Puerto Deseado: Workers’ rebellion in Santa Cruz

August 02, 2007

For several weeks the fishing workers of Puerto Deseado have been
carrying out a hard struggle for a wage increase and fighting against
the "tax on work" (tax on earnings). On Friday, July 20, the anger of
the assemblies spread to the plants and the bosses felt the workers’
fury in their own flesh. From Río Gallegos, Antonio Chacón, a teacher
in ADOSAC [Asociación de Docentes de Santa Cruz] tells us: "Breaking
the 16% wage ceiling and the militancy and unity with the population
are prominent elements of the open struggle." The workers are also
rejecting the agreement signed by their central union (the SOMU
[Sindicato de Obreros Marítimos Unidos], led by Kirchner supporter
Omar "Crazy Horse" Suárez), an agreement tailored to the fishing industry.

Deals and the provincial authority

In spite of the charges made by the mass media against the fishing
workers, the workers are demanding a wage in keeping with the needs of
workers in the Patagonia, where shady deals by the provincial
pro-Kirchner government are growing to the rhythm of millions of
dollars in profits for businessmen, just like the plundering of the
Argentinean Sea. "Kirchner began his deals in the South, around
fishing, especially by handing the sea over to Spanish firms. Big
business struck it rich in Puerto Deseado; the mayor and the
provincial authority are closely connected to the fishing industry and
its commissions," Chacón says about the South.

Stuffed with dollars and fish

Meanwhile, the concentration of the fishing industry in big firms is
increasing; factory ships are multiplying, and ecological problems are
worsening. Every year, the fishing industry hauls away more than
100,000 tons of fish (hake [codfish], king prawns, shrimp) from Puerto
Deseado. This sum represents 20% of the national catch. To illustrate
this profit: a ton of hake is exported to Spain at $2,000 US a kilo
and a kilo of king prawn at $120 US - a million dollar business the
Kirchners participate in through their friends, like Fernando Alvarez,
or by starting memorable scandals, like those of Conarpesa. It is not
surprising, then, that government’s first response was to send
hundreds of police, from those it has already stationed in the
province, [a force] that Governor Peralta restrained, to avoid
throwing more gas on the fire that the workers lit.

Hot winter in Santa Cruz

The President [Kirchner] goes on running the province like a fief,
while it projects his model nationally. Last year saw hard struggles
by the oil workers against making their jobs uncertain [precarización]
and taxing their earnings. This year has witnessed the victory of the
teachers in a rebellion the whole country talked about. Will the call
extend to the Santa Cruz working class, that operates the levers of
the provincial economy? The oil workers and fishing workers are
proving that. The teachers of ADOSAC have greeted the struggle, and
"we proposed as a group that part of the strike fund of the branch
should be sent to the comrades in the fishing industry," says Chacón,
in solidarity. Even so, the struggle by the mariners and fishermen of
Puerto Deseado is open, and they are confronting a holy alliance among
businesses, government and the national bureaucracy of the union, a
difficult fight. But the workers threw the first punch, and they enjoy
the support of the teachers and the people, who marched on the same
Saturday, so that the struggle would win.

Unity committees, a trend in Patagonia

"In Puerto Deseado a trade-union unity committee is being formed,"
Antonio Chacón, a delegate of the ADOSAC [union] tells us. "We are 13
unions, with state workers, food workers, dockworkers and workers in
restaurants, bars and hotels. This is very good because it allows us
to move together, to share experiences and struggles. These committees
for trade union unity, like that one that has arisen during our
struggle, although it is more fragmented, since the government was
operating with a parity committee [with an equal number of
representatives for both bosses and workers, with "the same rights"],
accompany and promote the struggle, as happened with the seizure of
the town hall, by uniting workers and the community."


Translator’s note: The Conarpesa scandals, mentioned above, deserve
to be recounted. According to a source on the web, Conarpesa is a
fishing industry "pulpo," octopus, apparently a really powerful
company, in Spain. In March 2005, the Argentinean newspaper La Nación
reported that a customs office employee had given evidence of a fraud
perpetrated by Conarpesa, to the tune of $2,500,000 US. The firm
exported fish to a Spanish importer, Pescarfina, which was, in
reality, the same Conarpesa. Thanks to these exports to itself,
Conarpesa was able to collect subsidies for promoting exports through
the ports of Patagonia (in Argentina). Ricardo Echegaray, the head of
the regional customs office that reportedly permitted this fraud to
occur, was rewarded by Kirchner, who promoted Echegaray to national
chief of Argentinean customs.

Conarpesa also gave financial support to the campaigns of Néstor
Kirchner, especially his run for the presidency of Argentina. This
firm was accused of leading criminal activity inside Argentina’s
fishing industry and also accused of having ordered the murder of a
competing businessman, another transporter of fish. Conarpesa’s ties
with Néstor Kirchner and the participation by Spanish businessmen in
the murder were pointed out by Argentinean politician Elisa Carrió. La
Nación, in an article in February, 2004, described Conarpesa as a
structure of "crime," "narcotics trafficking," "political pressures
and corruption."