By Emilse I.
It’s a pleasure to share this panel with these fellow fighters and this Congress with all of you. In our country, as well as in the rest of the world, there was an increase in the movement of delivery workers for application, in the midst of the pandemic where the contradiction between being essential but having no rights was so evident. There were spontaneous mobilizations, caravans, actions. It was then when a group of colleagues and comrades understood the need to build a permanent organization that went beyond spontaneous anger. We concentrated our forces in a tool that would serve the future, and that’s when the idea of building a union was born.
That’s when the question of how to reach our colleagues arose. We decided that we had to start with what we do: when we have any problem working on the street, the only one who helps the worker is another worker. To overcome the atomization that characterizes our sector, we began to look for natural concentration places, fast food places, shopping centers. And that’s where the heart of our union was born: the Solidarity Stops or Support Hubs. With a table, tools to fix bicycles and motorcycles, coffee, sanitary protection items, we went to talk to the workers on the corners to exercise solidarity and convince our colleagues of the need to organize.
These stops became the main institution of the union, which we sustain week after week, because it allows us to link ourselves to the real problems of the workers and build a union linked to the demands of its workers. In the stops, we build the union, organize, affiliate, add more colleagues to organize, and debate. And that’s where we conquered our 3000 members, and that’s why we share it in all international debate instances. It’s a pride for us as many workers from other parts of the world began to make their own Solidarity Stops and Support Hubs.
To tell you how the process of organization was in our country, it seems important to contextualize. In Argentina, there is a lot of tradition of organization, there is almost a 30% unionization rate. But we have a difficulty, which is that in Argentina, traditional unionism is bureaucratic, traitorous, pro-government, and pro-company. This generates that in the face of large sectors of workers, it is very discredited. They don’t care about delivery workers because if they don’t recognize you as a worker, they can’t take money out of you for union dues, so they are not interested in those workers. Bureaucratic unionism does not debate but imposes, seeks the interest of the union structure, which is linked to companies and the government, and not the real needs of workers. They act against any independent organization, try to prevent workers from organizing from the bottom up, not fight for their claims, reject all discussion, and democracy among workers. That’s why we built something new, something different. SiTraRepA, as its name implies, is a grassroots, anti-bureaucratic union, with its own workers at the forefront of setting up this tool.
We are in a context of strong anti-union attacks by companies, which do everything possible and spend millions to prevent us from having our unions. For this, they have two strategies: lobbying with governments to impose anti-union legislation such as Proposition 22, against Uber workers in California, or in the case of Argentina, where the government prevents our recognition as a union and the labor relationship.
The second and most dangerous strategy is to use sectors of workers who are blackmailed with the discourse that being self-employed is a benefit, and with the extortion that if we win rights, they will leave the country and leave us without work. With this discourse, they seek to organize them with pro-company yellow associations and mobilize them against those who organize for labor rights. This is the case in Spain with pro-company associations and also in recent weeks in Colombia with Rappi, which paid a sector to ask that there be no recognition in the legislation being promoted to regulate workers.
To defeat these attempts to divide us, we depend on the organizing work we carry out, to convince and win the majority of our colleagues that it is time to fight and organize, and that we are not independent, we are workers. We must know that in this task, we have no replacement, and there is no vacuum, where we do not organize a colleague, the company will go to try to blackmail him. That is why the independent organization of companies and governments is so necessary to carry out these battles. That is why it is so important to build unions and all kinds of collectives or organizations that workers give themselves to fight for their rights, as the title of this panel says.
It is in this sense that we feel part of the wave of new unionism that is sweeping the world, which is increasingly talked about and multiplied because the struggles are growing. This new unionism is an explosion of new unions or unions that are renewed and begin to change their way of working and focus on organizing workers for their rights. That is why they are filled with new generations that enter the struggle. New unionism is a worldwide wave, and I believe that this congress is an expression of this phenomenon.
We are part of a worldwide wave, and we must recognize that what this congress expresses is that there is a process of reconstitution of workers and union struggle that has not been seen for many years. There are historic strikes in Great Britain, in France, in many countries. Today we are in the United States, the heart of this system, which saw the birth of these multinational companies and this new way of organizing work that is platform work. Today it is also the heart of this new wave of new unionism, and it is expressed in these colleagues who sit here on the panel with me, such as Tristan from Amazon, Verónica from Starbucks, and we are making history.
Finally, I think it is important to point out who the protagonists of this wave of new unionism are: as Tristan said, we are a very young new generation entering the labor world and finding that the conditions are of total exploitation, that this brutal capitalist system wants to steal our future, which is becoming increasingly unbearable. It is a new generation that cannot bear to work without a single labor right in conditions of 200 years ago. And furthermore, this new generation that we are, we are not defeated, we are angry, and we want to fight.
We are a heterogeneous working class, where those of us who are leading the organizing process are women, migrants, people of color, from all over the world. And I believe that this congress must encourage us to come out stronger and continue building anti-bureaucratic, grassroots unions and organizations, and to redouble the fight to wrest our rights from companies, and in that, workers have the final word.