Norma Pla, a woman from the suburbs | ANNetwork

Norma Pla grew up in Villa Domínico, but lived most of her life in the San José neighborhood of Temperley, in the southern suburbs. The San José neighborhood, originally a plebeian, contributed the workforce of its men and women who, crowded into trains or buses, went to work as laborers or domestic servants. But, on Sundays and holidays, a meeting time, entire families took care of building their homes, often with no other credit than that of the corralón and neighborhood solidarity. San José, a conflictive territory rich in historical experiences, where dreams are kneaded with materials that emerge from the landscape itself. Roberto Arlt was able to see in Temperley the beginning of utopia, different from the dark and Europeanizing capital. In this scenario that replicates the different popular resistances that have arisen over time, Norma Pla made her own that strong identity of struggle in the suburbs. By Patricia Rodríguez for ANRed

The retiree who undressed the miseries of the system

Norma Beatríz Guimil, whose father was a guard on tram 22 and her mother, a domestic worker for the Martínez de Hoz family, left the Villa Domínico school in 2nd grade and at the age of 13 she started working, first in a factory, then in jobs linked to the cleaning, factories or private homes. Norma never had a blank job, therefore, she was never able to retire even though she worked tirelessly. Her wizened face, her graying hair showed the traces of a hard and sacrificed life. Her mirror gave him back the image of a long-suffering woman, much older in appearance.

In his youth he met Miguel Pla, a young worker who worked in a bookbinding factory. The Pompeii Volunteer Firefighters had organized a dance and there they began a dialogue that culminated in marriage like most neighborhood couples. She was 19 years old and he was 28. At first they rented, then they managed to buy a very modest house in the San José neighborhood of the town of Temperley, where they lived with their four children. Then the grandchildren arrived.

Her husband, a graphic worker, fired in 1982 because the factory “went bankrupt”, could not find “blank work” again and did what he could. Both worked on Fridays and Saturdays in the bathrooms of a bowling alley, cleaning or selling candy to be able to bring in a few more pesos and thus make ends meet. The harsh reality of the Buenos Aires suburbs required reinventing oneself and grasping tools to fight. A few years later, Miguel passed away. Norma Pla received a meager pension that she could not afford, which is why the two older children helped as best they could, while trying to maintain their small self-employed workshop to the beat of an opening to the world that annihilated them.

The context

The 1990s, the height of neoliberalism, managed to install a perverse articulation between the free market and the values ​​of democracy and individual freedom. In this way they legitimized a phenomenal transfer of wealth abroad and to the powerful classes. They dismantled the State, privatizing public companies, reducing social investment to tiny percentages that later fled abroad by force of generating social exclusion, poverty, unemployment and erosion of social protection systems. However, the responses from the popular sectors resulted in intense strikes during the years 1989 and 1990, which then declined, until reappearing with greater strength years later. Despite the fierce neoliberal onslaught, the traditions of struggle remained present in popular culture during the 1990s, perhaps fragmented, isolated, but sowing presence for the reappearance of the new social subject of social movements, the protagonist of great changes. Norma Pla, the visible face of the resistance of retirees during the 1990s, is inscribed in this context.

A woman who defied the system

It was the 90’s, full of neoliberalism, and Norma Pla’s voice was heard in Mirta Legrand’s programs, Sofovich, in rock lyrics. Meanwhile, the media were in charge of ridiculing her because of her status as a woman, they called her crazy, a leader and they even tried to break her with prebends, charges, but since they did not succeed, they opened legal cases, imprisoned her, they hit. Others, on the other hand, asked her to have certain ideological conceptions, that she create an organization for retirees, but she was a woman of the people who learned by doing. Without a theoretical framework, she represented the most genuine form of popular struggle, she tried creative forms of resistance that the people preserve in their cultural heritage. She was a quiet woman who transformed when she spoke to the crowd.

Dignity is in fighting to change reality

In 1991 he took to the streets for the first time to ask for an increase in retirement. She tired of deprivation, of the money that she was always lacking. She understood that if the life we ​​live is not worthy, dignity lies in fighting to change it. Contrary to neoliberal discourses, she fleshed out the premise that there are no individual solutions, because salvation is with everyone. And she participated uninterruptedly in the first hundred marches that retirees and pensioners staged every Wednesday for five years in front of the National Congress, requesting a minimum pension of 450 pesos.

