The following is a translated diary of a militant of the French revolutionary socialist group, l’Étincelle (The Spark) who participated in the last days of the election campaign of the Argentinian revolutionary socialist group, Partido Obrero (Workers Party).
For a more detailed analysis of the results of the electoral campaign, check out: Legislative Elections in Argentina: Defeat of Peronism and Breakthrough of the Far Left.
“What a shame, you missed the meeting!” This has been a bit of a theme since I arrived in Argentina. It must be said that a meeting of 33,000 people, organized by a Trotskyist organization on the symbolic Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, doesn’t happen every day. The Workers Party (Partido Obrero or PO) succeeded in this feat on October 30, bringing together a good part of the community that organizes and fights within the Polo Obrero (Workers Pole) in the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and its suburbs, to obtain food aid, housing and real jobs.
Thursday 4: Destination Llavallol, south of Buenos Aires, to leaflet in front of the Bridgestone tire factory. The comrades of the electoral slate known as the black list of the SUTNA union, who just won the union elections by taking over the leadership from the Peronist union bureaucracy, are there too, and greet each of the workers who are trickling out of the factory through the very small door, before handing them a leaflet that summarizes the main proposals of the PO and the Left Workers Front (FIT-U): no salaries under 100,000 pesos, a ban on layoffs, a redistribution of work, an end to “flexing”… They get a good reception. From a car, we hear someone shouting, “Pitrola, I’m voting for you!” Even under his cap, anyone can recognize the former printing sector delegate and deputy from 2013 to 2015, in third place on the electoral list for the province of Buenos Aires.
A few days earlier, at the Toyota factory in Zárate, where the management, hand in hand with the leadership of the Peronist union SMATA, and with the support of President Fernández himself, has just imposed an increase in working hours by making Saturday work compulsory in exchange for a tiny salary increase, a hundred comrades from the PO had come to talk to the employees at the door. Romina del Plá, also a candidate for the province of Buenos Aires, took the floor to denounce a labor reform that had been loudly demanded by the right-wing opposition and imposed point by point by the Peronist government and its bureaucracy. This was an opportunity to make contact with workers who were upset by this agreement, despite the strict surveillance by the union leaders.
Saturday 6: The last weekend of the campaign. My day begins in San Martín, in the north-west of Buenos Aires, where the militants plan to distribute some leaflets and to talk with the folks from this neighborhood on one of the pedestrian streets of this small working-class city, before welcoming the main candidates of the FIT-U. A very classical campaign activity… if it hadn’t been somewhat disturbed by the physical provocations of militants of the Frente de Todos (Party of the current President, Alberto Fernandez).
A few altercations later, we go to José C Paz, at about thirty kilometers further in the northwest. After a brief visit to a fair to greet the PTS (Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas, linked to Left Voice in the U.S.) which has set up a stand with Nicolás del Caño, a PTS candidate, we head toward the city center, where the local militants of the PO and the Polo Obrero set up a small stage in the middle of a street, and where 600 neighbors are already gathered and are singing to the rhythm of the batucada: “Concejala de los trabajadores / ahora que la crisis la paguen los patrones (City council to the workers/ Let the bosses pay for the crisis now).” Sandra Becerra, local leader of the Polo and candidate for the municipal council, addresses her comrades in struggle, a little moved, before leaving the floor to Romina del Plá, who will not linger long after the obligatory photo session with the neighborhood, because she is going to greet a meeting of the Socialist Left in a neighboring township.
Back to Buenos Aires, where the Pride March starts from the Plaza de Mayo with 300,000 people. In the PO procession, the loudspeakers blare fashionable music alternated with slogans: “separation of the Church and the State, application of trans quotas in the public sector, sexual, scientific and secular education in schools, Show us Tehuel alive now (a young trans who disappeared six months ago in the province of Buenos Aires)”…
Sunday 7: The campaign doesn’t take a break! Especially since at noon, in Villa 20, one of the main slums of Buenos Aires, two new offices of the Polo Obrero are being inaugurated. In a joyful atmosphere, the Bolivian activists from the neighborhood perform their place-inauguration rituals methodically, and a march of a hundred neighbors (mostly women) circulates between the two new offices, to the rhythm of the comparsa. Gabriel Solano, a candidate to the legislature for the city of Buenos Aires, and Vanina Biasi, who will run with Myriam Bregman as a deputy, are there, as they often are for the important events of the neighborhood.
