National Sections of the L5I:

The struggle at Kraft-Terrabusi in Argentina

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Time West, reports on the militant struggle taking place at Kraft foods in Argentina

A massive class struggle has erupted at Kraft Foods factory in Argentina. The ex-Terrabusi factory in Gran Buenos Aires which it owns has become the scene of a pitched battles which has gained national importance as workers take a stand against Kraft’s super-exploitative practices, persecution and degrading conditions, and different left organizations have work there and are taking a leading role in this process, such as the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS) and the Maoist PCR.

The key institution through which the class struggle expressed itself at Terrabusi had been the Internal Commission within the factory, where workers elected delegates (like shop stewards, i.e. fellow workers with powers of representation) to a body separate to the central union (which is led by Rodolfo Daer, an ally of CGT boss Hugo Moyano and the Kirchner government). In these Internal Commissions which are being set up across the country, which in many cases the CGT bureaucracy was unable to control them, like it does the central union bodies, all kinds of different left-wing currents participate, proposing different strategies but all forced to operate semi-clandestinely due to the McCarthyist ideology within the factories, pursued by the union bureaucracy in the interests of the bosses.

The Kraft-Terrabusi Internal Commission numbers 40 delegates, and delegates like Ramon Bogado, of the morning shift, who is a member of the CCC, and Javier Hermosilla of the night shift and combative trade union organization “Agrupacion desde Abajo” (Action From Below) have in the past weeks become figures of national importance. In the past 6 years of economic growth under the Kirchner’s, in a process of recomposition of the working class with a devalued peso and conditions of growing employment but conditions of super-exploitation, these bodies have in various cases emerged as spaces for trade union independent of and hostile to the CGT bureaucratic elite, though Terrabusi represents a new scale.

The current conflict erupted in the swine flu crisis, when workers called a strike on July 3rd to demand hygiene measures such as soap in the toilets and the right of mothers and pregnant women to stay home during the swine flue health-scare. The government intervened with conciliatory obligation for 14 days, but when it ended on the 18th 162 workers received telegrams telling them they were fired. According to Gisela Floret, a Kraft worker, quoted in the centre-left daily Pagina 12, the company “wanted to get rid of the workers who put themselves at the front of the struggle to be able to implement the ‘American production system’ of 12 hour shifts, which is already in place in the Kraft plant in San Luis, (a western province of Argentina) to get rid of a whole shift.” The company had been ‘ordered’ by the Labour Ministry to reincorporate the fired workers, but it said that it would rather pay the fine (5 times more than the cost of rehiring them).

This led to two months of struggle. On August 20th workers carried out the first of many blockings, with the support of workers at other factories in the area, of the Panamericana highway which runs through the industrial belt , and this was followed by various music festivals in solidarity, a bosses strike on September 4th; the attempted arrest of the internal commission inside the factory which was broken up by the shop floor; the involvement of the US embassy calling for the situation to be resolved and various pickets of the embassy by workers families and their supporters; the entrance of the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) calling for repression in Terrabusi and of Hugo Biolcati, the chief of the Sociedad Rural Argentina (Argentine Rural Society), the body of the landowning oligarchy which usually would not associate publicly with the CGT, complaining that “some internal commissions these days are more powerful than the CGT itself”, showing how the likes of Moyano are functional not to some “national capitalism” as apologists of Peronism and the CGT have bureaucracy have historically claimed, but ultimately to the oligarchy and imperialism.

On the side of the workers we saw the involvement of a broad range of not only left parties but also human rights organisations, public figures like football commentator and thinker Victor Hugo Morales, intellectual Osvaldo Bayer and the Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel on the side of the workers; protests breaking into live TV shows; marches and pickets the length and width of Argentina, and 40 days of occupation of the factory where production was greatly reduced and the bosses could not evict a sector of the fired workers who were inside with the support of the majority of their comrades.

On Friday August 25th the repression came to remove the protestors outside the factory and get the sacked workers out of the factory, and it was truly brutal with tear gas, rubber bullets, dogs, horses, batons, beating and “special techniques”, and something we know as “kettling”. The videos show the protesters outside chanting for “unity of the workers” at the top of their voice and with their fists in the air even as the police has them sat in the dust and surrounded by dogs. This brutality made front page news in every major paper and was filmed live by the news channels, as the struggle of the workers movement took a prominent stage in the national political scene once again.

