The Strike of Those Who Can’t Stop: An Interview with Verónica Gago and Natalia Fontana

Pho­to Cred­it: Con­stan­za Nis­co­vo­los

Introduction

Argen­tine fem­i­nists were some of the first to orig­i­nal­ly call for an Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Strike on March 8, fol­low­ing their very suc­cess­ful women’s strike on Octo­ber 19 of last year. Orga­niz­ing for the women’s strikes has come out of, not only a new wave of fem­i­nist activism in rela­tion to gen­dered vio­lence, but also the orga­niz­ing of pre­car­i­ous work­ers and oth­er forms of activism that over­flow the insti­tu­tion­al struc­tures of trade unions and Left­ist par­ties. Indeed, par­tic­i­pa­tion in the March 8 strike and sub­se­quent march to Plaza de Mayo were huge, but they were not the only large mobi­liza­tions in Argenti­na that week. On Mon­day March 6, teach­ers went on strike and held a mas­sive march in down­town Buenos Aires in sup­port of pub­lic edu­ca­tion and fair con­tract nego­ti­a­tions; the fol­low­ing day, the major union fed­er­a­tions con­voked anoth­er mas­sive march against Macri’s anti-labor poli­cies. How­ev­er, at the end of that march, the union lead­ers were run off the stage by rank and file union mem­bers call­ing for the unions to set a date for a gen­er­al strike. Thus, in a con­text in which the unions are large­ly seen to be capit­u­lat­ing to the government’s neolib­er­al mea­sures, it is the fem­i­nist move­ment and move­ments of women work­ers that are lead­ing the oppo­si­tion to Macri, and in the process cre­at­ing new alliances, infra­struc­tures of care and self-defense, and process­es of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion.

In this inter­view, Span­ish activist-researchers Mar­ta Malo and Amador Fer­nán­dez-Savater inter­view Veróni­ca Gago and Natalia Fontana who were involved in orga­niz­ing the women’s strikes in Buenos Aires on Octo­ber 19 and on March 8. Vero and Nati draw on their long expe­ri­ence with mil­i­tant research with Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones and oth­er groups, as well as their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the March 8 orga­niz­ing from their own posi­tions. Addi­tion­al­ly, Nati serves as the com­mu­ni­ca­tions sec­re­tary of the air­line work­ers’ union, giv­ing her insight into the tumul­tuous rela­tion between unions and the women’s move­ments. In this inter­view, they point to a res­o­nance between the cur­rent iter­a­tion of the women’s strike and the ear­li­er expe­ri­ence of Pre­carias a la Deri­va, of which Mar­ta was a part, a mil­i­tant research project explor­ing and inter­ven­ing in forms of pre­car­i­ous fem­i­nized labor. The strike also high­lights a new type of fem­i­nism in Latin Amer­i­ca: a fem­i­nism of the mass­es, root­ed in mate­r­i­al strug­gles in work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods, migrant com­mu­ni­ties, and orga­ni­za­tions of infor­mal work­ers. It is in this ter­ri­to­ri­al­iza­tion of fem­i­nism where we can see issues of social repro­duc­tion being pri­or­i­tized, per­haps lay­ing the ground­work for a new fem­i­nist inter­na­tion­al­ism and a fem­i­nism of the 99%.

– Liz Mason-Deese


The vibra­tions gen­er­at­ed by the Argen­tine women’s move­ment are felt at a dis­tance. There­fore we want­ed to approach it to learn more. We did so led by friend­ly hands: we had met Veróni­ca Gago and Natalia Fontana through the waves pro­duced by anoth­er explo­sion in Argenti­na, in this case the insur­rec­tion of Decem­ber 2001 that they expe­ri­enced as part of Colec­ti­vo Situa­ciones.

At that time, in Spain, we were won­der­ing with oth­er women, what is our strike? What is the col­lec­tive ges­ture in fem­i­nine that inter­rupts the bina­ry machine of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion? (That was the ques­tion that launched the space of action-inves­ti­ga­tion Pre­carias a la deri­va). Now, the ques­tion reap­pears, with an unprece­dent­ed inten­si­ty and mas­sive­ness, in the Argen­tinean women’s move­ment, linked to the earth­quake that shout­ed across the Latin Amer­i­can con­ti­nent, “Not one less!” “We want our­selves alive!”

How does the idea of a strike appear in the women’s move­ment in Argenti­na? What can be done with a tool that orig­i­nat­ed and matured in anoth­er world (among fac­to­ries, men, and unions)? How is a col­lec­tive rea­son­ing being woven that links vio­lence against women to ques­tions of pre­car­i­ty, ter­ri­to­ry, and com­mu­ni­ty? What is Latin Amer­i­can fem­i­nism made of, what is its col­lec­tive spir­it?

