Revista THEOMAI   /  THEOMAI   Journal
Estudios sobre Sociedad, Naturaleza y Desarrollo / Society, Nature and Development Studies

 

número 7 (primer semestre de 2003)  
number 7 (first semester of 2003)
                          mujer cuernos.jpg (13687 bytes)

 

 

The unemployed piqueteros of Argentina: active rejection of an exclusionary form of democracy


Paula Colmegna*

 

* Anthropologist, University of Buenos Aires, CONICET Doctoral Scholar. E-mail: cheijei@arnet.com.ar

 

 

Preface

This paper was originally written in April 2002 as part of an MA in Anthropology of Development and Social Transformation at the University of Sussex in the UK. Previously, I had been working in issues related to social development interventions, their social consequences and political implications. This paper was an attempt to slightly change the scope through which I had been looking at development practices up until then.

I wanted to explore the consequences of the development model that was being implemented in Argentina by looking at a social movement –in this case, the Argentinean unemployed who had directly suffered the consequences of the model and were fiercely trying to resist it. Thus, this paper was the first move towards an analysis of social movements and my first attempt to look at the practices of the Piquetero organisations. I have worked for this paper essentially with secondary sources; therefore it should be taken only as a first attempt in a process of starting to understand the complexity of the Piquetero movements within the Argentinean reality.

Argentina is currently going through very deep and severe social, political and economic transformations. Poverty and unemployment rates have grown significantly and the general well being of citizens have declined in a context signed by the effects of structural adjustment policies implemented in the last decades. The vast majority of the population is heavily mobilised against this dwindling economic and political model, demanding a change in the direction of policy and a change in the political system; but the alternatives are not clear yet. Within this context, the unemployed Piqueteros play a central role and their strategies, alliances and divisions are also going through permanent change in response to their internal dynamic change and the many and rapid transformations that are constantly occurring in the larger macro-political context. This article was originally written following the December 2001 (1) events: the political climate then was one of potential and achievable sweeping transformations. More than one year from then, the general turmoil has quietened, things are not –and will not be- the same as before the December incidents, but life seems to continue and deep structural transformations seem less feasible than then. In tone with the current climate and following more recent developments I have updated and rewritten some sections in this article. However, this paper should be taken only as a snapshot of the Piqueteros' trajectory written in a certain period of their history, a history that is in permanent and crucial change.

Buenos Aires, March 2003.

 

 

I. Introduction

The changing and dynamic character of collective action as well as
the micro politics and complexities of each particular social movement
need to be understood in their broader socio-economic and political
context in order to thoroughly grasp their specificity (Gledhill 2000).

This paper will focus on the Argentinean Piquetero movements (2) of the unemployed and will address, by looking at their struggle, the transformations that have been set in motion in the Argentinean society as a result of the implementation of a neoliberal model with its consequent structural adjustment policies. I will focus on the trajectory of the Piqueteros, how they came into existence and later became the symbol of the struggle of many unemployed Argentineans against both political institutions and neoliberal policies. I will try to understand their objectives; internal heterogeneity, changing identities and forms of resistance, as well as the relationship that they establish with other socio-political actors and the various discourses that are created around them. I will further discuss how the Piqueteros' struggle has been transformed in the light of the current socio-economic and political crisis and will also try to illustrate the role that the Piqueteros had in symbolising the present struggles against the model.

The Piqueteros emerged in a distinct moment of the Argentinean history in which a social and politico-economic paradigm is being questioned and particular social actors are struggling to define the new rules of the political game. As Jordan and Weedon argue "for marginalised and oppressed groups, the construction of new and resistant identities is a key dimension of a wider political struggle to transform society" (cited in Alvarez, Dagnino et al. 1998: 6).

In this regard, the literature on New Social Movements (NSM) (3) emphasises the cultural aspects of social movements, especially the production and significance of meanings and practises as well as the politics of identity (Adam 1992). Alvarez, Dagnino et al. stress that culture is "a dimension of all institutions –economic, social and political [and] a set of material practices which constitute meaning, values and subjectivities" (Alvarez, Dagnino et al. 1998: 3). It is in this sense that the cultural dimension of social movements can shed light on the meanings that "shape social experience and configure social relations" (ibid.).