Moyano and Daer had condemned the conflict from the beginning as “ideologized”, and the day after the repression these CGT ‘leaders’ called on workers not to “be tricked by this provocation of the economic right”, claiming to ‘condemn’ the repression and the actions of the left-wing workers equally, while it absolved the government of any criticism and reaffirmed its support. This after the Labour Ministry had appeared at the press conference after a “meeting” to “resolve” the occupation where not even the CGT was invited, let alone the Internal Commission, and read to the cameras not even their own position but instead the company’s proposal, after cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez had complained that the police should “do their job” and that people “can’t walk in and out of the factory like it’s a shopping mall”. But more than 2 months of struggle by the workers, in the toughest conditions, has forced the government and Moyano to change its tactics, and they are now presenting themselves as mediators between the internal committee and the company, having to sit down with the same committee which they had previously condemned!

This was also the first time the Kirchner regime had impeded a road block (“piquete”) since it came to power in 2003, with the restoration of “social peace” and the “right to protest” as a cornerstone of its strategy to co-opt moderate sectors of the popular movement that rose against the political regime in 2001/2002. This had proved successful with the great majority of the piquetero movement and the middle classes, but now the weak point is showing: the working class vanguard, made up of a mixture of older workers with years of tough struggle behind them, and young, super-exploited workers, integrated into the labour market for the first time during the 2003-2008 boom, with little rights but no experience of defeat.

If it is true that the programme of the Kirchner government has not until now been the same as the UIA (though this may have changed in Terrabusi) and the programme of the latter is not as neoliberal as that of the Sociedad Rural, what is equally or even more true is that the Kirchner government will hand power back to the right any day before it seriously considers leaning on the working class against any sector of capital. We can see this by the alliance they have forged with Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires and ex Vice President to Carlos Menem, who was a partner in the repression in Terrabusi and with a much more right wing profile, and the candidate the Kirchner’s will likely choose to attempt a “smooth handover” with, in the 2011 elections (or before). We can see this by the fact the Kirchner and the right-wing opposition were so united over the need to repress in Terrabusi, along with the industrialists national and imperialist and the rural oligarchy, that even parts of that opposition opportunistically criticised the government for the brutality of the repression!

All this has been a main story and cause for analysis and worry for all the countries largest media, like the conservative newspapers Clarin and La Nacion who have repeatedly noted how the government for the first time faces a challenge from the left and how sectors of the working class are opposing the bureaucratic CGT regime and in many cases becoming politicized. This is a nightmare for the Argentine bourgeoisie, which has always rested on this ally against independent working class action. The mass movement in support of Terrabusi has also shaken Argentine society, with newspapers frequently mentioning the PTS and PCR-CCC role in bringing “chaos” to Buenos Aires through road blocks in key points of the city, and interviewing their public figures.

In this climate of such political crisis, where the workers struggle has shown to millions of workers and ordinary people the extent that the capitalists and government will go to, Kraft has been forced to co-operate with the government and CGT bureaucracies U-turn, and has stated first agreed to let back 30 of the 162 fired workers, excluding the internal committee, but later agreed to let back 20 more and to comply with the decrees of courts regarding all the delegates (each of whose cases will be treated individually), while noting that delegate Javier Hermosilla faces a trial to strip him of his position and that any decision on him “should be delayed until the outcome of the trial”.

At the point of writing, delegate Ramon Bogado and 3 others have been let back into the plant. The company has also refused to name which workers it will reincorporate. Negotiations were said to have hit a deadlock, as the delegates’ mandates were to have finished on October 9th. The company and the CGT are demanding that elections be held now (with the delegates isolated and the majority outside of the plant) gambling on what they have assured the press would be a defeat, while the delegates have asked for their mandate to be extended 15 days while elections are carried out.

The company, Labour Ministry and CGT have all blamed the “intransigence” of the IC for the current deadlock. The reality is that normal procedure in the case of delayed elections is to extend delegates mandates until the elections, and that the bureaucracy in this case aims to set up fraudulent elections with the majority of the internal commission not allowed to present itself and with existing delegates with no rights to call assemblies or take any time from work to carry out their duties, and most importantly they would be unable to watch over the electoral process.