Nati and Vero have been involved in March 8 at all lev­els, think­ing about it and doing, con­struct­ing assem­blies and moments of reflec­tion, from a pre­vi­ous tra­jec­to­ry that allows them to be per­fect­ly in tune with what is hap­pen­ing.

Mar­ta Malo and Amador Fer­nán­dez-Savater: First, we would like to ask you to tell us a bit about what hap­pened between Octo­ber 19 (when the first women’s strike was called in Argenti­na fol­low­ing the mur­der of Lucía Pérez in Mar del Plaza) and this March 8. What has this process been like? Where does the idea of the women’s strike come from and how has it matured?

Vero: There had already been two large protests under the ban­ner “Not One Less” on June 3, 2015 and June 3, 2016. The protests had been called pri­mar­i­ly through social media and in a few meet­ings, and they end­ed up being very mas­sive. And we were think­ing about what had hap­pened, what had been mobi­lized.

It was then, while we were at the Nation­al Women’s Meet­ing in Rosario, that Lucía Pérez was tor­tured and stabbed to death in Mar del Pla­ta. It was a very intense image of cru­el­ty, with colo­nial res­o­nances. Fur­ther­more the mur­der occurred on the eve of Octo­ber 12, heat­ing up the scene even more. There was a feel­ing then that it was pre­cise­ly at the moment when 70,000 women were mobi­liz­ing in Rosario that this crime appeared as a response. I think that was what gen­er­at­ed an ener­gy of mobi­liza­tion and reac­tion so quick­ly.

The Octo­ber 19 strike was orga­nized in just one week. The call caught fire incred­i­bly quick­ly and it real­ly took off when at, a cer­tain moment, peo­ple start­ed say­ing: “enough of social net­works, let’s meet in an assem­bly.” And they start­ed call­ing assem­blies. At first peo­ple said that it would be impos­si­ble to call a strike in a week, because it takes a lot of time. But it was pre­cise­ly by incor­po­rat­ing the idea of the strike that we were able to talk about more than vio­lence. That was the qual­i­ta­tive leap. We start­ed say­ing: these images are try­ing to ter­ror­ize us, images that we repu­di­ate for their vio­lence and the increase in cru­el­ty, but we have to respond by going beyond the dis­course of vic­tim­iza­tion that leaves us impo­tent, that lim­its us to only speak­ing of spe­cif­ic cas­es of vio­lence, and that only allows us to express our­selves in terms of mourn­ing and grief.

The strike allowed us to make the call from a dif­fer­ent posi­tion, undoubt­ed­ly a place of rage and anger, but it also enabled us to politi­cize what many peo­ple were already work­ing on in dif­fer­ent places, that is: the ques­tion of the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of life. To strike is to chal­lenge and block the forms of pro­duc­ing and repro­duc­ing life in homes, in neigh­bor­hoods, in work­places. It is to con­nect vio­lence against women with the spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal nature of the cur­rent forms of exploita­tion of the pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of life. The strike was the key that enabled us to unite those two things.

This pro­duced an impres­sive effect. First, because it broad­ened the idea of the strike. We start­ed bring­ing togeth­er women from all dif­fer­ent sec­tors, salaried or not, young and old, employed or unem­ployed. This real­ly caught on and acti­vat­ed people’s imag­i­na­tion about how to mul­ti­ply the effec­tive­ness of the tool of the strike. What does it mean to strike in your posi­tion? If you are not union­ized, but also if you are in an orga­ni­za­tion (in school or a com­mu­ni­ty net­work, for exam­ple) and so on. That is, it launched a lev­el of ques­tion­ing about what is meant by a “stop­page of activ­i­ties” that com­plete­ly over­flowed the union, while it also force­ful­ly chal­lenged that world. The strike gave us anoth­er capac­i­ty of under­stand­ing, a very appro­pri­ate force of intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty that enabled us to con­nect vio­lence against women with the eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and social fab­ric.

The Challenge of Legitimacy for Non-Recognized Work

MM and AF: How was all of this removed from the union world? There are unions of women, but the union world is very mas­cu­line, marked by a mas­cu­line log­ic. How did the call for a specif­i­cal­ly women’s strike stir up that world?

Nati: Well, there were two moments of dis­cus­sion about the issue of the strike: the first in rela­tion to Octo­ber 19 and now around March 8. The call for the strike on Octo­ber 19 was so fast that there wasn’t time for the union fed­er­a­tions – nor for the women’s col­lec­tives in them – to elab­o­rate on what it meant. It was an instan­ta­neous, imme­di­ate, very cor­po­re­al reac­tion to the impale­ment of Lucía in Mar del Pla­ta, as well as the stab­bing of two girls in San Tel­mo.

