The trajectory of the Argentine piqueteros movement after the Argentinazo

An example of eroding social capital

Seminar Paper, 2012

25 Pages, Grade: 8,5


Table of contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Research focus and questions
1.2 Methodology and focus groups

2 Theoretical Framework
2.1 The concept of social capital
2.2 Different types of social capital
2.3 The lifecycle of social movements

3 The emergence of the piqueteros
3.1 The beginnings of the movement
3.2 The economic crisis of
3.2.1 A catalyst for the piqueteros
3.2.2 The fragmentation of the movement
3.3 The Kirchner era: A paradigm shift
3.3.1 A new official strategy
3.3.2 Implications of the new assistantialist policies on the piqueteros

4 Consequences for the social capital of the piqueteros
4.1 Adaptation of the moderate piqueteros
4.2 The radical block of the piqueteros
4.3 The rise of the consenso antipiquetero

5 Reactions to changes and the current state of piqueteros movements
5.1 The Coordinadora de trabajadores desocupados (CTD) Aníbal Verón
5.2 The Federación de Tierra, Vivienda y Habitat (FTV)
5.3 The Unión de Trabajadores Desocupados (UTD) General Mosconi

6 Conclusion: The impact of the piqueteros on Argentina’s democracy

7 Appendix

8 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Ten years ago, unemployed workers movements blocking main roads in Buenos Aires became together with the middle classes’ cacerolazos[1] the face and main forms of protest of the Argentine crisis in 2001/2002. Between the middle of the 1990s and 2001, these unemployed workers movements, the piqueteros, managed to position themselves in the center of attention of politics, media and society. At the peak moment of the crisis, "nada parecía frenar el ascenso y reconocimiento social de este nuevo actor”, who had a crucial impact on bringing down de La Rúa’s as well as Duhalde’s government (Svampa 2008: 152), made efforts to coordinate different movements in the Asamblea Nacional Piquetera and was invited for talks by Nestór Kirchner as soon as he assumed presidency in 2003 (Gómez 2007: 129).

In spite of the enormous potential of the piqueteros at that point of time, the importance and support of the movement have widely diminished over the last decade − even though their original concerns, Argentina’s inequality, poverty and unemployed rates, still remain (Petras 2009: 65). The piqueteros’ most visible heritage, the road block, has replaced conventional strikes and is now not only used by unemployed workers movements, but by all kind of movements. It has become part of the country’s every-day life and converted Argentina into a “piquetero nation” (Kozloff 2008: 174).

1.1 Research focus and questions

This trajectory raises questions regarding the lifecycle of a social movement like the piqueteros and makes it interesting to analyze how they are operating today, how the strategies applied by Kirchner’s government have affected the movement and what are its future perspectives. To answer these questions, it is first of all necessary to see who the piqueteros are, to look into their beginnings and the changes the movement has undergone since the Argentinazo in 2001.

This paper is going to focus on the potential of movements to generate social capital, a concept “broadly defined as the ‘value’ of social relationships” (De Silva et al. 2005: 19). In 2001, the piqueteros appeared to have been fairly successful in creating these relationships on and to different levels of society, fostering connections inside communities, but also connecting these communities to other groups of society and to the political sphere. Applying the concept of social capital will be very useful here to address the question of the success of the unemployed workers movements. These movements were obviously crucial for the introduction of new assistantialist programs and work plans[2], but going beyond that level, it will be interesting to analyze what these movements actually achieved and they mean to those inside as well as outside the piqueteros movement. This insight into the evolution of the piquetero’s social capital also reveals their potential for future success. On a more general level, the piqueteros are an interesting example to understand the conditions under which social movements can be successful in generating social capital. The main scholars who have conceptualized the term social capital see social movements and their ability of to generate social capital closely related to the consolidation of democracy. This eventually leads to the question whether and to which extent a movement like the piqueteros, basically compromised of the most marginalized citizens, has and continues to have an impact on strengthening Argentina’s democracy.

