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How Argentina's Baked Goods Reveals Its Political Past
Even the Argentinian word for baked goods that are eaten at breakfast, or for late afternoon snacks, has a labor-related meaning. The word is facturas, which, in nearly every other context, means “bill” or “invoice.” The particular, revolutionary names for facturas have remained to this day, and so certainly has an activated working class.
The perseverance of these names can perhaps be explained by the significant political turmoil that dominated Argentina throughout the late 19th century.
The political climate at the time was a dangerous one for radical anti-state leftists, and even moreso for indigenous populations. In 1879, General Julio Argentino Roca led a genocidal military campaign in Patagonia against indigenous Argentines, “physically obliterating” them from the region, according to A. Dinerstein’s America: Organising Hope.
Roca became president of Argentina in 1880, and despite his bloody rise to power, Argentina’s economy grew substantially in the early 1880s as Buenos Aires became a major manufacturing and exportation hub. This was the same time that the country received an influx of Spanish and Italian immigrants, who brought anarchism with them.
In 1886, when the bakers’ union was formed, Roca’s predecessor, Miguel Juárez Celman, was in year two of his presidency (to which he was fraudulently elected), and Buenos Aires saw an explosion of union activity regarding pay and working conditions. A new party formed to take Celman out of office.
Following the bakers’ strike in Buenos Aires, other unions and anti-government political parties quickly organized and took action. Rail and steelworkers went on strike in Rosario, Argentina, the same year. The anti-government Youth Civic Union formed in 1889, and rebranded as the Civic Union in 1890, revolted against Celman in the Revolution of the Park. Celman was forced to resign.
In 1901, the largely anarchist Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (FORA) was founded, bringing together 35 unions (the group underwent many divisions and changes throughout the early first decades of the 20th century, but still exists in some form today). The anarchist dockworkers union successfully fought for a nine-hour work day in 1902. Between 1889 and 1910, Global Connections states that anarchists organized six general strikes. The original articles of association written by Malatesta for the bakers’ union served as a model for many of these subsequently formed unions.
The unionization of Argentina’s working class was a struggle in the truest sense of the word, and the radical christening of the facturas can be read as incisive, clever, and celebratory simultaneously. The bakers’ union and strikes came at a critical moment of economic growth and political tyranny, the likes of which the nation has experienced in various fashions ever since. While the complicated political landscape continues to shift, the facturas remain.