The debates in Porto Alegre have been given added urgency by the unfolding crisis in nearby Argentina. Friday of last week saw a new eruption of mass protest, with clashes with police in the capital, Buenos Aires, and people attacking banks in some cities. The protests were organised by the neighbourhood assemblies that are springing up across the capital and other cities.
Four governments have come and gone since the mass uprising in December toppled President De la Rua. Not a day goes by now without new protests across the country, and the issues posed by the movement are growing sharper. International bankers and those at the top of Argentinian society have no answer to the enormous crisis in the country other than to make ordinary people suffer. The government has frozen bank accounts, and cut pensions and salaries.
Ruling politicians are presiding over misery for the mass of people. Food shortages are becoming a reality for many in one of the world's biggest food producing countries.
This suffering is pushing people to organise in a way that points to how the crisis could be solved from below. The Pagina 12 newspaper talked last week of the 'protests which are multiplying across the country' as 'the phantom that terrifies the Pink House', referring to the presidential palace.
Friday's protests were organised by a coordination of the popular assemblies. Trade union leaders are mostly going along with the government run by the Peronist party. Instead grassroots assemblies, outside the control of established political parties, called last week's Friday demonstrations. These protests were against the effective freeze on bank accounts and a call for the Supreme Court that backed the government's freeze to resign. Tens of thousands of people converged on the city centre from marches beginning in different areas of Buenos Aires. Protesters also rocked around 100 other cities on Friday.
Demonstrators demanded, 'We want to work,' and in some areas unemployed people blocked roads and surrounded supermarkets, calling for food. The La Prensa daily newspaper reported last weekend, 'Some of these popular assemblies are making wider demands. They are calling for nationalisation of the banks and non-payment of the foreign debt. Some are also clamouring for 'politicians' to be put on trial, and openly saying, 'Get rid of them all'.'
The growth of this kind of organisation and struggle from below holds the key to solving the problems faced by the mass of people in Argentina. It is also where the potential lies to realise the hope for a better world shared by many of those in Porto Alegre.