1.2 Methodology and focus groups

To address these questions, it will be necessary to lay out the concept of social capital as discussed in the course of the lectures and to relate this theoretical frame to the case of the piqueteros. The analytical part consists of a bibliographic research focusing on scholarly literature and newspaper articles. Due to the heterogeneity of the piqueteros from its very beginnings and a scarcity of studies that focus on individual groups, the paper is not giving a comprehensive insight into these different groups termed as piqueteros[3]. As exemplary cases, three of the largest and most influential groups of the piqueteros will be discussed here: The Unión de Trabajadores Desocupados (UTD) General Mosconi, one of the first piquetero movements from Salta, the Federación de Tierra, Vivienda y Habitat (FTV), whose leader Luis D’Elia has become a visible actor in Argentina’s politics, and the Coordinadora de Trabajadores Desocupados (CTD) Aníbal Verón, a more radical movement which has been studied intensively by Fernanda Torres (2006; 2009; 2011).

2 Theoretical Framework

2.1 The concept of social capital

The concept of social capital of movements and organizations has received growing attention since the beginning of the 90s. Measures which are supposed to stimulate the generation of social capital have found their way into the agendas of governments, NGOs and received special attention by the World Bank. Similarly to other types of capital, social capital is seen as a solution for problems in society and generally defined as “the ability to secure resources by virtue of membership in social networks or larger social structures” (Portes/ Landolt 2000: 532). It has been conceptualized by sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu, James Coleman and Robert Putnam (cf. Santiago 2010: 279-280). The latter concluded that the “features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks […] can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions” (Putnam 1993: 167). The idea of reciprocal trust and the eventual establishment of norms generated through these coordinated actions within an organization leads, according to Putnam, to the accumulation of a “'stock' of social capital possessed by communities, and even nations”, which has “consequent structural effects on their development” (Portes/ Landolt 2000: 535).

2.2 Different types of social capital

In spite of the focus on networks and collective actions, a difference remains in terms of the meaning of these goals pursued by a movement on an individual and a collective level (the micro vis-à-vis the macro level) (Westle/Gabriel 2008: 18). This means that, on the one hand, the trust generated between different members of an organization can be extended to and generalized for different groups of society (ib.: 20). On the other hand, an individual’s motivation to join an organization and his interpretation of the effectiveness of the latter might differ from the organization’s own understanding. Both levels are related, but can be arbitrary in cases where the social capital of an individual, e.g. the right connections to certain persons, undermine collective social capital (Portes/ Landolt 2000: 535).

In spite of the focus on immaterial values and networks that compromise social capital, this form of capital should eventually also lead to “an array of material and informational benefits” and therefore materialistic results (Portes/ Landolt 2000: 535). To gain these results, different types of relations are needed, depending on the purpose of the respective organization. Applying the three main forms of social capital ties identified by the World Bank, organizations may possess bonding social capital (links within one community), bridging social capital (links to different groups of society) and linking social capital (“based on vertical ties among the poor and those with influence in formal institutions” (McIlwaine/ Moser 2001: 967)). This differentiation suggests that the conditions for a successful generation of social capital do not only depend on endogenous factors inside an organization, but are linked to exogenous influences. Therefore, the context and the setting in which an organization emerges is highly important for its success (De Silva et al. 2005: 20), so that in the end “external factors, not social capital, […] may play the key role in the process” (Portes/ Landolt 2000: 536). This idea does not only take the spatial conditions for the success of a movement into account, but also the time factor as “situations change and the very success of collective efforts to attain certain goals today may change or diminish” in future (ib.: 546).

2.3 The lifecycle of social movements

In the context of these changing opportunities, the idea of lifecycles that an organization goes through emerges: The success of a movement is largely depended on its “capacidad de instalar determinadas demandas a partir de la movilización” (Frey/ Cross 2007: 123). As this paper is mainly concerned with the lifecycle of the piqueteros, it will be interesting to apply the conceptualization of the four development stages of social movements resumed by Jonathan Christiansen to the trajectory of the piqueteros.

According to Christiansen, social movements experience a cycle of emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization and decline (2009: 2). The stage of emergence is characterized by “widespread discontent” of a certain group, while the movement is still at a very preliminary stage and possesses little or no organizational structure (ib.: 2). The process of coalescence fosters not only the awareness of shared discontent, but also the level of coordination (ib.: 3). At this state, mass mobilizations and collective actions like demonstrations emerge and eventually require a higher degree of leadership as well the definition of strategies and goals. If a movement succeeds in this second step, usually a period of bureaucratization or formalization begins. At this point, the movement needs to go beyond mass mobilization and develop new strategies to organize and to build coalitions as well as to gain access to political elites (ib.: 3). The forth phase, termed by Christiansen as the decline of the movement, can occur due to a variety of reasons which are not necessarily negative (ib.: 3). A decline to due cooptation or repression by authorities or the simple failure of a movement definitely have negative implications (ib.: 4). A failure of a movement can be of strategic or organizational origin, while the latter usually is a result of factionalism and encapsulation. More positive could be a decline due to a success of a movement which has emerged with specific goals and achieved them (ib.: 4) or the establishment within mainstream society: If ideals and goals are appropriated by mainstream society, the movement looses its necessity (ib.: 4).

