Bosses? Who needs 'em.....
swillsqueal at yahoo.com.au
Thu Nov 14 00:20:29 MST 2002
Worker control breathes life into ailing factories
November 9 2002
For nearly a year, the workers at the Grissinopoli
saw their weekly salary steadily decline from 150
pesos to 100
and then to
Finally, on June 3, with the firm headed for
demanded recompense. The plant manager offered 10
pesos to each
of the 14
employees, and asked them to leave the factory. They
"He closed the shutters, and we stayed inside,"
who has worked at the factory, in the middle-class
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
control of the factory.
The workers began taking turns guarding the
factory 24 hours
surviving by asking for spare change at the public
empanadas, chorizos and home-made bread on the street.
Four months later, the city legislature
handed it over to the workers. In October,
bread sticks again.
In little more than a year, workers have seized
foundering factories across Argentina.
Even more remarkable than the takeovers has been
resuscitation of the factories, which in some cases
under their previous ownerships.
Apart from saving thousands of jobs and softening
decline of the nation's once formidable industrial
takeovers are defying hard-and-fast notions about the
capital and labour.
They have also begun to alarm conservatives, who
threatening private property rights. But in this
nation of 37
million, where more than half the population is below
poverty line and
34per cent of the workforce is unemployed or
won government sanction and strong public support.
As darkness descends over the murky Riachuelo
Aires' southern boundary, the nearby Ghelco ice-cream
with activity. Men in green uniforms mop floors while
sort papers in
the front office.
In February, the owners of the factory, once the
of the flavoured powder used in making ice-cream,
doors and soon
afterwards filed for bankruptcy. The workers, who were
of thousands of dollars in back wages and benefits,
were left to
themselves as they awaited the outcome of a long and
At the urging of Luis Caro, a lawyer who has
occupied factories, the workers formed a co-operative
permanent protest in front of the factory, preventing
to remove any
equipment or inventory.
After three months the bankruptcy judge allowed
temporarily to rent
the factory. In September, the Buenos Aires
- the first seizure of its kind in the city - and
keys to the
Now 43 of Ghelco's former employees, all of whom
floor, run the company.
While they say they enjoy working for themselves,
back to life has not been easy. Many are working
12-hour days as
new managerial or administrative duties with their
"Before, when it was time to leave, we were out
the door ...
nine at night and we're still here," said Claudia Pea,
and cleans the bathrooms when she is not greeting
clients as a
Across the Riachuelo in the province of Buenos
booming for the 54 members of the Union and Force
a metallurgical plant for six months before securing
an expropriation last year.
The workers are earning more than twice as much as
and are set to take on 20 new members, almost all of
workers. With demand high for their copper and brass
are expanding the plant and have plans to export their
The workers are as surprised as anyone else at the
"The fellows still think this is all a dream,"
president, Roberto Salcedo, 49. "Nowadays if you lose
you know that
you aren't going to find work again, and much less at
If shrewd industrialists with an open credit line
into bankruptcy, how can worker-controlled
co-operatives with no
no business experience be thriving during the worst
Having the books wiped clean of old debts has not
important, the workers say, are the profits freed by
hefty take and the higher salaries paid to managerial
As in most of the occupied factories, the Union
has an egalitarian pay scale. Decisions are made by
assemblies and each worker earns the same, based on
Caro estimates that workers have taken over 100
businesses nationwide. While most takeovers have been
have also included a supermarket, a medical clinic, a
mine and a
Buenos Aires shipyard.
Often, the owners have struck a deal whereby the
production in exchange for payment of rent or
benefits. Other factories are still in a state of
ultimate aim for many worker-controlled factories is
In the past two years, 17 factories have been
province of Buenos Aires and in recent months three in
Provincial and city legislators are drafting bills
government agency to assist in the formation of
the expropriation of bankrupt companies to hand them
However, dissent is brewing among influential
interests, and as
a result political support for expropriations may be
Baltroc, a Buenos Aires city legislator who has been a
While the first two expropriations in the capital
unanimously by the city legislature, the centre-right
since reversed its position, refusing to vote on the
"The property of the owners is being ignored in
transfer it to
the employees. This is not an expropriation, it is a
Gregorio Badeni, a constitutional lawyer.
declared in cases of public benefit. In these cases
there is no
benefit. There is benefit for 20 or 30 people."
But with local support for the factory-occupying
authorities have had little success removing them by
In March, about 200 people from neighbourhood
rights groups converged on the worker-controlled
forcing the retreat of 70 riot police who were acting
judge's order to
reclaim the property.
"The idea that a capitalist is needed to organise
demystified," said Christian Castillo, a sociology
University of Buenos Aires.
"If things improve economically, this movement
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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