Occupied Factory Movement In Argentina
On 14 September 2004 a delegation of workers from some of Argentina's roughly 200 re-occupied factories marched in Buenos Aires. They demanded that the government permanently legalize the expropriation of factories and other bankrupt enterprises which were abandoned by owners and run under direct workers' control after the collapse of the country's economy in December 2001.
A delegation of 170 activists - 100 workers from Zanon ceramics factory and 70 from social movements supporting the factory - arrived in the morning in Buenos Aires to march to a local court and national congress in defense of a possible government eviction of Zanon and other enterprises producing under worker control.
Workers from Chilavert printing factory, Bauen Hotel, Brukman suit factory, Conforti printing factory, Renacer electronics from Ushuia, Junin health clinic, Ados health clinic, Gatic shoe company, Sasetru pasta company, and various unemployed workers organizations participated in the march.
After the crisis of December 19 and 20, 2001, the Argentine government gave many workers occupying businesses temporary permits to function inside offices and factories. However, these agreements had a two year limit. Some of the permits are set to expire before the end of 2004.
Chilavert, a printing factory in Buenos Aires is one of the occupied businesses functioning with a temporary permit. The agreement is set to expire October 17, 2004. The workers are taking legal precautions to avoid an eviction. More importantly, they are working to bring about a genuine defense of the factory. Regrouping with other experienced businesses and factories producing under workers? control has been central in the fight for the permanent legalization of expropriation of reoccupied enterprises.
The march for the permanent legalization of expropriation was an important act to prove that there are many recuperated businesses which have not put their trust into the government?s precarious solution for the experience of workers self-organizing/managing without a boss or owner.
"There are a lot of recuperated businesses fighting to regroup, and today we took a step forward in regrouping ourselves and marching to the National Congress to discuss a national law for the definitive expropriation of reoccupied factories," said Raul Godoy, a worker from Zanon ceramics factory during the September 14 march.
The workers of Chilavert are especially concerned with building a nexus of support in the barrio in order to defend the factory. When they first began the factory occupation in December, 2001 after the owner had abandoned the business, they relied on the barrio and other social movements for support. It was a neighbor next door who warned the workers that the owner was coming to empty the factory. With the police standing guard at the door, it was impossible for the workers to be able to safe guard books they were holding onto to prove the back wages the owner failed to pay. The neighbor and workers ripped a hole in the walls, and passed the books through the wall to the neighbor?s house.
After two years of occupation, the workers have not forgotten the important role of community support in defense of the factory. The main characteristic of this support has been the cultural center built on the second floor, looking over the printing machinery, paper stock and offices. Once a month, they have artists expressing social conflicts exhibiting work, Wednesday?s the video group alavÃo projects film narrating working class struggle, and on Saturday?s musicians committed to defend the factory perform.
One worker, Plácido, explains that the space above the print shop?s production was the only place inside the shop for the workers to hide from the boss?s permanent surveillance, and take their refuge from exploitation inside the factory. Today, this space was transformed into a place for the workers? to express resistance and let their imaginations fly.
"Different factories have petitioned for different modifications of the law - bankruptcy law, ect. What is new is that workers from different factories are getting together to develop a law for the definitive legal expropriation of factories - so that each business can follow its own model for production," said Godoy. "Many businesses that had a temporary permit for two years, now after two years of sacrifice and work are faced with the demand of having to buy the offices and machinery, which the owner abandoned. The threat of eviction reappears and the old bosses could take over."
After three years under worker control, the provincial government of Neuquén re-launched an attack against Zanon in the same month where the workers reached a record high in production, sales and quality. In recent, weeks the workers of Zanon have been on alert of a threat of eviction.
Neuquén?s governor Jorge Sobisch is pressuring the 420 workers in Zanon to leave their job posts inside the factory and work building prefabricated houses in a government sponsored micro-enterprise project targeted for the unemployed. The federal Supreme Court sent a petition to the Neuquén provincial government to put into action an eviction order without any delay. The courts have also refused to legally recognize Zanon?s proposal to form FatSinPat (Factories without bosses) as a workers cooperative. Essentially, the government has been planning to open the doors for police to evict the factory. The workers of Zanon are firm in their position to defend the factory at all costs.
The workers of Zanon have self-organized/managed the factory, gradually increasing production without any government subsidies. They have hired over 170 new workers. They have defended the factories against five eviction orders along with compañeros from unemployed workers organizations and other social movements.
On August 20 a delegation of Zanon workers and participants in the Unemployed Workers Movement (MTD) Neuquén traveled to Buenos Aires to organize a national campaign to defend the factory. Some 400 people representing other worker controlled factories and businesses, unemployed workers organizations, combative labor union, and human rights organizations participated in the meeting held at Hotel Bauen?s auditorium (a hotel self-managed/organized by its workers).
The conclusion from this meeting was to call a march for September 14. "We are standing up to battle and we will demonstrate September 14 to demand that the judge recognize the worker controlled cooperative, FatSinPat, and for a permanent legal expropriation of all reoccupied factories and enterprises."
Monica Acosta, a worker from the Renacer ex-Aurora electronics plant producing under worker control in the southern most province of Ushuaia, expresses the importance of the definitive expropriation law and defending factories producing under worker control. "The law for the permanent legal expropriation of recuperated factories and enterprises is a tool that provides legal security for our jobs.
We are part of the movement of reoccupied factories - we are part of the working class - we are at the vanguard of class struggle - the most advanced because we proved that we can unify the struggle between the jobless and employed by opening up abandoned factories. We are preventing factory closures and workers are taking control of the means of production through expropriation, which makes it possible to maintain job posts. 239 jobs in our case, producing for four years in better working conditions in the South."
Argentina?s occupied factory movement has developed the most advanced strategies in defense of the working class and resistance against capitalism. These experiences of worker self-management/organization have directly challenged capitalism?s structures: private property, expropriation of workers? skills and knowledge of machinery, and business organization only for profits.
A worker from the state union, CTA-Neuquén expressed the importance of experiences of workers collectively organizing to defend their jobs: "This is the form we?ve taken to defend our jobs, which without a doubt workers throughout the world see as an example to copy."
In defense of Zanon and all worker occupied factories!
If they mess with one of us, they mess with all of us!
Permanent expropriation of all factories and companies producing under worker control!