It is now, in rela­tion to March 8, that the tough­est argu­ments and the most com­pli­cat­ed prob­lems have tak­en place. On the one hand, there are those who argue that the strike is a tool that belongs to the unions and only the union fed­er­a­tions can call one. That is, they don’t con­sid­er that it could be a tool that goes beyond the unions or that it goes beyond the idea of the union­ized for­mal work­er. On the oth­er hand, I think that it is dif­fi­cult for the male lead­ers of the union fed­er­a­tions to call a strike because of all the cal­cu­la­tions that they car­ry out based on the legit­i­ma­cy held by any new gov­ern­ment, cal­cu­la­tions about oth­er con­flicts between work­ers and their com­pa­nies or with the state, and so on. It is hard for them to give cred­it to a strike called by women, women who are orga­nized and who are capa­ble of trans­ver­sal­ly com­ing togeth­er with oth­er women from oth­er unions fed­er­a­tions and polit­i­cal and social orga­ni­za­tions.

Speak­ing with the union fed­er­a­tions, in the case of my union, meant speak­ing to the CGT [Gen­er­al Con­fed­er­a­tion of Work­ers] where we were sur­prised to find that the sec­re­tari­ats of equal­i­ty and gen­der man­aged by women were some­times more restric­tive than the men them­selves and that they did not agree with the idea of an inter­na­tion­al strike. And there was no way that they would call for a strike. They bare­ly called for a mobi­liza­tion. The good thing is that each sec­tor of work­ers, beyond the union fed­er­a­tions, orga­nized dif­fer­ent actions and activ­i­ties. There­fore it doesn’t mat­ter so much whether or not the CGT calls for a strike, because the union rank and file took it up as a pro­pos­al and the women work­ers were deter­mined to def­i­nite­ly car­ry out actions dur­ing the day.

Vero: We have been debat­ing sev­er­al things dur­ing this time and that marks the dif­fer­ence between what hap­pened on Octo­ber 19 and what is hap­pen­ing now, when are work­ing with the real­i­ty of the unions. There have been a ton of meet­ings, a ton of con­tro­ver­sies, a ton of polem­i­cal debates, and thus sev­er­al things became clear.

On the one hand, there was a clear gen­er­a­tional divide between younger women from the unions who are often com­ing from expe­ri­ences in women’s move­ments, for whom the Nation­al Women’s Meet­ing has been an edu­ca­tion­al space for many years. They don’t feel any con­tra­dic­tion between the union move­ment and the women’s move­ment. While for some of the lead­ers with more union expe­ri­ence, there is clear­ly an issue of com­pe­ti­tion and dis­avow­al of the union by the women’s move­ment. All of this was made very appar­ent by who came to the assem­bly and who didn’t, who spoke from the inter­nal com­mis­sions and who wait­ed from autho­riza­tion from the union lead­er­ship. The strike thus cre­at­ed a very inter­est­ing map of the tur­moil and com­plex­i­ty with­in the unions.

On the oth­er hand, anoth­er thing that hap­pened is that they didn’t want to give us legit­i­ma­cy, they accused us of not being “legit­i­mate” work­ers: that is, not union­ized. There­fore Nati’s posi­tion in the meet­ing was the most com­pli­cat­ed, since she does par­tic­i­pate in a union, she was the “trai­tor.” They scold­ed her more than the oth­ers (laugh­ter).

Final­ly, anoth­er inter­est­ing point is how the unions refused to rec­og­nize the pop­u­lar econ­o­my work­ers (trash pick­ers, mobile care­givers, the women who man­age soup kitchens, sewing work­ers) who were a key ele­ment to us from the start. I’ll share an anec­dote: a week ago an assem­bly of women work­ers in the pop­u­lar econ­o­my was called in front of the Obelisk . We went with our friend Neka Jara (founder of the Unem­ployed Work­ers Move­ment of Solano dur­ing the cri­sis of the ear­ly 2000s) and she was greet­ed by and reunit­ed with many women from the piquetero move­ment [the move­ment of the unem­ployed in Argenti­na dur­ing the late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s that protest­ed by blockad­ing roads]. But the most inter­est­ing thing, as Neka was telling us, was that 20-year old-women would greet her, that is, women who were only five or six years old dur­ing the assem­blies of the piquetero move­ment around 2001. Neka said: “It’s very excit­ing, they are the daugh­ters of the piqueteras.” There is a very strong gen­er­a­tional ele­ment that brings to the street this inter­sec­tion of the lin­eage of the move­ments of the unem­ployed and those of the pop­u­lar econ­o­my. Of course this lin­eage is not lin­ear nor can it be unprob­lema­tized. Yet this is intol­er­a­ble for the world of union­ism: for all of that to appear under the sta­tus of work is intol­er­a­ble. Because it prob­lema­tizes the idea of work itself.