However, the politics of identity and cultural perspective (characterised in the NSM literature) is only one way of looking at social movements; it misses some essential aspects of the phenomenon, namely the material basis of the struggles and the conflicts that oppose social actors holding divergent interests including the struggles with the state and capital. I find that both theoretical lines of argument have useful contributions to make to the analysis of social movements, I will thus not dismiss either of them. I will use some elements of the NSM theory to analyse the process of conformation and change of the Piquetero movements of unemployed and the meanings created and recreated around them by the Piqueteros themselves and by other social actors that directly or indirectly interact with them. But I will also incorporate other visions that lay emphasis on the material struggles of social movements, in order to understand the unequal power positions that the different social actors occupy in the broader socio-economic and political context. As Alvarez et al. put it: "if there is always 'something else' beyond culture, something that is not quite captured by the textual/discursive, there is also something else beyond the so-called material, something that is always cultural and textual" (Alvarez, Dagnino et al. 1998: 5). Therefore, throughout this paper, I will try to capture and explain in all their complexities, the practises and meanings surrounding the struggles and demands put forward by the Piqueteros bearing in mind their position in a hierarchy of power.

 

I. Origins of the Piqueteros – The context

The Piqueteros emerged circa 1997 with small groups of unemployed men and women after the closure of wide divisions of the YPF plants in two towns in Argentina: Cutral-Co, province of Neuquen in southern Patagonia and the town of Tartagal in the north-western province of Salta. YPF was the national Oil Company that was privatised and later sold to the Spanish Repsol. Both Cutral-Co and Tartagal had, effectively, grown around the oil industries, therefore the closure of the plants (for cost reductions and efficiency) meant the loss of the main income generating activity for the people of these towns leaving thousands of families unemployed. A report published in Le Monde Diplomatique (4) states that "in the Neuquen oil extraction area, where the localit[y] of (…) Cutral-Co is situated, the labour situation resulting from the non-planed privatisation of YPF is [the following]: Out of 4000 people employed by YPF, only 400 still continue to be employed" (Rofman 2000: 6).

The privatisations were part of the structural adjustment policies executed by a neoliberal model that started to be implemented by the military dictatorship that seized power in 1976.

Through the take over of the government by the military cadres, the financial capital was able to ensure the total control [of civil society] that allowed the implementation of policies convenient to its own interests and that were needed to adequate the country to the conditions imposed by the economic crisis in the capitalist world. (5) (Iñigo Carrera 2000: 24)

The continuation and deepening of the neoliberal model came with the two Menem presidencies starting in 1989. The national companies were sold to foreign capitals, national industries were devastated and the state drew back from its task of regulating prices and giving credits to small producers. Instead, the import markets were opened, resulting in an injection of foreign goods with almost no restrictions and the consequent ruin of local small producers, without time or money to become 'efficient' in order to play by the new rules.

Embracing the discourse of the need of an efficient state with small bureaucratic costs, the new measures privileged those who had more economic power and room for manoeuvre (big producers and holdings) and abandoned those small regional producers that couldn't 'compete' in the new conditions. "The state was there for a few privileged and absent for those who needed it most" (Rofman 2000: 6) (6). The structural adjustment policies (7) accompanied by the flexibilisation of labour laws had a shocking effect on the most vulnerable groups of society.

In this context, the newly unemployed from the restructured oil company, plus those laid-off from other privatised companies, together with those left out due to the restructuring of the state, the contraction of national production, and the flexibilization of labour laws, resulted in a huge mass of unemployed workers that were 'kicked out' of 'the system'. National unemployment and under-employment figures summed up were 10,4% in 1974 escalating to around 30% in 1995 (Auyero 2001). Figures for October 2002 ascend to 37,7% (8).