Between a few mouthfuls of sopa paraguaya and picante de pollo, we discuss the progress made in the last twenty years in this neighborhood, the upcoming Polo mobilizations, but also the elections.
The atmosphere is less working class in the afternoon in a park in the center of Buenos Aires, where feminist journalists have convened an assembly and bring in some feminist mobilization figures to support the FIT-U campaign and the candidacy of Myriam Bregman in Buenos Aires. The recent victory of the right to abortion is still on everyone’s mind, but those present are well aware that once the law is passed, getting it applied effectively is still a struggle, along with sufficient funding for health.
Monday 8: Under a blazing sun, several hundred comrades from the PO, the Polo, but also from the Teresa Rodríguez piquetero movement, from the PSTU or from the IS are massed in front of the Comodoro Py Court, their eyes riveted to a giant screen that is broadcasting the trial of César Arakaki and Daniel Ruiz live. It isn’t the biggest mobilization there has been, but in this period of campaigning, comrades are on the front lines all day, carrying out several activities at the same time. When the sentence falls, a clamor rises: “A Ruiz y Arakaki los vamos a liberar con piquetes y la huelga general! (We will free Ruiz and Arakaki with pickets and the general strike!).”
Tuesday 9: Romina del Plá and Néstor Pitrola went to San Fernando today, to the Fate tire factory. As in Bridgestone a few days earlier, the reception is very good and the workers show many signs of support. At Fate, the “classist struggle” current has led the union for almost fifteen years.
During this campaign period, PO activists, often accompanied by local Polo activists and at least one candidate, met with workers in more than a hundred companies. These are sites where the party appears anyway more or less regularly outside the election period.
Wednesday 10: In front of the Congress, activists are busy installing four blocks of 250 chairs. Tonight is the final campaign meeting of the FIT-U. A meeting of the whole FIT-U gathered together, to close a campaign where the ordinary activities that bring together the different components of the FIT-U have been rare on the whole. As in every meeting or demonstration, the songs, with tunes straight from the soccer stadiums, and supported by the batucada, give the gathering a combative feel: “No al ajuste de Alberto, Cristina y el fondo monetario / Ni un despido, reparto de horas, aumento de salario / Va creciendo va creciendo en la Argentina una lucha sin parar / Compañero piquetero vamos todos a la huelga general (Down with the IMF and the Alberto and Cristina’s adjustment/ Not one layoff, spread the work and increase wages/A non-stop struggle is growing, is growing in Argentina/Piquetero comrade, let’s all take it to a general strike)”
Thursday 11: End of the campaign? Not quite yet. Since the eve of the election doesn’t begin until Friday at eight o’clock, Thursday is still the occasion for a multitude of “caravans” and local meetings as in Merlo, La Matanza or Moreno. It is in this city in the west of Buenos Aires that I participate in a caravan: about twenty cars, trucks, with bumpers decorated with campaign posters and flags stuck in the windows, escorted by a few motorcycles, go through the main streets of the city, and gather more and more people. After a stop in front of the hospital for a speech, the caravan ends its journey in the central square of Moreno where there are now 400 people, and Lorena Pereira, teacher and head of the list for the city council, and Romina del Plá hold their meeting from the roof of a truck.
Friday 12: In the early morning of this Friday, militants and sympathizers from each local district organize a last postering campaign: They will take advantage of the campaigning time until the end!
Saturday 13: There can be no more public activities, but this does not mean that we stop all activities. On the eve of the election, we will gather the supporters who have agreed to help with the very necessary supervision of the elections, in order to explain the procedures that must be followed. In the Peronist strongholds of the province of Buenos Aires in particular, we will have to be vigilant in order to guarantee the presence of ballots in the offices throughout the day, but also to ensure that each vote for the FIT-U is properly counted.
Sunday 14: After a long day of monitoring the elections, activists in the capital meet at the FIT-U “Bunker” in a downtown hotel. Inside, under the giant chandeliers, there is excitement: several teams are active behind their computer screens compiling the results that the election supervisors bring back from the polling stations, while others follow the various television channels which may begin to deliver official results. Journalists are there in great numbers.
There are two moods, but they unite in the same chant when the first results come in: “Frente de Izquierda/Patrones a la mierda! (Left Front/Bosses go to hell!)”