Over café cortado in his working-class living room, Pedro Troiani recounts how, thirty years ago, at 9 in the morning, his number came up.
It was April 13, 1976, some three weeks into a bloody dictatorship that would eventually kill an estimated 30,000 Argentines branded as leftist subversives. Troiani, now 64, showed up for work as usual at Ford Motor Company’s General Pacheco factory, a 5,000-employee facility near Buenos Aires. Troiani, a labor delegate who often pressed managers for better working conditions, took his place on the factory floor and started painting a new Ford F-100 pickup, the same model his problems drove up in. “I even remember the color of the truck I was painting,” he says. “It was white. I looked up and saw the soldiers drive up in a Ford 100. Some others walked along beside it. One of them said to me, ‘You are detained.’ I asked him to let me get my documents, and he said, ‘You won’t need them where you are going.'”
The weeks of clandestine detention and torture that followed form part of a new lawsuit here accusing Ford of colluding with Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla’s military government to rid itself of labor problems, specifically twenty-five delegates and company employees who were kidnapped by soldiers, tortured and released after days, weeks or months.
The alleged acts are bundled into a criminal complaint seeking the arrests of former company officials and a request that a judge open legal doors to an eventual civil suit against the company. While Mercedes Benz has been questioned for similar acts, it’s the first legal process initiated here against a private corporation for its role in the “dirty war.” And it paints a violent picture of military-industrial collusion. As Ford churned out vehicles for the regime, a clandestine military detention center operated on factory grounds; military helicopters moved factory equipment into place; managers handed over names and IDs of problem employees; soldiers moved in and out of the plant’s human resources office, often with personnel folders in hand. The suit claims problem employees were often taken at work, and for no reason but “bad behavior.” Others were dragged from their homes by men who used the victim’s work credentials to identify him. After days in detention, the men were fired by Ford for “abandonment of work.”
“They used the military to get rid of the labor movement,” says Troiani. “They wanted to be able to run the factory without us.”