Grievances matter : unemployment and the decline of the piquetero movement (2003-2007)



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The unemployed workers movement in Argentina (also known as the piqueteros) emerged during the mid 1990s, as a response to the increasing poverty and unemployment produced by the economic reforms implemented by the national government. Its extraordinary growth and leading role in the protests of 2001-2002 led many scholars to believe that it would become an enduring aspect of Argentina’s politics. However, after 2002, the movement entered a period of decline, which was reflected in the loss of members, support, and public influence. In this paper, I study the trajectory of this movement in order to advance certain arguments regarding the relation between grievances and collective action. I will argue that a key factor behind the decline of the movement was the amelioration of the main grievance which gave it rise. The emergence and consolidation of the piqueteros coincided with a period of increasing unemployment. However, after 2002, Argentina’s economy entered a phase of intense growth which significantly improved labor market conditions. The new scenario deeply affected the movement’s influence. Therefore, the study of the piqueteros can provide significant insight about social movement theory. In particular, it suggests that the relation between grievances and collective action is more direct than what the resource mobilization and political process approaches predict. In other words, the case of the piqueteros shows that grievances matter: although several factors may mediate between them and collective action, their effect is never negligible. In addition, this paper addresses a more “empirical” gap. Although there is an increasing body of literature about the decline of the piquetero movement, most studies focus on political variables and neglect the potential role played by the reduction in unemployment. In other words, in exploring the causes of this downfall, authors usually center on the emergence of a new government in 2003, the divisions between different organizations, and the loss of legitimacy among other sectors of society. By focusing on an alternative explanation, I expect to contribute to the understanding of this movement.