In the case of the piqueteros, the heterogeneity and the fragmentation of the movement suggests a more complex picture from the very beginning and affects a possible clear demarcation of the individual phases of a lifecycle. As this paper focuses on the trajectory after the Argentinazo, the 3rd and 4th phase of social movements will be addressed in a more detailed way after a brief resume of the main characteristics of the movement’s beginnings.

3 The emergence of the piqueteros

3.1 The beginnings of the movement

The piqueteros today are generally associated with the Gran Buenos Aires region, but initially, piquetes were mainly used from 1995 in oil-producing towns in the interior that were confronted with huge lay-offs in the course of the privatizations of companies like YPF during the 1990s[4]. Road blocks were not a novelty in Argentina (blocking access to factories etc. had been a means of protest for over a century (cf. Oviedo 2004: 9; Benclowicz 2010: 75)), but now became the piqueteros’ main repertory. The first road blocks during this constitution phase were of spontaneous and unplanned nature and often brutally repressed by the local police. In comparison to before, protestors had a different addressee: Participants refused to negotiate with any intermediates (like unions etc.) but the governor (Hager Galindo 2008: 31) and went back on the streets when the local government did not comply with its promises (ib.: 33). The events in the interior relate to the phase of emergence and the beginning of the coalescence period.

A second moment of emergence appears in 1998, the year which is usually seen as the beginning of a new phase of consolidation. The piquete was taken over by organizations in the Gran Buenos Aires region, a different setting affected by structural poverty as well a rising new poverty and unemployment (Petras 2009: 77). This second phase was marked by a violent turn of the protests, including several deaths, a growing number of piquetes and activists as well as greater concessions granted by the government, which meant a certain success during the coalescence period (Hager Galindo 2008: 34).

The piqueteros never emerged as one movement, but as a variety of local movements that initially fought for their community. What connected them was a common objective of demanding jobs, employment programs and basic services and the use of the same direct actions to express their goals. In addition to the very visible piquetes, they also engaged in assemblies, puebladas and communitarian work (Torres 2006: 61)[5] and a shared position of being excluded from society, without any possibility to express their claims and to access resources (Hager Galindo 2008: 38, Dinerstein 2010: 358).


[1] The cacerolazo is a form of popular protest during which participants make noise with cooking pots and other utensils to raise attention. These demonstrations were widely used by the Argentine middle classes to express their anger during the crisis in 2001/2002.

[2] The most striking example of these work plans is the program Jefas y Jefes de Hogar, which supports households of unemployed with children with a basic subsidy of U$ 50 in exchange for communitarian work (cf. for example Massetti 2006: 34).

[3] Torres’ overview of the most important groups of piqueteros in 2006 offers an orientation of the heterogeneous movement (Annexo I).

[4] The cases of early piquetes in the Neuqúen and Salta have been the focus of numerous publications like José Daniel Benclowicz for the case of Tartagal and General Mosconi, Salta (Benclowicz 2011) or Paula Colmegna for the case Cutral-Có, Neuquén (Colmegna 2003).

[5] Many scholars discuss the practise of factory takeovers, the fábricas recuperadas, in connection with the activities of the piqueteros (Hager Galindo 2008: 49-50; Kozloff 2008). While there are certainly connections between these movements, the takeovers were usually carried out by former staff members and not a result of coordinated actions of unemployed workers movements and are therefore addressed in this paper.

Excerpt out of 25 pages


The trajectory of the Argentine piqueteros movement after the Argentinazo
An example of eroding social capital
VU University Amsterdam  (CEDLA)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
730 KB
Argentina, Argentinien, Social movements, Soziale Bewegungen, Social capital, piqueteros
Quote paper
Neele Meyer (Author), 2012, The trajectory of the Argentine piqueteros movement after the Argentinazo , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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