Que se Vayan Todos

The Strength of Sharing

Martin is in his thirties, short, with dark piercing eyes and sharp features. He founded the Admiralte Brown piqueteros group with Dario. Inspired by the nearby Solano group, one day they put up posters around the neighbourhood advertising a piquetero assembly. That was two and a half years ago - things are now very different. The group now has two sections within Admiralte Brown which meet in four different assemblies, with over 200 participants. The national Piquetero movements have become the key energy behind the popular rebellion that has spread across Argentina and Dario is dead, shot by the police three weeks ago.

Martin is the main person showing us around and introducing us to people here. His commitment, like everyone in the group, to non-hierarchical organising is total. He seems to have a leadership role that is not about coercion or command but about networking and storytelling. He displays a potent humility yet has a charismatic confidence which enables him to make connections between people, and he has a great knack for telling inspiring tales.

As we walk through the sprawling district, he lists the different activities that they have self-organised: "We have a group building sewage systems and another that helps people who only have tin roofs on their houses to put proper roofs on. There is a press group which produces our own media and makes links with the outside media. We have the 'Copa de Leche' (cup of milk) which provides a glass of milk to children every day. There's the bakery you just saw, and we're building vegetable gardens and a library. What we are about to see is the Ropero, the common clothes store."

Another wooden sign welcomes us to the MTD Ropero. We walk into a small room where half a dozen women are sitting around a table. Behind them a set of shelves has a few clothes folded on it. One woman is sewing by hand.

They greet us warmly and sweet mate is handed around by the Griselda, who shows us her red swollen fingers: "We mend all the clothes by hand," she says, "it hurts my fingers so much, we have no sewing machines."

She explains the function of the ropero. Its role is to distribute clothing to families who can't afford them. MTD people hand out explanatory leaflets, especially on the other side of the neighbourhood which is marginally better off but suffers just as much unemployment. People who have old clothes bring them here, where they are cleaned and mended. Then, twice a month, the Ropero is open for people from the whole neighbourhood to come and take clothes for free.

"How do you avoid people taking more than their fare share?" I ask. "We have simple rules: no more than 3 clothes per person, and we have a book where we write down who has taken what clothes," she says, showing us a neatly written ledger with a dedication to Maxi and Dario written on the inside page. "But the other day a mother came who has ten children, and we didn't have enough to give them all clothes they needed," she sighs.

A collection of objects are stuck to the walls of the room. There is a faded picture of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, a gaudy plastic clock, and next to it a press cutting with the large headline 'AUTOGESTION', a beautiful word that has no direct equivalent in English but means autonomous self-organising, self-management. Beneath it is a hand-written sheet of paper that explains some of the points of principle of the movement. Listed under the "Criteria for work" are such things as: "Don't be a tourist in your groups, don't just sit and watch"; "Respect others"; "Give voluntary money to the common funds, especially if you get a Plan (unemployment subsidies )" and "Go to the assemblies". Another column explains the criteria for assemblies, including "Give priority to those who don't speak"; "Don't be authoritarian"; "Don't speak for others", and finally, "Criticise , don't complain". Griselda points out the back copies of the Aldmiralte Brown MTD photocopied newsletter also pinned to the wall, telling us that many of the women here cannot read and that every week when the newsletter comes out she reads it to them.

A woman at the end of the table holds up a pair of child's trousers she is working on, pointing to a large rip at the knees. "We don't have any material to make a patch, so we are cutting off the legs and turning them into shorts," she explains.

She then picks out a pair of Nike trousers from the shelf to show us what good condition some of the clothes that she mends are in. As she shows them to us, I wonder about the journey these trousers must have made, from the hands of a sweatshop worker in East Asia, via ships and shops, to Argentina, where they were bought, worn, donated and then mended by another hand, finaly to be given away as part of the project of an anticapitalist movement of unemployed workers.

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