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  ZNet Commentary: Piqueteras celebrate International Women's day










April 25, 2004

Piqueteras celebrate International Women's day

By Marie Trigona

"We reclaim the imagery of women in struggle. To cover our faces doesn't mean we want to imitate men. It's a demonstration that as women we have the same force to fight. Covering our faces is a symbol of our rebellion and beauty."

Women from several organizations within Argentina's unemployed workers' or piqueteros' movement worked for several weeks during the month of March to prepare workshops, a bulletin, video news pieces and a pirate television broadcast to celebrate international women's day March 8 and recognize the struggle of working class women.

"On March 8, 1908 in New York City women working inside a cotton textile factory went on strike to demand 'Equal pay for equal work, eight hour work day and rest in our homes.' These women were shut inside the factory to stop them from uniting with one another and protesting. The company's bosses lit the factory on fire. 129 women burnt alive inside the factory."

"On March 5, 2003 in Solano on the outskirts of Buenos Aires women and men [from Argentina's unemployed workers' movement] held a workshop to reflect about international day of working class women. We discussed for hours in small groups and then together ideas about our struggle. We synthesized the discussions and printed them in a bulletin to share with our neighbors and other women in struggle all over the world."

(Declaration from the bulletin produced among some 30 compañeras during a media workshop to discuss gender discrimination. Solano, Buenos Aires Argentina)

Many of the women during the workshops and interviews learned for the first time the history of March 8. They were struck by the similarities between the struggle of piqueteras and the 129 workers who died on March 8, 1908. The print bulletin explained what International women's day means for women struggling inside unemployed workers organizations: "Just as the women who died inside the factory in 1908, we also struggle for dignified work. In addition, we also have to fight against gender discrimination. As women we have double roles-as part of families and that of activists."

Media collective, Grupo Alavío launched the media workshops with the unemployed workers organization Popular Unity Movement-December 20 (MUP-20) and other organizations in an initiative to produce video and print materials for a TV-piquetera broadcast on March 13 in Solano to celebrate international women's day. Grupo Alavío and MUP-20 launched last year TV-piquetera, which transmits live pirate TV signals during road blockades and from marginalized working class barrios on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

As part of the programming for TV-piquetera, workshop participants produced a video, Mujeres en marcha (Women in protest), in which women interviewed each other during a march to protest the government cutting some 250,000 unemployed from the 150 peso (about US50) subsidy plan on March 3. Women sat in front of the camera, with banners and marchers behind them and were asked how they become part of the organization and how they became piqueteras. "Three years ago I integrated into the movement. I was 40 years-old and I no longer served the system. I didn't have a job and I couldn't find anything because of my age. So I was forced to integrate into the struggle," said Elisa.

All of the women interviewed explained that they became piqueteras out of necessity. But they also explained how there lives changed through their participation in organizations-they no longer fought for minimal means for survival (the 150 pesos) but to construct a better society. In the discussions one of the central reflections was how the women's lives changed through their radicalization as activists. Almost all women expressed anger and worries at how they are discriminated by their families (fathers, brothers, partners and children) for their participation as activists.

"We demand rights for women: we reject prejudice and gender discrimination that affects us in our work, family and neighborhood for our convictions. We do not want any owner over our bodies and ideals. We reclaim the right to autonomy. So that our family, nor customs impede us to make decisions freely or develop ourselves as individuals."

Almost all of the women, in particular those in their 20's have children. One of the resolutions discussed was the need for the organization to create a day care facility so that women can take on more responsibilities, go to meetings, marches and road blockades without worrying about where they're going to leave their children.

"Women have different roles in the same struggle; women have to take care of children. The man can leave many things behind because they know that women will take care of everything. But sometimes women allow themselves to be submitted," said Noelia, 21, a dedicated activist who urged the need for the workshops on gender discrimination. Although, she doesn't have children she related her own experience as a woman and activist. She added, "I am discriminated because of my gender. At times in my organization I can't occupy certain spaces because I am a woman. Because they discriminate, they only think that men can take certain positions."

However, none of the participants wanted to victimize women because they are discriminated against. "Woman struggle even if we don't leave the house, we always have to fight. I am 40 and I've always struggled but now I am in the streets. There are difficulties, but for me I am not going to submit to anyone who gets in the way of me fighting. We are still struggling against those machos who think that women are not equals, men that say, 'you here or there'," said Raquel.

Since the mid-1990's with swelling unemployment the road blockade became the central tactic of the piquetero movement. Without access to the factory and the ability to strike, sabotage machinery and occupy factories, unemployed workers sought out a new practice for struggle-the road blockade, which is a method to prevent merchandise from arriving to the market.

Many unemployed workers organizations have left behind the road blockade for negotiations with the government but there are still many compañeros who continue to identify with and utilize this method. In order to secure safety of piqueteros, many have developed the politics of self-defense. The politics of motivating women to participate in this area dwindled along with the loss of the practice of direct action.

Jaws dropped during the group discussions when women began to explain that they're excluded from the organization's security area. Women articulated as clear as day the need for security and direct action to end with exploitation. "We demand formation in self-defense and security for all of our compañeras. All of us should have formation to defend ourselves against state repression. Sometimes, during actions, we are afraid of violence on the part of the state. But that does not mean that we're not capable of confronting and defending ourselves against the system's oppression. This doesn't depend on physical state or sex. It depends on having a firm attitude and training in self-defense."

We told anecdotes of how much safer we feel when a woman is in security lines and discussed that in general women are more disciplined and don't fool around (drinking alcohol) during road blockades. Recently, Silvia was voted as the delegate in charge of security. Twenty women have since integrated into the area of security. Since the March 13 transmission, we have done a number of direct actions: blocking and painting the Italian embassy to say no political prisoners from Genoa protests, blocking the Buenos Aires province bank and taking it over, and marching to mark 28th anniversary of the 1976 military coup. During these actions, these women, have demonstrated discipline and tuff-ness against police to guarantee protesters safety.

MUP-20 has changed since the transmission. The group of women and men participating in the workshops are urging the organization to organize more formation workshops-ideas ranging from a security camp, to learn how to use a sling shot and other self-defense measures, to learning how to use a video editing program. The workshop and TV-piquetera transmission opened a window for discussions and concrete proposals generally ignored by social movements. Violence against women wasn't a discussion easily opened up. All participants agreed that a space must be opened to discuss this issue, but not to limit the issue to violence against women, but inner-violence among all of us.

"I'd like all women to rebel and go into the streets. Sometimes it's difficult being part of an organization. Social change coming from below is something we may reach," expressed Noelia. The discussions concluded by affirming that the fight against gender discrimination needs to be integrated into the struggle against all forms of exploitation.

When a window of space for liberation is opened within an organization it allows symbolic discussions to transform into new concrete social relations. Elisa explained the need to work for new social relations when asked why we celebrate International Women's Day. "So women have their own struggle, not only the voice of bourgeois women or men. So our struggle as women is integrated into the struggle of the piqueteros."

Grupo Alavío; video, direct action and organization for a new working class subjectivity.