Volkswagen workers stopped working and began to gather together to go to the central to condemn, in this case, the laying-off of close to 370 workers by German multinational company.
The first fights were so that everyone from VW would stop working and leave, to create a road block and then to march into Iveco, the “thugs†sent by the union bureaucrats tried to stop, impede, and obstruct in any way that they could, the unity that was expressed amongst rank and file.

Meanwhile, the tireless young workers that were fired from Gestamp, went back and gathered in front of the Camino Interfábricas company and agreed to join in the struggle with the rest of the workers; unfortunately in this case, without the help of the bureaucrat’s “puppet†delegates, who abandoned them despite having gained sympathy from the people of Cordoba and their fellow workers, which today represents the hundreds of unorganized auto industry workers.

It became clear that it was going to be a heated day with the workers of the most important industry in the streets, permanent and contracted workers mobilized in solidarity, which has been of heard of in the past two years. This is without a doubt arising from the current world crisis that arrived in Argentina and has begun to hit the auto industry workers hard.

Also from early on, the governor Shiaretti, employed by the auto industry, saw what was coming. He began to make declarations against the companies, reminding them of the many benefits that he gave them throughout the year. Furthermore the companies’ earnings are of personal interest for the politicians, who have to guarantee these earnings. Also with next year’s up-coming elections next year the governor can’t see that he has everyone on his side. After so many million dollar gifts for the multinational corporations, Schiaretti asks them for a favor for his political project: at least that they stop the lay-offs for a little while.

Close to 700 VW employees were already in front of the Office of the Employment Secretary when the Iveco “caravan†left from Ferrerya and passed through the city center, where they received the friendly support of hundreds of sympathizers. Some of the young workers from Gestamp joined the caravan and others began to arrive at the Secretary’s office. The bureaucrats were also there expressing their fear of the workers. They approached the young workers from Gestamp “to warn†them “not to come and start any trouble,†they gave a clear answer “we came to join our fellow workers and fight for our right to work.†At 1:30pm the meeting we were waiting for finally came together. The caravan of cars had converted into combative line of young Iveco workers that stopped in the middle of the block to greet their fellow workers. From the group of young workers rose the sound of one united voice: “ ay, ay, ay, ay que risa que me da, si no vuelven los pibes que quilombo se va armar†(ay, ay, ay how you make me laugh, if the Young workers don’t return, what a mess were going to make!) The young workers are disrespectfully called “eventually,†which to them means “disposable.†However, for the permanent workers, the young temporary or contracted workers are now their fellow workmates, who have to be defended because if their fired today, tomorrow they’ll come for everyone.

The young workers are also from Gestamp, at this point there are more than 30, some with their families and with greetings and hugs they blend in with the rest of the workers. They make some trouble, but the young temporary workers from Iveco make more of a trouble, expressing their support for the layed-off workers from Gestamp: : “adónde están, adónde están, los delegados del SMATA de Gestamp†“Where are they, where are they, the SMATA (auto workers Union) delegates from Gestamp.†The objective is well chosen, because these delegates betrayed the contracted workers. Today these young workers are protagonists in a monumental struggle that began two weeks ago. The bureaucrats, who circle the mob of people and are easy to identify with the wary looks they give at everything that is going on around them. The workers break out into chant, “qué cagazo, qué cagazo, si no vuelven los pibes, se les viene el Cordobazo†“what a weight to bear, if the contracted workers don’t return, we’ll bring on the Codobazo.(Industry workers uprising in Cordoba, back in 1968, which led to a bigger national workers upheaval)
Around 2pm the SMATA’s Union Secretary General appears, who’s in the audience with the managers of Volkswagen, and advises that they enter into negotiations this Wednesday (which means, there was no agreement made), the meeting with Iveco is currently taking place and tomorrow- Tuesday- at 4pm will the negotiation meeting with Gestamp. The workers of Gestamp are calling for a meeting immediately. The maneuver of union bureaucrats claim that the Big Three Auto Companies are intimidated and will take back the lay-offs, however they remind the workers of the dates set for negotiation meetings and until then they should return to work. The union bureaucrat is taking more of a role of a company manager than a union leader.

Delegates from both factories ask to use the microphone and the union bureaucrat won’t allow them, so they start to yell that their needs to be a meeting because “the young contracted workers are outside, let them in and then will talk.†The bureaucrats try and silence their voices. With some maneuvering, they manage to get a few from VW to leave and implement the negotiations by factories. Others stayed a little longer, while those from Iveco waited patiently for the results of the negotiations. “If nothing comes out of this, like in VW, it’s all going to hell.†That’s the rumor that’s going around. The tireless young contract workers from Gestamp also wait with their co-workers.

