A Passion. A Mission. Organizing Waste Pickers.

During “The Potential of Cooperatives & the Role of Waste Pickers in the Recycling Sector” workshop in Ankara, Turkey, on 20-21 December 2016, ILO COOP spoke to Manuel Mateu an Engineer from the Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE) in Argentina, about his work as an organiser of waste pickers.

News | 21 December 2016
Manuel Mateu, Engineer, Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE), Argentina.
At 36, Manuel Mateu could be your average young man, except for a background that reflects a burning mission to help the waste pickers of Argentina.

Educated as an industrial engineer, he was only 20 years old when he begun to teach in a poor province outside of Buenos Aires. There, he saw poverty and young children helping their parents pick paper and cardboard. It troubled him enough to start a cooperative to help the parents live better lives as waste pickers. He was then able to link up with a bigger cooperative in the city, first as a volunteer, later on as a staff member. Eventually, he formed part of a group that created the Engineers Without Borders Argentina NGO, as well.

For Mateu, one of the successes of the cooperative for waste pickers was getting the children out of the business. He proudly said: “No children are allowed picking and we now have a night nursery for young children as well.”

In Buenos Aires, there are 13 waste picker cooperatives composed of approximately 6,000 workers. Throughout the country as a whole, there are more than 70 coops.

Along the way, waste pickers of Buenos Aires have earned the right to trucks and buses for picking, appropriate clothing and safety items, a supplemental salary, care for young children and health and safety benefits. He emphasized that even with a cooperative structure within Federacion Argentina de Cartoneros y Recicladores (FACyR) “we try to respect waste pickers’ individuality.”

It hasn’t been an easy journey for Mateu to obtain social justice for these workers. They’ve had to have marches, protests and other actions. “We’ve had to fight for formal recognition of this work, “ he said. But, he was quick to add that “the ILO helps us fight for that recognition.”

Mateu was enthusiastic about the benefits of the two day workshop “The potential of Cooperatives & The Role of Waste Pickers in the Recycling Sector,” sponsored by the ILO in Ankara December 20-21. “The most important thing about this meeting,” he said, “is that it is useful to offer our own knowledge for others. Then others here must develop their own experiences,” he concluded.