Academic journal article Capital & Class

Agustin Santella: Labor Conflict and Capitalist Hegemony in Argentina: The Case of the Automobile Industry, 1990- 2007

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Agustin Santella: Labor Conflict and Capitalist Hegemony in Argentina: The Case of the Automobile Industry, 1990- 2007

Article excerpt

Agustin Santella Labor Conflict and Capitalist Hegemony in Argentina: The Case of the Automobile Industry, 1990-2007, Leiden: Brill, 2016; 244 pp.: ISBN 9004291512, 103.65 [pounds sterling]

Agustin Santella offers a wide-ranging theoretical debate on trade union organisation, collective action, working-class formation and workplace conflict via a rich empirical account of worker mobilisation in the automobile sector. For those interested in debates on labour conflict, in the reinvigorated discussion of trade union organising and workplace conflict across the Global South, or in the contemporary dynamics of labour organisation and worker mobilisation in Argentina, Labor Conflict and Capitalist Hegemony in Argentina is an unmissable read.

The first half sets out Santellas approach to understanding collective action in Argentina. Moving from Engels and Trotsky to Gramsci, Santella examines the oft-contradictory role ascribed to trade unions via the spatial and historical dynamics of global capitalism to identify the conditions under which they can become potentially revolutionary agents (p. 19). This is an important point of departure, even more so in the context of research into trade unions in Argentina, where resort to debates about corporatism and the co-opting of working-class struggle are the typical starting point of analysis.

Santella, instead, seeks to conceptualise the position of trade unions via a reading of Gramsci's notion of hegemony in which they act as the 'trenches' before the capitalist state' (p. 24). His approach understands trade unions as 'not the expression of the working class, but of the social relationships in which it actively constitutes as such' (p. 27). Here, he sets up an important new reading of their role in Argentina that interrogates the specificity of their limitations in contesting capitalism and the possible scope for renewing this class-conscious role. Alongside this, Santella opens up discussion about the possibilities of working-class protest, drawing on the work of Postone, van der Linden and Inigo Carrera to connect the structural foundations of working-class formation to the historically determined form of collective action that underpins, in his view, the dynamic, changing character of trade unions.

This reading is demonstrated through an innovative tracing of the trajectory of general strikes. Although leaving Rosa Luxemburg out of his initial conceptual discussion of these phenomena, this chapter presents a fascinating re-reading of labour history in Argentina. Importantly, he situates the content of the 'general strike' within the distinct historical conjuncture within which it arises, tracing the levels of class consciousness that, in turn, give meaning to this particular form of mobilisation.

This positioning has important implications for our understanding of worker mobilisation in Argentina and beyond. On one hand, it asks us to rethink what are often seen as radical practices of workplace conflict as tied to the reproduction of the prevailing order. On the other hand, he shows how these moments can have important and unexpected consequences that help us understand the forms of mobilisation that persist and that continue to resurface within the automobile industry.

The subsequent chapter on contemporary debates on trade union bureaucracy emphasises Santella's dialectical reading of labour conflict, situating the experience of mass, general strike action under, within and against the mediating role of trade union institutions. In line with his previous discussion, he connects the emergence of factorylevel 'internal commissions' to the evolving 'corporate consciousness' (p. 70) of the working class that developed through the institutional mediations that simultaneously mobilised, constrained and fostered the historical formation of the working class.

In the second half of the book, Santella applies this insightful framework to the collective action of the working class and the changing constraints applied by trade unions within the workplace. …

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