Nati: For the unions it raised a very intense ques­tion of legit­i­ma­cy. What is the legit­i­mate­ly rec­og­nized enti­ty for call­ing a strike? They find it dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize the women’s move­ment as one of those legit­i­mate enti­ties that are con­sti­tut­ed as sub­jects with their own voice and that make unprece­dent­ed alliances with union­ized women in for­mal and infor­mal work, with women in the pop­u­lar econ­o­my. This is a strong chal­lenge.

Vero: Anoth­er pow­er­ful point that came up in the dis­cus­sions was that Octo­ber 19 was the first strike under Macri’s gov­ern­ment, which is clear­ly a gov­ern­ment that has imposed all sorts of mea­sures against the wage.

And that first strike… was car­ried out by women! That was very hard. In Octo­ber peo­ple were already say­ing, “while the CGT takes tea with the gov­ern­ment, women take the streets.” Because it is clear that the union orga­ni­za­tions are nego­ti­at­ing the aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures. There is a lot of dis­con­tent in var­i­ous sec­tors, in inter­nal com­mis­sions, among women del­e­gates, includ­ing many of whom were elect­ed after Octo­ber or for whom Octo­ber was their first time tak­ing to the streets as women union­ists.

Overflowing the Strike: the Strikes of Atypical Workers

MM and AF: You are say­ing that call­ing for a strike takes the move­ment away from only denounc­ing gen­der vio­lence, con­nect­ing it with oth­er things, but, at the same time, it over­flows the union. I am curi­ous about those oth­er forms of the strike, the strikes of atyp­i­cal work­ers. How do domes­tic work­ers, immi­grants, infor­mal ven­dors think about car­ry­ing out their strike? What imag­i­na­tion is there for going on strike when one does not have a typ­i­cal job, in a defined place, under a boss, etc.?

We know how to car­ry out a strike in the work­place. There is even a legal chan­nel for doing so, work­ers feel inter­pel­lat­ed when there is a call from the union, etc. But, how is an infor­mal strike orga­nized? How does one feel called in and sus­tained on not going to the flea mar­ket? How is a strike of unpaid care work orga­nized?

Vero: On the one hand, there is a very close rela­tion­ship with an emerg­ing union tool called the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Pop­u­lar Econ­o­my Work­ers (CTEP) that seeks to be a fed­er­a­tion of work­ers from the pop­u­lar econ­o­my and that, fol­low­ing Octo­ber 19, has raised the issue of hav­ing a space to address gen­der issues. We have been meet­ing with them and hav­ing very inter­est­ing dis­cus­sions. For exam­ple, the young women work­ing as car­ton­eras [trash pick­ers] say, “Well, if I go on strike that day, I don’t eat.” The issue they raised was how to make that a real­i­ty of the strike and not a weak­ness of the strike. And they start­ed to say, “We have to gath­er mon­ey in advance to sus­tain that day of being on strike.” Or work a lit­tle bit more in the days lead­ing up to the strike to guar­an­tee that day of strike. Oth­er women ven­dors said: “We’ll take things to sell dur­ing the march. We know we’ll sell things and it is a way to be in the mobi­liza­tion but at the same time mate­ri­al­ly sus­tain what being on strike for a day implies for us.”

It was real­ly inter­est­ing to begin to think about and imag­ine very con­crete strate­gies for going on strike in atyp­i­cal places. Because if we are seri­ous about the strike, if we are real­ly propos­ing it, we have to address all of these ques­tions that we have about what it means to strike. It can’t be allowed to force us to give an image of our­selves that does not cor­re­spond with our every­day real­i­ty. What is pow­er­ful is that the women from the pop­u­lar econ­o­my were the first to say “we will strike.” That is, these ques­tions are asked from a posi­tion of a deter­mined wager on the strike, in order to strength­en the strike. They real­ly liked strik­ing and they are eager to con­tin­ue elab­o­rat­ing these ques­tions about what it means to go on strike when you don’t have a boss, when you work in a coop­er­a­tive, when you receive wel­fare, and so on. To include all of these real­i­ties in the strike, it is nec­es­sary to over­flow it and effec­tive­ly think about work beyond the typ­i­cal job, under a boss, in a deter­mined place, and so on.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing ques­tion that has been debat­ed recent­ly has to do with how to con­nect the strike to care work, and in the way in which that care is car­ried out in homes, in com­mu­ni­ty or neigh­bor­hood spaces or is self-man­aged. On the one hand, think­ing about what it means to take those spaces to the mobi­liza­tion, that the mobi­liza­tion takes respon­si­bil­i­ty for that part of care work. There is a dou­ble mea­sure to the time of the strike. We strike for a few hours in our work­places and for the whole day we remove our­selves from the gen­der roles that assign us tasks of care. We strike and we make time for our­selves. That was a very pow­er­ful slo­gan: we orga­nize our­selves to be able to dis­pose of our time, to free our­selves from dai­ly oblig­a­tions, and open up that time.

