The dispute for urban territory

Raúl Zibechi

By: Raúl Zibechi

Seated in a round in which more than 100 persons participate, Mari launches a sentence that is, at the same time, a whole political program: “If those below don’t look at ourselves, no one else looks at us.” Mari is a member of the Meeting of Organizations (Encuentro de Organizaciones, EO), one of the collectives with the most territorial work in Córdoba (Argentina), participates in Universidad Trashumante, is around 50 years old and is a popular educator “of those below.”

When two decades have been completed sinc the start of the cycle of Piquetero struggles (1997-2002), it seems like enough time to evaluate where we are, what remained and what evaporated from that promising experience, in which the unemployed occupied the center of the Argentine political stage to champion the days of December 19 and 20, 2001, which changed the country’s history.

One of the principal new things that contributed to the Piquetero Movement consisted of an enormous leap forward in territorial organization on the urban peripheries, which had suffered the de-industrialization of the 1990s. Later, an important part of the movement became disorganized or became incrusted in the institutions (via cooptation by the progressive governments or by turning towards the electoral terrain).

I am going to center myself in what can be seen, and learned, in the city of Córdoba (a little more than one million inhabitants) during meetings with different territorial organizations in recent months.

The first thing is to verify the power that maintains the territorial work. We’re talking about thousands off activists that dedicate all their time to the direct work or support for the land takeovers, the organization of self-managed production and service cooperatives, to education and health, to the support of assaulted women, to antisystemic communication and to food in popular barrios through snack bars and glasses of milk.

There is an enormous diversity of work and of organizations, with different styles but with common modes of work. Among the more autonomous sector are, besides the EO, the Front of Grassroots Organizations (Frente de Organizaciones de Base, FOB) and the Front of Organizations in Struggle (Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha, FOL). With tuning in the same work one would have to include La Dignidad, el Frente Darío Santillán, La Poderosa, Patria Grande and the Excluded Workers Movement (Movimiento de Trabajadores Excluidos, MTE), in addition to Barrios de Pie and the Movimiento Evita.

Between several of these collectives they have formed the Confederation of Popular Economy Workers (CTEP), a sort of union of “the millions excluded from the formal labor market,” cardboard collectors, campesinos, craftsmen, street vendors, peddlers, motorcyclists, cooperative workers, micro-entrepreneurs and those who work for recuperated companies (see Said another way, those that don’t fit in the current capitalist system.

The second question, much more important than the quantitative one, is what they do in the territories. Taking over land is a first inescapable step for starting a new life. Half the population of Córdoba (according to research from the militant research collective “The Call in Flames,” it’s 48 percent) has housing problems. It’s the half of the population that the extractive model leaves out of the most basic rights.

It’s impossible to know how many acres they have recuperated, but there are dozens of spaces in the city and in nearby towns. In one of them, Parque las Rosas, there are 30 families that in just two years have built housing of solid materials after resisting the police.

Once housing is resolved, daily survival is the most urgent. There is enormous diversity on this point, but they usually create cooperatives based on governmental social policies, which work autonomously. There are cooperatives of drivers that collect waste. There are cleaning cooperatives and cooperatives that provide other services. The most interesting thing is that there is a lot of production: chickens and eggs, cereals, food distribution based on articulation with small organic producers (the essential rural-urban alliance), textile cooperatives of clothing, footwear and silk screening.

Among the groups mentioned above, there are in excess of 100 territorial and self-managed cooperatives just in Córdoba, in which two thousand people work, 80 percent of them women. Within the framework of the education campaigns launched at the beginning of every school year, cooperatives of several organizations manufacture tens of thousands of backpacks and pencil holders for children from the popular sectors.

A health brigade tours the neighborhoods to monitor the situation of the families. In one case, at least, they are starting to manufacture dentures, something that is out of reach of the popular sectors. In all the neighborhoods barrios outdoor restaurants function based on foods obtained with mobilizations; they are managed by the neighbors themselves and in recent months have grown exponentially because of the Macri government’s adjustment.

Hundreds of Córdoba women go each year to the National Women’s Gathering. Fruit of the grassroots work that they carry out in the outlying districts, a popular and plebeian feminism has grown for years, powerful and rebellious, which has not been coopted by anyone and sustains the resistances in the territories.

Autonomous communication would merit a special study, but here are two examples. The alternative and community radio Zumba the Turba (, has broadcast for seven years from the same space where the FOB works. The newspaper La Tinta ( born one year ago, is close to the EO and has a slogan that says it all: “Journalism to get involved” (Periodismo hasta mancharse).

The impression is that the Piquetero Movement, far from disappearing, has mutated into a potent urban territorial movement where the subjects are the poorest. Cari, an occupant of Parque las Rosas, synthesized in one sentence the causes of the “fourth world war” against those below: “They no longer impose how to live on us.”


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, September 1, 2017

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee



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