 

II. Consolidation, Visibility and Identities

The methodology employed by the Piqueteros is not new. The piquete was a barricade traditionally put up by striking labourers at the entrance of factories, it was intended to prevent other workers to enter the factories on a strike. Recently, however, the piquete has been transformed in the fighting practice of the unemployed -who are called Piqueteros after this practice- and it has been relocated to the streets. The direct action essentially consists of massive road blockades on main national roads or on important highways, which sometimes last for days. The Piqueteros set up barricades made of burning tyres, nails and broken bottles, thousands of men and women sit on the road, preventing the traffic from passing and only allowing emergency vehicles through. They cook, eat and take turns to sleep. This form of 'symbolic action' has been effective in giving visibility to a group of people that were rendered invisible, outcasted, sent out of 'the system' by the system itself.

At first the unemployed were essentially organised by districts or provinces and the demands were restricted to very particular and short-term needs directed to the local governments such as jobs for particular groups of unemployed or food and medicine supplies. At the beginning of the protests, the Piqueteros were seen as an exception, a malfunction of the structure. But as the ruthlessness of the new policies started to drain through every crack in society, as unemployment rates grew higher and more and more workers were transferred to the informal economy, and the state relinquished its social responsibility; the Piqueteros rapidly became the movements that symbolically represented the country's unemployed. As Oviedo states "the Piquetero movement comes to the front, but now with a remarkable national projection. (…) It stepped from a purely claiming movement, demanding relief policies, to the formulation of political programmes (…) that demanded the social transformation of Argentina" (9) (Oviedo 2002: 3). As the protests spread throughout the country, the Piqueteros began to develop into more organised groupings, the different organisations became internally more consistent and their proposals started to turn into broader and more politically sound claims. "The Piquetero movement[s] (…) began as sporadic and spasmodic protests against specific and inorganic interests; transforming, after years of sustained recession and government inefficacy, into the possible reconstruction of a public space of socialisation for the unemployed [and] excluded" (Pastore 2000).

I suggest that these changes -the fact that the movements of the unemployed gained national political projection and the change in the way they were publicly represented- are the result of a double occurrence. On the one hand, at the same time as the politico-economic system grew more and more unsustainable, it became clearer that the Piqueteros were only the first emergent victims of the model that now became more evident to the rest of society. On the other hand the movements themselves grew from particular, local demands to more organised and more effectively articulated national discourses denouncing not particular occurrences but the model itself as well as those who were implementing it. As Pastore argues, "the sustained claim allowed the reconstitution of a lost socialising space where the unemployed could recreate her/is loss without the guilt attributed to them by the neoliberal ideology that insinuated the uselessness of the excluded" (Pastore 2000: 5).

I will suggest that the processes of mobilisation and social legitimisation of the Piquetero movements were crucial factors in allowing them to gain unity, visibility and 'a present' from where to try to modify the future. Bourdieu suggests in his article Job insecurity is everywhere now, that the unemployed, more concerned with the day to day subsistence tend to be demobilised and "competition for work tends to generate a struggle of all against all" (Bourdieu 1998b: 84). Job insecurity, according to Bourdieu, produces effects that become evident precisely in the case of the unemployed. He refers particularly to, what he calls, "the destructuring of existence, which is deprived (…) of its temporal structures and the ensuing deterioration of the whole relationship to the world, time and space" (ibid.: 83). Thus, those who suffer unemployment, and whose existence is full of uncertainties with respect to their future, "are scarcely capable of being mobilised" [or politically organised] (ibid.: 83). Bourdieu's scepticism on the possible political achievements of the unemployed seems appropriate to me when analysing the personal and social conditions of the demobilised unemployed individual deprived of any guaranteed future and concerned about his/er day-to-day survival. However, what the Piqueteros' experience clearly shows is that in particular circumstances the unemployed can, and do, unite and are clearly capable of political mobilisation. Moreover, I suggest that the very act of mobilisation renders them visible to society, it exposes them as an integral part of the failed 'system', as a consequence of the economic policies; thus invalidating the image of pathological individuals unable to adapt to the new rules.

