The BAUEN Hotel Worker Cooperative: an experience of self-management and freedom

Fabián Pierucci and Federico Tonarelli
BAUEN Worker Cooperative, Limited/F.A.C.T.A.
(Argentine Federation of Self-Managed Workers)

Recover (def.): To take back or re-acquire what had been lost. To put back in service what was useless. To work for a given period to compensate for what stopped being done for some reason. To return to oneself. To return to normality after a crisis.

The BAUEN Worker Cooperative, Limited (INAES inscription 25801), has worked at Callao 360 of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires since March 2003. The venture is the direct heir of a number of experiences that, with a great deal of imagination and courage, were created to alleviate the social and economic consequences of the crisis in 2001. These experiences are known generically as Businesses Recovered by their Workers (BRW) and have been the object of analysis and study, especially for their impact on the creation of jobs, but also for their contribution to new organizational practices which, today, are discussed and valued in worker cooperativism and in cooperativism in general. To date, it is calculated that more than 250 BRWs exist.

Following successive changes in holding companies to make working conditions more “flexible” and to avoid taxes, in 1997, the Bauen S.A.C.I.C. firm, chaired by Marcelo Iurcovich, sells the twenty-story tower that had operated as a hotel since 1978. The buyer, Solari, S.A., a business with Chilean capital, without proven economic solvency and with no experience in the hotel industry, takes charge of the business. This operation takes effect with a bill of sale signed in exchange for an amount of money far lower than real-estate market practices to take possession of a property. Shortly after the hotel begins working under the new firm, assets begin to be stripped, workers begin to be dismissed, and a preventive case is opened, followed by the bankruptcy of Solari, S.A. This situation culminates with the definitive closure of the hotel and dismissal of all the workers who were still employed, the 28th of December, 2001.

From roadblocks to factory takeovers

Expelled from their work environment, without organizational contact with other workers, the newest and most spectacular form of worker resistance organized in the middle of the ’90s is the roadblock, organized by unemployed workers. National assemblies made up mostly of fired workers, but where housewives and youth with no access to the labor market also participate, decide plans of struggle with an agenda linked to demands for denied rights. The method of protest and demand, exercised as a kind of pressure on the State and on capital, is blockading the circulation of goods. Streets are blocked and access prevented to the entry and exit of vehicles with supplies, goods and workers. This modality is no more and no less than the expansion into the transportation aspect of commerce of the historical protests by organized workers in the production aspect of commerce (strikes, work slowdowns, sabotage, etc.). The extent of this organizational form of unemployed workers is massive, occurring across practically the entire nation.

In 2001, protests multiplied, accompanied by aggravation of financial restrictions by the State. There were unprecedented rates of unemployment and labor precarity. The inflation that accompanied the devaluation after the end of monetary convertibility had extreme consequences for family budgets.

The State response to social protest always created great tension. Every roadblock or street protest was accompanied by large repressive deployments. In many cases, police action ended with dead and wounded among the protesters. In the beginning, the answer was government support, with subsidies programs for those below the subsistence level. By the end of 2001, the State response was basically repressive.

Two facts are written in fire in the history of worker and popular struggles:

  • The protests of the 19th and 20th of December, 2001 lead to the resignation of the Minister of the Economy, Domingo Cavallo, and the President of the Argentine Nation, Fernando de la Rúa. On these days, different State and para-State repressive forces kill more than 30 protesters.
  • The massive manifestation of unemployed workers on the Pueyrredón de Avellaneda Bridge, June 26, 2002, which culminates with an attack that wounds hundreds of protesters and kills Darío Santillán and Maximiliano Kosteki.

Businesses recovered by their workers (BRW)

The recovery of factories, workshops and productive spaces by their workers was a defensive and last-ditch effort, within the dynamic of class struggle. The large majority went through three clearly differentiated stages: occupation, the organization of the resistance to maintain the occupation over time and, finally, the decision to produce. The time that each of these stages took had to do with the time for maturing and debate of the collectives that took responsibility for these actions. This process meant a major impact on the subjectivity of each worker that was part of the recovery of their jobs and workplaces. Every experience also left an imprint on the geography surrounding the factories and workshops: for the first time, these spaces were open to the neighbors, who generally participated as sympathizers and sustainers.

The 21st of March, 2003, living among the consequences of the economic crisis, especially large-scale unemployment and the impoverishment of popular sectors, former workers of the Hotel BAUEN, assembled in the Chilavert printing cooperative, decided to occupy the lobby of the building at Callao 360 with the purpose of demanding a solution to the social drama they were living in. They were already organized as the Buenos Aires, Una Empresa Nacional [Buenos Aires, A National Business, or BAUEN] Worker Cooperative, because, for months, they had received no response from the State, employers, or union. Gradually, they began to carry out economic activities to be able to subsist. So it was, as the fruit of much labor and saving most of the income the cooperative had for a long time, which made the draws quite meager, that each of the sections and stories of the building were reconditioned.

When the floors were opened to guests, an explosion of good, new jobs was created, which continues practically through today. From twenty-five founding members of the cooperative, they grew to a hundred and sixty. That is, growth of 640% in the labor force which, today, has an income comparable to the prevailing wage in the sector. But if there is a characteristic that is distinctive to the experience of the BAUEN, for which it is known in innumerable places across the world, it is the cooperative worker-members’ policy of openness towards the community. Without losing the central objective of improving the quality of life of its members, the cooperative has housed countless social and political events, and a multitude of personalities of art, of culture, of social movements and of the political representatives of popular sectors have passed through its doors. In fact, the main slogans used for years have “The BAUEN is everyone’s” and “BAUEN: struggle, culture, and work.” Both expressions are goals of daily action. And all this takes place in a framework of legal insecurity, of not having resolved the root problem, which is legal ownership of the property.

Beginning of this story

The Hotel BAUEN was constructed in record time with a credit from the BANADE (National Bank of Development) between 1977 and 1978. This credit was provided in the framework of the infrastructure program for the World Cup of 1978 approved by the military dictatorship. The disbursements made by BANADE (according to the mortgage record in the land register) were the following:

03/10/77 800,000,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 2,335,760)

11/21/77 743,852,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 1,352,450)

12/28/77 1,537,148,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 2,566,190)

01/05/78 508,000,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 798,740)

07/10/78 342,500,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 429,730)

10/30/78 92,800,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 101,860)

11/03/78 354,500,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 370,810)

11/03/78 54,700,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 68,040)

Total 4,433,500,000 Pesos Ley (US$ 8,023,580)

In these 34 years, the Argentine Republic changed currency four times:

The US$8,023,580 of 1977/78 becomes US$18,870,812.34 in 2012, which is an increase of 235% in 34 years, assuming an inflation rate of 7%, the annual average in the USA.

If we take the updated amount of capital of $86,805,736.77 and apply the preferential 5% annual interest rate that appears in the contract of the original credit, it gives a total of $147,569,752.50.


In the framework of the closure of the BANADE and attempts to collect the remainder through the Banco Nación, which managed the residual portfolio, an agreement is reached in 1994 between the bank and Bauen, S. A., for US$6,000,000 as the total balance of the original debt. This agreement was unfulfilled. The balance as of 2000, the year of the liquidation of BANADE, gives a balance of the updated debt to that date of $85,476,895 [pesos], considered entirely uncollectible.

At the beginning of the ’80s, Bauen, S. A., filed suit against BANADE for noncompliance in the granting of the above-mentioned credit, as a strategy to repudiate the original debt, to extend the terms and to liquidate the amount originally borrowed in a context of high inflation. After having made only a few consistent payments towards amortizating the interest, until se efectivizó the total of the agreed amount with BANADE, plus the expansions to the original credit for changes to the building project, no more payments were ever made to the bank. In March 2007, there was a judgment by the Court of Appeals which, today, is in the Supreme Court of the Nation in the case of Bauen SACIC vs BANADE, where the liquidation indicates that the debt to BANADE, updated as of 04/01/91, is $4,670,262.84, to which an 5% annual interest rate is applied from 01/01/83 to 03/31/2007, which gives, as of that date, the amount of $11,118,718, minus a penalty imposed on BANADE for noncompliance at the point of granting of the tranches of $2,502,193, leaving a balance favorable to BANADE of $8,616,524.

In the liquidation, we can realize that the period 1991-2007 was not updated, which meant a considerable liquifaction of the debt. Now, if we do the exercise of applying the rate for noncompliance with the sentence of 5% monthly on the original capital in the 62 months since the sentence through the present, the amount of $4,670,262.84 becomes 14,477,814.80, which, updated by the 2012/2007 IPM brings us close to a debt of $25.000.000 to date. This judgment largely achieves the objective of the economic group led by Iurcovich: hold on to the building that he used since its construction essentially without paying. This strategy of a chain of successive scams allowed the economic group, which, today, demands ownership of the building, to use the flow of revenue created by the hotel to become rich and invest in other publicly known enterprises (the Bauen Suite in Buenos Aires, Bauen Buzios in Brazil, etc.) without any kind of State control.

We note that the difference between our first $86,805,736.77 of updated capital with no interest and the $25,000,000 from the updated calculation of the judicial judgment that would shed light on Iurcovich’s thirty-year debt, show us that the loss to the Nation-state would be $60,000,000 [Argentine pesos].

The legal structure adopted by all the BRWs was the worker cooperative. This organizational structure meant learning, which happened, in cases, with some resistance. Going from a wage relationship to taking responsibility for running the business meant crossing an abyss. Also, the “bad press” worker cooperatives were getting played a negative role when it came time to define the direction of the recovered businesses.

The need for an assembly-based organization for political decision-making and for the reorganization of production created a practice that radicalized the cooperative principle of internal democracy. The BRWs breathed a good dose of grassroots participation into the statutory tradition that delegates most operational responsibility for the cooperatives to the administrative council. The legal structure of the worker cooperative and the concrete practice of the BRWs, led to thinking, or, rather, rethinking the concept of self-management to describe these new experiences.

In the nine years of cooperative management by the workers of the BAUEN Hotel, there was an inverse proportion in the application of the income generated by the services they provided between investment and each cooperative member’s draw. In the beginning, investment meant that almost all earnings were applied to restoring the facilities. To the extent that reactivating the different spaces allowed, the income of the workers increased. This process made nearly 100% of the facilities of tower housing the cooperative at Callao 360 productively viable, with an investment of $5,000,000, without counting with the cost of the working time, when improvements were made by cooperative members. This amount, updated to 2012, is approximately $15,000,000. All this, with savings of earnings produced by their own efforts. The experience of the BAUEN Cooperative revitalized an abandoned building and created a business that is self-sustaining over time, with an auspicious future. These data show a notable contrast between the results of employer management, 1978-2001, and worker management, from 2003 to today.

Proportion of income received by the workers of the BAUEN compared to investment in the building over time. (Source: the workers themselves).

Public utility: work, value and hierarchy

Legislation on “public utility,” in which goods necessary for State infrastructure projects or for public use had been the most common application of this concept, is expanded by provincial legislatures to give legality to the BRWs. Public utility (which makes assets subject to expropriation) was declared to include those means of production, facilities and complementary parts of economic use that were abandoned by the employers, in almost all cases after assets were stripped and workers were fired en masse. This legislative practice gives an account of an widespread phenomenon in the defense of labor rights called Businesses Recovered by their Workers. The BRWs were tools, in these last ten years, of safeguarding rights denied to workers, as well as organizational forms in popular sectors of new management practices in productive enterprises. The hierarchical organizational forms imposed in the wage bond are replaced by strategic decision-making in the organization of labor and the internal life of each experience in a collective and democratic way. This new way of thinking and acting created a logic absolutely opposed to that of the world of capital. While the main and perhaps sole objective of a business managed by capital is the highest profit rate, as fast as possible, the fundamental objective of the BRWs is the preservation of jobs and the improvement of the quality of life of their members, closely connected to the surrounding community. This characteristic makes the BRWs eligible not just to be considered a practical alternative to unresolved market “failures,” but to be included in general legislation, now that these practices are considered to be profoundly linked to the material and spiritual well-being of the people that participate in them, which are so numerous that they are seen as connected with, and possibly even conflated with, the general social good of the working classes. These considerations, we think, expand the scope of the concept of “public utility.” Work, jobs linked to the means of production, the infrastructure that houses them, productive processes, as well as the “know-how” or worker knowledge that guarantees the quality of the finished products of factories, workshops and service businesses — we maintain — should be considered to be of “public utility,” given that their destruction or loss would impose a grave economic and social cost for the whole population.

Economics, law and politics

To date, there is a firm eviction notice handed down by judge Paula Hualde of Commercial Court No. 9, in 2007, with an appeal by the cooperative to a higher court and a grievance before the Supreme Court, both of which were rejected. Recently, the judge ordered meetings aimed at arranging a resolution between the parties (Mercoteles S.A., the bankruptcy trustee, Solari S.A., and workers from the BAUEN Cooperative, together with representatives of the State) to evaluate the social problem that would result from the announced measure.

Given this situation, we express that the social cost and the cultural impact of the dislocation of the cooperative and its eviction from its headquarters at Callao 360 in the C.A.B.A. would be of an irreparable magnitude:

  • one hundred sixty good jobs would be lost in a historical context where work came to be valued as much more than a mere contract between parties — it is considered a social good. Clearly, this would constitute a serious social drama for the members of the cooperative and would have a negative fiscal impact for the State, because of the loss of a value producing unit, and because of the cost of subsidies to unemployed families.
  • hundreds of small agents in the social economy that were developed as providers of goods and services to the cooperative (a priority from its beginning) would be affected.
  • a self-managed space would disappear, a space that has become a point of reference for social movements and popular sectors across the country and across the world that use the cooperative’s facilities for their activities. This would have an extremely negative impact on cultural dissemination and production in the city of Buenos Aires.
  • It would be the end of a space used by the nation-State for its events and activities across all ministries and government agencies that signed agreements to use the cooperative’s facilities (Ministries of Security, Education, Agriculture, etc.).

Because of this, with our legal options exhausted, having developed our cooperative experience for almost ten years in conditions of legal precarity, and now at risk of losing 160 good jobs, we express the need for a definitive political solution to the conflict.

The processes of cooperative integration, social movements, and the BAUEN

The BAUEN hotel and the story of its recovery as a productive space are intimately linked to social movements born of the resistance against the consequences of the crisis of 2001. Countless political, cultural and social organizations have passed through the facilities of the hotel. The BAUEN workers were also active in worker and popular struggles with participation and initiatives, from assessment and accompaniment of each factory or workshop in conflict, to demonstrations against FTAA. Since 2007, there has been a second-generation discussion about the stage of resistance and production. There was a debate about movement nature of the BRWs and the need for give institutionality to forms of social, political, economic and productive integration, which have been ever-present and distinctive qualities since their birth. In this framework, FACTA (Argentine Federation of Cooperatives of Self-Managed Workers) was created to meet this need. From its beginning, FACTA has been made up of BRWs, worker cooperatives formed by social movements, and of cooperatives strongly linked to these traditions. For two consecutive terms, the BAUEN cooperative was chosen to preside over FACTA. FACTA is a third-degree associated of the CNCT (the National Confederation of Worker Cooperatives) and a member of COOPERAR (the Cooperative Confederation of the Argentine Republic).

FACTA, the CNCT, and the Cooperative Printers’ Network have located their headquarters in the building of the BAUEN.

Work proposals for the BAUEN conflict

For six years, different expropriation bills in favor of this worker cooperative were presented in Congress of the Nation. The first was sponsored by Francisco Gutiérrez (today mayor of the municipality of Quilmes), the second by Deputy Carlos Tinnirello, and on three occasions by deputy Victoria Donda Pérez, which each successively lost its parliamentary chance by not being brought to a vote. Currently, the bill presented by Deputy Carlos Heller has a favorable opinion in the Committee on Cooperative Affairs. These bills propose to declare the tower at Callao 360 in the C.A.B.A. to be of public utility and that it be given in loan for use to the BAUEN cooperative.

Common sense indicates that any elemental calculation to update the debt contracted by Marcelo Iurcovich with the Argentine State in 1978 would far exceed the price of the property. There is also the need to review and consolidate debts of the Iurcovich group with the State for other reasons which should be added to the mortgage credits recieved from the now-defunct BANADE. So, the fiscal cost of a possible expropriation should be essentially zero.

Another aspect that we put a consideration is the fact of the obvious and proven link of complicity of the economic group with the military dictatorship. It would be a public affront to return the building to the same ones who participated and benefitted from economic links with the worst contemporary tragedy for popular sectors, with a measure that would fly in the face of the current policy of Human Rights of the National Government to pursue Memory and Justice.

In synthesis

The actors participating in the BAUEN conflict are:

Judicial Power
National State
Mercoteles S. A.
BAUEN Worker Cooperative, Ltd.

Judicial Power:

  • Has a firm judgment for restitution to Mercoteles, S. A., of the building (calls hearings with proposed agreements between parties)
  • An appeal is in process in the case of Bauen SACIC vs BANADE in the Supreme Court of Justice, which should define the final amount of Iurcovich’s debt to the Argentine State.