Nati: On Octo­ber 19, we went on strike from our sites of for­mal employ­ment for two hours, but we went on strike for the whole twen­ty-four hours from those activ­i­ties that have to do with care, as well as from activism. We went on strike and we only made our­selves avail­able for gath­er­ing with women to take con­crete action. Many of the activist men did not under­stand much of this, that we were no longer there for them (laugh­ter). That was our expe­ri­ence on the 19th and now it is being repli­cat­ed in a more con­scious way.

Pho­to Cred­it: Con­stan­za Nis­co­vo­los

Spirituality, Infrastructures of Care, and Community

MM and AF: Our impres­sion is that the type of fem­i­nism that is explod­ing, at least in Latin Amer­i­ca, is not exact­ly a “lib­er­al” fem­i­nism. The sit­u­a­tion of women and vio­lence are thought to be imbri­cat­ed in a liv­ing and dai­ly fab­ric along with work, pre­car­i­ty, the neigh­bor­hoods, the com­mu­ni­ty issue, etc. It is not that “the issues add up,” but that a very con­crete fab­ric is woven. We want­ed to ask you about this, about these dis­cus­sions, about these con­crete forms of rea­son­ing and restor­ing the every­day fab­ric of exploita­tion and life prac­tices. What images of the world are pro­posed by this Latin Amer­i­can fem­i­nism that mix­es all of these issues?

Vero: Here there is a very strong pop­u­lar, com­mu­ni­tar­i­an, villero [asso­ci­at­ed with the slums] fem­i­nism. These are sev­er­al names that, as they indi­cate, are not pure “thema­ti­za­tions,” but rather an accu­mu­la­tion of social, polit­i­cal, bod­i­ly expe­ri­ences. There is a very strong ter­ri­to­r­i­al dimen­sion to all of this: work sus­tained by orga­ni­za­tions, net­works, fab­rics that ground this fem­i­nist nar­ra­tive. It is a pow­er­ful key from Latin Amer­i­ca. For exam­ple, in Hon­duras and Guatemala, they speak about “ter­ri­to­r­i­al fem­i­ni­cide” because vio­lence against women is tar­get­ed toward those who are lead­ing the strug­gles against transna­tion­al extrac­tivist cor­po­ra­tions. The most well-known case is that of Berta Cáceres, but it is not the only one. The strug­gles make a prac­ti­cal con­nec­tion between vio­lence against women and defense of the ter­ri­to­ries and resources of com­mon life and this enables the con­cept of body-ter­ri­to­ry to cir­cu­late as a sin­gle word.

Then a web start­ed to be drawn, not as a gen­er­al and abstract dis­course, but as a weav­ing togeth­er of very con­crete issues. For exam­ple, women fight­ing against agribusi­ness on the soy fron­tier of a town in Paraguay said: “yes, we are strik­ing. We are strik­ing against the poi­son­ing of our fam­i­lies by agro­chem­i­cals.” Or the way in which the dis­missal of Dil­ma in Brazil was sup­port­ed by argu­ments in favor of the Church, God, and fam­i­ly. There is a gen­er­al offen­sive of the church­es in Latin Amer­i­ca against what a local the­olo­gian has called “the ide­ol­o­gy of gen­der.” In oth­er words, the strike was a sort of con­nec­tor of real­i­ties and strug­gles that, at the same time, raised mul­ti­ple ques­tions. It was evi­dence of a very diverse and trans­ver­sal state of rebel­lion.