Further describing the fragmented condition of the unemployed, Bourdieu argues that "in order to conceive a revolutionary project, (…) a reasoned ambition to transform the present by reference to a projected future, one needs some grasp of the present" (ibid.: 83). In other words, Bourdieu suggests that the unemployed need some sort of material security and self-respect in the present (now), to be able to battle for a better future. I suggest that in the case of the unemployed Piqueteros, their mobilisation exposes them publicly as a symbol of the failure of the economic and political system, and of the urge for change. This very process of mobilisation, not only allows them to gain visibility and unity, but most importantly, it confers them a present, not a material present, but a symbolic strength to mobilise against 'the system' and to stand in the centre of society as an icon of the social debt that the present economic system embodies. In other words, it is a moment of recognition of possibilities and power; the attainment of a political, and politicised present (10).

Even with an almost absolute lack of resources, the Piqueteros (…) were able to put up, for a period of six days, a replica of a city on the middle of the road. (…) The lack of water was partially solved by the provision of a cistern truck; the trade unions supplied ambulances, sanitary posts and even toilets. Some voluntary groups were in charge of the entertainment (…) The government should take note of this reality: (…) these people seem to be better prepared against adversity. They, to whom the very nothing is denied, have found lately new forms of doing politics without giving up their most vital quest for emancipation (11) (Gruss 2000: 2).

I suggest that the visibility that the Piqueteros have acquired allows them "to conceive the ambition of changing the present with an eye to the future" (Bourdieu 1998b: 83).

 

III. Heterogeneity among Piquetero organisations

 

The Piquetero movement unites a variety of exploited social groups: (…) from
the trade union members to the poor masses (…), from young unemployed to housewives.
(…) It is in this mixture that the strength and vitality of the movement
stems from but also its heterogeneity. (Oviedo 2002)

 

Political and ideological divisions among the diverse Piquetero organisations have existed ever since their inception. As the movements grew bigger and spread throughout the country and as they found some responses to their demands, disagreements around divergent political objectives and around how to go about their demands and achievements grew more notorious. As Oviedo states "the movement is comprised of divergent groups, ranging from a revolutionary radical wing (…) to a petit bourgeois and bureaucratic faction that supports reform within the system. In between these extremes there is a vast array of greys" (Oviedo 2002: 3).

Even though there are divisions among groupings -some groups being closer to certain trade-unions, others to certain political parties- there seems to be a consistency among the movements that is epitomised in their internal horizontal organisation and decision making as well as in their direct action method –the piquete- which joins them under a common practice to condemn their condition. Decisions are made through assemblies and the leaders of the organisations negotiate with the government what has been decided unanimously in the assemblies. "This methodology is the key to how factions with distinct identities [and] diverse political origins (…) can achieve such a high degree of political homogeneity" (D' Elia, (leader of FTV Piquetero grouping) in Linea 2001: 2). The methodology employed by the diverse Piquetero organisations -the road blockade, a means of protest that directly interferes with the movement of goods throughout the country- is a paradigmatic way of reminding us that they- the unemployed- have been expelled from the productive circuit.

In spite of a common identity -as unemployed- built around an exclusion engendered by the same historical and political factors and a shared form of action, the different factions (bloques) disagree about important and irreconcilable matters and their political agendas are divergent. Moreover, they are divided into groupings that respond to different names and interests. The diverse groupings can be roughly divided into two irreconcilable groups, on the one side the CCC (Corriente Clasista y Combativa) and the FTV (Federación de Tierra y Vivienda); on the other, the Bloque Piquetero, the MIJD (Movimiento Independiente de Jubilados y Desocupados) the MTD Aníbal Verón and Barrios de Pie. Divisions arise around the legitimacy of the subsidies as a response to their claims for genuine jobs, the use of subsidies, the methodology for allocating the subsidies as well as the willingness to sit at a negotiating table with the government. Essential discrepancies arise also around their political objectives, the former willing to make changes from within the political system, the latter continuing their resistance from outside and below, demanding changes in the governmental policies (12).