National State:

  • Is a user of the BAUEN Cooperative’s services
  • Is a provider of consulting and financing services to the BAUEN Cooperative
  • Is a creditor of Mercoteles S. A.’s mortgage
  • It is a creditor of as yet undetermined debts of Bauen S. A. and Mercoteles S. A.

Mercoteles S. A.:

  • Complicity with the military dictatorship to organize the hotel business in 1978
  • Simulated sale of the tower by Bauen, S. A., to Mercoteles, S. A., in 2001
  • Successive failures to abide by agreements with financial bodies
  • Judgement against it in the Chamber of Appeals
  • Extraordinary liquidation of original debt to BANADE
  • Process of accreditation for consolidation of other debts with state bodies
  • Disappearance of work credits of former Bauen, S. A., workers

BAUEN Worker Cooperative :

  • Founded in the year 2003 with 30 members; today, it provides 160 good jobs
  • Restarting the venture required refurbishing nearly every part of the tower at Callao 360
  • Projects of expansion of services with optimization of the productivity of associated labor
  • Process of cooperative integration through federated association
  • Process of horizontal cooperative integration with other hotel cooperatives
  • Process of vertical cooperative integration with providers and users in the social and solidarity economy
  • Associative projects for common undertakings with cooperative sector
  • Associative projects for financing of investment in cooperative sector
  • Process of IRAM/ISO 9001 certification with consulting from the Ministry of Labor of the Nation
  • Application to the National Congress for declaration of Public Utility, subject to expropriation, of building at Callao 360
  • Preservation of State assets and denunciation of historic inaction with respect to collecting on debts.


The resolution of the conflict over the building at Callao 360 of C.A.B.A., and giving legality to the legitimacy won by the BAUEN Co-op over the last ten years, will significantly increase the potential of this experience, and will also be a very important achievement for the whole solidarity sector. The BRWs are a new associative tool in defense of workers’ rights, and the BAUEN hotel is of the BRWs with the most symbolic weight, nationally and internationally.

This is why we say that the cooperative sector, and the working class in general, should declare itself to be in favor of a resolution of the conflict that includes labor continuity for the workers who recovered and self-managed this building for the whole community, understanding that this worker victory will be written into the pages of the history of worker struggle and self-management in Argentina.

Recovered businesses: the defense of dignity

Gisela Bustos
Lawyer of the 19th of December Worker Cooperative, Ltd.

Addressing the phenomenon of factory recoveries takes us back several decades in the history of the national and international workers’ movement. However, the aspect we are going to analyze in this work is the one that takes place in Argentina, which was kicked off by the economic, political and social crisis that broke out in 2001.

While previous experiences set a precedent, we will focus our analysis on the national context, marked by the uprising of masses in the middle, working, and lower classes, especially the citizens of Buenos Aires, who led a revolutionary process that was a breakpoint in the history of our country.

The crisis of 2001 was the consequence of a combination of factors that fermented to the point of a final and violent explosion. Among them, we can highlight:

  • Weariness with the consequences of the civilian-military dictatorship (1976-1983): the genocidal decapitation of the working-class and youth vanguard to apply policies of deindustrialization and dependence, as part of an imperialist plan;
  • The loss of the fear of common places and the fear of politics, the “don’t get involved” and the “there must be some reason.” The redefinition of the collective against the functional individualist conception of dominant interests;
  • The turmoil from the results of neoliberalism that was applied harshly during the ’90s, in the framework of a criminal reduction of the State with odes to the “freeing up of market forces”: structural expulsion and exclusion, the destruction of productivity, asset stripping, surrender, corruption;
  • The response of the worker and people’s movement to the adjustment policies of the Alliance government, in the framework of the historical national struggle (Peronists vs. radicals);
  • The collapse of the institutions of the regime.

In this framework, Argentina began the new millennium faced with a grim rise in unemployment (which reached more than 20%), country risk, worker impoverishment (with salary and retirement suspensions and cuts), bribes in the Senate to endorse labor flexibilization (a fact that led to the resignation of Vice President Álvarez), adjustments and the confiscatory corralito.

Faced with this, the organized working class responded with seven general strikes, work stoppages and demonstrations by union federations (at that time, the two, the CGT and the CTA).

The role of the Left and the piqueteros, as a new actor that brought together those excluded from the labor market, was a stampede in the organization of dispossessed masses, full of turmoil and powerlessness.

Everything was mixed with the massiveness of the “Clemente” vote, cacerolazos, end-of-year parties that further highlighted need and unjust inequality, barter, the assemblies and neighborhood organization.

These were days of indignation (perhaps it was an early stage of the process that is now circling the world)… days that ended with the government in a state of siege and coming apart at the hands of the mobilization, with more than thirty killed by “security forces in democracy,” a President fleeing by helicopter, five Presidents in a week, and an unprecedented institutional vacuum.

They were days in which the people (beyond just the epicenter in Buenos Aires) rediscovered their national identity and gave birth to a new Argentina.

We turned a page in our history. The spring-like resurgence of political and social commitment is the open wound that those days left us.

Long-unused forms of organization like bartering or neighborhood assemblies, as well as the piquetero movement, emerged and gained mass, though over time, their concrete action has been diluted.

Without a doubt kirchnerismo (seen in an international framework) is also a consequence of this process. Its action was able to “channel” many of the proposals of that insurrection, with the objective of leading to a pre-determined end (every one will have their own opinion on this, which is another debate).

And so great were the historical break in consciousness and the advance of the mobilization, that in the following stage and from the street, we were able to impose new institutions, which was the result of a refounding of the social contract, of a abrupt break with the earlier status quo, and of a modification in the set of values.

An example of this process is, undoubtedly, the recovered businesses.

For its part, after several seasons of delicate stability, in the years 2008-2009, the economy of our country suffered a new jolt, the lash of the fall of international markets centered on US finance. This gave rise to a second wave of factory recoveries that, this time, could build on previous experience. For these reasons, we can define the process that took place in the heat of the debacle of 2001 as a particular experience with its own characteristics.


In the years 2000, 2001 and 2002, after decades of savage economic, ideological and political looting, and of deindustrialization and indebtedness, the people and the workers recovered the plazas and the streets to raise up democratic forums for debate, connection and decision-making. In the factories as well, effervescence burst through, overflowing years of bureaucratic silencing, overcoming powerlessness, spurred by need and turmoil. And even though the unions called for massive general work stoppages, they were also part of the crisis of representation.

Old ghosts from the past vanished before this resurgence, which generally lacked organization and alternative proposals. Only one demand was unanimous: “Out with all of them!” Formal institutions were battered by a people deprived of answers. Only a person of undisputed morals could walk the same streets as the mobilized masses.

This distrust in all institutions was fertile ground for the development of versions of acrimonious horizontal and critical organization. In that controversial and renewed scenario, the people kneaded a new reality, retaking the practice of a participatory and active democracy, where those whose voices had been, until then, unknown and anonymous, were heard. Each one gave part of their time to this common construction, connected over and above their differences.

There wasn’t enough money. The country, the government and the regime had exploded. The system was questioned unconsciously.

Many businesses entered bankruptcy proceedings. Alternatively, some bosses opted to defend their interests by leaving the workers on the street, without a cent of quasi-currency, with promises that never would be fulfilled. Some fled, stripping the factories and setting up parallel firms with the complicity of the legal system. Others who were still more wretched cut up the machines with blowtorches to sell them as scrap or to prevent their reuse… Such are the images of a country and of its history.

But in many cases, the workers decided come out from behind the machines and take the lead in deciding the steps to take. Most of them did so with no help from their historical organizations, but continued on for fear of remaining on the street as victims of social isolation, of a future of uncertainty and dispossession for every family. This fear was not just a sensation, it was palpable.

They were anonymous heroes of everyday life (and they continue to be), but their individual heroism would not have been enough to write this chapter in the history of the Argentine workers’ movement. Concrete need, recognizing oneself in others, and the solidarity of a radicalized people (neighbors, organizations and personalities), were the elements that made it possible to push on in this utopian challenge, filling debates of high politics with content and the concreteness of the day-to-day, like the strike fund and the soup kitchen at the factory door.

Formal institutions were “replaced” with spontaneous organizations. This collective construction, by common people, was plagued with contradictions, and had errors, mistakes, progress, and setbacks. Through it all, we continue to coexist.

These were the characteristics that turned the imaginary into something concrete, stamping it with a revolutionary imprint.

Occupy, resist, produce

It wasn’t enough to take over the factory. The task wasn’t finished by breaking through doors and getting in. Once inside, there was a need to believe in the possibility of taking that dream of moving forward and making it real.

In the case of resisting the armed and judicial branches of the State, making the factory produce at the same time was a new and obligatory challenge. The workers did not occupy the means of production to sell them for cash in hand. They did it to continue working and avoid unemployment. They had in their possession work experience forged over years of dedication, a the hunger for justice, the courage of their convictions, unity, dignity, and a revolutionary framework.

The Argentine National Constitution, as part of the concert of constitutions of the nineteenth century, was crafted in a rigid and written way, proclaiming the defense of freedom and private property without saying a single word about fundamental values like the right to work and dignified working conditions. These were incorporated through the social constitutionalism of the twentieth century, born of the struggle of the workers’ movement beginning with the serious consequences of the Industrial Revolution and in the reformist framework of capitalism in development.

The system is determined by the dominant class, which exercises its power through institutional engineering called "the regime," and governments carry out different policies in turn. In Argentina, despite the apparent alternating colors, the empire of employer interests (whether national or foreign) never has been questioned. So, even with the advances made thanks to worker struggles, the defense of private property has been an undisputed bastion throughout history. In this framework, the recoveries of factories that we analyze, even with their limitations, and as ambitious it sounds, call that order of things into question.

In the province of Buenos Aires, faced with an epidemic of taken-over factories, the government “channeled” the process by forcing struggling workers in failed businesses to adopt the legal form of worker cooperatives. Only in this way were they in a condition to undertake the long legal and political fight, case by case, for the Provincial Legislature to pass a specific law declaring productive continuity at the hands of the worker cooperative to be of public interest, and that properties and/or machinery and/or brands owned by the bosses are subject to expropriation, with the charge that the provincial government pay the expropriation over a given time (in most cases, between 2 and 5 years). This created a legal limbo for the recovered productive units, whose continuity was covered by a sui generis legal umbrella.

This provincial and particular legislation slowed the passage of a superior, national law, which was the Bankruptcy Law, then clouded the judicial processes governed by it, miring them in a strange jurisdictional competition. This solution was the “patch” that the State used to “institutionalize” a struggle that, quite rightly, had overflowed the streets and become an example to people in their everyday reality.

While this path suffers from serious limitations for the workers, it is still true that it has embodied the supremacy of the dignity of work over the right to private property. This is a historical result with colossal consequences.

This may be the most important conclusion in the whole analysis, and the most transcendent result of this legitimate struggle. Only by making this visible will we be able to understand and redefine the enormous challenges we face to move forward and maximize this experience.


Worker Cooperatives: origin

As we said before, the cooperative movement (as an expression of the social economy) took shape during the nineteenth century, in the framework of capitalism in development and in a reformist stage. In this framework, like every cooperative, a worker cooperative is not an association or a corporation (though it is also governed by their rules). While it has the objective of obtaining surpluses, this does not detract from its character as a non-profit entity or its social function, defined by the fact that the workers are organized democratically to create their own jobs.

The worker cooperative, with the various special legislative bills around it today, turns out to be a hybrid associative model, which not infrequently leads to confusion. Organized into it, members pay a buy-in (in most recovered businesses, this is carried out formally) and incorporate the only wealth that they possess: their labor force, with the objective of producing to obtain surpluses, which will have to be shared equitably: to each according to the task carried out.

Distribution is done in accordance with real needs. And as this is a return on labor, it is not possible to wait for the closure of the deal to proceed to distribution. So, distribution is done periodically as an advance on the surplus account, according to parameters commonly agreed to (timesheet, production roster, categories, etc.).

All worker-members enjoy equal “para-political” rights and obligations. The assembly (whether ordinary or extraordinary) is the supreme democratic organ where each member has one vote, with the right to participate actively or passively on the Administrative Council and in the internal audit body (both elected by the assembly). For its part, the law orders that the Administrative Council meets at least once a month. And because the assemblies are surrounded by legal requirements, in several recovered businesses, because of their special nature, we have implemented the expanded Administrative Council meeting, convening all the members to participate in everyday debates and resolutions. This is an important step in good times and a necessity in times of crisis. This mechanism tends to strengthen active democracy, and is anticipated in special legislative bills for worker cooperatives.

In our country, these entities are currently legislated by: a) Law 20.337, the Cooperatives Law; b) Additionally: the regulations applied to companies and the Labor Contract Law, among others; c) By the whole regulatory corpus dictated by national and provincial bodies (Institute National of Associativism and Social Economy, Undersecretariat of Cooperative Affairs, AFIP, ANSES, etc.); d) By the Corporate Statute; and e) By internal regulations, whose drafting within the cooperative raises serious difficulties for partners, which is why, in many cases, it remains a pending task.

However, despite their framing in this legal form, the recovered productive units refer to their indelible origins for their later development. For this reason, their formal trappings do not automatically apply to reality. First off, “affectio societatis” (the free will of each member to form the entity and share earnings and losses) is an essential requirement for all collaborative forms. In the recovered businesses, this point is, at a minimum, under discussion, because the formation of the cooperative wasn’t the result of reciprocal trust and free will to join efforts in a collective objective. Rather, we have to say that this has been the sole and required path to enable legal mechanisms for the purpose of allowing for the legitimate defense of jobs.

So, the people who were running a soup kitchen in the doorway of the factory, together with their families and social and political organizations (generally unknown until then), rarely knew about the legal nature or characteristics of worker cooperatives, or the requirements, rights, and obligations that they entail. As such, they were far from having a shared agreement with their fired peers on the terms laid out by the rules in effect. That is why, in the recovered businesses, this issue calls for a profound debate and retroactive ratification of the cooperative form.

Labor fraud

Despite their current rise, cooperatives are largely uncharted territory. Worker cooperatives, because of their hybrid characteristics, are particularly fertile soil for confusion and labor fraud, which is how they have often been used throughout history.

In the recovered businesses, fraud is not the intent of the legitimately organized workers. However, a very thin line separates them from becoming victims or victimizers of it. In their struggle, the workers were called on to become cooperative members and, with that, to waive their inalienable labor rights of Constitutional recognition, both national and international, which are guaranteed by a system that protects public order, and which are the result of the historical struggles of the workers’ movement. In this way, through the application of regulation as written, the workers of the recovered businesses are concretely seperated from their class. And even in the best of interpretations, such as in the case of Dr. Capón Filas, they become self-employed workers, and with that, subjects of different rules.


Single tax

For its part, the minimum category of the simplified tax scheme (category B), currently applies to workers whose annual draws do not exceed AR$24,000 (AR$2000 per month). However, the current amount of the living and portable minimum wage (a result of the organized worker struggle) is over AR$3,000. This means that category B of the simplified tax scheme does not exist, as long as the State refuses to raise the caps, and these (self-managed) workers barely exceed fifty percent of the minimum wage. Faced with this reality, the inaction of the State legitimizes, scandalously, their self-exploitation, poverty and exclusion from real indices.

Attentive to the consequences of the crisis of 2001 and the masses sent into unemployment or precarious work, a special register was established in our country of “social suppliers.” Through this mechanism, self-managed productive units that fulfill certain requirements (like a limit on maximum annual billing), can apply to the Ministry of Development of the Nation to be enrolled as suppliers to the State. With this step carried out, their members can be registered in the social simplified tax scheme. This way, they are exempted from tax payments and their contributions to medical insurance and retirement are reduced to 50%.


In this or that case, the workers of the recovered businesses are excluded from the protective order, and labor rights and accomplishments: they are excluded from historical achievements like the living and portable minimum wage, annual complementary salary, family appropriations, unemployment insurance, etc. Their retirement is reduced to the minimum. They are marginalized from the union system, with its parity and accomplishments. Medical insurance becomes very difficult to access. The current law only allows them to buy personal accident insurance, where the coverage is of lower quantity and quality than that offered by the system of the Work Risks Insurer (which itself is no panacea, and is far from preventing work accidents). At the same time, these all become expenditures that the (now autonomous) workers themselves must assume. This is the price of being businesspeople.

While qualifying for the simplified tax scheme is a very personal process, in most cases, out of solidarity, the cooperative will organize these payments in a centralized way. This mechanism does not alter the fund from which the money comes: the worker’s pocket.

And in turn, this reality causes more than a few problems:

  1. Not all the recovered businesses have the means to pay the simplified tax scheme (common or social) or personal accident insurance.

  2. Even paying, faced with critical economic situations, worker-members have not hesitated to distribute the funds earmarked for these expenditures. This reality has not had an impact on becoming social suppliers.

  3. The lack of internal regulations, the continuity of pay documented with apparent salary receipts, the persistence in management of concepts left over from the employment relationship, the merely formal fulfillment of the initial contribution, among other characteristics specific to the recovered businesses, turn out to be fertile ground for confusion with labor fraud in the eyes of specialists on other topics that rarely allow themselves to be guided by concrete circumstances.

