This article examines a series of worker strikes that culminated in the takeover of the Deutz Argentina tractor factory in October 1980. These mobilizations occurred under the most violent military regime in modern Argentine history—the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (Process of National Reorganization, 1976–83)—yet they did not provoke legal or extralegal repression. Instead, over a week of highly visible conflicts, the Deutz workforce challenged the company’s decision to close the plant and publicly attacked the dictatorship’s economic policies and failure to defend Argentina’s national interest. This episode has been largely ignored within the history of labor relations during the Proceso. In this article, I advance two related arguments. First, I suggest that while several factors contributed to the lack of violence, the workers’ discourse demands serious analysis and shows important continuities with historical Peronist ideologies. Rather than passive victims or heroic revolutionaries, I demonstrate that Deutz workers pursued a pragmatic and occasionally aggressive strategy centered around ideas of patriotism, family, and religion—all ideas that the Armed Forces rhetorically celebrated. Second, I argue that this case challenges accepted notions related to the “state of exception” that nominally suspended the normal functioning of the law. Instead, I show, the law and legal precedent remained critically important to workers, trade unionists, management, and state actors as they navigated this situation. Labor legislation played a key role in the development, understanding, and resolution of the confrontation. This reading takes seriously the Proceso as a government and offers new insight into authoritarian legality.
“In Defense of Our Livelihoods”: Rethinking Authoritarian Legality and Worker Resistance during Argentina’s Proceso de Reorganización Nacional
EDWARD BRUDNEY is assistant professor of Latin American history at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. He completed his PhD at Indiana University in 2019. His dissertation, titled “Remaking Argentina: Labor, Law, and Citizenship during the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional,” explored labor law and labor relations under Argentina’s most recent military dictatorship (1976 – 83). This research was supported by an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council, the Tinker Foundation, re:Work, and Indiana University, among other institutions. He has also published in the Journal of Religion and Society and the Journal of Global South Studies. In addition to labor history and labor relations, his research interests include memory and memory studies; political violence; law and the state; and the history of cultural production.
Edward Brudney; “In Defense of Our Livelihoods”: Rethinking Authoritarian Legality and Worker Resistance during Argentina’s Proceso de Reorganización Nacional. Labor 1 December 2019; 16 (4): 67–88. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-7790199
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