Argentina: neighbourhood assemblies
Argentina's economic crisis continued to deepen last week as the recently appointed Economy Minister resigned having failed, on a trip to Washington, to gain any financial relief from the International Monetary Fund. The resignation of the Prime Minister, Eduardo Duhalde, is also a possibility. Duhalde, in January, became the country's fifth Prime Minister in two weeks. "A new form of political organisation" The crisis in Argentina is yet another example of the widespread capitalist economic crisis, the inability of the capitalist system to find any acceptable solution to the situation which has created 20 percent unemployment and 45 per cent poverty in Argentina. The country's problems are not being solved by the fact that Argentina has a multi-party electoral system either. There is a widespread demand on the part of the working people and peasants of Argentina that "They Must All Go!" One Senator declared that "There are two positions: either we take the side of the banks or we take the side of the people". Up to now the successive governments have taken the side of the banks. The latest ploy of the government is a scheme whereby people's bank deposits are converted into bonds instead of cash. The banks are facing bankruptcy. Last week the government ordered all banks to close until Friday (of last week). There have been massive and daily demonstrations taking place in Buenos Aires and other Argentinian cities. The question arises as to the alternative to the obvious inability of the "normal" capitalist prescriptions to offer any acceptable solution to the poverty and unemployment which are all aimed to save the capitalist system and the profits of the corporations. Neighbourhood assemblies Neighbourhood assemblies have mushroomed throughout Buenos Aires since the crisis broke last December. They have organised community purchases of food at reduced prices, as well as establishing volunteer brigades of skilled workers who reconnect homes to the public service grids when their electricity, household gas, or water supplies are cut off for failure to pay their bills. Other projects include community vegetable gardens and a neighbourhood bank in which people can put their savings in order to keep them out of the financial system. Neighbourhood associations in Buenos Aires successfully pressured the Edesur power company to consider the possibility of a 180-day suspension of cut-offs due to delay in paying bills. Assemblies in other neighbourhoods are demanding discount electricity rates for the unemployed. The main focus of the assemblies is usually on the crisis faced by the public hospitals, unemployment, and the widespread hunger and inability of families to buy food. However, activists in the neighbourhood assemblies have become the target of violence from the traditional political parties. Municipal employees and sympathisers of the traditional parties — the Justice (Peronist) Party and the Radical Civic Union — have attempted to intimidate the more active members of the associations, some of whom have been beaten up. A nurse at one hospital said she was beaten to unconsciousness by a stranger who had trailed her for several days. She had complained that the leader of her trade union did not defend the workers, due to his political ties. Another neighbourhood association was attacked by around 200 men. They broke into one of the meetings and beat local residents with axe handles. Telephone threats and other forms of repression have become routine for members of the neighbourhood assemblies. The President of Argentina has criticised the assembly movement, saying that ''It is impossible to govern with assemblies. The democratic way to organise and participate is through voting". But the neighbourhood assemblies are filling what is seen as a vacuum of power. It is this which has led people to take their problems into their own hands. "We are living in a cruel system, a society for the few, and the way to change that is by participating in these new spaces created by the people", said a nurse. "If we are able to solve some of our problems, we will create a parallel power. If we obtain, for example, a 50 percent discount in utility rates for the unemployed and for people with low incomes, we will take a leap forward in quality, and will have many more people participating", she said. Many assembly members believe it is possible for their organisations to eventually take on tasks that the government is unable to carry out effectively. Juan Mosca, an aeronautics industry worker, said the assemblies should discuss "the issues of democracy." "That's why I brought to this inter-neighbourhood meeting the proposal to begin discussing who will govern tomorrow, what our political designs and goals will be, and how we are going to replace our leaders and our judges". The local Hugo Haime polling firm said that of the respondents to a poll, 35 per cent said the assemblies constituted "a new form of political organisation".