Workers Ownership

Argentina leads the way to a better, more just, economy

NORA LECESSE

For the past two months, I have been visiting, interviewing and
working with the worker-owners of Argentina’s empresas recuperadas, or
taken factories. The movement of taken factories gained enormous
momentum after the Argentine economic collapse of 2001, when foreign
investors saw Argentina’s strong industrial sector crumble, and closed
up shop. The economy lost thosands of factories that supplied millions
of jobs. Workers at some of these factories saw the lunacy in letting
their former workplaces lie cold and vacant while they were out of
work and already knew how to run the businesses and operate the
machines. One by one, they began to occupy their factories and demand
the right (protected under Argentina’s constitution) to work, and to
re-start production as a worker-owned cooperative, resulting in more
than 180 cooperative factories employing over 10,000 workers.

The workers’ logic was that since their labor produced all the added
value for the products, and their employers had walked away from their
businesses, that it was their only option and also their right to run
the factories themselves, under horizontal direct democracy. Once
workers decided to take over their factory, a long and often
complicated judicial process awaited them. They camped out for months
in or near their workplaces to ensure the former bosses didn’t gut the
factory and sell the machines in the middle of the night.

Early in the process, many occupations turned violent as police tried
repeatedly to evict the entrenched coop members. But the process has
now become more streamlined and normalized. I met one group of workers
in the middle of the recuperation process. Their little camp on the
street was filled with laughter, music and homemade empanadas
delivered by other members of the movement, worker owners who already
won their battles for the right to produce.

This movement provided immense hope for many around the world who saw
factory occupation and recuperation as the beginning of a paradigm
shift; a chance to build a new system within the broken shell of
globalized capitalism. The flood of energy and idealism was
undoubtedly released in the US by a film by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis
called The Take, documenting a successful factory recuperation. I
gained a window into the maturation of this dream in Buenos Aires now
11 years after the first factory take over, of a movement that through
its institutionalization process has held fast to some fairly radical
principles, while beginning to access mainstream markets.

The stories of the workers I’ve interviewed are filled with
contradiction, with relentless struggle against oppression and with
degrees of triumph. My time in Buenos Aires helped me to redefine the
meaning of dignified work, and provided a frame for the global
struggle for worker self-determination. Studying the coop movement in
Argentina and identifying pieces that could be translated for the
movement in the US, we have so much to learn from our friends in the
South.

* * * * * * *

While the economic conditions in Argentina have been incredibly
precarious, the consciousness that evolved as a result of the crisis
provided fertile ground for a vibrant movement. Similar conditions are
ripening in parts of the US as well. Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and
Chicago are all looking to new economic models. Chicago is the home of
the first worker cooperative takeover of a factory in the US, New Era
Windows and Detroit unions are seriously considering replacing the
corporate auto industry that fled with their jobs with worker-owned
industries. Despite the movement’s contradictions, Argentina is still
a priceless window into a new path and economic paradigm of worker’s
dignity, mutual aid and trust that can provide tangible inspiration to
struggling workers and communities around the world.

The Working World is now helping to turn those dreams into reality in
other countries and helped New Era purchase their factory from its
previous owner. Working World  is a non-profit organization that
provides investment capital and technical support for worker
cooperatives. Upon return, all investment money is reintegrated to a
locally-based revolving loan fund, overseen by the cooperatives and
the community it serves. According to Working World, “We support
worker cooperatives using a finance model that puts money at the
service of people, not the other way around. We help design, fund, and
carry out productive projects, only requiring that cooperatives pay us
back with the revenues the investments generate. As active partners,
we are more motivated to ensure that these projects are successful, or
in other words, that finance is only used as a tool to create real,
lasting wealth for those that it serves.”

Excerpts from SOLIDARITY ECONOMY http://www.solidarityeconomy.net/2013/10/01/inside-argentinas-worker-owned-factories/

NOTE: We are told that there is only one alternative to the private market economy of exploitation for profit, and that is a state-owned economy of exploitation for bureaucratic quotas. Not true, there are alternatives, there is a better way. What is being done in Argentina is but one example

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