Role of the State

At this point, we find demands taken up by the sector. We must warn that, as progressive as they are, these measures continue to be limited and, in some cases, even contrary to the real needs of the recovered businesses and their workers. Among them, we can highlight:

  1. Particular provincial expropriation laws, with determined purposes and times. In addition to the criticisms we have already pointed out, we can add that, having reached the deadline without the government fulfilling its commitments, the workers were totally abandoned, forced to make pilgrimages between legislative offices to ask for legal extensions. This is a decision of a clear political nature, which the Provincial Executive Power has always vetoed with the argument of a lack of funds.

  2. Special provincial legislation for the sector: Law 13.828 (passed in 2008) and regulatory decree (September 2012). Its text and foundations are progressive, but its passage took four years and, as of today, remains largely unenforced.

On the other hand, one of the spaces with the most recovered businesses in the country filed suit against the government of the province of Buenos Aires for the exorbitant pay in the expropriation of the Constituyentes Worker Cooperative. This is the only case of State payment to a recovered business in which it is accused of political manipulation to benefit an employer who is a friend of power.

  1. National legislation: reform of the Bankruptcy Law (2011). The reform the Bankruptcy Law is a legal recognition of the struggle of the workers. However, the criticisms that are raised by its limitations are, among other things, that it:
  • regulates the possibility of recovery, imposing steep requirements on the workers, who must have a professional team to be able to meet them.
  • does not anticipate a particular regime for productive continuity: the recovered business is placed in the market without a framework that protects it in its disparity of conditions.
  • in contradiction to prior and comparable legislation, it anticipates the possibility that recovery costs are compensated with workers’ claims. So, the workers at a business in crisis can buy it by turning over the only right they hold after years of work as employees. Now, once the operation is complete, the productive destiny of the self-managed unit remains in the hands of the workers, without any reinsurance. In this way, the new Bankruptcy Law builds employer impunity, freeing it of costs that fall on the backs of the workers.
  1. Social Simplified Scheme for Small Taxpayers. We already discussed why we do not consider the registry of suppliers is not a definitive solution for social security of the workers of the recovered businesses.


The recovered businesses have a specific origin and characteristics of their own. They are a bulwark of the struggle, an experience worthy of analysis, and also easy prey for individual interests. The recovery stage is not simple, and neither is that of establishing and sustaining productive continuity and genuine survival.

It is not easy to enter the market. The clients are, generally, private employers. None of them, naturally, like their operators to become familiar with the “dangerous” example of a group of workers that organizes itself and works without bosses, questioning the foundations of private property. Once the recovered businesses achieve a certain market penetration, on the strength of low cost and good quality, financial mechanics sits them on a wobbly bicycle: they pay suppliers up front and in cash; clients pay them within ninety days.

The lack of legal security, the specter of pending eviction, the expiration of the laws, reverse expropriations, and the weight of establishments like white elephants on the workers dramatically shrink possibilities for negotiation. This disparity of conditions and the lack of their own funds for working capital force the majority of recovered production to be carried out a façon. In this framework, the clients provide in material and pay for labor with a strong imposition of conditions.

In car parts, assembly plants do not contract with worker cooperatives, so the recovered businesses usually manufacture them through a third business. This means that while the work is done by the cooperative, the intermediary ends up with a portion of the profits without any participation in production, in an obvious outsourcing of work.

A recovered business grafted onto the production chain, under the free laws of supply and demand, reduces costs for private businesses that avoid giving work to employees, "spilling" it onto self-employed workers that pay their own taxes, insurance and services. Meanwhile, official indices show reduced rates of unemployment and precarious work.

Social function

More than ten years after 2001, according to the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security of the Nation, close to 300 recovered businesses in the country create about ten thousand jobs, fulfilling roles in production chains. In economic terms, our role may be small. But in social and political terms, the contribution is colossal. These experiences are not only sources of production, but a living example that a system based on solidarity and equity is necessary and possible.

The question is frequently asked about whether they are viable, and the answer is categorical: yes, they are. They have demonstrated this (in spite of everything) over these years of existence. While the rule for private owners in crisis is suspensions, firings, closures and stripping, the recovered businesses have passed the extremely skinny cows tests without appealing to the member payroll as an adjustment valve. On the contrary, they have confronted drops in production with imagination and solidarity, exploring new areas and their own production.

An example of this is the 19 of December Worker Cooperative, Ltd., formerly ISACO Industries, S.A., one of the most important automotive suppliers in Latin America the ’80s. This recovered business (born in December 2002), in the crisis of 2008-9, with no demand for brakes, bumpers or window-raisers, turned to the production of appliances, machinery shells, ladders, and magnetic pliers. And, thanks to the invaluable “capital” of experience and willpower, they could guarantee design, production and marketing. Nobody became nouveau riche.

But nor was anyone left on the street. Everyone was able to save their draw and, above all, the continuity of real work.

Experiences like this repeat, and are captured in surveys, like the one done by the Open Faculty Program-UBA.

But the social function of the recovered businesses is not limited to jobs.

In many cases, after recovering productive units, the workers had time to think ways to return the solidarity shown by the community in the hardest times. With this in mind, many factories opened their doors to the neighborhood through cultural centers, libraries, gardens, soup kitchens, day-cares, nursery schools, radios, secondary schools, etc. So also, the 19 of December Worker Cooperative Ltd., three years after its recovery, opened the doors of what, in private times, had been the workers’s cafeteria to install a neighborhood-run secondary school coordinated by the Cooperative of Popular Educators and Researchers (CEIP).

Monday to Friday, from 1 to 7 PM, more than a hundred students and twenty teachers give life to the “19th of December Popular School.” As they tell it, and as can be seen, not only is curriculum content learned in these classrooms—which is obviously very important—but also political and social experience, building consciousness and knowledge, learning from concrete daily examples. In 2010, with a lot of effort, this school was given official recognition by the provincial government and, with that, the new CENS 461 granted official degrees to its graduates and its teachers gained access to the teacher’s salary that dignifies their task.

The National University of Saint Martín (UNSAM) has also granted recognition to this school, helping with scholarships and mentoring for graduates that decide to go on to the university. None of this is minor, and nothing is wasted. This space allows the school to draw closer to the neighborhood, receiving all its residents without distinction, making it possibile for them to finish their secondary studies.

This challenge would otherwise go unmet as one more of people’s difficulties.

The experience is built daily: the secondary school was joined by a cultural center, later, a popular library and, in 2012, coordination with Health Center Number 10 of the "Korea" neighborhood. Also, with a lot of effort, this year we implemented a first internship, which was an agreement between the cooperative and the secondary school, with the endorsement of the municipality and the UNSAM, whose beneficiary was a son and grandson of founding members of the recovered business.

All this is self-funded through inclusive solidarity initiatives. And all of the spaces connect with the factory, which is the heart of the experience, in a dynamic reality of work and pride.

There is still a lot to be done. One pending challenge is to broaden our horizon through job training. We are convinced that peers with more than 20 years in the metallurgy plant have invaluable knowledge that is necessary to share and take advantage of.



In these years, various pages have been dedicated to the debate between nationalization or self-managed cooperativism. Today, as an active part of this reality, we can affirm than neither of these variants, abstract and laid bare, is a strategic prescription.

Cases have been seen in which the workers, frightened by the lack of resources, decide to turn over their case to State “managers” that drive out the real participants from all spaces for debate, management and decision-making. This has led to the end of the experience, despite the apparent and short-term results that may be reached.

It is not easy to come out from the historical and alienating place behind the machine, to occupy new spaces of power and responsibility. Social inertia pushes us in the other direction, to find a new “big brother” who takes care of the decisions and guarantees a salary.

But we are against that being the role we need the State to play.

At the other end of the polemic are the staunch supporters of pure cooperativism. This is an option that, in most cases, is another deceit that covers the real indices of precarity, self-exploitation and labor outsourcing. This dynamic is inescapable in the current stage of financial, wild and technocratic capitalism.

In this context, the promise of upward social mobility through individual work, under the postmodern lie of turning workers into small or medium businesspeople, is no more than the siren song of those who want to offload employer and State responsibilities onto these handfuls of heroic workers who are defending their job, their inclusion and their dignity.

How many capitalists, industrial and businesspeople, open or secretively, under pressure from their employees or not, turned their private firms into cooperative structures with the sole purpose of freeing themselves of responsibilities to workers and reducing costs? What’s happening today in the recovered businesses, after more than ten tears of self-management without transition policies? What are the debates and what is the dynamic? Who benefits from perpetuating the current situation?

We are convinced that this experience is embodied and is sustained day by day, fighting against and for everything, in productivity, in economics, in the political and in the social, redoubling efforts, and with the full conviction that their triumph cannot be achieved locked between four walls… The time of blinders has to be buried.

We believe that it is urgent to use the prevailing romantic view as a point of departure to address current debate and so be able to develop the deep answers that still we owe ourselves. There’s no place for sectarian or opportunistic dogmas.

Everyday construction is plagued with contradictions and forces us to be honest and critical, and to rise above.

There are two classes

The exclusive dynamic in the heart of the active and organized working class turns out to be too high a cost for this just and genuine struggle. This, without a doubt, is related to the definition of the historical social subject.

Many interests tried to manipulate the situation so that the whole process would destroy itself because of confrontations between workers, in the absence of the boss and the State. This is a reality these experiences fight against daily, making a constant effort to keep alive the flame of political and social struggle as a guide for continuity and development. That is why this process never can deny its origins.

In this framework, nationalization with worker control using structures that are as yet unexplored, respecting and strengthening the self-managed experience (including the worker cooperative as a tool at the service of this reality) to securely reincorporate workers into their class and its achievements, is the challenge that we have to face. Those of us who are convinced that only the working class, conscious and organized, leading all of the sectors that join their program, can change order of things, see the experience of the recovered businesses as a tool at the service of a higher task.

Our guiding light cannot be anything other than identifying with our own class, fighting to recover the bonds that unite us to it and the rights that we are due, for the renewal of our struggle through the organizations we are historically part of, and to developing spaces of debate to strengthen unity and deepen contradictions at the local, national, regional, and international level. Legislative bills for worker cooperatives and statutes for self-managed workers show the need to return to our class and our natural organizations. Otherwise, marginalization, division, and individualism, under whatever label, will delivers us with our hands and feet tied to the interests that try to reduce costs thanks to our existence, subdue us, or eliminate us.

More than a few people today point to current experiences in self-management as mere prescriptions for “progressive insecurity and flexibility,” cloaked with a rhetorical device at the service of the individual interests of the day. As we know, capitalism promotes the division of those who own no more than their labor force to reduce their sale price in the market. That is why it is imperative that we redefine and recover the unity of the workers’ movement, the workers and the people, as an essential tool to fight for what we are due.

Urgent State action

We can only trust in the forces that made us possible. We must put a stop to the everyday whirlwind to develop an agenda for the medium and long term. It is urgent for those who recovered their jobs to also recover their subjectivity. Only from this place can our program call for State intervention through minimum transitional demands: definitive expropriations, public policies, legislation, purchasing, tax exemptions, waivers, social rates, compensation.

It is a priority for the State to guarantee workers the recovery of their basic protective rights in their situation of insufficiency: unionization, minimum salaries, medical insurance, workplace insurance, retirement, social security. It is urgent to make progress on the general positioning of the sector, and to create a space of its own within the economy and national industry, through which the recovered businesses and their workers, recognized as such, can participate in planning.

When official discourse indicates that Argentina experienced nearly a decade of growth at Chinese rates with a populist national government, the task of the State can only be hearing and responding to the genuine material and strategic needs of these workers. A different positioning will expose the formal rhetoric with its brushstrokes of opportunistic paternalism.

In this framework, we can say that in General San Martín (a district among the suburbs of Buenos Aires), we are developing a local experience through a working group between recovered businesses, the municipality, and the UNSAM, where we practice the building of public policies. This not only allows us to make progress on concrete demands, but also on recovery and ownership of the practice of participatory democracy.


To do all this, it is fundamental to deepen the awareness within each unit: without active struggle and solidarity, this space has no present and no future. We inhabit a postmodern and dizzying society. It is necessary to measure the processes in their dialectical dynamic. As it has been defined: building spaces of counterpower is the task of the hour. If formal institutions are at the service of reproducing the dominant status quo, our calling should be bring down the prevailing order with an alternative model of inclusion, justice and respect.

In different places, the masses rise up to free themselves of dictators and reject adjustment plans. Their work brings peripheral experiences into view.

Public squares are filled, factories taken over, pans banged, borders transcended, and we begin to speak the same language again.

“…A hopeful message” was the expression that sociologist Manuel Castells used to describe the 19 of December Worker Cooperative during his visit to the factory in June of 2013:

Three words, the best definition…

General Saint Martín, June 2013.

Collective subjects, self-management, and public policy in Uruguay

Anabel Rieiro
University of the Republic


We will address, from the viewpoint of political sociology, the topic of businesses recovered by their workers in Uruguay, who, faced with the closure or bankruptcy of their workplace, refuse to be part of unemployment.

We will document processes of self-management to understand their possible dynamism in the social movement. So, two clearly differentiated contexts and frames of opportunity will be analyzed: on the one hand, the emergence of the phenomenon beginning in the socioeconomic crisis of 2002 and, on the other hand, the current context, marked by a strong public policy that promotes credit for self-managed enterprises.

We analyze how, through demands that emerged defensively from the first context, configuring specific subjectivities, networks, and social forces, they were able to create new spaces for involvement that can be interpreted as new horizons and opportunities in social struggle. In the search to recreate their work, the workers engage in complex processes of empowerment that are addressed and analyzed from their economic-productive, relational, and symbolic dimensions.

This way, we will show how new collective subjects were configured that represent different experiences, with a new and complex map emerging from social relations between representatives of recovered businesses, cooperatives and unions, to investigate how the relationship is being established with public policies focused on the sector.

The chosen theoretical/methodological focus incorporates collective subjects, while determining/determined factors in the economic-productive structures. The field work consisted of triangulating qualitative and quantitative techniques.

The question that we wished to approach is: How do these processes of worker self-management happen in Uruguay? What is their meaning within the sociological-political focus on social democratization?

Contextualization: old and new frames of emergence

Between 35% and 40% of Uruguayan businesses closed during the social-economic crisis that exploded in our country in 2002, a crisis of the model of accumulation based on neoliberal principles. For more than three decades, these principles had oriented public policies in Latin America. At that point, the working class experienced the greatest level of unemployment and the greatest fall in real salaries in the history of the country.

This context, characterized by the insecurity and disintegration that create massive unemployment, acted as framework of political opportunities1 for the emergence of several cases of the defense and recovery of work. How? On the one hand, making it obvious to the workers that decide to resist unemployment that it was difficult/impossible to find another job; and on the other hand, obliging society to legitimize the emergence of different collective actions, renewing its tools for struggle.

The phenomenon currently includes thirty recovered productive enterprises, which involve more than 3,000 workers, with cooperativism being the legal option chosen by the large majority of associative processes (with the exception of three cases), and their productive activity is predominantly industrial.

In this context, recovery processes emerge, in most cases “out of a situation of ideological and organizational anomie.”2 This means that the workers who led these recoveries did not propose to make inroads on capital by appropriating the means of production out of an ideological-political project, but rather, their collective actions emerged as a response to the threat of exclusion resulting from the closure of their workplace in a context of widespread crisis.

The fact that the context from which these collective actions emerged in the socioeconomic crisis was more defensive than offensive does not mean that they were any less intense experiences, or that we find any less profound transformations in subjectivity in them.3 By taking ownership of the venture, the workers redefine their general conceptions of work and their status as workers, while the new decision-making mechanisms also modify positioning among peers,4 given that in most cases, in the collectives, they learned about assembly practices that did not exist in their prior culture.

In a country that is historically reformist, state-centric, and understated in social conflicts, as Uruguay is, the recovery of the productive venture by the workers emerges, at first, as a kind of direct action, which is to say, the conflict wasn’t institutionalized, which is why the toolbox of struggles is renewed.

The importance of approaching and understanding these self-managed experiences in the productive sphere must not be reduced to the number of enterprises and workers involved. The core of their importance is in the symbolic impact of “worker self-management” as a possibility.

It is these cultural ruptures that bring out certain latent contradictions,5 sparking new debates that represent potential for political renewal in our society.

Ten years after the socioeconomic crisis that exploded in our country, now under the second government of the Frente Amplio, the phenomenon of the recovery of businesses by their workers, no longer in a context of emergency, has been growing slowly, finding a new framework of opportunities.

A key point to understanding the new context is the creation of the Fund for Development (FONDES), which was created with the objective of giving assistance and financial support to productive projects, prioritizing enterprises with the participation of their workers in the leadership and capital of the businesses, and in particular to models of self-management. The FONDES had 115 million dollars to award in 2012, coming from the 30 percent profits of the Banco República (BROU) in 2010 (45 million) and in 2011 (70 million), and has 70 million dollars to award during 2013.

The emergence of new recoveries in contemporary Uruguay will have to be understood in this new political context, added to the consolidated experience that the recovered businesses have been accumulating for a decade, which poses worker self-management as a “possibility” based on a productive, visible, concrete reality with social recognition.

