Nick Clare: «The politics of Latin America has always been an inspiration»

This article is available in Spanish

In your paper, ‘Multiplying Labour, Multiplying Resistance: Class Composition in Buenos Aires’ Clandestine Textile Workshops’ (Antipode, 2020) you mentioned our talleres clandestinos in Buenos Aires (clandestine textile workshops) as powerful sites of accumulation and resistance. Could you please explain this in simple words?

The talleres clandestinos are big business, they employ over 300,000 people across more than 25,000 workshops. These are multi-million dollar businesses that produce clothing for high end brands, as well as for street vendors. For the people that work in these workshops the conditions can be punishing, often working for less than minimum wage and extremely long hours – up to 16 hours per day. Some can’t even leave the workshops, living, working, and sleeping within them. Even worse, many people – including children – have been killed by fires in the workshops. The vast majority of people who work in the textile workshops are Bolivian migrants to Buenos Aires, but other groups such as Korean and Peruvian migrants work there too, as well as many Argentines. However, despite all this, and the huge levels of exploitation that we see in the workshops, they provide a livelihood for many people, and they are sites where recent migrants to Buenos Aires can create a new life. We also see that struggles linked to migrants’ rights, workers’ rights, and the feminist movement are emerging from these workshops. It is therefore important to recognise this, and not just assume ignore the capacity of people working and living in these workshops to change things for the better.

Why or how our readers should get involved in these issues/subjects?  

These issues are things we see all over the world, as textile workers are exploited in almost every country. So readers can look into organisations, NGOs, and trade unions that work in the country they live in – they could donate time or money to the struggle, or even just share information about it.

What other works related to Latin America do you have available in writing for our readers?

I have other academic writing on related topics in Buenos Aires which looks at how the form of the city has an influence on the types of social and political activism that we see. These papers can be found here for free, but you may need to set up an account to access them.

What are those works about?

In general the work I am interested in looks at a range of political struggles that exist outside of what people see as traditional ways of doing politics – political parties, formal trade unions, etc. I am interested in the politics of people’s everyday lives, and in particular the struggles and actions of migrants.

Have you been travelling or living in Latin America in order to write about class conflict and the economy in different Latin American countries?

I have been lucky enough to travel to Latin America a number of times. For the PhD research that this paper came from I lived in Buenos Aires for a period of nine months over two trips within a year.

How was that experience?

It was a fascinating experience, and one I am thankful for. I struggled at times as my Spanish was not as good as I thought it was at the start, and the porteño accent proved a challenge. But I learned a huge amount, and I owe so much to all the people and groups that helped me when I was there.

What motivates a British academic to work with Latin American issues?

For me, the politics of Latin America has always been an inspiration. I also think Argentina is a fascinating case study through which to explore immigration. It is a country which prides itself on its historical links to immigration, but for the flows of immigration that are most common today can elicit a very different reaction from people. I think looking at Argentina forces people to think carefully about legacies of colonialism, the role of whiteness in society, and with Buenos Aires we see how the shape of the city itself plays a big part in shaping people’s attitudes towards each other.

Is it true that you know more about the Argentine economy than many of us who are Argentine-born?

No, absolutely not! One of the most amazing things about spending time in Buenos Aires was discovering the huge numbers of books and pamphlets written by local groups about their experiences of the economy and everyday struggles. This level of reflection and analysis is unlike anything I have seen elsewhere, which made it hard for me to feel like I could say anything original! If people are interested I would really recommend all the books published by Tina Limón as they are so fascinating.

What is going to be your next project? Are you planning to research about new interesting topics?

I am keen to do more research in the UK on similar issues. I am so busy with teaching and other tasks at the university I work at, that to find time to carry out research in Argentina is a real challenge. But I think lots of the issues I look exist the world over, and I think it is important that academic researchers are able to be active in their communities and involved politically as much as possible. There are lots of challenges we are facing in the UK at the moment, and with the growing hostility to migrants I think this kind of work is needed more than ever.

 Any message to our readers from different countries?

Thanks for reading this, and do get in touch if you have any questions or comments! Also, thanks so much to Gaby for inviting me do this, her help with translations, and her introductions to Buenos Aires – none of this would have been possible without you.  

Nick Clare (UK) is an assistant professor in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham, UK. He holds a BA in Philosophy (2009), and an MA (2010) and PhD (2015) in Human Geography, all from the University of Sheffield. Some of his recent work has explored the role of territory in social movement’s struggles in Latin America, the links between cities and class struggle, and the idea of ‘failure’ in academia. His research focuses on the links between migrants, urban space, and labour/social movements, using autonomist Marxist and anarchist ideas to examine a wide range of struggles.