This struggle is part of a process of recomposition of the working class which has been going on since the 2002 devaluation. Disproving those who still cling to the fantasy that “the working class no longer exists” that was so popular among the academia of the 1990’s, the workers movement in Argentina has increasingly become involved in more political action in the past years under the Kirchner’s, with militant struggles which had to be faced with repression at the San Telmo Casino and factories like Massuh, Fate and Mafissa, the automobile workers showing their potential power when they forced the unions and governments to negotiate in GESTAMP and Iveco, and with the CGT May Day rally where the leadership of the TU confederation showed its power by rallying thousands and calling on them to support the Kirchner government in the upcoming elections, in exchange for guaranteeing itself and increased presence within the government on the backs of workers struggles.

The Terrabusi struggle represents the escalation of this process as the fragile “social peace” the Kirchner’s had guaranteed for imperialism and the bourgeoisie (based on the gradual regaining of the purchasing power of the working class lost with the 2002 devaluation, which only reached the 2001 level in 2007 to start falling again due to inflation) hits the wall of the global economic crisis. Millions of workers who placed their hopes in this “project” will now have to look elsewhere and in Terrabusi the government and CGT have already shown their profound alignment with the imperialist multinationals and their junior partners in the UIA and Sociedad Rural, and that they will not hold back when the bosses and bureaucrats regime within the factories is questioned.

This is already the most serious questioning of the Peronist elite by the organized working class since the 1970’s and offers a space to revolutionaries in Argentina to fight in the unions to build united fronts for the broadest possible unity in the struggles to come, and the building of a party of the working class, the only party which can give an answer to this profound social and economic crisis and put an end to the cancer that is the Peronist bureaucracy on the working class. We declare our solidarity with all the workers in struggle and condemn Kraft, the Argentine government and regime, the CGT bureaucracy, and US imperialism for their role.

• Recognition and reinstatement of all the Internal Committee, delegates and all the fired workers
• No to the persecution of delegate Hermosilla
• Extension of the all the delegates mandates until elections are carried out
• Police out of the factory
• US embassy out of Argentinean politics
• National strike by the CGT

See “Say No To Kraft” Facebook Group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=124299898146

Below is a letter by the Terrabusi workers, published on that page, to trade unions in Chicago:

A letter from the Kraft workers in Argentina

Brothers and sisters of the combative unions in Chicago,

The letter is arriving to you in what are very difficult times for us.
A few years ago (2004) the Kraft Foods company bought out the most important food production factory in Argentina, where we produce goods for local consumption as well as for neighboring countries. The buyout was through a business deal, which allowed Kraft to purchase the company at a very low price.
Since the multinational took over the company, working conditions have become more than bad. In the midst of a world pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus, children and government employees were excused from duties in order to prevent the spread of the disease. The mothers, working at the Kraft factory, didn’t know have anyone to watch over their children. Furthermore, there are horrible hygiene conditions and security in the factory, much less in the factory’s daycare center; there wasn’t even a bottle of disinfectant for the hands of the 3,000 employees. When we had our first case of H1N1 within the factory, we had to go on strike so that they would give us the days off.
A few weeks later the company decided to fire 150 workers because they participated in the strike. In the midst of these “selective firings” they sacked our union leaders, the factory committee and our union delegates. We know that the Kraft Foods plant in Chicago doesn’t have a union and we’re sure that this is what these factory owners want to do, even in violation of the Argentine laws.
We know that the Kraft Foods headquarters is located in Glenview, Illinois and they are controlling this “operation” against us. On our websites dedicated to the struggle we have seen the IP addresses of 17 computers that are connected from EDS/Kraft Glenview, IL, where they spend the entire day watching our news programs.
That is why we are asking for solidarity in getting the word out that the Kraft Foods managers in Glenview, IL are responsible for this attack on workers, union freedom and the rights of hundreds of workers in Argentina. This is why we are asking for solidarity in condemning the actions of these managers.
In Solidarity from Buenos Aires
KRAFT FOODS WORKERS EX-TERRABUSI

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