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Ex-workers of Mercedes Benz, Argentina: "For Remembrance and Justice"

JOSÉ RODRÍGUEZ and the disappeared workers of Mercedes Benz

On August 16th 2001, José Rodríguez, vice-president of FITIM/ IMF and General Secretary of SMATA (Argentinean autoworkers' union), appeared as a witness before the Truth Tribunal (Juicio de la Verdad) in La Plata. Julio Reboredo and Leopoldo Schiffrin, judges at the Federal Court in La Plata, had subpoenaed him to give evidence in the case of the disappeared worker Estéban Reimer during the Argentinian dictatorship (1976 - 83). 30.000 people disappeared during this time. They were arrested at night in their homes and tortured and murdered in concentration camps. Not only the military participated in these crimes but also their allies in the factories, banks and probably in the unions, too.

Rodriguez declared, escorted by his four bodyguards: "I heard about the disappeared of Mercedes Benz from CONADEP (National Commission on the Disappeared). For me they had simply been arrested."

These words shamed our society. We, ex-workers of Mercedes Benz, want to remember the facts: In the Mercedes factory almost all members of the internal commission were murdered, the "group of nine". They were against the official policy of SMATA, headed by José Rodriguez. For two years the district attorney in Germany has investigated the participation of Mercedes managers in the murders (case number: 407 Js 41063/98). We do not understand that Mister Rodriguez still has a seat in the Executive Commitee of FITIM/ IMF.

These are the facts: José Vizzini (December 14th 1976), Víctor Ventura and Estebán Reimer (January 5th 1977) were the first comrades to disappear at Mercedes Benz. From the beginning it was said that they had "disappeared", and enquiries were made about their whereabouts. On Monday, January 10th 1977, the Argentinean daily Crónica considered them "disappeared". At that point enquiries were made at the secret service SIDE (Lt. Colonel Muzzio), the army (Colonel Gámen), the Secretariat for Human Rights, Monsignore Pío Laghi, and at the registry in La Tablada (Lt. Colonel Minicucci), among others. Petitions signed by more than 2000 workers of Mercedes Benz were sent to Lt. Gen. Videla, General Ojeda (head of the federal police), Commodore Porcile ([military] inspector at the [Argentinean workers' union] CGT) and to General Américo Saint Jean (Governor of Buenos Aires). Lt. Colonel Marture, the military inspector in charge of SMATA, was also called in and (communiqué No. 2 of the factory committee [comisión interna] to the employees) ..." the events leading to the arrests and the arrests were once more described in detail, emphasising the good reputation and moral integrity of the workers. The lieutenant colonel appeared to be very concerned about the events and after some enquiries he undertook to do everything possible and to keep us informed about every new development in the case."

These steps were taken every time someone disappeared: when Martín und Ratto (surviving) were abducted, Juan José Mosquera (17-8-77), Alberto Gigena (13-8-77), Alberto Francisco Arenas (19-8-77), Hector Alberto Belmonte (15-8-77), Fernando Del Conte (12-8-77), Diego Núñez (13-8-77).

In the face of all these cases, is it plausible that José Rodríguez knew nothing? The production manager of Mercedes declared later in an interview with the public Radio station, WDR, that he and all managers were aware of the cruel violation of human rights of his workers. Only the head of the union knew nothing?

Rodriguez was asked by the judges if he tried to investigate in which prison or camp the Mercedes-Workers were - as he did in the case of other arrested SMATA members? He said that he didn´t.

"The military inspectors decided everything. I couldn't do anything. However, privately I continued to fight, settling conflicts the military inspectors could not solve. Crazy as I am." (J.Rodriguez)

So what's it to be? Did he have the possibility or not? Even though officially Rodriguéz was not head of the union during the dictatorship, reality speaks for itself: During all this time he never lost his power within the union, nor did his friends from the "green list", Rascovich, Raúl Amín, Navarro, Pardo etc.

He said he had also helped in the case of the 26 Ford workers who had been imprisoned and were accused of subverting the union.