The issue of the Church is fun­da­men­tal. We have seen the alliance that the Vat­i­can pro­motes with social move­ments as a way of direct­ing the cri­tique of the so-called “excess­es” of cap­i­tal­ism. The women’s move­ment rad­i­cal­izes the agen­da and offers an alter­na­tive to the char­i­ta­ble, phil­an­thropic, and pater­nal­is­tic ways of respond­ing to the dis­pos­ses­sion and exploita­tion of cap­i­tal. There is an intense debate about this that is root­ed in the com­mu­ni­ty: how can we pro­duce an “infra­struc­ture of care” with­out repro­duc­ing the type of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with the church, whether it is Catholic or Evan­gel­i­cal, which clear­ly runs counter to the sov­er­eign­ty of women’s bod­ies. Because now I am going to say some­thing intu­itive: I have the impres­sion that the women’s move­ment is not exact­ly sec­u­lar. It has a very strong col­lec­tive spir­it [mís­ti­ca]. Then there is also a dis­pute at the spir­i­tu­al, affec­tive lev­el.

On the oth­er hand, I should clar­i­fy that when the com­mu­ni­ty is spo­ken about from a fem­i­nist posi­tion, it is not only refer­ring to the indige­nous-peas­ant, but it also has to do with cities, the slums, the set­tle­ments, and so forth. There­fore, there is a dis­pute over spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, a dis­pute over the infra­struc­tures of care, and about how to make the con­nec­tion between the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an and the pop­u­lar, whether it is done accord­ing to the Church’s way or in the way of the women’s move­ments that rad­i­cal­ize bod­i­ly auton­o­my. These are cen­tral issues in Latin Amer­i­ca.

There is also a very seri­ous ques­tion about vio­lence in the ter­ri­to­ries. This is one of the most screwed up issues. Dis­cus­sions about pos­si­ble strate­gies for con­fronting it are tak­ing place. Beyond ask­ing the state to take cer­tain mea­sures or increase the bud­get, beyond hav­ing an agen­da to demand five things from the state. Hav­ing insti­tu­tion­al demands are clear­ly not the movement’s prob­lem, rather every­thing is beyond dis­cussed, includ­ing insti­tu­tion­al com­plic­i­ty in vio­lence. We are inspired by that phrase: the time for rev­o­lu­tion is now.

Women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion and lead­er­ship was clear dur­ing the 2001 cri­sis but the fem­i­nist reg­is­ter did not appear as an inter­nal nar­ra­tive belong­ing to and cir­cu­lat­ing with­in the move­ment. If you called your­self a fem­i­nist in a neigh­bor­hood, peo­ple would look at you strange­ly or with dis­trust. Now that doesn’t hap­pen any­more. The issue of vio­lence is tied to the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an issue in rela­tion to the ques­tion of how to defend our­selves. How do we defend our­selves from the aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures, from the cri­sis that is com­ing, from the vio­lence in neigh­bor­hoods that is very intense here right now?

MM and AF: When the fem­i­nine and the com­mu­ni­tar­i­an come togeth­er some­times a cer­tain Mar­i­an­ism appears: the image of the moth­er who can do every­thing and sus­tain the com­mu­ni­ty with her self-sac­ri­fice. What oth­er images of the fem­i­nine are appear­ing in con­nec­tion to the strike, for exam­ple, that “avail­abil­i­ty for our­selves” that you talked about?

Vero: Here there is a strong pres­ence of young ado­les­cents in the move­ment and they are def­i­nite­ly not into self-sac­ri­fice (laugh­ter). Two weeks ago there was a hor­ri­ble femi­cide in the neigh­bor­hood of Flo­ren­cio Varela where four six­teen year old friends were killed. What occurred there was the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of how they por­trayed them­selves, through their pic­tures on Face­book, for exam­ple: with a lot of make-up, old­er than they were, going out to the club, going out alone at night, and so on. The vio­lence is more an attack on these ges­tures of auton­o­my, against cer­tain images of plea­sure and desire with which the girls appeared. They did not rep­re­sent a vin­di­ca­tion of women as the self­less “moral reserve” need­ed to over­come the cri­sis.

Nati: There is an entire gen­er­a­tion of very autonomous boys and girls. I don’t know if it has some­thing to do with the fact that they were raised by peo­ple who expe­ri­enced 2001… It has real­ly caught my atten­tion how for young kids, for exam­ple my son and his friends who are between twelve and four­teen years old, when they want to get into it with some­one who has said or done some­thing, they say: “but you’re so patri­ar­chal,” that’s the way of get­ting them to stop. And real­ly young kids are say­ing this! There is an accu­mu­la­tion of issues that have occurred over these years and I see the kids today as very dif­fer­ent, much more autonomous in many areas. Raised by moth­ers who expe­ri­enced, who orga­nized and con­struct­ed dif­fer­ent types of com­mu­ni­ties around 2001, raised by those moth­ers who shed that form of self-denial…

Caring for the Process and the Assembly to Compose the Common

MM and AF: Final­ly, we want­ed to ask you about the vital­i­ty of the assem­blies. There are times when move­ments dis­play a lot of pow­er in their con­crete actions, but when the time for talk­ing comes, a divi­sion is pro­duced, ide­o­log­i­cal polar­iza­tion, iden­ti­tar­i­an clo­sure. How has this moment of speak­ing been elab­o­rat­ed so that some­thing dif­fer­ent hap­pens?