Profile of the workers and characteristics of recovery processes

The heterogeneity of the phenomenon is high, given that the organization that becomes of recovery is always a dynamic process, that depends on the number of people, the branch of the business, conformation of the group, the history of the previous business, etc. The backbone is industrial enterprises with 40-plus years of experience, the large majority from the stage when the development model the country practiced was “import substitution” (prior to the application of neoliberal measures).

Analyzing the profile of the workers in these experiences, we find that 70% has an age between 40 and 60 years, the average being 48 years. With respect to education, most of the workers (56%) started secondary education or technical education without being able to finish. The average work experience in the previous business is 18 years and 60% of the workers were associated with their union at the time of the closure of the business.6

While the majority of productive units come from strong union organizations, none of these workers’ associations previously disputed the management of the company. With only a few exceptions, mobilizations and collective actions carried out were in defense of salaries and working conditions.

We can characterize the organizational culture prior to the recovery process as highly vertical. The workers were like gears in a machine to which they had to submit in exchange for an agreed salary, but they did not know about or take part in the organization of the larger unit.7 Work was experienced as something they had to adapt to, and the worker’s activity was done with a disengaged attitude.8

Beyond subjects and the individual interest/commitment to recovery, the workers must start to create a collective subjectivity that can allow for collective action. Through this participation that tries to modify their surroundings, a timid change in the old, disengaged attitude can be observed. They begin to psychically and existentially influence events—no longer “observers,” but becoming constituent and active parts of them. Individual paths are not automatic or homogeneous. Taking ownership of the productive and political project happens with discussions, differences, and internal struggles that can, at times, be arduous, but that are creating an intersubjective attitude, where individuals begin to recognize themselves as part of a “we.”

The search for autonomy happens in these processes of recovery, with a permanent tension between the economic and social dimensions, where it is usual to find knots of contradiction. To give an example in economics, some of the workers who live by their labor, and do not receive a salary in exchange for their work, still find more abstract ways where part of the fruit of their work is expropriated when their goods are sold on the market.

An example of this “indirect” expropriation is a façon production, a process by which a businessperson provides raw material and seed capital, the cooperative enterprise processes it, and the same businessperson takes charge of its marketing.

While the units recovered by their workers have been and are under suspicion because of having gone from being employed workers to “owners” of the means of production, this does not mean that they become “proprietors" or "businesspeople.” The phenomenon must be understood historically and in a specific class structure. Taking ownership of the means of production is not the end of the actions undertaken, which, on the contrary, were formed as a worker mechanism to avoid and resist underemployment or unemployment.

Once the business is recovered, the processes can split. Gaining control of the means of production could favor moving to another social class if the workers reproduce the previous business culture by exploiting others, or moving to new class struggles where the workers make more gains in ownership. We clearly found several initiatives that consolidated the second tendency, given that in most cases, the existence of wage hiring is zero (or up to 20%) and the remuneration of partners is, in 50% of cases, egalitarian (based on hours worked and not hierarchy), and in 50% of the cases, according to hierarchical categories according to qualifications and/or responsibilities, with surpluses divided equally in all cases.

The most important thing to analyze in the phenomenon may be the collective consciousness acquired in the process, which will be able to be identified in the renewal (or not) of demands in the public sphere, the generation/reproduction of new/old relationships of dependence, and the ability to create social alliances and new social struggles from within the working class. In this regard, the ability to influence and create an autonomous relationship, but one that co-manges public policy, appears as a key topic when it comes time to analyze the new social context.

General characteristics of Public Policy: relationships between

collective subjects and government

We will start from a conception of public policy (PP) that uses the proposal of Hintze,9 who understands PP as conditioning, and at the same time conditioned by, the economic activity in which it is developed and emerges, immersed in a certain, specific, particular society. That is, the characteristics of PPs should be understood not as an abstract issue, isolated from societies, but within them and their broadest characteristics of production/reproduction.

At the same time, the author characterizes them as a group of actions and omissions, that would be “expression of the particular relationship between society/economy and State in a given situation.”10 This way, while the relevance of State action is reasserted, this space is transcended, emphasizing the public nature as a relational result of politics with collectives, balances of power, the capacities for action towards the systems of political and social representation, and the disputes that make up the social fabric. So, according to the author,11 PPs oriented towards advancement and sustainability of the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) demand a view centered especially on the spaces of interaction between State institutions and civil society.

The characteristics of these PP would be12: a) they constitute PP in a broad sense, transcending social and labor policies, b) they are intersectoral, which is to say that are created from different interventions from different sectors, c) they are dynamic and dialogue-based processes that can be defined according to variable degrees of verticality or horizontality, d) socioeconomic solidarity organizations are characterized by being territorially situated, whether or not they are involved in specific development processes.

From an analysis of how to manage PPs, in the search for dialogue-based and participatory conceptions, challenges for organizational change include, in the first place, consciously addressing the strong inertia/cultural inheritance, which is often times characterized by being vertical, welfare-based, cronyist, paternalist, asymmetric, and technocratic, by building a new, shared culture that is capable of institutionalizing values, standards and assumptions that allow for a renewed perspective on management. So, in this new conception, three basic issues are highlighted: the symmetry of the bonds between public agents and actors of civil society (that allow a true dialogue and collective construction), autonomy (as a conquest of greater degrees of decision and definition based on their own strength) and cooperation (relationships based on transparency and trust that enable a true integration into the processes).

From this general theoretical focus, we propose to analyze the new policy of FONDES, addressing it from the space and concrete territory into which it emerges.

For this reason, will be necessary to return several general details at the level of PPs in our national configuration and contextualize them for self-managed work. In this regard, to address PPs in Uruguay, it is necessary to look back to various authors13 to propose at the global level that the Uruguayan welfare system had been characterized by an early emergence, whose origins date back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, and whose expansion is processed in the first decades of the twentieth century, making it pertinent to understand how the early modernization of the political order, the expansion of the Welfare State and democratic consolidation took time, and happened as part of a single process. The fusion of the process of institutionalization and democratization establishes a symbolic fusion, recognizable through the present, granting political institutions a strong social legitimacy in civil society.

Faced with the socioeconomic crisis that exploded in the country during 2002, the recovery of productive units by their workers, by not focusing on plans and labor subsidies, but rather on reconstructing the jobs themselves, looks like a promising ‘zone’ to explore for public policies as civil resistance to the cyclical crises of the economy, without creating relationships of dependency and/or public assistance. The reconstruction of social ties and the tendency towards territorialization that these enterprises represent, can revalue the productive knowledge of the workers, recognize their capacity for initiative and creativity, implant new forms of organizing, promote the decentralization of power and guarantee more equitable distribution.

FONDES was created by a Presidential decree with the objective of giving assistance and financial support to productive projects, prioritizing enterprises with the participation of their workers in the direction and capital of the businesses, and in particular to self-management models. As of right now, financing has been provided to the Dairy Producers’ Association of San José, the September 7th Cooperative-FUNSACOOP (producers of tires and protective clothing), ENVIDRIO (glass containers) and URUVEN (tannery)14, Ceramic Workers Cooperative of Empalme Olmos (CTC), Worker Cooperative of Popular Food Entrepreneurship (CTEPA) and COTRAPAY Cooperative. On the other hand, there is a wide variety of projects presented waiting to be evaluated (Farm Florida, COOTAB, PROFUNCOOP, “El Águila” Cooperative, COTRADUR, COOTAX, Bella Vela Worker Cooperative, COMURE, La Diaria Cooperative, and COTRAYDI). While not all the enterprises are recovered businesses, we find that those that are occupy an important place both in the number of benefiting enterprises, as well as representing the largest units.

If we approach FONDES’ policy by focusing on the spaces of interaction between State institutions and civil society, we can observe that a complex institutionality has been created to regulate and control this fund with very little overlap or connection with other government bodies or connection to other—smaller—policies for the sector.

On the other hand, another criticism of the design and implemention of the policy is that it was defined without having included in the debate the enterprises and collective, self-managed organizations that, in principle—and over the long term—it is intended to strengthen.

In the design of the policy itself, the public sphere and the participatory building of regulation has been limited to different State settings or personal connections to particular leaders. The autonomous path of self-managed enterprises and their representative organizations has not been recognized as a qualified participant, with a kind of training and specific knowledge of crucial importance to think about the viability of the project at the global level.

However, the organizations linked to self-managed experiences were not passive, and began to connect with each other and demand spaces for dialogue and interaction. Today, a dialogue between the Presidency and the most important organizations in the sector (ANERT, FCPU and PITCNT) has been arranged. This space has a non-institutional nature and is more informative than deliberative.

In this regard, beyond intentions, the organizational change necessary to conceive of PPs from a mainly participatory and interactive perspective comes up against verticalist inheritances. As Marsiglia argues,15 the prevailing centralism in our country has effects on public policies that are heirs of a vertical and sectoral logic, built on a uniform vision of the territory, ignoring local details and collective subjectivities. The State, and particularly the central State, has been the great operator of public policies from a homogeneous—and therefore homogenizing—view of the different territories that conform our nation.

The balance between autonomous collective actions and public policies must be enhanced through dialogue, debate, and mutual re-creation (though differentiated), and not through imposition or colonization by one of the other. While self-organization at the local level may encounter limitations for the design of public policies of a universal nature, running the risk of reinforcing a certain corporatism or asymmetrical power relations (we find, in this case, a rivalry between organizations to position themselves as the “legitimate representation of the self-managed sector,” and they often do not cooperate with other organizations), is only out of recognition of these territories that the policy creates effective mechanisms for dialogue to be constituted as a reflective and inclusive policy with a capacity for reconfiguration, given the diversity of processes.

The “recognition” of concrete collective subjects, not only for the implementation of policies, but in the whole cycle of public policy (design and planning), is what enables the construction of participatory mechanisms where groups feel integrated and active in policies that set the conditions for their future. So, in debates that organizations are holding in civil society, certain demands and concerns about FONDES are arising with respect to its vulnerable institutionality and dependence on the government. The organizations are asking for it to be changed from a Presidential decree to a state law with corresponding legislation that sustains it beyond the current government, among other demands proposed today.

Reconfiguration of the self-managed social sector and new collective subjects

In Argentina, the opposition to classical unionism is clear, and we find the formation of several networks where these enterprises are grouping, like the National Movement of Recovered Businesses (which later divided), the National Movement of Factories Recovered by the Workers, the Organizations of Argentine Workers, etc.; in Uruguay, the repertoires of collective action that emerged from these experiences begin to connect in the Board of Coordination of Recovered Businesses in the Department of Industry of the PIT-CNT (Inter-union Plenary of Workers – National Convention of Workers), which split off in 2007 to become an independent organization: the National Association of Businesses Recovered by their Workers (ANERT).

The enterprises, mostly formed as cooperatives, also begin to be linked with the FCPU (Federation of Cooperatives of Production of Uruguay) and in many cases also keep their union affiliation.16 In 2010, ANERT also forms the "Board of Self-Management and Collective Building" (MEPACC) convened at the 40th anniversary of FUCVAM (Uruguayan Federation of Cooperativism of Housing for Mutual Aid), where all organizations involved in processes of self-management that would like to use this tool “for social transformation” were invited.

This space also was also formed by the FCPU and the UdelaR (University of the Republic), with the Network of Social Economy and Solidarity added later.

MEPACC began to function in May of 2010, creating a platform of proposals and demands towards which to direct its collective action, seeking to create deep changes through self-management. The organizations clustered there started from the supposition that self-management not only serves to develop occasional businesses, but can be a way of managing reality and society in general. So, they express in the platform: “We begin with the conviction that, starting from the collaborative relationships that are the basis of a true self-management, it is possible to lay the foundation for the building of a more just and inclusive society.” The three main points that have oriented the discussion and action are: 1. The construction of the joint action platform, 2. The need to propose a public debate with government representatives on self-management, and 3. The creation of solidarity networks and of new social relationships through the direct participation inherent to self-managed processes themselves.

Finally, beginning in April 2012, in the framework of a new regulation of FONDES, we find the formation of a space for worker self-management within the PIT-CNT, a space that recovered businesses, associative productive enterprises, and second-tier organizations are actively participating in. The construction of this space in the heart of a federation of unions is interesting, because, as Tarrow argues,17 the mobilization of preexisting social networks can reduce social transactional costs of a call for demonstrations, and keeps the participants united even once the initial enthusiasm of the confrontation has faded.

As in several experiences of self-management in other contries, like in France with the CFDT,[^135] or the experience between worker councils and the Fiat unions in Italy,[^136] the relationship between unionism and self-management has had a permanent tension in the social-political field during these years in Uruguay as well. In synthesis, while the practices of self-management analyzed here emerge as strategies to struggle against unemployment, they begin to cluster (with a marginal and controversial place) within the union federation, soon opting to group together in an independent association. The evolution of the phenomenon has led to the resurgence of alliances as openings and possibilities for these experiences to take a central place in the union movement. In this space of connections, various events have been organized and proposals have developed, like the project for “public purchases by the State” that favors self-managed enterprises.

Faced with the new horizon of public policies focused on the sector, the process is happening in Uruguay in a particular way. Starting from the contradictory nature of the State, as a space in dispute,18 we can contrast regionally how the social relations between State and the collective subjects of the field of self-management came about, to reach several final reflections.

In the first place, in our context, the process of co-construction between public policy and civil society did not happen, as it did in Brazil. Paul Singer19 characterizes the relationship between the National Secretary of Solidarity Economy (SENAES) and the Brazilian Forum of Solidarity Economy (FBES) as “symbiotic,” and at the same time, “confrontational.”

While public policies—with FONDES highlighted among them—cannot be interpreted only as the result of the efforts of social movements to create a national project, in the Uruguayan context, we find that the strong State push—perhaps in contrast to Venezuela—found experiences in civil society with a long history and maturity in the formation of collective subjects in the field of self-management.

By way of reflection, looking towards the future, some challenges can be identified in the need to consolidate the self-managed economy, enhancing a political project of “resistance” to the dominion of capital and enough “autonomy” to propose other values and modes of socializing through the construction of global socioeconomic alternatives.

On this goal, public policy should recognize and dialogue with social forces, seeking to consolidate policies for the State that guarantee their continuity beyond governments that occupy it.


Bournier, Michel (1980). Fiat: conseils ouvriers et syndicat, Paris, Les Éditions Ouvrières.

Carretero Miramar, José Luis (2010). Las empresas recuperadas. Hacia una comprensión de la autogestión obrera real, Nómadas, Núm 25, Madrid, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Danani, C. (2004). “Introducción. El alfiler en la silla: sentidos, proyectos y alternativas en el debate de las políticas sociales y la economía social,” en Danani, Claudia (comp.). Política social y economía social. Debates fundamentales (Buenos Aires: UNGS-Altamira-OSDE).

Defaud, Nicolas (2009). La CFDT (1968-1995). De l´autogestion au unionisme de proposition, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po

Fernández, A.(2005). “Notas para la constitución de un campo de problemas de la subjetividad,” en Fernández, A. (ed). Instituciones Estalladas, Pág. 37-57, Buenos Aires, Eudeba.

Hintze, S. (2009). Políticas públicas/Gestión, en Cattani, A.D; Coraggio, J.L. y Laville, J-L.: Diccionario de la otra economía, UNGS-Altamira, CLACSO Coediciones, Buenos Aires.

Hintze, S. (2010): La Política es un arma cargada de futuro: La economía social y solidaria en Brasil y Venezuela, Ediciones CLACSO-CICCUS. Capítulos y anexos de casos Brasil y Venezuela. Disponible en: ar/clacso/novedades_editoriales/libros_clacso/libro_detalle.php?orden=&id_ libro=573&pageNum_rs_libros=1&totalRows_rs_libros=560.

Huertas, Olga Lucía; Guevara, Ricardo Dávila; Castillo, Darío (2011). "Transformaciones en las subjetividades de los trabajadores: casos de empresas colombianas recuperadas," Univ. Psychol, Vol 10, No 2, May-Ag., Pp. 581-594.

Kapron, S. y Fialho, A.L. (2004). Políticas públicas para la economía solidaria.

En Cattani, A.D. (organizador). La otra economía. UNGS-OSDE, Altamira, Buenos Aires.

Lukács, Georg (1969). Historia y conciencia de clase—estudios de dialéctica marxista, México, Grijalbo.

Marsiglia, Javier (2007). El nuevo rol de los gobiernos locales como puentes entre el estado y la sociedad civil, Revista Digital La Opinión Independiente, Nº 3, Montevideo, Junio, en:

Mc Adam, D.; Mc Carthy, J.; y Zald, M. (1999). Movimientos sociales: perspectivas comparadas, Madrid, Istmo.

Midaglia, Carmen; ROBERT, Pedro (2001). Uruguay: un caso de estrategias mixtas de protección para los sectores vulnerables; en: ZICCAARDI, Alicia; et al; Pobreza, Desigualdad y Ciudadanía, CLACSO, Buenos Aires.

Panizza, Francisco (1986). Uruguay: Batllismo y después, Montevideo, Ediciones de la Banda Oriental.

Rieiro, Anabel (2011). Gestión obrera y acciones colectivas en el mundo del trabajo: empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores en Uruguay, Alemania, editorial académica española.

