South America in turmoil

In a sparsely attended workshop held under the title, 'Repression and resistance in Latin America', various speakers recounted their experiences of the recent upsurges in the region. Mark Lusted reports

Alejandra Rios, a socialist from Argentina, detailed the crisis in that country - its national debt stands at $140 billion - and the revolutionary potential that has developed as a result. With 50% living below the poverty line, 30% unemployed and wages reduced by around 40% in real terms since the devaluation of the peso, Argentinean workers are having to take matters into their own hands. An example of the rising militancy of the working class can be seen in the seizure of the Sanon factory. Bosses were planning to sack all 400 workers, and re-employ 60 of them at 30% of their previous wages. But the workforce has been occupying the factory for six months now, running it themselves and exchanging goods with the local community. Obviously this is a positive development, but there is a danger that, left isolated, struggles such as Sanon will be defeated. There is an urgent need for coordination - above all politically. The trade union bureaucracy, which has traditionally aligned itself with Peronism and backed Peronist governments, is being forced to the left by the pressure from below. Militant trade unionists have been campaigning around the demands for bread and work, for an increase in salaries and for a workers' government. Comrade Rios reported that the popular assemblies have been gradually winding down. Described as 'talking shops' by some, and largely composed of the urban middle class, they appear to have lost the dynamism of earlier this year. When I asked what her position was with regards the call for a constituent assembly, she responded by outlining the complete illegitimacy of the current government. Mainstream politicians (with just two or three exceptions) cannot walk down the streets without being approached by angry crowds. The parliament has lost all legitimacy with the people - virtually all MPs have consistently voted for neoliberal 'solutions' - and in these circumstances she supported the call for a constituent assembly. Key to the class struggle is fighting for maximum democracy, and concretely this means challenging the legitimacy of the current parliament. Latin America is clearly in the midst of a highly volatile period with the possibility of a revolutionary wave sweeping the region. Speakers from the floor pointed to recent events in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Columbia as examples of this. Luis Hernandez, a leader of an occupation in Columbia, spoke of the level of repression he and his comrades are facing. To illustrate this he told us how strange it felt to walk freely in the street in Britain - in Columbia bodyguards, bullet-proof vests and bomb-proof cars are the order of the day for political leaders. Rightwing paramilitaries funded by the US (firstly under the pretence of Clinton's 'war on drugs' and now Bush's 'war on terror') are on the offensive again - 1,500 trade unionists have been killed in 10 years. More positively, he outlined the level of resistance to the government, ranging from militant trade unionists like himself through to leftwing guerrillas who control around 40% of the country. Sintraemcali, the second biggest union in Columbia, has a large base within the urban working class, and is active in local campaigns, helping to bring free water supplies to the urban poor, for example. He concluded by echoing the words of a leading comrade in Columbia: "We are going to win this battle, and when we win this battle we are going to shine as a beacon of hope for those fighting globalisation around the world."