Argentina: opportunity in the metal workshop

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

“My name is Ariel, I am 33 years old and I am a blacksmith.  My neighbourhood is Vila Lugano. I grew up there, making myself respected with my fists, because the law of the strongest applies there.

“At 13, mom had to give up the house we rented because she couldn’t keep it up, and we ended up in a shack that she was able to buy with some savings, living between walls of cardboard. Those two years were terrible. It was hard for me to get used to what I saw: the children on the corner with drugs, the alcoholism, and the insecurity.

“I had never before heard gunshots and there I heard them every day, with the police coming all the time. Before that I had lived in a boarding school where mom used to fetch me on Fridays because during the week she worked as a cleaner in family homes.

“In the neighbourhood I made friends and acquaintances, but as I grew up I gave up joining the crowd on the street corner. The easy approach was to give you the first dose of drugs free and charge for the second; the heavy approach was to force you and to threaten that they would go for you at home if you did not use drugs. But they couldn’t do that to me because I would react at once.

“So I went through secondary school and some years in technical school until I repeated a year twice over. I started working to help at home, and I finished studying at 21.

“When the country was hit by economic collapse in 2001, I couldn’t find work and was invited to take part in some workshops where you made a plan and learned skills, in a neighbourhood church in front of our house. There 40 of us started and in the end seven of us set up a co-operative. In spite of the teachers not turning up, and of suffering a theft that prevented us from getting together all the necessary tools, we organised raffles, raised money and managed to buy our first machine.

“A man who lived in our neighbourhood taught us blacksmith’s work, and electrical work, and we started to repay our locality with our work. We started doing repairs on houses in the neighbourhood, but the first paid work was for a library and was very important. We undertook to solder, deliver and install the grating, things we’d never done before.

“In time we had to leave that space and rent another, forming a co-operative called Sabino Navarro Limited. We had the experience of giving workshops for other young people who needed training as we had. We put on a party for Workers’ Day, and people came from another co-operative as well as neighbourhood groups, and adolescents. It was great because we taught the young people to make picks that are used to take out the dross from the soldering and be able to see if it has turned out well. They spent the whole day heating and hitting a medium-sized rod of iron, giving it a flattened shape at one end and a point at the other. They went away with their first tool made with their own hands. It was very good for us to be able to pass on what we had lived and experienced of the value of real work.

“What I have learned in the co-operative movement is that it doesn’t matter how you dress, whether your shoes match your pants or whether or not you smoke ‘paco’. What is important is to see if the lads have the capacity to work and want to learn. Here everyone can have an opportunity.”