Punitive financial isolation of Argentina as a“market”lesson is
liberating as well as disciplinary. Argentines’self-organization,reminiscent
of France in May 1968, makes return to the old system uninviting for many even
if it were allowed. A review of first-hand reports in this country reveals a
uniquely direct struggle between the solidarity economy and neo-liberal globalization.
Here’s the story, as I see it.
After dictators ran up a debt, Argentina obediently imposed IMF“structural adjustment”in 1991, privatizing state enterprises, repressing labor, and opening to cheap imports. Unemployment rose to 25%; a flood of cheap imports stopped industrial growth; purchasing power plummeted—crisis set in. When in December 2001 even greater spending cuts were announced, the people revolted.
On December 19, 2001, after the people of Buenos Aires banged pots and pans, 31 were shot by police, shocking the nation. President De la Rúa resigned December 21. Since January 2002 Eduardo Duhalde has tried both to pay the IMF/World Bank and meet his people’s needs.
But foreign banks and the wealthy stashed hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore banks. A 50% peso devaluation slashed savings and living standards. A full year later: no U.S.-organized bailout, unlike Mexico in 1995. Why?
JoséLuis Coraggio, a specialist in popular economics and rector of General Sarmiento National University, angrily explains:
The leadership in Washington that dominates IMF policy is responsible for this economic catastrophe....Now we are told that the only solution is to turn over the bits and pieces that remain of our national economy to foreign lenders and to slash government social spending even further to get‘rescue financing’from the IMF.
What does a country do when it suddenly has no money but still has resources, factories, land, and above all, labor? Abandoned, the people set to work. Here are some new forms of solidarity economy they have created in the past year:
• The pot-bangers became“self-convened neighborhood assemblies.”With 60 to 80 in the capital, a loose nation-wide network organizes solutions.
• Over 50% of those in Latin America’s most prosperous republic fell below the poverty line. To feed themselves, over45,000 community gardenscalledhuertashave sprung up in open spaces. Often linked to public restaurants orcomedoresby bonds of solidarity, they are feeding an estimated 2.5 million people.
• Some5000 local barter networksunder the Solidarity Barter Network and Ecovale, allow millions to avoid destitution. Independent of the peso, many forms of social money abound.
• To restart entrepreneurship, many associations offeramicrocredit systemandnew social banksare being financed by Buenos Aires province.
• Workers have seized and now run factories,17 in Buenos Aires province alone.
• A self-managed co-op making aluminum items, opened its space to a cultural center and barter club.
• Agencies to help form co-ops and facilitate re-start of bankrupt companies by their workforces have been launched by local legislatures.
Caraggio sums up: Activists long committed to the co-op movement as partof a dynamic to modify society suddenly have fertile terrain for theirprojects.But this flowering is not irreversible. “The solidarity economy is a usefultool against exclusion and a proof of realistic economics, but it has yet to create the synergies needed to found a true popular and solidarity sector ofthe economy,”writes Philippe Jacquot. Widespread distrust of all politicians hobbles provincial governments in setting up skill banks in exchange for a basic income.
Social money networks are fragile. Bread disappears in minutes. Social money, called“creditos,”risks being counterfeited. And some clubs then sell creditos for pesos without a productive equivalent. Production-credit equilibrium is supposed to come from democratic process and training of“prosumidores”or producer-consumers.“It is society which makes social money, not some foundation,”Alberto Marino of the Ecovale network told a reporter.
The middle class holds the key. Though newly poor themselves, many hesitate to join the“traditionally”unfavored in systemic social change. Moreover, The IMF has not been passive. It has made the government force out provincial governers who refuse to sign a 14-point austerity program. Many workers who seized factories have been removed. But barrio assemblies stopped evictions of non-paying home-dwellers. Sharma and Kumar report inZ Magazinethat along with the government, the IMF is trying both to form a progressive-liberal party and to stop senate elections since that body“might resist IMF demands.”U.S. military intervention is a real risk, they hold.
Has punishment by international bankers unwittingly launched a solidarity economy that could become a self-sustaining example? The people’s problem, Corragio says, is no longer to become loan-worthy but to figure out how to marry politics and economics for“there can be no solidarity economy without democracy and I cannot imagine a democracy without a solidarity economy.”Many Argentinians’lives have changed irreversibly. This is implicit in José-Luis Coraggio’s hope“that we will not be able to return to the previous system.”