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Workers without Bosses at a Turning Point

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2006-11/09trigona.cfm November 09, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 11, 2006
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2006-11/09trigona.cfm
      November 09, 2006
      Workers without bosses at a turning point
      By Marie Trigona

      In recent years leading up to Argentina's 2001 financial
      crisis, thousands of factories have closed and millions of
      jobs have been lost. Many workers have decided to defeat the
      destiny of unemployment, taking over their workplace and
      recuperating their dignity as workers. More than 180
      recuperated enterprises are up and running, employing more
      than 10,000 Argentine workers at cooperative-run businesses,
      which were closed down by bosses and reopened by employees.
      In almost all cases workers took over businesses that had
      been abandoned or closed by their owners in the midst of a
      financial crisis.

      Many worker controlled factories today face hostility and
      frequently violence from the state. Workers have had to
      organize themselves against violent eviction attempts and
      other acts of state violence. This impacts the workers and
      the enterprises as it means that employees have to leave the
      work place, invest energy in a legal battle and fight for
      laws in favor of worker recuperated businesses.

      To counter oppose an uncertain legal future, many
      recuperated enterprises have mobilized to press for the
      government to resolve their cooperative's legal status. On
      October 27, workers from Renacer domestic appliance
      cooperative, CUC worker run shoe company, BAUEN hotel, City
      Hotel, Bahía Blanca ex-Paloni slaughter house, La Foresta
      meat packing cooperative and Zanon-FaSinPat worker run
      ceramics plant rallied outside a federal court to push for a
      national expropriation law.

      Many of the recuperated enterprises have functioned and
      competed in a capitalist market for years with no legal
      standing. Without legal support, many worker run businesses
      have fallen behind in competition, unable to catch an edge
      on the market and get rid of middlemen.

      Since 2003, workers have operated the BAUEN cooperative
      hotel with no legal standing or government subsidies. Since
      taking over the hotel on March 21, 2003, the workers have
      slowly begun to clean up the ransacked hotel and rent out
      the hotel's services. The hotel re-opened with 40 employees
      and now employs some 150 workers.

      Employees rallied throughout December last year to pressure
      the Buenos Aires city government to veto a law in favor of
      putting the hotel back into the hands of the former owner.
      The B.A. government refused to veto the law. If the BAUEN
      cooperative does not succeed in pushing through a new
      favorable law they risk losing their hotel.

      A dozen workers from Renacer (Ex-Aurora) traveled over 5,000
      kilometers for the rally in Buenos Aires, to press for the
      permanent expropriation of their plant. The Renacer domestic
      appliance producer cooperative formed in 2000 after the
      former owner decided to shut down operations, owing banks
      and workers' thousands of dollars in unpaid salaries. The
      plant formerly known as Aurora produced washing machines.
      For decades industry activity had declined in the region,
      which is the most expensive places to live in Argentina.
      Ushuaia is also known as "the end of the world," with a
      harsh artic climate, less than 500 kilometers from the
      Southern Artic.

      "The auctioning off of our plant is a constant threat, we
      are looking for a permanent solution so we can produce our
      own products independently of the state," explains Monica
      Acosta, the current president of Renacer. Over 100 workers
      and their families rely on the cooperative, which hasn't
      been able to put out full production inside the plant. "Most
      of the expropriation laws that recuperated enterprises have
      won last two years. After two years, the cooperative has to
      go through the process once again and look for a legal
      solution in order to continue to produce." Without subsidies
      and much less a permanent solution, the cooperative has had
      to work for companies like Sanyo, piece milling appliance parts.

      "There are months when we take home 300 dollars, but there
      are other months when we don't have enough resources to take
      home a pay check. After paying taxes and our costs we end up
      failing to meet our basic necessities," says Acosta. She
      also says that workers not only have to figure out how to
      successfully run their business but also worry whether
      authorities will pass a law to evict the business. "We have
      to do two things simultaneously: produce and struggle. We
      can't stop either, because the day we stop fighting or
      producing the recuperated enterprises are fried. We know
      that no politician in this oligarchic and imperialist state
      is going to permit workers to own the means of production."

