Workers seize control of 150 plants
By Alicia Jrapko
With 57 percent of the Argentinian population
now in poverty and with an official unemployment rate of 30
percent, an unprecedented development has taken place in this
South American country. Workers have seized control over
factories abandoned by their owners due to bankruptcy, "lack of
profit" or instability.
Since 1998, workers have seized more than 150 factories--in
industries including food, metallurgy, car parts, printing,
ceramic and textiles.
Fifty years ago, Argentina was considered one of the most
developed and industrialized economies in the Third World. Some
50 percent of its gross national product came from
However, the neoliberal policies dictated by Washington, and
implemented by the International Monetary Fund and other
financial institutions for almost three decades, have brought
nothing but misery to the Argentinean people.
The circumstances surrounding the takeovers vary from
factory to factory.
In some instances, workers have requested the previous
owners' permission to run the plant, paying rent in
compensation as well as purchasing all means of production.
In others, workers have formed cooperatives and established
a system of equal pay, with a democratic power structure of
direct vote by general assemblies that gather to discuss their
problems and find solutions.
Among the factories taken over by workers, two companies
have become a symbol of this new movement: the Zanón
ceramic factory in Neuquén and the Brukman textile
factory in Buenos Aires, where most of the workers are
Brukman: 'This factory under workers' control'
When the workers first took control of Brukman, they wanted
to negotiate with the previous owners, but the owners never
responded to their calls. As a testimony to the new
development, a huge sign at the entrance of the Zanón
factory reads "This Factory Produces Under Workers'
In March, the police tried to gain control of Zanón.
They had to retreat in the face of workers' resistance and
overwhelming solidarity from the community. The workers at this
plant have launched a campaign to gather 50,000 signatures on a
petition asking the state to expropriate the plant and make it
state-owned under workers' administration.
Since the workers began to administer the company, they have
created 40 new jobs for those previously unemployed. They have
purchased raw materials and they have paid taxes, including for
water, electricity and gas.
As presidential elections drew near, two judges left over
from the days of the military dictatorship of 1976 issued
illegal orders for the military to occupy the Brukman factory.
On April 18, under a new threat of eviction, five workers
prepared to spend the night at the factory.
Heavily armed police attacked and evicted them.
Thousands of unemployed workers (piqueteros) and members of
neighborhood assemblies responded, gathering outside the
factory. They, too, suffered repression at the hands of federal
Pablo Kilberg is a supporter and organizer with the Madres
de Plaza de Mayo, the organization of courageous mothers who
kept up a weekly demonstration for decades after their children
were "disappeared" during the military dictatorship of the
1970s. Kilberg says that the police had no compassion for these
women, now in their 80s and 90s. They were surrounded by tear
gas clouds and had to be rescued by media vehicles.
Kilberg added that police used both rubber bullets and live
ammunition, and that it was a miracle nobody died. Twenty
blocks away from the factory, the police went on a hunting
mission. As a result, 120 people were arrested and many were
The solidarity shown by other sectors of the population was
immense. A few days later, in a demonstration against police
brutality and repression, more than 30,000 people accompanied
the Brukman workers. Among their supporters were members of
parliament, political parties, the Madres de Plaza de Mayo,
Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Funda dora, Abuelas
(Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo, human-rights organizations,
more than 25 popular assemblies, students and several
organizations of piqueteros.
The workers at Brukman are committed to continue the
struggle until they regain control of the factories. They have
promised to fight until the end.
The workers in Argentina who have seized control of their
work places have demonstrated that they are capable of
administering the factories, purchasing raw material,
manufacturing their products, paying themselves decent salaries
and creating new jobs. The capitalists' main concern is that
sooner or later the working class will seize political power
and control its own destiny.
Reprinted from the May 8, 2003, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
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