Nati: What strikes me the most about the assem­blies is the vir­tu­os­i­ty that has been deployed so that women com­ing from the hum­blest sec­tors can co-exist with con­gress­women, women for abor­tion rights, women activists from very struc­tured orga­ni­za­tions, union­ized women, and so forth. Man­ag­ing to call a March 8 from that assem­bly, coor­di­nat­ing it all togeth­er, is an incred­i­ble and unprece­dent­ed vir­tu­os­i­ty. This had nev­er hap­pened before in Argenti­na. There are always two sep­a­rate groups that orga­nize for March 8.

There is always this ten­sion. You see polit­i­cal activists from left-wing par­ties who want the party’s posi­tion to pre­vail, but you also see their desire for the assem­bly not to break. And they strain and then relax, test­ing how far they can go and where they can­not. These ten­sions occur in the same body. There is a gen­er­al aware­ness that this is a major con­flu­ence that implies many things and that enor­mous care must be tak­en of the process above all. I don’t know lat­er up to what point some­thing like this can be sus­tained nor do I know if it would be good for an assem­bly to con­tin­ue as the site of per­ma­nent coor­di­na­tion. But what I have seen is that in this ten­sion the desire to arrive at a con­flu­ence among all these voic­es pre­vails. In oth­er places, we have seen it thou­sands of times, pos­tures tend to strain and break. How­ev­er, here there has been a very pow­er­ful sense of want­i­ng to show the soci­ety some­thing beyond the iden­ti­ties belong­ing to each indi­vid­ual, some­thing very fem­i­nine in car­ing for the process.

Vero: The assem­blies have been tremen­dous work and luck­i­ly they’re over (laugh­ter). The process itself has been very pow­er­ful: tak­ing seri­ous­ly all that rad­i­cal het­ero­gene­ity in a prac­ti­cal exer­cise of the com­po­si­tion of bod­ies and voic­es, of tra­jec­to­ries and expec­ta­tions. From the begin­ning, they said it would be impos­si­ble to cre­ate a com­mon doc­u­ment because there were more than six­ty orga­ni­za­tions of all dif­fer­ent types in the assem­bly. How­ev­er, last Fri­day we agreed upon a com­mon doc­u­ment with pop­u­lar acclaim, with a bunch of us cry­ing and applaud­ing. Up until the last minute, we didn’t think that we would be able to reach agree­ment, in the midst of a bat­tle – that was vir­u­lent at times – between abo­li­tion­ists and sex work­ers, unions that con­temp­tu­ous­ly referred to the women from pop­u­lar econ­o­my orga­ni­za­tions and work­ers in that econ­o­my as “arti­sans,” and so on. How­ev­er, there was a sense that it would be very pow­er­ful if we achieved it and Fri­day was real­ly impres­sive. A mess of an assem­bly, but one in which nobody want­ed to leave behind that pos­si­bil­i­ty of achiev­ing some­thing in com­mon. I think the atmos­phere was flood­ed by the per­cep­tion of being part of a cer­tain his­toric truth. Every­one, com­ing from a thou­sand dif­fer­ent places, says that this hasn’t hap­pened in any oth­er space. Assem­blies that were a car­ni­val of all posi­tions and polit­i­cal ori­gins, in the heat of the sum­mer, but with a gen­er­al will­ing­ness of each indi­vid­ual to give up some of her tone and lan­guage to com­pose some­thing togeth­er.

MM and AF: And where do you think that legit­i­ma­cy of the women’s move­ment comes from that allows it to cre­ate that trans­ver­sal­i­ty?

Nati: I think that many peo­ple thought that it would be impos­si­ble for Octo­ber 19 to be so mas­sive. There was even tor­ren­tial rain that day. But there were so many peo­ple, women, girls, every­where… There­fore we cared for the space of the assem­bly, because we know that it is some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing that strength­ens each of us in our own places and that legit­i­mates all of the work that each of us has been doing.

Vero: The call for Octo­ber 19 real­ly touched a lot of peo­ple. Every­one returned to their place with a very pow­er­ful force, a sort of tat­too. Many women were encour­aged from then on to take the dis­cus­sion to their unions, their neigh­bor­hoods, and so on. The oth­er day a Boli­vian girl said to us: “I hold my head up high because I know that I am part of this assem­bly.”

