Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Workers Self-Management in Action!

I posted this old article as an example of worker's self-management in action. It is a case in which 300 odd workers of the largest ceramic floor-tile factory in Argentina had expropriated the means of production and created a democratic workplace.

"The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves." Flora Tristan, 1843.



March 18, 2004

Zanon, Argentina

By Marie Trigona


At the break of dawn on a frigid winter day the workers of Zanon, a ceramics factory under worker control, file into the plant for the day's first shift (6am to 1pm). They greet the men in charge of security at the plant's entrance and punch in to the time clock.

Since March, 2002 the factory has been producing without an owner, bosses or foremen. The factory sits among the red earth and rolling hills of the Southern Neuquén province in Argentina and is the largest factory in the region. After a long-standing conflict with the owners for back pay, sudden closure of the factory and firings in the fall of 2001, Zanon's workers occupied the factory and set an example of resistance against capitalism for workers all over the world that workers can produce even better under self-organization/management.

"It was a decision to stay here and struggle or go home, I could have gone home but I decided to stay here in the factory and struggle. I learned to defend my 15 years of work here in the factory and fight," forcefully expressed Rosa Rivera, one of the 15 women among the 300 employed by the factory.

"The owners never paid taxes, during the epoch of former President Raul Menem they were given millions of dollars in subsidies, the exploitation of the workers was extremely high and the company were stealing Mapuche land for raw resources for the ceramics factory."

When corporate welfare ran dry due to the Argentina's economic collapse in 2001, Zanon's owners decided to close its doors and fire the workers without paying months of back pay or indemnity. October, 2001, of the 331 original workers, 266 decided to continue to come to the factory to work to continue in their job posts. For four months workers camped outside the factory, pamphleteering and partially blocking a highway leading to the capital city Neuquén.

During this time, the events Argentina's popular rebellion December 19 and 20, 2001 and the brief post-rebellion upsurge of other factory occupations and organizing among the popular assemblies and unemployed workers organizations also influenced the decision to begin working under worker control.

"When we re-entered the factory we began selling the materials produce on a small-scale level, when those ran out, we asked ourselves what do we do-fight for an unemployment subsidy of 150 pesos [about 50 US dollars] or put the factory to work?," explains Fransisco Mollinas.

In March, 2002 the workers of Zanon reentered the factory and began to produce. "This is a battle against individualism, against everything that those above impose upon us. Here inside the factory we are fighting for a new human being."

As soon as the workers began to produce without an owner or boss, relationships inside the factory were re-invented, breaking with hierarchical organization, isolation and exploitation. Workers describe the company's practices of controlling the workers-one example is that workers had to wear a uniform of a certain color, to identify which sector a worker belonged to and it was prohibited to speak with a worker from a different sector.

On the wall in the factory's offices hangs a ceramic tile with an image of a young man, Daniel, with an inscription remembering him as a fellow comrade who died in the factory. Production inside the factory was set to maximize the company's profits, reducing salaries to the minimum possible level, cutting corners on worker safety measures and pressuring workers to produce at higher levels making it possible to have less workers on the production line.

These conditions previous to the workers' occupation led to an average of 25-30 accidents per month and one fatality per year. In the years of Zanon's production, 14 workers died inside the factory. Since Zanon's occupation by its workers not one accident inside the factory has occurred. "With the owner, you worry and are pressured. Without him you work better, you take on more responsibility with consciousness," one worker comments.

The factory is now organized practicing the ideal of horizontalism, direct democracy and autonomy. Everything is decided in an assembly, there is no hierarchical personnel or administration. Each sector such as the production line, sales, production planning, press, etc, has a commission which votes in a coordinator. The coordinator of the sector informs on issues, news and conflicts within his or her sector to the delegate's table. The coordinator then reports back to his or her commission news from other sectors.

Today, Zanon employs over 300 workers and continues to plan to hire more workers. Since the factory's occupation over 70 workers have been hired. The workers' assembly decided that it is necessary to take on workers from the unemployed workers organizations. Most new workers participate in the MTD (Unemployed Workers Movement). Each worker receives 800-pesos a month salary, which was based on the cost of basic "canasta familiar" or family needs.

The factory that spans for blocks has 18 production lines, while only three are currently functioning. Meanwhile, the factory is only producing 12-15% of its capacity, with lowered levels of exploitation (workers working less hours, higher salaries) they have been able to hire new workers.