Around 7pm they finish a long meeting between the managers of Iveco and the bureaucratic union representatives. Factory owners, bureaucrats and government officials know that waiting outside is the most combative mobilized sector formed that day. To leave empty handed would be synonymous with suicide. Finally there was a government mandate, which forced company to bring back the laid-off workers; next week in Iveco the contracted workers will return to work, alongside their co-workers.

It’s a partial triumph, a fight for the contracted workers, which are normally the ones laid-off by; achieving a step forward in confronting a multinational like the group from Fiat. Even though with the workers force instill fear into the company owners and the government who follows behind them. The workers demonstration of force and solidarity isn’t just dangerous for the company owners and the government, but also for the union bureaucrats, who promised the multinational corporations that they would divide the workers.
In the assembly when the workers were informed about the negotiations, a delegate from Iveco made clear to the Union Secretary General, Omar Dragun, that if necessary the workers would be ready to continue mobilizing if they don’t allow the laid-off workers to return. Without much sympathy for the announcement, which seemed more like advice, Dragun replied that they would “evaluate the situation and if necessary then call for a mobilization.†A worker from Iveco allowed a laid-off worker from Gestamp to speak; he called for the support from the Iveco workers and asked them to attend the Gestamp negotiation for the following day.

The union bureaucrat is trying to stop the march that is planned for this Wednesday, they’re afraid that today is just a reflection of what is to come. The bureaucrats are trying to negotiate partial solutions so that the workers won’t take to the streets and harass the government. The laid-off contracted workers return to Iveco and the first battle is so to make sure that they are allowed to return, the end is still undecided at Iveco and Gestamp. The struggle continues and remains more than clear, that in the preliminary moments of the crisis, that we need to get rid of the union bureaucracy, who are friendlier with the government and the companies than the workers. The important events that took place today demonstrated that the workers have toned their muscles and are ready to fight.


- Santa Fe: Autoworkers in General Motors resume their strike

Yesterday afternoon the workers of General Motors voted in assembly called by the SMATA delegates to strike indefinitely and continue in state of permanent assembly. The bosses during all these weeks of "government obligatory conciliation" have been inflexible in their stance of suspending around 160 workers during a whole year, who would most likely end up fired. However the workers also maintained firm in not accepting suspension or layoffs.

Also, the Bosses have continuously violated the "obligatory conciliation". It didn’t renew temp workers contracts, in other words there were hidden layoffs, it didn’t allow workers to go back to their work (as the "obligatory conciliation" indicates) and it had them confined in a warehouse, ironically named by workers the "Chevy Club". Anyone that dare leave this room and go back to their work places, were harassed, and pursued and their photos were taken. Some contract workers didn’t get their week pay on Friday and their contracts were not renewed. To top it all off, in an act of provocation, the last day of the heat wave that hit the region (even more intense inside the plant) the company didn’t give the usual water bottles to the workers with the excuse that it had to save money because of the crisis, and the workers had to drink warm water.

Today, Tuesday the 2nd, the morning shift trying to enter the plant, found again the National Guard in the plant. Once again the fake "socialist" Binner (Governor of Santa Fe) sent his repressive force to defend a multinational company. As it had done so in the past, when the provincial police supported the plant security, with list in hand, selected the workers who would end up in the warehouse. During the "obligatory conciliation" never at any point did the Ministry of Labor or the Provincial Government penalized or intimidated the company to comply with the law and truly reinstate the suspended workers (As the "obligatory conciliation" stated).

Tired of so much intolerance, and endless autoritarism, workers decided not to wait until 2pm when the "obligatory conciliation" was going to end, and renewed their struggle. They voted to not go in the plant until the National Guard was removed. "We are not criminals" screamed the delegates in the assembly. The rest of the workers also loudly expressed their anger.

The Bosses and the governor Binner removed the police. Truly a triumph of firmness on the side of the workers, who now are on strike inside the plant, in a state of continuous-permanent assembly. Today there will be a meeting between the National Government (with Tomada, the Ministry of Labor), the bosses and the union SMATA. The union declared that if an agreement was not met, they would block the highway connecting Rosario with Buenos Aires. The CGT of Rosario declared support for the road blocks and promised to participate in the meetings next to SMATA.

Resuming their struggle, they joined workers from Cordoba’s Iveco, Volkswagen and the Gestamps plants, who unified their mobilization in downtown Córdoba a day before. The demonstration of the rank and file’s will to struggle is a fact. A national strike of the SMATA union has to be imposed, as it has been all this time through a base assembly. There is no more time to loose; it is not possible to negotiate factory by factory when the attack on the workers is organized and combined. The reaction and will to fight of all the plant workers in defense of the temporary workers is an example to the level of unity and solidarity achieved.

Translation by Sara