Singer, P. (2009). Relaciones entre Sociedad y Estado en la economía solidaria, en ICONOS, FLACSO-Ecuador, Nº 33, Quito. Disponible en: http://www.redalyc. org/articulo.oa?id=50903305.

Tarrow, Sydney (1994). El poder en movimiento. Los movimientos sociales, la acción colectiva y la política, Madrid, Alianza editorial.

Tarrow, Sydney (1997). Los movimientos sociales, Madrid, Alianza Editorial.

  1. Tarrow, 1997, 1994.

  2. Carretero, 2010, p.3.

  3. We take up the concept of subjectivity proposed by Fernández (2005), who frames it as a social construct of the subject, who is simulataneously product and producer of social, political, and economic relationships of the social fabric in which it is immersed.

  4. Huertas et al, 2011.

  5. McAdam, McCarthy and Zald, 1999.

  6. Data from a survey carried out during the year 2008 with workers in recovered businesses.

  7. The organizational unity of the entire productive process, which is more than the sum of its parts, is transformed under capitalist rationalization into a system of isolated fragments, making the man who is able to make it work into just another component.

  8. The phenomenon of reification was described by Marx as follows: "The mystery of the commodity form, therefore, is simply that it takes the social characteristics of men’s own labour and reflects them back to men as the objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the social natural properties of these things. It thus also reflects the social relation of the producers to the totality of labour as a social relation of objects, one that exists independently of the producers. Through this quid pro quo the products of labour become commodities and natural supernatural or social things." (Lukács, 1969, p.93). [English translation taken from]

  9. 2009.

  10. Hintze, 2009, p. 289.

  11. Hintze, 2009, p. 91.

  12. Hintze, 2009, PP. 291-292.

  13. Panizza, 1986; Midaglia and Robert, 2001 among others.

  14. The last three enterprises had had financing from the government of Venezuela.

  15. 2007.

  16. We found that of 19 cases studied in 2008-2009 (Rieiro, 2011, p.142), all the enterprises declared themselves to be part of ANERT, ten of the Federation, and eight of their grassroots union.

  17. 1994:56.

  18. Danani, 2004; Hintze, 2010; Kapron and Fialho, 2004.

  19. 2009.

Businesses Recovered by the Workers in Brazil: outcomes of a national survey

Flávio Chedid Henriques, Vanessa Moreira Sígolo, Sandra Rufino, Fernanda Santos Araújo, Vicente Nepomuceno, Mariana Baptista Girotto, Maria Alejandra Paulucci, Thiago Nogueira Rodrigues, Maíra Rocha Cavalcanti and Maurício Sardá


The present article synthesizes the data collected by research at the national level in which researchers from ten Brazilian universities participated, joining forces to learn about all the cases of businesses recovered by their workers (BRW) in Brazil. According to Ruggeri,1 the recovery of businesses by workers is a social and economic process that presupposes the existence of a prior capitalist business whose bankruptcy or economic inviability led to the struggle of the workers to self-manage it.

The first known cases of business recovery in Brazil date back to the 1980s. But it is during the 1990s, in the context of an economic crisis, that a significant rise in the number of BRWs was observed. Accordingly, recovery is presented as a way of reacting to and resisting the closure of many businesses and the subsequent loss of jobs.

It was in this process of struggle, connection and achievements of the workers that the first social organizations with the objective of helping the workers take over bankrupt businesses arose. In 1994, the Associação Nacional de Trabalhadores e Empresas de Autogestão [National Association of Workers of Self-Managed Businesses], or ANTEAG, emerged. Then, in 2000, the union of metallurgical and chemical factories organized UNISOL Cooperativas (Unity and Solidarity of Cooperatives of São Paulo). With the support of the Central Única de los Trabajadores (CUT) and the Agency of Development Solidarity (ADS/CUT), Union and Solidarity of Cooperatives and Enterprise of Social Economy of Brazil (UNISOL Brazil) was created in 2004. All these organizations are motivated by the need to structure and strengthen the recovered businesses, and their main objective is to bring together and advise the BRWs.

Within that setting, and for the purposes of our research, we will highlight the case of the Movement of Occupied Factories. This movement emerged in 2002 carrying a different banner than that of the solidarity economy: the struggle for the nationalization of the factories under worker control. The movement organized the occupation of several factories and was able to get them working again but, later, they suffered judicial takeover that put an end to the process of worker management. Currently, only one factory belonging to this movement is still producing.

The first research done in Brazil on the BRWs was done using the methodology of case studies. Starting in 2000, studies on the recovered businesses acquired greater scope. However, they still did not do a survey of all existing cases. We can mention several examples of this research. The first was done by Candido Giraldez Vieitez and Neusa Maria Del Ri, between 1998 and 2000, which studied nineteen self-managed businesses in the industrial sector. In 2001, the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE), together with ANTEAG, interviewed 367 workers from thirteen businesses associated with ANTEAG, of which eight came from a recovery process. Later, in 2002, a book was organized and published by Rogerio Valle, which describes empirical research done between 1997 and 2000 on nine businesses that went through recovery processes. Finally, in 2005, a research team coordinated by José Ricardo Tauile, visited 27 enterprises that came out of from bankrupt businesses.

These studies drew the first charts of analysis of those cases, identifying innovations in work processes and management made by the workers. At the same time, they show the experiences of the workers and their difficulties in their relationship with the market, with technology, with obtaining credit, and they analyze the subjective changes that come from collective management.

Our research sought to move forward by taking “new steps” towards understanding this important phenomenon, gaining a broader vision of its scope and diversity in our country. At the same time, it tried to shine new light on these experiences, which, with their frailties and their innovations, express the audacity of the workers in the search to self-manage their work and their personal and collective story.

Setting of the investigation and methodological path

For the reasons mentioned above, we understand that the identification of all the cases of BRWs in Brazil is the qualitative contribution of this research, because we find no references to the existence of any similar work. It should be mentioned that the system of Information of Solidarity Economy (SIES)2, which offers information about economic enterprises in solidarity, does not precisely define which are cases of businesses recovered by the workers; like other earlier studies, its objective was not to identify the whole set of existing cases. Still, knowing the possible limitations of the final result of our investigation, it would be fitting to highlight that, until the last moment, any kind of indication about the possible emergence of a new recovered enterprise in the country was taken into account, leaving the cases that we were unable to confirm for future research.

To create our first database, we took into account several pieces of information, among them the mapping done by SIES, which considers the motive for the creation of the venture to be the closure of a private business that went bankrupt; data from organizations that provide support to the recovered businesses (ANTEAG and UNISOL); books, theses, academic articles that studied the BRWs; as well as information acquired during research on the businesses that were visited, because we include a specific question in the questionnaire with the objective of identifying new cases.

Out of this prospecting, we built an initial list of 261 BRWs, which was used to carry out a pre-diagnostic through telephone contacts with all the factories in the database, with the objective of confirming: a) whether they were active and b) whether, in fact, they came out of a recovery process. Finally, we obtained a result that 67 active enterprises exist.

During our investigation, we had the unconditional support and knowledge of the “Open Faculty” extension program of the School of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). This group was responsible for doing three surveys of BRWs in Argentina, which inspired and guided the development of the pilot questionnaire that we applied during our research on Brazilian BRWs.

We visited 58 BRWs for seven months in four different regions of our country, of which 52 were validated to be part of the research according to criteria that we will relate below.

We visited and did interviews with a minimum of two researchers from our team, which, in every BRW, tried to interview a group of workers, including an administrative worker and another from production, and at the same time, we set a requirement that one of them had to be a founding member. During the field research, we gathered general information about the enterprises through the application of a questionnaire, analysis of documents, observation, and photographic records. For the 15 cases it was impossible it visit, we obtained the information by sending the questionnaire via e-mail, and/or through a telephone interview, in which we emphasized the main aspects of the research.

Faced with the heterogeneity of the experiences we found during the visits, it was necessary to reflect more deeply on the definition of the criteria to use for the inclusion of cases in the set of our investigation. To comply with this, it was decided that it would be important for the research to express the immense diversity of the cases to be able build a panorama of the varied directions taken by the businesses that went through the recovery process.

To delimit the research set, we considered it fundamental to build criteria for the definition of the following concepts: “recovery” and “self-management.” For the first concept, we took into account the criteria indicated in the following list (source: research data):


  • Are the facilities and the equipment from the old business?
  • Are the machines and facilities the fruit of the recovery process?
  • Is there are a process of struggle for recovery/maintenance?
  • Was there a bankruptcy/closure/interruption of the activities at the old business?
  • Does the newly formed business maintain the identity of the previous business?
  • Did the workers of the old business participate in the recovery process?

We based the conceptual debate on concrete cases that we had, and, concerning self-management processes, we concluded that it would not be possible to identify criteria prior to the interview itself to verify the existence and effectiveness of collective management, which led us to us consider self-declaration as the main condition, without losing sight of the need to establish criteria and indicators that provide clues about the real exercise of decision-making power of the associated workers. This analysis was also part of the objective of the research, and as a consequence, we considered the following indicators (source: research data):


  • Relationship between the number of members and hired workers
  • Participation of the worker collective in the exercise of power
  • Links with movements
  • Influence of the legal figure on management
  • Self-declaration
  • Influence of advisors
  • Turnover in leadership
  • Openness to new members

We believe that the main potential of the research is to present the current situation of the BRWs in Brazil, which is representative of an important strategy of working-class struggle for control of the means of production. With this panorama, we hope to offer elements with the purpose of contributing to the strengthening of existing experiences, both in Brazil and in other countries, and also of producing useful tools for the cases that, we hope, may emerge in the near future.

Results of the research

General data

Based on the criteria mentioned above, we were able to identify the existence of 67 BRWs in the whole of Brazil, in which 11,704 people work. Among productive sectors, the metallurgical area encompasses nearly half of the cases (45%), with 30 businesses; in second place, we find textiles, with 11 businesses (16%). Next are nine food businesses (13%) and seven in the chemical and plastic industry (10%). The remaining businesses are distributed among a broad diversity of activities including hospitality, sugar, education, ceramics, paper, footwear, mining, and furniture manufacturing.

In the geographical distribution of the BRWs, we verified that the majority of them are concentrated in the southeast (55%) and south (32%), these being the most industrialized zones in the country. We also found cases in other regions: the north-east (10%) and the north (3%). In the center-west region, we did not find any cases of BRWs.

State Total BRWs % by State Total workers % of workers
Acre 2 3.0% 344 2.9%
Bahía 2 3.0% 74 0.6%
Minas Gerais 6 9.0% 310 2.6%
Paraíba 1 1.5% 94 0.8%
Pernambuco 2 3.0% 1,130 9.6%
Paraná 1 1.5% 10 0.09%
Rio de Janeiro 5 7.5% 479 4%
Rio Grande do Norte 1 1.5% 38 0.3%
Rio Grande do Sul 15 22.4% 4,511 38.5%
Santa Catarina 5 7.5% 1,046 8.9%
Sergipe 1 1.5% 115 1%
São Paulo 26 38.8% 3,553 30.3%
Total for Brazil 67 100% 11,704

Table 1: Distribution by State (source: research data).

The recovery process

The vast majority of the cases studied (81%) reported that the recovery of the business was begun as the result of a financial crisis or with a bankruptcy of the old business. Clearly, the lack of wage payment (43%) and personnel quitting or being fired (23%) are the main motives that led the workers to fight for their jobs.

The periods when the greatest number of recoveries of businesses happened (among those that are currently active) were the years between 1995 and 1999, inclusive, with 31% of the cases, and 2000 to 2004, with 29%.

In 48% of the cases studied, the previous business started before the 1970s, which indicates that there is a significant number of cases that have their origin in business groups that are long-established in the market, given that 44% of the cases had been operating for more than 40 years.

About the existence of conflicts during the recovery process, 26 BRW carried out some protest, with 14 cases (68%) where there was an occupation or encampment, with an average duration of 52 days. This characteristic is different from the Argentine BRW experiences, where the occupations lasted five or six months, and where, in the majority of cases, there were coercive measures by the State, while there were only nine Brazilian examples of this kind of confrontation.

The large majority of the BRWs adopt the legal form of a cooperative (85%), followed by businesses (10%), associations (3%), and only one case is reported to be a “factory committee” (2%). Some BRWs are initially formalized as cooperatives, but then change the legal form to a microenterprise, because they feel that a cooperative does not have the same tax incentives that businesses do.

About the legal situation of the physical space (50 responses), 44% of the BRWs rent the property for production, 36% were able to buy it (from the old owner or from third parties) and 14 % occupies the space (with legal authorization or as a protest). There also exist cases in which there is a concession by third parties to keep the BRW active. Concerning the ownership of machines, 66% of the BRWs acquired them, while 19.6% rent them.

There are also some BRWs that use the machinery because they got legal authorization (11.7%) or through concession by third parties (13,7%).

The largest part of the cases studied (46%) is made up of businesses that had declared bankruptcy; 24% of the businesses face an active judicial process (as of the time of the interview). In 26% of the BRWs there was no petition for bankruptcy—in some cases because the plant had just been deactivated, or because the former owners decided to stop production. In only two cases (4%) were the businesses able to reach an agreement, and, thanks to the effort of the workers, able to avoid the bankruptcy of the business.

Profile of the workers

In the 21 businesses that responded about the profile of their workers, we identified that 23% of the total of workers are women and 77% men, and that 67% are members of the enterprises and 37% contracted.

Women Men Total
23% 77% 100%

Figure 3: Workers: division by sex. Sample: 21. (Source: Data from the investigation).

In relation to age, with a sample of 16 businesses, we verified that 46.2% of the workers are in the age group between 36 and 54 years old, 39% are between 18 and 35, 12.7% between 55 and 64, and 19% are over 65 years old.

On schooling, 26.1% of the workers have completed secondary education, 19.5% completed primary school, 21.7% did not complete primary school, 10% has a university degree (including both bachelors and masters), a little less than 3% did not complete early education, and we were able to identify two cases of illiteracy.

In 28 BRWs, we found up to 50 workers, in twelve cases, between 50 and 100, 22 cases between 100 and 500, and four with more than 500. Following the definition that IBGE has for the industrial sector, 60.6% of the whole set is made up of small businesses (up to 99 workers), 33.3% medium-sized businesses (100 to 499 workers) and only 6.1% are big businesses (more than 500 workers).

There are 16 experiences of BRWs where more hired employees participate than members. In 39 cases, the number of employees does not exceed 10 people. In 19 businesses, all the workers are members or have the same hierarchical level in the business.

Concerning the retention of directors or managers from the old business, 40% of the BRWs (50 cases) have at least one manager that remained at the business after recovery.

Production and Technology

Of 67 BRWs in the country, 65 are producing: one is not producing because it is going through the final stage of the recovery process, and the other had to stop its operations due to hardships in its essential work, and, as changes have happened in the business, it is in an uncertain situation. As a consequence, it runs the risk of not restarting production.

We observed that most of the BRWs produce at between 50% and 70% of their installed capacity. The businesses that produce at between 10% and 40% reported that they operate in this range because they have several machines that are not working, due to the high cost of their maintenance. One business in crisis is operating below 10%, and also has problems with production costs, without working capital or a market for its products.

The main reasons given to explain low productivity are: difficulty bringing the product to market (21%), lack of working capital/credit (16%), lack of demand for the product (13%), lack of raw material (9%), lack of adequate machines (9%), lack of specialized workers (7%) and other problems (25%) with the quality of the product, a crisis in the sector, lack of planning, lack of productive space, or temporary work.

For 46% of the BRWs, the general condition of the facilities is good, and the same percentage considers the plant deteriorated.

It is interesting to highlight that, sometimes, there is the perception that the machines are functioning well, but this perception does not refer to standards of modern efficacy, but rather to standards adequate to the immediate needs of the workers.

Labor relations

Looking at whether or not the organization of labor remains the same as in the original business, 43 of the BRWs affirm that they made some type of change (88%) in their organization. The main changes mentioned were: decentralization of power and hierarchical level; collaboration, commitment, motivation and versatility; flexibility (in relation to schedules, function, job); improvement in dialogue and relationships, greater autonomy, freedom and access to the information. These data indicate the emphasis that the workers gave during the interviews to innovations related to the employer-employee relations and the difference from the subordination that existed in the previous business. Changes mentioned with the most frequency are interlinked, suggesting that the associated workers, when they take over the management of the business, emphasize the intensification of responsibility, commitment, and motivation for their well-being.

We were able to identify that 60% (24 BRWs) had already made some type of change.

There is a perception among researchers that turnover is an important innovation within the recovered businesses, because it allows the workers have a complete vision of the productive process, contributing in this way to the de-alienation of work.

When we analyze the role and the participation of women in the BRWs, we find that 31% of them show a high level of participation. In these businesses, women become visible and take positions of leadership, both in management and in production.

In some of the stories collected on this topic, it is reported that after the recovery of the business, women began to occupy jobs that were previously denied to them, since they were reserved for men, like positions of supervision, coordination, administrative management, management of processes, presidency, and more.