One of the keys to Zanon's success has been the insertion of the workers' struggle into the community. At the factory's entrance, workers have constructed a mural made of broken ceramics. The mural tells of the history of the struggle inside Zanon. It begins with men and women around a large pot cooking above a fire.

During the months outside the factory, neighbors, students and workers from piquetero movement demonstrated solidarity-giving funds and groceries for the workers campaign. The prisoners from the jail behind the factory donated their food rations to the workers. Social organizations such as Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have acted in solidarity, some of the women are 70-years old, have declared that they to will defend the factory with their lives.

Zanon's self-defense and security scheme is the back bone of the factory. The government's response to Zanon has been violent, using different tactics to evict the factory. The government has tried to evict the factory five times with police operatives.

Each time thousands of community members came to defend the factory. When there is the threat of eviction, everyone leaves their job posts and assumes the role of security-unemployed workers organizations with self-defense lines outside the factory, while the workers go to the roof-top to take on self-defense measures like using the sling-shot.

Prison number 11 sits right behind the factory. One night, we accompanied the workers in charge of night security on their nightly rounds around the factory we near the prison. About 20 meters away we hear "clack-clack", a prisoner guard loading his rifle while we pass by.

The factory has developed particular measures to ensure that infiltrators do not enter the factory. Each worker must punch into the time clock-not to punish him or her for arriving late but to keep track of who is inside the factory. Before the plant's security was used to guard against workers stealing equipment. Today, workers in security make sure each worker coming to work brought his or her sling-shot to work.

On November 25, 2003 workers from Zanon and unemployed workers organizations in Nuequén protested a debit card for the unemployed (rather than receiving the 150-unemployement welfare to work subsidy in cash the government now wants the jobless to use the bank card, forcing them to only be able to take out a minimum amount in cash from the banks and having to purchase defined goods in 'commercial networks' which are to be transnational supermarkets).

The protests ended with violent state repression. There were over 22 injured - 10 from lead bullet wounds. Andrés from MTD and worker of occupied ceramics factory Zanon was injured with over 64 impacts from rubber bullets. He was held for over 8 hours by police without medical attention while he was tortured. He lost his left eye.

On December 2, 2003 seven hooded men entered the factory armed and stole 32,000-pesos. This was also after organizations in Nuequén were brutally repressed in November and workers and activists with MTD were continuously threatened in their homes. "We see this as a way to pressure those of us who are struggling for a more just society," published the workers in a press release after the infiltrators made off with the money.

The government is also using cooperatives to co-opt the factories under worker control. Other than Zanon, there is only one business, Tigre supermarket in Rosario that has refused cooperatization. "The government is co-opting the movement through different methods. The state offers cooperatives but you have to stop struggling," explains Raul Godoy, worker at Zanon.

The workers of Brukman, suit factory in Buenos Aires that was evicted on April 18, 2003, have reentered the factory recently but under cooperatization. They now have only two years to buy the machinery and building under the agreement that the government offered. Since the Brukman eviction, the political Left has been criticized for its damaging intervention in the conflict (convincing the workers that self-defense tactics were not necessary during the workers 16-month occupation of the factory and during the attempt to re-enter the factory after the eviction). The factory ! now has private security company, a shameful reminder of what the factory once symbolized.

Rosa Rivera, worker at Zanon for 15 years explains that Zanon is not only a struggle for the 300 workers inside the factory but a struggle for the community and social revolution. "If factories are shut down and abandoned, workers have the right to occupy it, put it to work and defend it with their lives."

In the shambles of Argentina's highly divided movements, Zanon continues as one of the most dynamic expressions of resistance against capitalism. The social process inside the factory has brought inspiration to break with the patrón (boss) for other workers occupying factories and for the working-class all over the world.

Marie Trigona is an independent journalist and activist based in Argentina. She participates in Grupo Alavío, video and direct action collective. She can be reached at mtrigona@riseup.net



http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2004-03/18trigona.cfm

3 comments:

Marie Trigona said...

Cool blog, very nice post. It is nice to see these articles getting distribution. I invite you to visit my blog which features more articles on Argentina´s worker self-managed work places.

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Just checked out that latin american activism blog and you wasn't lying!

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