The workers at Argentina‘s occupied ceramics factory FASINPAT won a major victory this week: the factory now belongs to the people in legal terms. The provincial legislature voted in favor of expropriating the ceramics factory and handing it over to the workers cooperative to manage legally and indefinitely. Since 2001, the workers at Zanon have fought for legal recognition of worker control at Latin America‘s largest ceramics factory. For background to this victory, below is an excerpted chapter written by Marie Trigona from the book Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century (AK Press, 2008).
We are proposing a major change in how a factory is run. We have built new social relations in the factory. We have built alliances with universities, unions, and unemployed worker organizations. Zanon is not an isolated experience or crazy idea, it is a concrete experience that a group of workers have put into action. Many people talk about Zanon as a laboratory for experimenting with workers’ dreams. After five years, this is no longer a laboratory: we are demonstrating an economic alternative to what the capitalist model proposes.
Alejandro Quiroga, a Zanon worker
Argentina‘s worker-run factories are setting an example for workers around the world that employees can run a business even better without a boss or owner. The new phenomenon of employees taking over their workplace began in 2000 and heightened as Argentina faced its worst economic crisis ever in 2001. Nationwide, thousands of factories have closed and millions of jobs have been lost in recent years. The example points to the struggle ahead on the path towards an emancipatory society free from exploitation and oppression, like the vision of participatory society offered in this book.
As the largest recuperated factory in Argentina, and occupied since 2001, the Zanon ceramics plant in the Patagonian province of Neuquén now employs 470 workers. Along with some 180 recuperated enterprises up and running, providing jobs for more than 10,000 Argentine workers, the Zanon experience has re-defined the basis of production: without workers, bosses are unable to run a businesses; without bosses, workers can do it better. While these experiences are forced to co-exist within the capitalist market, they are forming new visions for a new working culture.
In 2001 Zanon’s owners decided to close its doors and fire the workers without paying months of back pay or indemnity. Leading up to the massive layoffs and plant’s closure, workers went on strike in 2000. The owner, Luis Zanon with over 75 million dollars in debt to public and private creditors, fired en masse most of the workers and closed the factory in 2001 — a bosses’ lockout. In October 2001, workers declared the plant under worker control. The workers camped outside the factory for four months, pamphleteering and partially blocking a highway leading to the c