On the other hand, 52% of the interviewees shared the idea that the role of the supervisors/coordinators consists of orienting, coordinating, and organizing the work and interpersonal relationships. However, 32% responded that their role should be supervising and controlling production (with the objective of guaranteeing the quality of the productive process, the planning and goals of the responsible sector). We identify that in the election of the supervisors/coordinators, the criteria adopted by the businesses are heterogeneous. Within the options, we can highlight technical knowledge and/or experience (a method mentioned in 22 businesses), which demonstrates the predominance of the adoption of meritocratic criteria when it comes time to choose the person for the position of supervisor/coordinator.

Organizational profile

The assembly general (GA) is the highest decision-making body in the BRWs. All the members participate in the GAs and, in some cases, the non-member workers as well. Almost all the businesses studied reported holding GAs, with only two exceptions: in one business, they reported to us that there is no need to carry out assemblies because the workers converse daily and decide things day to day, and the other case is a second-tier cooperative, where the GAs happen in their associated cooperatives.

In the research, we considered the GAs and the other unregistered general meetings to GAs to be the same thing, because we were interested in investigating the expanded spaces for debate and decision-making, independent of their formality. Concerning the meetings, we studied two aspects: the frequency with which they are held and what kind of decisions are made in that space.

The frequency of convening these meetings varies considerably, and shows no predominant tendency: 30% of the BRWs hold GAs once a month or more; 28% less than once a month and more than once per year; 28% annually; and only 6% did not respond. On principle, we consider that holding assemblies with more frequency (a minimum of once a month) can be an indicator that more advanced self-managed processes exist in these businesses, because that way, information and decisions would be shared frequently among the worker collective. Still, a more in-depth study on this topic is necessary for the purpose of confirming that hypothesis.

With few variations among the cases we studied, the administrative council (AC) of the BRWs is made up of a president, a vice-president, a secretary and a treasurer. Looking at the term of office, we were able to observe that in 92% of the businesses (47 BRWs), it lasts between 2 and 4 years, with the highest incidence of 3 years (43%, 22 BRWs). There is one case in which there is no defined term of office. In the majority of the businesses investigated (80%, 41 BRWs), the members of the administrative council hold their position for more than one term. We were able to observe that, generally, there is little turnover in the directorates of the BRWs, which is not necessarily due to the desire of their leaders to stay in power, but rather to resistance among the other workers to taking leadership positions.

The work day in most cases (85%, 28 BRWs) is eight hours daily or 44 hours/week, or something similar. That is, they maintain the workday stipulated by the CLT. In several interviews, it was mentioned that on certain occasions, there is the need to work overtime to be able to meet to production demands. The businesses that involve rural work have a certain particularity in this aspect, because field workers have autonomy to define their schedule and, in general, earn in accordance with what is produced. One business in the service sector also presents a peculiarity: the workers earn according to hours worked. In the majority of the businesses (67%, 34 BRWs), all the workers work the same number of hours.

Just as in the experiences of BRWs in Argentina, according to Ruggeri et al. (2011), there seems to exist a myth about the self-exploitation of the workers. Even knowing that the response given to the questionnaires has its limits, our experience and the observation of the BRWs confirmed the data presented. In spite of that, when there is a long work day, it is undeniable that the pace of work is different when defined by the workers themselves.

Concerning compensation, 49 businesses (96% among those that responded on the issue) reported that the workers receive different sums of money. The main reason given by the interviewees to justify the inequality in compensation is the difference of functions that each one has. They expressed that, because of the fact that there are different levels of responsibility, levels of qualification, or simply because work is different in different functions in the BRWs, the business establishes categories based on the functions to define workers’ salaries. Only one business reported that compensation is equal for all workers. This is a small business that, at the time of the interview, had only seven workers producing. The average difference between the minimum value and the maximum value is 4.76 (maximum/minimum). Thus, we can observe that, in spite of establishing different compensation for different categories, this difference, in most cases (66%), does not exceed 5 to 1 and is almost never greater than 10 to 1.

Draw Amount in reales
Average minimum draw R$1,063.05
Smallest minimum draw R$250.00
Greatest minimum draw R$2,400.00
Average maximum draw R$4,998.46
Smallest maximum draw R$1,000.00
Greatest maximum draw R$17,432.00

Table 2: Values of the draws. Sample: 50 (source: research data).

The question of compensation is one of the points on which Brazilian cases of BRWs are different from the experiences of Argentina. Ruggeri et al.3 identified that more than 50% of the 205 Argentine BRWs practice egalitarian compensation, as have other studies of the topic.4

Marketing and credit

The BRWs have providers that are large, medium, and small businesses.

Only one enterprise reported having another recovered enterprise as a provider, and the part it buys from it is very small in relation to their total purchases. Of the three BRWs that responded “other,” one of them makes reference to family farmers and the other to “the customers themselves.”

In characterizing the consumer market of the BRWs, we identified that 74% sell for intermediate consumption, 35.2% to end consumers and 15.6% provide services. Just as with the suppliers, the main customers are also large, medium and small businesses.

Only 14.3% of the BRWs sell more of 80% of their production to a single client. Nearly half, (42.9%) concentrated less than 20% of their total commercialization on their biggest client, close to 1/3.

In spite of the enormous barriers described by the interviewees in getting credit for cooperatives, 71% of the BRWs have already accessed some type of credit, with 37.9% coming from public banks, 34.5% of private banks and 27.6% from other institutions, such as: credit cooperatives, unions, municipalities, and federal organs of promotion. But, despite having access to credit, a good part of the BRWs, 62.2% of the interviewees (28 BRWs), reported that this topic continues to be a major difficulty.

The difficulty in accessing credit exists because of the fact that banks do not have adequate policies to serve the needs of companies starting their activities as recovered businesses. To release the loans, banks demand certain conditions, like a positive financial balance sheet and goods as a kind of collateral, which, often times, the BRWs do not possess. There exist cases where the business possesses the goods, like machines, but not the corresponding fiscal note to be presented as a guarantee. For several years BNDES has maintained a line of credit especially intended for self-managed experiences, but due to the demands of the program, there were few BRWs that were able to get access this resource.

Social Security

Within 42 BRWs, 71.5% mentioned that work accidents were reduced after recovery, and there were no stories affirming that accidents have increased. The reason for this decrease is due, for 90.5%, to the alterations that were implemented after recovery because of labor pressure, and 78% affirm that pressure decreased. The majority of the affirmative answers on the decrease in the pressure are related to the decrease in control and hierarchies, which can be symbolized in the following description: “The one who determines the pace of work today is the worker him/herself.”

Relationship with social movements and unions

What we were able to analyze based on the data gathered in the investigation concerning the actions of unions during the recovery processes of the BRWs is that there was no one path. On the one hand, there are cases in which the union offered consulting, support, and accompaniment to workers during the whole process, playing a fundamental role this way. In many experiences, once the cooperative is formed, the union continues occupying a central role, making decisions together with the workers, accompanying the whole bargaining process and, on certain occasions, some union leaders take on specific functions inside of the cooperatives. In this way, with the support of unions, the workers are able to gain strength in their struggle for jobs.

On the other hand, there are cases on which the union offered support only during the first moments of the recovery process and then left. In several of these experiences, the union went so far as to break all manner of connection, because of differences with the workers in different areas, such as administration, ideology, and politics. Finally, we can highlight that there were cases in which, from the beginning, the union remained totally uninterested, without lending any kind of support or help to workers, including even coming down in favor of the business owners during negotiations on the workers’ debts.

Another relevant aspect we can highlight is the fact that there is hardly any relationship between the BRWs and the solidarity economy, revealing a certain distance between them. A good part of the BRWs never had any kind of contact with organizations, forums, or enterprises that participate in the Solidarity Economy, or with other BRWs. We can mention that those that had some link, in most cases, creating it by participating in training courses for the workers. The same distance exists from university incubators. Additionally, 49 of the BRWs (74%) reported that they have established links with some organization that represents recovered businesses, but this relationship is, in most cases, considered sporadic.

We consider that the little contact that exists between the BRWs demonstrates the limitations that they have in establishing solidarity and commercial links, which would be of the utmost importance to be able to implement improvements and advance in the development of the businesses. Additionally, these links would also work as an incentive, enabling the building of networks.

There are also few BRWs that hold solidarity or cultural activities for the community or neighbors. At this point, also we can highlight an important difference and contrast with the experiences of Argentina, where the BRWs establish an organic relationship with the neighborhood assemblies, neighbors and social movements.5 In the Brazilian case, in contrast, we observe very little connection with the context and, when it exists, it is limited to specific activities.

Relationship with the State

Of 50 BRW, 58% reported that they did not receive any kind of support from the State during the recovery process. A few received support from state governments, and/or from the municipality through the concession of credit and political support.

A similar percentage (59%) reported that it got no support from the State with the business up and running. Among the cases that did receive help, they mentioned that 40% was from Municipalities, 25% from the state government, and 15% from the federal government. The rest of the support was granted by Senators, deputies and mayors, and the largest percentage (50%) is from subsidies and credit.

We can also highlight that 45% of the BRWs did not receive any kind of subsidy from public institutions linked to the solidarity economy.

The cases that did receive help reported that 16% was from SENAES, which prioritized indirect support, like the financing of entities dedicated to consulting, like, for example, the creation of the program “Action of Recovery of Businesses by Workers in Self-management” in 2005. But, in any case, the result is that 70% of the BRWs consider that support from the State has been nearly zero.

Among the principle demands of public policies, the following items were identified:

Demands made of the State Cases Percentage
Political strength and incentives for cooperatives and recovered businesses 16 37%
Tax incentives, reduction of bureaucracy, and transparency in the provision of State accounts 14 33%
Access to credit and subsidies 10 23%
Technical assistance, adequate education, access to technology and support from universities 5 12%
Land grants, regularization of property and transportation infrastructure 5 12%
No discrimination against cooperatives and recovered enterprises and changes in legislation on cooperativism 4 9%
Expects nothing from the State 4 9%
Integral policies for production chains 1 2%

Table 3: Demands of the State (source: research data).


In this point, we seek to understand the workers’ perception of the changes that they made and the main accomplishments they made in the recovery process. The workers affirmed during the interviews that the main changes are perceived in labor relations; 52.3% (25 businesses), to demonstrate this, mentioned the greater respect that exists for the opinions of the workers.

A smaller number of BRWs noted issues related to financial success: in six interviews, they mentioned that the main change compared to the old business was greater stability, starting with the improvements implemented in the processes, in the products, or in the position of the business in the market. There were eight BRWs that indicated that the main changes were the greater financial expenses and the increase in the buying power of the workers.

During the research, we discovered a scenario where the BRWs face an everyday struggle to reach economic viability and the survival of the business in the market. We also perceived, in several responses, indications that put these experiences in a place that goes far beyond mere economic survival, bringing us a sample of the value of dignified work, together with production that has principles and values of solidarity. At the same time, there is the expectation that this construction is permanent, yielding fruits not only for the current roster of members of BRWs, but also for the community and future generations.

The following quote synthesizes the description by one of the workers, in which he express his perception of the possibility of substituting executives, widely considered fundamental to the success of productive enterprises:

The main change is discovering the ability to manage, given that before, that role went to career executives, with no participation by the workers. I discovered that we are capable of working without subordination, and responsibly, respecting the wishes of the clients. [We are capable of] knowing how to make decisions and take precautions for the purpose of carrying out what was decided.


The results of this investigation reveal the initiatives of the workers who, in spite of not being a significant portion of the Brazilian GDP, must not and cannot be ignored. The BRWs preserve thousands of jobs, and represent a major innovation from the point of view of the organization of labor and of the strategies of worker struggle. The perseverance of the experiences of the recovery of businesses in crisis represents a social phenomenon of large magnitude, that opens various perspectives within the alternatives known to date to confront unemployment and job reduction.

The fact that recovered businesses continue to emerge in Brazil demonstrates the possibility of prolonging the phenomenon, even in times of economic expansion in the country, keeping in mind that during the second half of the first decade of the 2000s, there was a notable reduction in the number of new recoveries.

In the Brazilian experiences, we identified that the bonds between the BRWs and the broader social movement are fragile and sporadic, though the movement is capable of framing the demands of workers and BRWs, as well as politicizing the debate, seeking momentum so that practices go beyond the logic of capital.

In Brazilian BRWs, we see distance between them and the movement of the solidarity economy, and also between them and other movements, including few actions that go outside the walls of the businesses, hindering the possibility of relating to community associations located around the facilities of the businesses.

The criteria used in the investigation allow the identification of a large diversity of cases, that go from those that do not innovate at all compared to businesses or traditional cooperatives governed by capitalist logic to those experiences that reveal a series of new practices, within the logic of self-management, to the extent that they point toward the democratization of labor relations and the creation of new social relationships in the field of the material production of the means of life. Showing this diversity in the research was extremely important to demonstrating the different paths followed by the BRWs and, at the same time, demonstrated that changes in the ownership of the means of production do not automatically lead to transformations in the relations of production, in spite of being indispensable to them.

In synthesis, the main characteristics of the BRWs in Brazil are that they are organizations that are largely urban and industrial, concentrated in the most industrialized regions of the country, emerged from struggles to keep jobs in a context of crisis in the previous business, that involve some type of protest in a good part the experiences, like, for example, occupation and encampment in the factory by the workers, many of whom previously participated in union activities.

Currently, the large majority of these factories are under the legal structure of cooperative. In more than half of the cases, they are made up of more than a hundred members, mostly men who have had access to secondary education.

In spite of the BRWs being new, in relation to the alteration of the logic of capital and of the organization of labor, we who do this research, whose synthesis we offer in this chapter, fulfill the commitment of the university to research, systematize, and disseminate practices of work and collective ownership that are still little-known in our country. Consequently, we primarily seek to value existing experiences, with the firm conviction that self-management is a process in permanent construction.


"ANTEAG. Autogestão e Economia Solidária: uma nova metodología," Brasília, MTE/SPPE/DEQ, vol. 1, 2 e 3. (2004, 2005 e 2006).

IBASE/ANTEAG. (2004). Autogestão em Avaliação, São Paulo, Anteag Edições

Rebón, Julián (2007). La empresa de la autonomía: trabajadores recuperando la producción, Buenos Aires, Colectivo Ediciones/Picaso.

Ruggeri, Andrés (org.)(2009). Las empresas recuperadas: autogestión obrera en Argentina y América Latina, Buenos Aires, Editorial de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires.

Ruggeri, Andrés et al. (2011). Las empresas recuperadas en la Argentina: informe del tercer relevamiento de empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores, Buenos Aires, Ediciones de la Cooperativa Chilavert.

Tauile, José Ricardo et al. (2005). Empreendimentos autogestionários provenientes de massa falida, Brasília, MTE/ IPEA/ANPEC/SENAES.

Valle, Rogério. (org.)(2002). Autogestão: o que fazer quando as fábricas fecham?, Rio de Janeiro, Relume Dumará.

Vieitez, Candido Giraldez; Dal Ri, Neusa Maria(2001). Trabalho associado: cooperativas e empresas de autogestão, Rio de Janeiro, DPA.

  1. 2009.

  2. Carried out by the National Secretary of the Solidarity Economy (SENAES/MTE), together with the forums on the solidarity economy:

  3. 2011.

  4. Rebón, 2007; Ruggeri, 2009.

  5. Ruggeri et al, 2011; Rebón, 2007.

Recovered businesses in Argentina in 2010: synthesis of the results of the third national survey

Andrés Ruggeri, Natalia Polti, Javier Antivero, Ayelén Aguilar, Emiliano Balaguer, Paloma Elena, Cecilia Galeazzi and Fernando García
Open Faculty Program, School of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina

This article is a brief synthesis of the Report of the Third Survey of Recovered Businesses by their Workers, carried out by the Open Faculty Program between 2009 and 2010 and published as “The recovered businesses in Argentina, 2010.”1 This report expands and updates the data from the other two general surveys about BRWs carried out in the years 2002/2003 and in 2004, and the one done only in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires in 2007. Here, we address only some of the fundamental topics that emerged from this study, with the purpose of showing a general panorama of the field of the Argentine BRWs, which can be compared with those of Brazil and Uruguay.

The Recovered Businesses as of March 2010

In March of 2010, the BRWs reached a total number of 205, with 9362 workers, which is remarkable growth compared to previous surveys. In 2004, we had concluded that there were 161 BRWs, with 6900 workers,2 and used a sample of 72 surveyed cases. In 2002/03, 59 recovered businesses had been interviewed, and a total of 128 was calculated on the basis of the list the MNER had at the time, though without doing the work of comparison that we did in 2004 and repeat now, which is why the total was possibly closer to 100. The sample surveyed in 2009/10 reached 85 BRW. In the last few months of 2013, however, a new work under way raises the cases of recovered businesses in Argentina to around 310, a statistic that will have to finish being discussed at the end of this book.

Of the above-mentioned total of 205 in 2010, 37% (76 cases) are located in Greater Buenos Aires, occupying 34.6% of all the workers. The Autonomous City of Buenos Aires has 19%, with 15.7% of the workers. So, The Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA) represents more than half the total recovered businesses in the country. The remainder from the province of Buenos Aires represents 15.1% (31 cases), occupying 12.4% of workers, while the BRWs found in the interior of the country represent 28.7% (59 cases). This shows important growth in the number of BRWs in the interior compare to previous periods.

