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
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
"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
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. www.revolutionvideo.org/alavio