As the protests grew bigger and the demands started to proliferate, the government implemented an aid plan called 'Planes Trabajar' (13). It was a subsidy for the unemployed that was channelled through the local political representatives, consequently giving rise to partisan biases: generally those who were closer to the political local leaders received subsidies, but the rest did not. This resulted in a confrontation with the central government that was said to be attempting to fracture the strength of the Piquetero organisations by causing divisions around the subsidies. The Piqueteros did not bow to the attempt of division and demanded that the subsidies be channelled through their own organisations. It was clear that they were turning their back on the clientelistic attempts of the government to disband the Movement; however, the patron-client relations were transferred to the interior of the movements of unemployed. The Planes Trabajar became a weapon by which the leaders of the Piqueteros negotiated political favours in exchange for the granting of the Planes as well as using them to guarantee massive attendance to the piquetes and to attain their own political escalation. Some Piquetero organisations are not willing to be divided around the subsidies and consider that a proper response to their demand is not providing scanty subsidies to smoothen their protests but instead are claiming a change in the government's policy and genuine jobs for the unemployed.

Other Piquetero organisations (especially from the Coordinadora Aníbal Verón) have more recently created a strong network of subsistence generating activities that includes school support, food provision in community dinning halls, baking and brick manufacturing units, recycled clothes exchange etc. This network of subsistence also gives support to the unemployed to help them solve bureaucratic problems of accessibility to the government subsidies. The network is in turn financed through a contribution paid by each unemployed out of the government subsidies that s/he receives.

As the Piqueteros became politically more consistent and internally organised, and as their demands started to be considered more seriously by the government, other political actors developed an interest in being associated with them. The government that had systematically criminalised them, now invited the leaders of the diverse organisations (14) to negotiate with the high ranks, including the President and Labour Minister in the government's head offices. The different trade-union organisations as well as progressive political parties (many of which had previously disapproved of the Piqueteros' methods) seeing that the Piqueteros were becoming strong and their proposals more consistent, tried to become closer to them, arguing that both their struggles were alike. At first the discourse of most Piquetero organisations was that they were not willing to be co-opted by parties and trade unions, all of which were considered to be part of the institutionalised political system that had dragged them all to impoverishment and exclusion. While these institutionalised political groups were increasingly de-legitimised as part of the Argentinean political corrupt classes, the Piqueteros were realising that the political potential of their struggle, their strength and 'freshness' laid precisely in their detachment from traditional political structures. The incidents that occurred in the First National Congress of the Unemployed (15) (organised in 2001 by Piquetero organisations), where 2000 delegates from across the country participated, illustrate the refusal of the unemployed to pact with the traditional political organisations. During the Congress, debate was open to the public and any person could sign up to talk; at some point an announcement was made that national members of Parliament from the Peronist (16) party as well as Hugo Moyano -leader of the main trade union organisation- were present and wanted to address the crowd. They were never allowed to talk; they were shouted at, booed, and had to leave the place (Vales 2001).

However, more recently, 'traditional' political responses seem to be emerging from the interior of the Piquetero organisations thus producing further rupture among the diverse groupings. Some Piquetero organisations seem to be willing to channel their demands through institutionalised structures that exist within the current politico-economic model. For instance, Luis D' Elía, leader of the FTV Piquetero faction has recently announced that he will run for governor of the Province of Buenos Aires in the next elections. This has given rise to varied responses from other Piquetero organisations; critics sustain that by participating in this elections D' Elía is "legitimising an illegitimate [politico-economic] situation" (Jorge Ceballos from Barrios de Pie in Vales 2003). The leader from one Piquetero organisation sustains that D' Elía doesn't represent the majority of the unemployed but his electoral plans do not invalidate the struggle that all the organisations of unemployed are fighting together (Alderete from CCC, ibid). Others, more critical, accuse D' Elía of using the notoriety that he has acquired through their common struggle for his own political escalation (Ibarra from MTL, ibid). Jorge Jara from MTD Anibal Verón criticises the current democratic system as one that benefits a few and oppresses the majority. He argues that in this context, the organisation he belongs to does not propose a project for the country; this project should emerge from a Constitutional Assembly where the people -in a context of direct democracy and not 500 corrupt politicians in power- decide what the future country should be like (ibid.). For Martino from the MTR, D'Elía's (and anybody's) candidacy "is detrimental to the popular struggle" (ibid.). He argues that the State and economic groups "are trying to recreate consensus, popular illusion around [traditional] institutions, and the main means [to get such consensus] is giving people the opportunity to vote" (ibid.).