There is no evidence whatsoever in the Ford files indicating his assistance. And he certainly didn't know about the concentration camps where they tortured the workers.

"For the sake of my children and grandchildren, for the sake of God and by all I hold sacred, I had nothing to do with it."

On 5 November 75, in a note to the Minister of Justice Corvalán Nanclares Rodriguéz applied to the authorities for the observation of Mercedes Benz (as the company had ransomed the Montoneros for the release of their abducted production manager). In this note he talked about the workers as "a group of instigators allied to subversive groups, "a factory committee outside the union, embraced by subversivion", "an aimless strike that was a provocation with the sole purpose of using the workers as guinea pigs for seditious acts", "strike with subversive motives", "typically industrial guerrilla", "hired gunmen of the enslaving marxism".

Similar expressions had been used in two notices in the daily Clarín from 22 October 1975 signed by the board of SMATA and the green list, which is practically the same. Isn't this the language of dictatorships? These are words used by informers - isn't it possible that it was him who passed on the names of the disappeared comrades?

He explained that the strike of October 1975 was just a strike in one of the many factories organised in SMATA and that the union had nothing to do with the dismissal of the 115 (actually 117) workers during the strike in October.

It wasn't a strike in just one more factory. It was a dispute with the union because of the discussion in joint meetings and because of internal elections, as for more than a year SMATA had been interfering with the factory committee by posting thugs all over the factory. With the dismissals of 8 October 1975 another actor walked onto the stage: the company. The day before, 45 of the 117 dismissed workers had gone to SMATA to try to defuse the conflict. What Rodríguez called "a conflict forced by agents provocateur of chaos and subversion" was a unique experience in union democracy we can still be proud of. As were the events of 8 October 1975, when 4000 workers, hearing of the dismissals, left the factory shouting "either 4000 working or 4000 leaving"; or the workers of the thermal power station who by law cannot go on strike but donated their wages to the strike funds, or the solidarity after SMATA cut the social benefits of all Mercedes Benz workers, or the signatures of the thousands of people supporting every inquiry into the whereabouts of the disappeared during the dictatorship.

"This is a malicious question."

This was his answer to question of Dr. Gluzmans, lawyer with the human rights organisation APDH in La Plata, whether he had made any enquiries after it had become clear to him that they had actually disappeared. This question was left unanswered.

Three sectors of the automobile industry were especially hit by the repression through the military: the workers at Ford and at Mercedes Benz and SMATA-Córdoba under René Salamanca. What a coincidence, as it had been these three sectors successfully fighting against the mafia of José Rodriguez.

Today Rodríguez is acting the innocent, fighting against budgetary cuts and redundancies. The policy of hunger and social exclusion, making millions of workers "disappear" from the productive system, is the continuation of the policy of physical disappearance in the 70s. For those introducing a new economic model with the help of state terror, impunity is nothing else than the award for their efforts. And José Rodríguez knows that he can count on it. That's why he is mocking justice and the suffering of the families of the disappeared and the workers he allegedly represents.

Therefore, Ex-workers of Mercedes Benz, Argentina: "For Remembrance and Justice" declare:

We will continue to support the penal investigation of district attorney in Nuremberg (Germany) against the production manager of Daimler Chrysler, Juan Tasselkraut, suspicious of assistence in the murder of several workers.

We ask Judge Schiffrin to summon José Rodríguez involved in the case of Reimer for a new hearing.

We will take the necessary steps that José Rodríguez, because of his proven silence in the face of the repression against union members, will be relieved from his post in the Executive Committee of FITIM (International Metalworkers' Federation IMF).

We will continue to reconstruct the events at Mercedes Benz, Argentina, in the 70s. We are publishing this declaration within this framework and on request we will put all documents in our possession at the disposal of the respective person.


For Ex-workers of Mercedes Benz, Argentina: "For Remembrance and Justice"


Translation for LabourNet Germany: Eva Maria Bach

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