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ARGENTINA

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 industry.

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 women.

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' Control."

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 police.

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 wounded.

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 Commons License.
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