      Hundreds of workers from several other worker run factories
      joined the Renacer cooperative in their demands for a
      national expropriation law, including the workers from the
      FaSinPat cooperative. The workers from the ceramics plant
      Zanon celebrated a recent victory. On October 20, the
      workers won a long standing legal battle for a federal court
      to legally recognize the FaSinPat cooperative for three years.

      The long term demand at Zanon is for national expropriation
      under worker control. However, the workers from Zanon have
      fought a parallel battle in federal court to legally
      recognize FaSinPat (Factory without a boss), their worker
      cooperative. In October 2005, FaSinPat won a legal dispute,
      pressuring federal courts to recognize it as a legal entity
      that has the right to run the cooperative for one year.
      Earlier this year with the October expiration date nearing,
      the worker assembly voted to step up actions and community
      efforts.

      According to Omar Villablanca, a Zanon worker who has worked
      at the ceramics plant for 9 years, FaSinPat will never put
      down their arms in the fight for a national expropriation
      law. "We didn't win a three year legal status for FaSinPat
      because the judges are understanding people. We won legal
      recognition because we [the workers] fought for the courts
      to see what we've accomplished. The workers are the only
      ones willing and restore a factory that was in ruins that
      had a million dollar debt that the former owner Luis Zanon
      left behind. We [the workers] were the only ones capable of
      creating jobs. Nationwide politicians speak of Zanon and the
      rest of the recuperated enterprises, but they haven't
      approved policies that would provide a definitive solution
      so that the more than 10,000 workers employed at worker run
      businesses can work without the pressure of risking eviction."

      With legal status, the FaSinPat can concentrate on
      production planning, improve working conditions and
      community projects. As part of their celebration, the
      FASINPAT cooperative has invited workers to visit Zanon to
      learn that workers can function without a boss or owner. The
      workers' assembly has resolved that the body of workers is
      now in the position to teach other workers from the four and
      a half years of learning from worker self-management.

      Though, Villablanca made it clear that even with a temporary
      legal status, the FASINPAT collective will not abandon their
      roots. "The first thing that we did after receiving the news
      that the judge approved our 3 year legal status was to vote
      in a our workers' assembly that we have to continue to march
      in the streets and to support other workers' and grassroots
      struggles."

      During the October 27 rally workers from Renacer, BAUEN and
      Zanon expressed their solidarity with workers who days
      before faced a violent eviction. Over 50 police officers
      violently attacked 14 workers who were occupying a gas
      station in a Buenos Aires neighborhood. Two years after the
      owners claimed bankruptcy, the workers formed the Punta
      Arenas cooperative. They are demanding that the gas station
      be expropriated and handed over to the workers in
      compensation to back salaries that the owner never paid.
      Despite differences with the pro-capitalist lawyer Luis Caro
      who represents the Punta Arenas cooperative, worker run
      businesses from diverse groupings said: if they mess with
      one of us, they mess with all of us.

      "Factories that close down are factories of death that kill
      entire families," said Fernando Velazquez from City Hotel, a
      worker run and recovered hotel in the coastal city of Mar
      del Plata. The occupied factories and enterprises are
      proving that they are organizing to develop strategies in
      defense of Latin American workers susceptible to factory
      closures and poor working conditions. While these
      experiences are forced to co-exist within the capitalist
      market they are forming new visions for a new working
      culture. "Factories that close down should be recovered by
      the workers and the courts must recognize the right to
      work," commented Velazquez. "We all deserve definitive
      expropriation because we are recuperating jobs and dignity."

      Marie Trigona is an independent journalist, writer and
      documentary maker based in Buenos Aires. She can be reached
      at mtrigona@...

      --
      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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      "It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
      *anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
      -- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
      _Detective Comics_ #608
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