I’ll recount a scene: a pub­lic mater­ni­ty clin­ic was closed recent­ly, which is very inter­est­ing because we have been work­ing against obstet­ric vio­lence for many years. The women who had been laid off came to talk about what had hap­pened, cre­at­ing a very intense scene: the assem­bly as a space of col­lec­tive elab­o­ra­tion and the pol­i­tics of grief. There is some­thing about this moment of Macri’s gov­ern­ment that quick­ly puts you in a posi­tion of cyn­i­cism or of impo­tence. The pow­er of of the assem­bly is that you can move your­self out of both posi­tions and invent some­thing dif­fer­ent. With­out much guar­an­tee, for sure, because we don’t know what we are going to do after March 8. But women arrived there with a type of anguish and they received a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion. And if you don’t find a place this way, you stay at home poi­son­ing your­self with tele­vi­sion or being nos­tal­gic for some time when you thought things were bet­ter, both of which are very pro­found­ly sad posi­tions. And in the assem­bly some­thing hap­pens, a space is opened up, out­side of both nos­tal­gia and cyn­i­cism.

March 8: A New Feminist Internationalism

Vero and Nati: March 8 was mas­sive. They are say­ing that there were more than 500,000 peo­ple in the street. The Plaza de Mayo was full even before the orga­ni­za­tions arrived with their columns.

The stage was a het­ero­ge­neous com­po­si­tion of all the voic­es that we had sewn togeth­er in the poly­phon­ic doc­u­ment that was read and that now we have to con­tin­ue deploy­ing, spec­i­fy­ing, and sharp­en­ing. We per­ceived an unusu­al atten­tion to the read­ing. Many com­pañeras were cry­ing. We our­selves were moved: we were togeth­er, we were say­ing that we were embody­ing a new fem­i­nist inter­na­tion­al­ism and that were were spec­i­fy­ing each one of the demands that we had con­struct­ed, but we were also launch­ing a com­mon shout beyond our demands. Because we want our­selves alive, we had the strength to con­vene our­selves, to con­nect with each oth­er, to pro­duce such a pow­er­ful voice. We expe­ri­enced the fes­ti­val of mobi­liz­ing togeth­er after hav­ing gone on strike and hav­ing woven that strike togeth­er body by body, word by word.

This was a notable coun­ter­point to the CGT’s demon­stra­tion the day before. Three male lead­ers were speak­ing, with no con­tent to what they were say­ing, repu­di­at­ed by their bases for not spec­i­fy­ing a date for the gen­er­al strike, and final­ly the lectern col­lapsed as a result of  protests and the lead­ers were forced to leave run­ning.

We did set a date for the gen­er­al strike. We orga­nized our­selves. We went on strike. Because we are moved by the desire to con­struct here and now the world in which we want to live.

– Trans­lat­ed by Liz Mason-Deese

This inter­view orig­i­nal­ly appeared in Revista Alex­ia

Authors of the article

is an independent investigator, editor of Acuarela Libros and the Revista Alexia. Amador has participated in various social movements (student, anti-globalization, copyleft, anti-war, V de Vivienda, 15-M). He is the author of Filosofía y acción (Editorial Límite, 1999), co-author of Red Ciudadana tras el 11-M; cuando el sufrimiento no impide pensar ni actuar (Acuarela Libros, 2008), Con y contra el cine; en torno a Mayo del 68 (UNIA, 2008) and Fuera de lugar. Conversaciones entre crisis y transformación (Acuarela Libros, 2013). He also runs the blog “Interferencias” on eldiario.es.

is a freelance translator, activist, researcher and mother living in Vallecas, a working-class neighborhood in Southern Madrid. Since 1999, she has been committed to the development of theoretical discourse on power, gender, borders and governmentality, as well as to grassroots action-research and pedagogical practices. In 2004, she was responsible for the edition of a collective book on militant research practices: Nociones Comunes. Experiencias y ensayos entre Investigación y Militancia. Her collaborative projects include Precarias a la deriva, an action research project on female precarity by precarious women workers (2003-2007), and Manos Invisibles, an ongoing collaborative research project on neoliberal governmentality. In the post-15M context, she has got involved in the establishment of Escuela de Afuera, which aims to develop new pedagogical tools to decolonize our ways of knowing, building transversal and unusual connections between the university and its outskirts.

is a former member of Colectivo Situaciones and communications secretary for the Asociación Argentina de Aeronavegantes (Argentina Airline Workers' Association).

is part of Colectivo Situaciones, teaches in the School of Social Sciences at Buenos Aires University, and is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). She is currently working on a project exploring popular economies in post-neoliberal contexts.