In the interior, the province with the greatest number of cases is Santa Fe, with 20 BRWs (occupying 10.1% of the workers); followed by Mendoza, with seven cases (which, however, only represent el 1.9% of the workers); Entre Ríos and Cordoba, with five respectively; Corrientes, with 4; Neuquén, Chaco, La Pampa and La Rioja, all with three cases; San Juan and Chubut, with two, and finally, Tierra del Fuego and Rio Negro, with one BRW each.

To determine the causes of the growth of BRW in the interior of the country would require an in-depth study of the cases and the conditions of their emergence.

We could to take as a hypothesis an improvement in various provinces of the policy of recognition of the recovered businesses through expropriation laws and moderate public policies support, in front of a hostility very strong of previous years in the largest part of the interior. On the contrary, the government of the City of Buenos Aires liquidated their policy of support for the BRWs in 2007 and the expropiations of the province of Buenos Aires became difficult and laborious.

We could to take as a hypothesis an improvement of various provinces’ policies on recognizing recovered businesses through expropriation laws and moderate public policies support, compared to the very strong hostility of previous years in most of the interior. In contrast, the government of the City of Buenos Aires liquidated their policy of support for the BRWs in 2007 and the expropiations of the province of Buenos Aires became difficult and laborious.

The distribution of the BRWs does not particularly faithfully reflect population distribution or the economic development of each province. The better or worse political and legal conditions and the organizational presence of the BRW movements and unions have an influence on the distribution, reflected in the numbers from the AMBA, Santa Fe and Mendoza, where the activity of these organizations was strongest, just as in Neuquén, whose cases are strongly associated with union struggles.

As for kinds of industries, we were able to observe that, with some small changes, the pattern we saw in 2004 remains in place. Metallurgical factories continue being the highest percentage, with 23.4%, somewhat less than the 29% of 2004, and the food industry is in second place, with 12.68%. Services have diversified and grown in importance, with BRWs in hospitality, health, education, commerce, gastronomy, logistics and maintenance, media, and transportation, representing 22% of total cases. Print shops maintain a place of importance, at 7.8%, growing in number of cases though less so in number of workers, while the meat industry increased its proportion (6.34%), with few cases but many workers (representing 14.63% of the total). Other industries, such as textiles, plastics, glass, leather, chemistry, fuel, rubber, and shoemaking, add up to 42% of the total, a percentage a bit less than the 50% in 2004.

To complete the panorama of the changes in the universe of the BRWs in Argentina in recent years, it is important to see the distribution of the cases sorted by year of beginning of worker management, which allows us see its growth in the years after the crisis of 2001. The result contrasts with the widespread idea that the recovered businesses are an exclusive product of that situation, because not only there continue to be new cases, but the already-existing ones have survived over time and several have already spent more than a decade under self-management.

14.6% of the BRWs are from before 2001, and a majority of over 60% (combining those that began in 2001 itself and those that did so between 2002 and 2004) are from the crisis period. The number of new BRWs decreased notably in the following years, but did not stop adding cases: 10.7% between 2005 and 2007 and a similar number after 2007 (10.2%), a period overlapping with the international financial crisis. In the years after the closure of the latest survey, a significant number of new recoveries have taken place (some 50, including 15 so far in 2013).

The rate of disappearance of BRWs is a difficult number to calculate because there were conflicts that were unable to begin self-management or become publicly known. However, a comparison between those existing in our database from 2004 and those from 2010 reveals 22 businesses that showed up as functioning in that year which we were unable to locate for this survey.

Among the cases that have disappeared, we should mention the Medrano Clinic, the only case of nationalization, which ended with the disappearance of the cooperative and scattering of the workers to different agencies of the Ministry of Health of the City of Buenos Aires.3 In the rest of the known cases of work closure, the cooperative was dissolved in the face of the enormous difficulty of the task and the simultaneous recovery of the labor market.

However, and to judge by these cases, the success rate of the BRWs remains high, much like the persistence of the phenomenon. The formation of cooperatives or self-managed businesses as a way of preserving work for the former wage laborers has become a tool of struggle that is firmly incorporated into possible actions by the workers in conflicts that previously appeared unwinnable.

The conflict

Undoubtedly, the acute conflict that it means to go from capitalist management to collective management in any kind of economic unit cannot happen in a way that is not traumatic. That is why the conflictive origin of the BRWs permeates the view people have of these processes. It is important to point out that there is always conflict, even when it is not presented in an extreme way or connected with union struggles. The point of departure, like the forms of resolution of this situation, will have doubtless consequences on the later evolution of the business under worker management.

The causes that the workers identify as the origin of the conflict, that later led to the formation of the BRW, are perceived in different ways. The majority mentioned a combination of various aspects. Before 2004, in 58% of the cases, the lack of wage payment appears as the primary source of the labor conflict, while 40% mentioned dismissal of personnel as another important factor. In second and third place, with 51% and 47% respectively, are bankruptcy or arrangement with creditors and the process of asset stripping (generally identified with business fraud or the way owners tried to escape the crisis). In contrast to this, in the cases after 2005, asset stripping and bankruptcy were the motives named most, even though this is not related directly to a context of crisis (unless we think about the most recent global financial crisis) but rather with internal processes of the business. As stripping becomes obvious to workers through certain facts (lack of investment and maintenance, claims from customers and providers, decline in production, spaced-out or delayed pay, dismissals) we have to consider that, with the passage of time, their memories can take other forms than the abstract name “processes of asset stripping.”

In 2004, 50% of the conflicts that gave rise to the BRWs were manifested through the occupation of plants, which stood out as the most frequent strategy among those used. The other 50% did not go through this situation. In the last survey, expanding the analysis towards the characteristics of the conflict, we showed that other measures of strength existed: 62% had to resort to some type of direct action to be able to maintain or return to their jobs. That set of measures includes occupations, encampments and demonstrations.

The encampment, generally at the door of the plant, happened in cases that could not be remain inside the business. The objective was to avoid "self-theft" of the goods by the businesspeople, which is to say, prevent the machinery from being withdrawn from the facilities. And, at the same time, put pressure on courts, trustees and politicians. This means, among other things, that the conflict around the BRWs rarely leaves the physical space of the business or its surroundings, following the common pattern of worker struggles closely tied to the work space.

The enormous difficulty of the experiences in BRWs is manifested by the average length of the occupations. In the case of factory takeovers, as a tool of classical union struggle, do not usually extend beyond a few days or weeks. In BRWs, in contrast, the average length is much greater, and the occupations that aspire to production under worker management are only resolved with workers’ access to self-management or with the failure of the struggle. The greatest difficulties were in the period prior to the crisis of 2001. In later years, the average occupation was reduced to 5 or 6 months, even in the most recent cases. This indicates that the situation the workers go through keeps following the same pattern of difficulty: judicial hostility and lack of public policy to help the workers get some type of response to the closure of their workplace. At the same time, the measures adopted show the extent to which the experience accumulated in conflicts has been turned into a course of action for workers in similar cases, with its efficacy proven over the years by the success of those who preceded them on this difficult road.

The big difference between an occupation in the frameworks of union demands and the recovered businesses is not only in the final result, but in the kind of State intervention that each requires. While the Ministry of Labor intervenes in the former, the judiciary intervenes directly in occupations arising from employer abandonment and closure of businesses. The problem stops looking like a struggle between wage laborers and business owners, and becomes a demand from employees who want work but who, in the view of judges and trustees, are just one more creditor of the “failed” business. The workers, driven by the need for keep their jobs, oppose extending the already-long judicial process. Sometimes, however, these processes accelerate when the judge is, for some reason, interested in the issue. This is where repression usually appears as a way to expel the workers and reclaim the goods. To resist that intent is, therefore, definitive to being able reach another kind of legal resolution, outside of the commercial case. That resolution, so far, is usually an expropriation law.

In this framework, the level of social support that can be mustered is essential and quite striking. The BRWs created an enormous groundswell of support and activism around themselves. On many occasions, solidarity was decisive in their ability to endure the long days of occupation, to resist or turn back eviction attempts, and successfully begin the process of productive self-management. While in recent years there has not been a noticeable decline in this solidarity, neither is there today the massive social demonstrations of the crisis years. However, we can observe a change in the composition and organization of that support.

In 2004 we found that the prinicple agents of solidarity were the BRWs themselves, followed very closely by other social movements, and then unions and neighbors, with public agencies and State authorities figuring in to a lesser degree. In the most recently formed BRWs, the change in the attitude of unions and the decrease in the contribution of social movements is striking.

This obviously reflects the transformation of the social situation and the importance of the organizations of the unemployed, which were most responsible for leading the social movements that were mentioned as a primary support. As for State action in these early moments, we see that the national State is seen as a support for close to third of those that received some type of State support. Municipalities and the provinces make up the rest.

The road chosen by the majority of the BRWs is the use of worker cooperatives as a legal structure to be able begin productive and labor recovery. In 2002, there was a debate about whether to take the road towards nationalization under worker control or the cooperative route, but by 2004, we found that 94% of the existing BRWs were worker cooperatives. This data is confirmed overwhelmingly in 2010.

The formation of a cooperative is a step that allows them to present themselves before the courts as an eventual subject of labor continuity and which enables them, among other things, to be beneficiaries of expropriation laws, to receive subsidies or other kinds of public support, and carry out commercial operations. However, to complete the transition from the earlier private property to collective property (in whatever form it may take), that cooperative needs take over the ownership of the bankrupt business or be able to somehow take control of the facilities and machinery of the business.

To guarantee that transfer, the BRWs must travel a complex path that requires pressure, mobilization and bargaining with the powers of the State (judicial, legislative, and executive). Situations vary between occupation, temporary or “definitive” expropriation laws voted on in provincial legislatures, rather precarious arrangements with the judicial bankruptcy authorities, or even the purchase of the facilities at auction—this last happens in numerous cases. During 2011, the reform of the Bankruptcy Law was passed and went into effect, allowing for the use of back pay as part of compensation for the facilities or machinery of the business. However, it is still premature to evaluate the consequences of this modification, which does not include current BRWs.

Another worrisome situation is marked by declarations of unconstitutionality of expropriation laws that were issued in various cases, like the cooperatives Rabbione and 22 de Mayo. The latter received the expropriation of one of the first recovered businesses, IMPA.4 The argument of unconstitutionality is a window into neoliberal thought. In both cases, the basis of the argument attacks the reason for expropriation laws in their statement of the public utility of the business, arguing that they only benefit the members of the cooperative and, therefore, are of private utility. These observations are ideological and are supported directly by denying the cooperatives’ social and associative nature.

As for the legal situation of the businesses with respect to ownership, besides the expropriations in favor of cooperatives, there are nearly 5% that remain under occupation (which is to say, without any kind of legal resolution) and 10% that reached some kind of agreement with the bankruptcy court or with the former owners.


Analyzing the productive profile of the BRWs, one of the survey questions was the destination of the output of the business: if was part of value chains (intermediate consumption), if was to end sales (even if to distributors) or if it was a producer of raw materials. So, we were able to observe that most of the BRWs produced for other businesses (for example, automotive suppliers), others, for end consumption but without direct sales to the public, and many of them had production in both modalities. In 2002, 67% of the market of the the BRWs’ production was other businesses, and only 41% sold directly. In that first survey, the profile of the BRWs was mostly of industrial production. In 2010, end consumption continues to be predominant, but with a somewhat lower participation (60%); intermediate consumption has values that are similar to 2004 (43%), like producers of raw materials (around 4%), but services represent 15%, which, added to those that produce for end consumption, gives the same number that, in 2004, this last category had by itself. In sum, the production of the recovered businesses is clearly related to formal economic activity, including a strong presence in value chains made up of traditional businesses.

More revealing is the level at which they are producing. The profile of 2002, in the middle of the economic crisis, and at the point of the greatest number of occupations and struggles to begin self-managed production, showed a panorama in which a large number was in low percentages of production compared to installed capacity.

In that year, the number of businesses that still were not producing or were doing so below 20% of installed capacity, reached 43%. This number was reduced in 2004 to 23%, and in 2010, to 14%. This segment contains the newest businesses and those that are going through or just came out of the period of conflict.

That is, the more new BRWs there are, the greater the relative importance of this percentage between 0 and 20% of possible production. The 2004 survey, which was done as the phenomenon was stabilizing, showed the bulk of the BRWs between 20% and 60% of its capacity, demonstrating a significant advance over the same level of production two years earlier. While in 2002, somewhat less than 40% of the BRWs could produce in this range, by 2004 it was 46%, while 25% are in the highest level, between 60% and 100%.

This improvement of productive conditions in only two years led us to presume that, six years later, the situation had improved notably. However, the panorama has not changed much. While there is a improvement over 2004, there continue to be relatively few BRWs that have been able to reach the level of production the plant or facilities are capable of, or, in the case of service businesses, the prior level of activity. Although the enormous difficulty in capitalizing demonstrates that this issue continues to be decisive, the problem of market penetration emerges clearly as the most highlighted cause of production problems. Obviously, there is a relationship between the capitalization of the BRWs and how they are able to develop in a market ruled by competition, and for which the concept of self-managed work is absolutely outside of its logic.

One of the first issues to arise is, as we have already mentioned, the state of the plant. There are plenty of examples of BRWs in which the workers have to overcome a bleak panorama of abandonment, dismantling and even removal of machines, generally with obsolete technology that leaves them with enormous disadvantages compared to competing businesses. This requires investments outside of the scope of a self-managed business that is just starting up, which is why at this stage, any State subsidy, small as it may be, is crucial. But, because of just that, one of the principle concerns of the workers is try to change this situation.

Surprisingly, despite the widespread image that the recovered businesses work with technology in ruinous conditions, 70% describes their productive infrastructure as being in good condition, while just over 26% finds it to be obsolete, and only 14% reported missing machines. This can be explained by keeping in mind that 59% stated that they have expanded and improved their productive infrastructure. Additionally, nearly 70% of those who described their infrastructure as obsolete, have bought machines to try improve it.

It is important to highlight here that the concept of the technology that the workers use being in good conditions or obsolete refers to the use for which that machinery is intended in the activity of the business. That is, we talk about social conditions of the state of the machines and facilities more than utilization in absolute terms of that description (which would be compared to the latest technology).

The 60% of those who bought machinery did so with their own funds, another 20% did so combining their own funds and subsidies, and only 10% exclusively with State subsidies. Once more, the data counter another widespread (and often biased) perception that the recovered businesses survive on subsidies and public financing. On the contrary, these numbers demonstrate the concern and effort of the workers to make their businesses grow and improve the quality of their product.

However, just as we find a high level of self-investment, it is also common to find a mode of outsourced work that makes it difficult to start processes of self-management. This is called "a façon" work, or production for third parties. While for many BRWs, this mode represents a way to go back to work, especially in the early days and in those industries where access to capitalization is nearly impossible because of its magnitude, this kind of production represents very low levels of profitability and the existence of what we could call an “external boss.” In this process, self-managed work in the recovered business represents a link in the production chain in which the labor force and the use of machinery and facilities of the BRWs are frequently devalued.

The BRWs that carry out "a façon" work and those that do not are divided practically in half: 49% produce this way and 50% do not. In a way, it is a solution to the market difficulties that a similar percentage to this distribution expressed. Now, the problem is not so much whether to produce this way or not, but rather in what proportion they do so compared to their total production. A factory that completely depends on this kind of “customers,” is obviously going to have serious problems being able to develop their work autonomously of external investors. Within the 49% that does a façon work to a certain extent, we find that a little more than 30% depends almost exclusively on this kind of “client.” If we add those that do more than 60% a façon work, we reach 42%. This percentage represents around a quarter of all the BRWs. Also there is 20% that rents or gives part of the facility to other productive enterprises.

Does this mean, in cases where production is mostly a façon, an irreversible state, a sort of failure of the process of self-management? Obviously, it is difficult capitalize a recovered business with such a dependence on businesspeople that provide supplies and market the product outside the business, but it also represents work for those who are starting from a situation of employer abandonment. To work a façon is also a way of keeping the plant working, preserving the machines and the labor force, connecting with providers and customers to later be able to start production on their own terms, and to solve, through this work provider, problems that—for the moment—are difficult to solve.

The data show that the self-managed business are still unable to form market relations other than the hegemonic kind: the bonds with the market occur in the framework of the competitive relations that characterize and define it, and are mostly marked by the hegemony of certain businesses that have monopolies or oligopolies. The size and financial conditions of many of the BRWs leaves them no other option than to turn to those who monopolize the activity: 33% must buy from monopolistic businesses and 47% from other big businesses. On the other hand, 46% go to SMEs, which is also related to the fact that the enormous majority of the BRWs were small and medium businesses before recovery, and they continue to belong to that framework of economic and commercial relationships. However, a significant 16%5 of purchases from other BRWs has appeared, and smaller percentages from other social businesses and microenterprises, showing that the “new market” (that some people already take as a given) is a process that is in its beginning, and which must be strengthened.