Then she became known after camping for 80 days with other retirees in Plaza Lavalle, in front of the Palace of Courts, demanding an increase in pensions, inaugurating unprecedented forms of protest for the time such as the cacerolazos, the march of torches.

They gathered at the door of the El Molino confectionery from where they organized mobilizations to the CGT, Congress, the Deliberative Council, the National Mortgage Bank, the DGI and the Ministry of Economy where Norma jumped fences and climbed the doors. She carried out hunger strikes, despite her poor health, popular calls, trying again and again unprecedented methods, the result of intuition and popular creativity.

They could never understand Norma Pla

For many she was the crazy, “fat”, “ordinary” retiree who organized the “Choriceadas” as a form of protest. These methods caught the attention of the media, such as the choriceada held in memory of the fallen in Malvinas, in front of the British embassy, ​​repudiating the arrival of Prince Andrew. This caused her to be detained, to which she replied: “I am always detained, but not for being a thief or for being corrupt, but for telling the truth to these gentlemen who are constantly beating us, but we are going to follow her. We are more people than soldiers, do not forget that”. He also demonstrated with “his retirees” in front of Domingo Cavallo’s house, in the middle of Libertador Avenue, where he organized choripaneadas more than once and even sent a funeral wreath to his home, threatening to settle in front of his house with a tent.

Repeatedly, he took PAMI facilities at a time when the controllers were frequently replaced due to their questionable actions, such as allegations of corruption, inefficient services and pharmaceutical cuts. They requested that the PAMI, social work for retirees, be conducted by its own beneficiaries.

Among his public demonstrations, one of the most notorious was when in the Mercado de Abasto he went up on stage and told the former secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, “to tell the world that they were starving.”

On June 5, 1991, Norma Pla, along with other retirees, decided to enter the National Congress, where Cavallo gave explanations to a parliamentary commission. They met in a room and in front of the television cameras the moment when Cavallo cried was immortalized, remembering that he also had retired parents who suffered from low pay. Norma Pla, a sensitive woman, told him: “Don’t cry, Mr. Minister, don’t cry. Have strength to defend what is yours. You have a mother…but surely she is not in Plaza Lavalle with us. She should be better off.”¦” If you don’t have to pay the external debt, don’t do it, but pay the retirees. Think of your country. If they pressure you from outside, go out on the balcony and say so, that the people are going to help you.” Perhaps he was naive or perhaps I hope that every psychopath has a cure. The truth is that she forced Cavallo to dramatize a scene to defend herself against his verbal onslaught.

He represented the voice of the voiceless. Without conceptual references, without ideological theories, she understood that the only possible gap is between those who suffer and those who rule, those who are above and those who are below.

The chasing

She was temporarily arrested in different police cells for her claims. She had more than 23 processes for throwing eggs and flour at Congress; she racked up a lot of lawsuits. In Plaza de Mayo, one end of the year, she threatened to commit suicide. She clashed several times with the Corach police, jumped fences and climbed on the gates of Congress and the CGT. In 1991, during a march to the Courts, to demand that the sentences that recognized the claims for the updating of retirement assets be made effective, she took off a policeman’s cap. That photo traveled the world. He learned to undress the miseries of the system, which annoyed him to such an extent that in October 1992, Menem publicly declared: “If they have so much strength to protest and send the police to the hospital, they could well have the strength to work, and they don’t.”

He expressed solidarity with other causes such as the employees of the Roca Railroad for the successive dismissals and demonstrated with a group of retirees in front of the House of the Province of Jujuy. In 1993 he traveled to participate together with the dog Santillán in the act of May 1, a few days after the Jujeñazo occurred.

In January 1996, at the age of 63, it was his last march. He passed away on June 18 from breast cancer at his home in Temperley. Before he died, he asked that his ashes be scattered in Plaza Lavalle.

A woman who understood that if the life we ​​live is not worthy, dignity lies in fighting to change it.

Norma Pla, a woman from the suburbs | ANNetwork