In this section I have tried to show how in different moments of their trajectory the diverse organisations tend to get closer or further apart depending on the political circumstances they confront. As the Piquetero organisations constitute themselves more strongly and as they face diverse political dilemmas, the difference among groupings becomes more evident. I will argue that in spite of the irreconcilable ideological differences that seem to exist between groupings, the conflicting objectives and diverse practices; when confronting the model which has given them birth, they succeed in clearly displaying the perversity of the model that brought them into existence. Although there is clear disagreement around certain issues, the closeness and distance among organisations seem to fluctuate according to external and internal conditions. This oscillation illustrates the permanent changing nature of social movements as they undergo different circumstances; each signed by distinctive power configurations.

 

IV. Towards broadening the concept of Democracy

The introduction of a neoliberal program and the consequent structural adjustment policies that implied the retraction of the state and its functions, introduced a transformation in the relationship between citizens and the state, thus affecting more generally the meaning of the category of citizenship within democracy. The massive unemployment, privatisations and retraction of the state from public service delivery contributed to unveiling the limited meaning of democracy in the context of neoliberal policies, the "fiction of democracy as the arena where all citizens have equal rights before the law" (Oviedo 2002: 1). Some citizens (in this case the unemployed) are rendered invisible before the law and are atomised and fractured through unemployment. The shrinking state sets in motion the transformation of the meaning of citizen to that of client. The neoliberal state provokes a change in the status of citizens -as bearers of rights to access certain basic services and goods- to that of client – who holds right only in terms of what s/he owns and can pay (MTR 1999). This second version guarantees access and quality only to those who can pay for services, thus moving away of the meaning of 'public' as the collective.

In this sense Bourdieu stresses that "the return to the individual [as opposed to the collective] is (…) what makes it possible to 'blame the victim' -who [ends up being] entirely responsible for his or her own misfortune- and to preach the gospel of self-help [as opposed to state responsibility]" (Bourdieu 1998c: 7). Therefore I agree with Oviedo in that "the Piquetero movement[s], by organising those who are disorganised, acts as a brake to stop the attempts of (…) atomis[ing] the working class through unemployment" (17) (2002: 1). In other words, after having their status changed from citizens to individuals -with a personal, rather than collective relation to the state-, after being atomised and blamed of their own 'misfortune'; the Piqueteros, through their mobilisation, were able to become a collective force again. Moreover, I suggest following Alvarez et al. that the Piquetero movements are "struggl[ing] to resignify the very meaning of received notions of citizenship, political representation and participation, and as a consequence, democracy itself" (1998: 2).

 

V. Conclusion:

Throughout this paper I have tried to illustrate the changes that the Piquetero organisations have gone through in a context of growing social and economic exclusion. In terms of their achievements, I would argue that a revolutionary change has taken place at the micro-level. The unemployed men and women of the entire country have managed to organise against the pervasive individualism introduced by the neoliberal politics. Confronted with fragmentation, invisiblisation and criminalisation, they have built group identities, achieved visibility and managed internal unity around common goals.

It is clear from the trajectory of the Piquetero movements and from how they acquired legitimacy and room for negotiation and manoeuvre, that power (in a Foucauldian sense) cannot only be understood as "blocs of institutional power located just at the institutional level" that simply dominate and manipulate social subjects (García Canclini cited in Dagnino 1998: 11). Rather than a "mechanism for imposing order from the top downward, [power is a complex] social relation diffused through all spaces" (ibid.). However, Garcia Canclini warns us about the fact that "a descentred view of power and politics (…) must not lead us to ignore how power sediments itself and concentrates itself in social institutions and agents" (ibid.).

Although the Piqueteros gained power and acquired some agency and space for negotiation, the dominant structures of exploitation in which social relations occur are pervasive. In this sense, the limitations encountered by the Piqueteros are enveloping as well. The neo-liberal model seems far from dying, deep structural reforms don't seem feasible in the current political scenario and the political conditions for the inclusion of the unemployed as full citizens in society are not in the near horizon.

