Bosses? Who needs 'em.....

Mike Ballard swillsqueal at yahoo.com.au
Thu Nov 14 00:20:29 MST 2002


http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/08/1036308479390.html

Worker control breathes life into ailing factories
November 9 2002


    For nearly a year, the workers at the Grissinopoli
bread
stick factory
saw their weekly salary steadily decline from 150
pesos to 100
and then to
40.
    Finally, on June 3, with the firm headed for
bankruptcy, the
workers
demanded recompense. The plant manager offered 10
pesos to each
of the 14
employees, and asked them to leave the factory. They
didn't
budge.
    "He closed the shutters, and we stayed inside,"
said Norma
Pintos, 49,
who has worked at the factory, in the middle-class
Chacarita
neighbourhood,
for 11 years. "We just wanted to keep coming to work."
    But what began as a last-ditch effort to save
their jobs, or
at the very
least to receive some back wages, turned into a dogged
effort to
gain
control of the factory.
    The workers began taking turns guarding the
factory 24 hours
a day,
surviving by asking for spare change at the public
university
and selling
empanadas, chorizos and home-made bread on the street.
    Four months later, the city legislature
expropriated the
factory and
handed it over to the workers. In October,
Grissinopoli began
producing
bread sticks again.
    In little more than a year, workers have seized
control of
scores of
foundering factories across Argentina.
    Even more remarkable than the takeovers has been
the
worker-led
resuscitation of the factories, which in some cases
are doing
better than
under their previous ownerships.
    Apart from saving thousands of jobs and softening
the
precipitous
decline of the nation's once formidable industrial
production,
the factory
takeovers are defying hard-and-fast notions about the
relationship between
capital and labour.
    They have also begun to alarm conservatives, who
view them
as a
threatening private property rights. But in this
crisis-laden
nation of 37
million, where more than half the population is below
the
poverty line and
34per cent of the workforce is unemployed or
underemployed, the
workers have
won government sanction and strong public support.
    As darkness descends over the murky Riachuelo
River that
marks Buenos
Aires' southern boundary, the nearby Ghelco ice-cream
factory
still hums
with activity. Men in green uniforms mop floors while
others
sort papers in
the front office.
    In February, the owners of the factory, once the
nation's
leading maker
of the flavoured powder used in making ice-cream,
locked the
doors and soon
afterwards filed for bankruptcy. The workers, who were
owed the
equivalent
of thousands of dollars in back wages and benefits,
were left to
fend for
themselves as they awaited the outcome of a long and
uncertain
legal
process.
    At the urging of Luis Caro, a lawyer who has
represented
some 40
occupied factories, the workers formed a co-operative
and
mounted a
permanent protest in front of the factory, preventing
attempts
to remove any
equipment or inventory.
    After three months the bankruptcy judge allowed
them
temporarily to rent
the factory. In September, the Buenos Aires
legislature
expropriated Ghelco
- the first seizure of its kind in the city - and
handed the
keys to the
co-operative.
    Now 43 of Ghelco's former employees, all of whom
worked on
the factory
floor, run the company.
    While they say they enjoy working for themselves,
bringing
the company
back to life has not been easy. Many are working
12-hour days as
they juggle
new managerial or administrative duties with their
former
production posts.
    "Before, when it was time to leave, we were out
the door ...
now, it's
nine at night and we're still here," said Claudia Pea,
who
labels containers
and cleans the bathrooms when she is not greeting
customers and
clients as a
receptionist.
    Across the Riachuelo in the province of Buenos
Aires,
business is
booming for the 54 members of the Union and Force
Co-operative,
who occupied
a metallurgical plant for six months before securing
legal
control through
an expropriation last year.
    The workers are earning more than twice as much as
they did
as employees
and are set to take on 20 new members, almost all of
them sons
of current
workers. With demand high for their copper and brass
pipes and
taps, they
are expanding the plant and have plans to export their
products.
    The workers are as surprised as anyone else at the
factory's
success.
    "The fellows still think this is all a dream,"
said the
co-operative's
president, Roberto Salcedo, 49. "Nowadays if you lose
your job
you know that
you aren't going to find work again, and much less at
our age."
    If shrewd industrialists with an open credit line
ran these
companies
into bankruptcy, how can worker-controlled
co-operatives with no
capital and
no business experience be thriving during the worst
economic
slump in
Argentina's history?
    Having the books wiped clean of old debts has not
hurt. But
more
important, the workers say, are the profits freed by
eliminating
the owners'
hefty take and the higher salaries paid to managerial
staff.
    As in most of the occupied factories, the Union
and Force
Co-operative
has an egalitarian pay scale. Decisions are made by
direct vote
in regular
assemblies and each worker earns the same, based on
the previous
week's
profits.
    Caro estimates that workers have taken over 100
factories
and other
businesses nationwide. While most takeovers have been
at
factories, they
have also included a supermarket, a medical clinic, a
Patagonian
mine and a
Buenos Aires shipyard.
    Often, the owners have struck a deal whereby the
workers
take over
production in exchange for payment of rent or
forgiving back
wages or
benefits. Other factories are still in a state of
legal limbo.
But the
ultimate aim for many worker-controlled factories is
expropriation.
    In the past two years, 17 factories have been
expropriated
in the
province of Buenos Aires and in recent months three in
the
capital.
Provincial and city legislators are drafting bills
that would
create a
government agency to assist in the formation of
co-operatives
and facilitate
the expropriation of bankrupt companies to hand them
to the
workers.
    However, dissent is brewing among influential
economic
interests, and as
a result political support for expropriations may be
waning,
said Beatriz
Baltroc, a Buenos Aires city legislator who has been a
leading
proponent of
the expropriations.
    While the first two expropriations in the capital
were
approved
unanimously by the city legislature, the centre-right
Radical
Party has
since reversed its position, refusing to vote on the
expropriation of
Grissinopoli.
    "The property of the owners is being ignored in
order to
transfer it to
the employees. This is not an expropriation, it is a
confiscation," said
Gregorio Badeni, a constitutional lawyer.
"Expropriations can
only be
declared in cases of public benefit. In these cases
there is no
public
benefit. There is benefit for 20 or 30 people."
    But with local support for the factory-occupying
workers
strong,
authorities have had little success removing them by
force.
    In March, about 200 people from neighbourhood
assemblies and
human
rights groups converged on the worker-controlled
Brukman textile
factory,
forcing the retreat of 70 riot police who were acting
on a
judge's order to
reclaim the property.
    "The idea that a capitalist is needed to organise
production
is being
demystified," said Christian Castillo, a sociology
professor at
the
University of Buenos Aires.
    "If things improve economically, this movement
perhaps may
fade away.
But the idea of worker control is out there."


=====
"Man first begins to philosophize when the necessitites of life are supplied."  Aristotle

"determinatio est negatio"  Spinoza

"There are no ordinary cats."  Colette

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