Therefore, on the one hand, the challenging of hierarchies and the demand for rights will not, in themselves, change the material distribution of wealth and the structural constraints that position subjects in a field of forces. However, on the other hand –and as we have seen through the Piqueteros- they can, and indeed do, challenge the conception of democracy and social exclusion that the society puts forward. In this sense, "discourses and practices of social movements might destabilise and thereby –at least partially- transform the dominant discourses and exclusionary practices of actually existing Latin American democracy" (Alvarez, Dagnino et al. 1998: 11). By doing this, the very "symbolic order which is the condition of the functioning of the economic order" (Bourdieu 1998b: 82) might start to crack down. Dagnino calls our attention to the fact that "it is in the terrain of culture [or what Bourdieu calls the symbolic] that active consent, the specific mode of operation of hegemony (and that distinguishes hegemony from domination) is (…) produced." (Dagnino 1998: 37) It is this active consent that the Piqueteros are fiercely unmasking; and that might be the first step to subvert a whole hegemonic order, the power relations amongst social, economic and political forces.


Notes

1. As a result of ten years of unfulfilled promises, on December 19 and 20 there were massive riots all over the country, looting and repression, ending up in the ousting of President De la Rua –who had been elected in 1999- and whose presidency was signed by more recession and unemployment, corruption and ineptitude. The mobilisation didn’t stop with the ousting of De la Rua, or with the change of five presidents in 12 days, popular assemblies, road blockades, strikes and other forms of protests multiplied in every city. The December events marked the end of a period of apathic acceptance of the model by both the middle class and the working class. Although the latter had been confrontational in diverse degrees towards the policies of the government, never in the last decade had the immense majority of the population united against the model.
2. Many authors doubt about the appropriateness of including the different Piquetero organisations under an umbrella that can hold them as a homogeneous social movement. I agree with these arguments and certainly consider that there is no homogeneity among the Piquetero organisations, thus I will refer to the Piqueteros not as a single social movement but as diverse movements. In spite of the irreconcilable ideological differences, conflicting objectives and diverse practices –and as I will try to show throughout this paper- when confronting the model which has given them birth, they succeed in clearly displaying the perversity of the model that brought them into existence.
3. The discussion around ‘new’ and ‘old’ social movements although relevant to the context, is not central to the argument of this article, therefore, I will not refer to it here. For a wide discussion on this topic: see Gledhill, 200; especially the chapter on Social Movements and Adam, 1992.
4. Southern Cone edition, my translation.
5. My translation.
6. My translation.
7. Structural adjustment policies had pervasive effects in all areas of social life; budgets in health, education and culture were enormously reduced with the excuse of reducing the state expenses to achieve the fiscal equilibrium. The effects of structural adjustment in all these areas of social life are pertinent to understand the Argentinean situation but will not be discussed in this paper due to a question of space.
8. This figure is for October 2002 for the 31 urban sites in the entire country. Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos (INDEC). http://www.indec.mecon.ar/principal.asp?id_tema=29
9. My translation.
10. I am thankful to Jamie Cross for showing me this last point.
11. Article published in 3 Puntos Magazine, after a 6 days road blockade in the locality of La Matanza, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires in November 2000. My translation.
12. This is a very schematic description to illustrate the heterogeneity among the Piquetero organisations. It does not intend to be a thorough description, but rather to show that there are irreconcilable political interests among them.
13. Working Plans. According to Burdman (s/d) the first distribution of Planes Trabajar among the Piqueteros occurred after a month of road blockades and demonstration that took place in Cutral-Co, province of Neuquén and later in Tartagal, Province of Salta during May and June 1997. The Planes Trabajar were changed to Planes para Jefes y Jefas de Hogar Desocupados (Plans for unemployed heads of households), a very similar subsidy, during the Duhalde administration that took office in 2002.
14. The dialogue doesn’t have equal fluidity between the government and all the Piquetero organisations. Some are more willing to sit at a dialogue table and negotiate subsidies. Others fight insistently for new jobs, not wanting to play the game and accept subsidies in exchange for soothing the conflict.
15. Primer Congreso de Desocupados, was celebrated in La Matanza district, Province of Buenos Aires on July 24 2001.
16. The Peronist is a populist party that historically represented the working classes although its policies were always clientelistic. 17. My translation


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