A noteworthy data point is the appearance of another subject of market relations, something that we could classify as a new market niche, which begins to be created out of the new worker management. This new market is still far from amounting to an alternative which ensures a new subject of economic relationships for the BRW, less dependent on the traditional market, but it is no longer inconsequential: the number of BRWs that are clients of other recovered businesses is 13%, while microenterprises, various social businesses and NGOs, added up, are 17%. Only 8.6% have the State for a client, which is something that should be called to the attention of those who design public policies for this sector. Although it has grown compared to 2004 (when it was only 3.8%), it continues to be a number of little significance.

In contrast to other difficulties and problems in the performance of the BRWs as economic units, the debts run up by the previous business are mostly not absorbed by the workers. By forming the new cooperative and struggling for expropriation laws or other forms of ownership, they avoid (or try to avoid) inheriting that burden, which could the self-managed business before it is born. In spite of that, 28% are still burdened by debts from the old management, most of them related to payment of services and taxes not covered by the bankruptcy, and which affect productive development, like the cases whose start-ups came with power shutoffs. Beyond that number, 21% has also added new debts, incurred by the BRW but representing ballast left by the former owners as it starts up.

Problems with marketing, which would seem to be decisive, and which are commonly cited by outside analysts as the BRWs’ main problems in growing or improving their situation, do not seem to be as uniform as tends to be believed. In the opinion of the workers, difficulties in marketing their production do not seem so widespread. Those who have these kind of problems and those that do not are divided into equal parts, 47% each. On the other hand, the dependence on a predominant client is a somewhat higher percentage (54%). Of these, approximately half work a façon.

The workers

As mentioned previously, the recovered businesses grew not only in the number of cases but also in the number of workers, which went from somewhat less than 7000 in 2004 to around 9400 in 2010. This growth was due not only to the emergence of new BRWs, but also to the incorporation of new workers to the older recovered businesses.

The recovered businesses that emerged between 2005 and 2010, between them, added 1762 workers. Of the difference between the totals in 2004 and 2010, it emerges that about 700 of the newly occupied positions correspond to workers incorporated by BRWs that started up before 2005 and, keeping in mind that some 20 businesses surveyed that year are no longer operating, the number of new workers, which is to say, of jobs created by recovered businesses that have been around for at least six years, is around 1000.

The average number of workers per BRW gives us an indicative profile of the size of each recovered productive unit. Just as in previous surveys, the majority are in the category of SMEs by virtue of the number of jobs, with 75% employing fewer than 50 workers. There are few that have more than 100 workers, and only 2.35% exceed 200. This profile is quite similar to the 2004 survey, with small differences that do not alter the panorama.

Prior to worker management, the large majority of the businesses went through a process of increasing precariousness and shrinking related to the profound and regressive changes in the social-productive fabric of the country. Between the moment of greatest expansion of the original business and the explosion of the conflict that leads to recovery, a continuous expulsion of workers happens as a result of the process of deindustrialization that started in the ’70s, and lasted until the crisis of 2001. In this context, 84% of the BRWs interviewed registered a loss of workers after the beginning of cooperative management. As we were able to observe in previous surveys, the workers who leave at that point basically belong to administrative, professional or technical sectors, and are generally in better conditions to try reinsert themselves in the labor market. Those who remain and take control of the business are mainly production workers, who have fewer opportunities to reenter the job market. In contrast, after the recovered business starts up, the profile of the workers who leave the BRW belongs largely to production, and the causes for this desertion are basically tied the difficulty of overcoming a relatively low average income and the problems related to production. We must contextualize this fact in the arduous launch of the new management, but also in the recovery of the labor market in various sectors of industry that, on occasion, makes it difficult for BRWs to match standard salaries, especially for more highly qualified positions, among which there is a strong demand for personnel.

The second response to this issue points directly to the problems in adapting to the new form of management, showing the difficulties in the adoption of a self-managed dynamic in a context where all other social relationships – where workers’ lives are formed and developed – are far from showing any resemblance to this new logic of work.

It is also relevant that among the reasons for the withdrawal of workers, two data points appear that are related to the average age of those who lead the recovery process (nearly 75% are more than 36 years old, and close to 20% is over 55) 22% of those are no longer part of the business have retired, and a significant 18% have died. We should not necessarily think of this last figure only in terms of the age of the workers, but also how the process has affected the health of its participants.

But, just as the withdrawal of workers happens in these conflictive circumstances, the BRWs have also been able to bring on others, rebuilding jobs lost along the way. A full 77% report having hired new workers. This incorporation of workers is related, logically, to the consolidation of each business. This not only demonstrates the ability to recover or create jobs, but shows this factor as a serious indicator of the march of the economic consolidation of the recovered business.

As for the profile of the workers of the recovered businesses, though we do not have data for the whole sample with the same level of detail, we can observe that there is a broad predominance of men. While women are the majority in several businesses (textiles, health, education), they do not occupy more than a sixth of the total jobs in the BRWs, and their age profile is somewhat different than that of men, with a greater percentage of young workers.

The management structure

The collective mode of management has distinguished the BRWs from other productive units to the point where it may be considered their main political and symbolic capital. One of the objectives of the research was to investigate, precisely, the concrete forms that these self-management dynamics take, beyond the formal normative mechanisms required by adopting the legal structure of a “worker cooperative.” In this regard, the mode of decision-making, the role and weight of the two basic bodies of cooperative management – the assembly and the administrative council [Board of Directors] – are a fundamental aspect to evaluate whether we are looking at a true practice of self-management or a mere adjustment to legislation to keep the business working.

Given that the law only requires them to hold a minimum of one assembly per year, traditional cooperatives tend to hold assemblies for their annual report or for the election of officers. It is the administrative council that actually does all management of the productive unit. The last survey has revealed that in the BRWs, the relationship between these decision-making bodies tends to be inverted: barely 8% reported making all decisions in the administrative council. The vast majority of the BRWs give the council, in different degrees, operational functions that, because they are immediate, expedited, or simply common, do not turn out to be practical to address in the assembly. Thirty percent explicitly states that the assembly has more weight than the administrative council, and the rest of the answers distributes the functions of the council among administrative, commercial, and legal issues, client relations, etc.

The 8% that delegates all the decisions to the administrative council coincides with that 8% that holds assemblies once a year. But the reality of the bulk of the BRWs is closer to the image that has been popularized: 88% state that they hold assemblies periodically. What turns out to be even more surprising is the frequency: 44% hold weekly assemblies, and 35% once a month. It should be pointed out that the workers use the term "assemblies" for general meetings where all or most of them participate, and are not limited to the conditions in cooperative rules. They clarify, for example, that not all the "assemblies" can properly be called that, because minutes are not always taken. Still, if the idea is to analyze the dynamics of self-management, it is possible that these kinds of assemblies have more validity than formal ones, which, in many traditional cooperatives, are simply fictional. As important as the frequency of the assemblies, and possibly more so, is the kind of decisions made in them. The responses range from a general “all,” to “the most important,” to those related to economic matters.

Analyzing the composition of the administrative council, it emerges that election to positions for more than one term occurs 67% of the time, which speaks of a low level of turnover in positions and a high percentage of members that remain for two or more terms as directors or representatives. In the makeup of these councils, there was not an automatic transfer of leadership or pre-existing hierarchies to the collective management of the business by the workers: 63% of current council members belong to the production area, compared to only 19% from the administration; the old union stewards are 35% of the councils and only 15% of the council members were part of the old hierarchical structure (officials or bosses).

In that sense, everything seems indicate that the great change happened not just in the disappearance of the boss, but rather in an integral transformation of the roles of the directors of the business. The transformation had an impact not only on the access of shopfloor workers to posts on the council – which, to be sure, are far from representing the accumulation of power flaunted by council members in a traditional business – but also in the substantial modification of the patterns of representation and leadership of labor organizations, evidenced by the fact that the continuity of the old union stewards is far from predominant. The formation of these new leaders is much more laborious than classical union representation, given that the new leaders must attend to new responsibilities in the management of the business.

At the same time, the fact that the majority of the current members of the councils are shopfloor workers, not qualified employees or former heirarchical managers, gives an account of a phenomenon of democratization of the relations between the workers and of radical transformation of the roles assigned to everyone.

As for the incorporation of new workers, 46% of the BRWs answered that on their site, at least one of their workers was not a member, but a contract employee. In reality, this figure is misleading, given that this kind of hiring is only 10% of the total of jobs in BRWs, and many of them are located at job positions in expansion, which is to say that they are hired on a probationary basis, as indicated by the rules, and can, in the near future, become members of the cooperative. Within this total, 45% are in the process of incorporation and evaluation; and 5% are interns, which is to say, students or apprentices who are trained in the trade through agreements with educational institutions.

In the remaining 55%, we do find ourselves with workers who, plain and simple, have been “hired,” with which the cooperative potentially becomes a sort of employer gestated among the workers themselves. Certainly, the incorporation of workers with full membership rights does not seem to be easy to resolve. As we have already seen, the possibility of creating real jobs, which is necessary for the expansion of the business in economic terms, means a strategic planning for growth and a responsibility towards the new workers, which the BRW must be in a condition to guarantee.

As Novaes and Sardá point out in another part of this book, if there is a place in which self-management has not yet given the desired fruits, it is probably transforming the organization of production and the process of work itself. There are factors in the workers themselves, like the learning they have acquired and the experience they have accumulated over years in the same job. But another kind of conditioning, above all in industrial production, arises from the same disposition, organization and technological matrix of production.

A data point to take into account is that the majority of the BRWs are formed without the workers who occupied administrative or directive positions, which means that those who come to occupy those functions are forced to improvise in a field that, until that moment, was unknown to them. In this regard, 53% of the cases maintained the organization of labor as it was configured under employer management; while 42% of those surveyed reported having made some changes. On being asked what kind of changes they made, they refered to the incorporation of machinery that required a certain reorganization of production, or to a reorganization of work regarding the functions of the workers. However, BRWs have enormous difficulties changing the structure of productive organization, and there exists a tendency to maintain strategic positions in the production process. The complexity of economic management imposes, in most cases, the need to determine responsibilities that, in many of them, are the same as those established by employer management. These responsibilities are not necessarily translated into a differentiation in compensation. In the previous survey, we used the number of hours worked and income as criteria of equality. The equalization of compensation is a logical consequence of the conflictive process, in which it is not only the bosses that disappear, but also former hierarchies and functions. Likewise, the difficult recovery of production and income leads to an egalitarian division of revenue. Fifty-six percent maintains that structure – exactly the same as in 2004 – while 64% have the same workday.

This disposition is seen clearly related to the times of work, where in the group that earns the same amount, the criterion for this equality is based mostly on the number of hours worked. On average, the workdays of the BRWs last 8.6 hours, independent of whether it is the same for all workers or not. Among those that do not work the same number of hours, the most common justification (89%) is the different functions performed. Also, it should be highlighted that the cases of shorter workdays correspond to the BRWs that are going through production difficulties, which force the work to be distributed over less time. The opposite happens in the cases of protracted workdays. The longest workdays can reach twelve hours, but only in two cases out of the total sample. With this data point, the catastrophist assertions of “self-exploitation” in the processes of self-management that the BRWs use seem questionable to us. On the other hand, those who hold this kind of position with a focus on the length of the workday, do not usually take into account the intensity of the productive process, a point that also relativizes the relevance of the affirmation.


We have provided a brief synthesis of the Report of the Third Survey of Argentine Recovered Businesses carried out between September of 2009 and March of 2010. The results show continuities and new problems with respect to similar previous studies, and is overwhelming concerning the consolidation and permanence of the phenomenon of the BRWs, their incorporation as a tool of struggle and economic organization of the workers and, though we have not yet delved deeply in it, gives elements to make a comparison with the peers of the countries that have managed to carry out similar works, including the use of a compatible survey format and the creation of databases, which are Uruguay and Brazil. In our understanding, the results of these reports allows us to advance in the evaluation of the theory and the practice of worker self-management.

  1. Editions of the Cooperative Chilavert, Buenos Aires, 2011. Also available in a digital version at Close to 80 students participated in the field research that led to this text (their payroll can be seen together with the complete report).

  2. A figure that was raised to 9100 including the La Esperanza Sugar Mill in Jujuy as a BRW, but it ultimately did not succeed in establishing worker management.

  3. This occured during the government of Aníbal Ibarra.

  4. IMPA is one of the few cases in which the original business already was a cooperative. Because the workers started their management under the same legal structure, they inherited the prior debts, and this situation worsened over the years. The old cooperative went broke, and a new cooperative (22 de Mayo) received the expropriation from legislature of the City.

  5. All these percentages reflect multiple responses, which is why the total is more than 100%, both among providers and customers.

Where are Businesses Recovered by Brazilian Workers going?

Part II. Self-management and businesses recovered by the workers

Henrique T. Novaes1 and Maurício Sardá de Faria2


This article reflects on the idiosyncrasies of Brazilian Businesses Recovered by the Workers (BRWs). We observe the process in which capitalist businesses in bankruptcy were taken over and began to operate under control of the workers themselves, with partial modifications to work processes and, to a greater extent, in the form of management.

We are interested in verifying how the phenomenon of BRWs has been developing in Brazil within the context of the globalization of financial capital. Starting from this, and the presentation of emblematic experiences, we will reflect on the advances and challenges to overcoming alienated labor, in the direction of substantive and emancipated forms of the production and reproduction of social life.

In the first section, we will present a brief history of struggles for self-management to situate the relationship of the BRWs in the perspective of worker struggles.

In the second section, will make some comments about the historical context that gave rise to the BRWs and other social movements. The following section brings statistics about the number of factories, workers, sectors where they work, general characteristics of the experiences and their most representative entities. In the fourth section, we will observe several experiences of BRWs in greater detail, seeking to highlight their contradictions and limitations, and the possibilities they open up for the development of autonomous practices and social relationships for organizing the Brazilian working class. We decided to highlight two special cases, Cooperminas and Catende Harmonia. The last section analyzes “factories in trouble,” factories that are seeking nationalization under worker control.

We close the article with several final considerations.

A brief history of social struggles for productive autonomy

Since industrialism was implanted as the dominant mode of production in Europe, its social history has been full of struggles for self-managed initiatives and for production of the means of life. In the nineteenth century, associations (or the associativist principle) had a double function, which was only later separated into two: organization for the production of the means of life –especially through various forms of cooperativism (production, consumption and credit, initially) – and workers’ collective resistance to social relationships of the production of capital. By substituting competition between workers with solidarity, and substituting fragmentation with collectivism, associations were a process of self-organization, understood in a double aspect of both means and end. The self-management of their struggles revealed to the workers the inseparable need for self-management of production and of social life. That is why the pedagogy of worker struggles always had an organizational dimension, unifying to workers to overcome exploitation and wage labor itself.3

We take as our hypothesis that, in periods characterized by revolutionary rupture or by the sharpening of contradictions between classes, workers resume the strategy of uniting the two tendencies of associative practice: resistance and production of the means of life. When bosses flee or are evicted from the control of productive units, the workers find themselves with the need to return to producing their means of life on their own. Nothing is more effective, in those cases, than occupying facilities, as occurred , for example, with the Lyonnaise Canut revolts (1830-34), in the Paris Commune (1871), at the beginning of the Russian Revolution (1905 and 1917), in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in Hungary (1919), and Germany (1918-19). In a second cycle, in Hungary and Poland (1956), in Czechoslovakia (1968), in the general strike of 1968 in France and in business occupations that continued until 1974; in the Carnation Revolution in Portugal (1974 to 1976), in Poland (1980-1983), in Chile under the Allende government (1970-1973), and in Brazil, with the factory committees of the late ’60s and ’70s’.4

Although those forms of struggle, which connect the interposition of resistance to the expansion of social relationships of production of capital and the autonomous production of the means of life by the associated workers themselves, remained frozen for a good part of the twentieth century, the occupation of factories came back onto the scene as a strategy of the struggle of the workers’ movement since the end of the ’60s (in France, Portugal, etc.), but with more intensity in the ’80s and ’90s in Brazil and in the first decade of the 2000s in Argentina, especially.5

As we see it, this is a new form of struggle, which is relatively differentiated from the historical experience of the workers’ movement by establishing a long productive period under self-management of the workers, in many cases altering the ownership of the means of production, with the machines and productive equipment taken over and controlled by the worker collective. In this regard, it is important to remember that the oldest experiences in Brazil have been working for more than 20 years, and in Argentina, 13 years, making it possible to draw the first lessons about the advances that are being verified within productive processes under control of the workers, and also of the contradictions and ambiguities that this new situation presents for the struggles in the production space of associated labor.

We believe that the experience of the BRWs, among so many others, represents the “recovery” of a kind of class struggle that was underestimated in the twentieth century: that of the cooperative production of the means of life. In that dimension–which encompasses the organization of the work process, the instituted mechanisms of decision-making, the forms of control and management of productive units–self-management is revealed to be indispensible.

In Brazil, the experiences of the BRWs are mixed in with the field of the Solidarity Economy, while in Argentina we find elements that aim for the formation of a movement specific to the BRWs. Now, let us look at the historical context that led to the emergence of the BRWs.

Brazilian ERWs on the Latin American scene: capital’s offensive and workers’ responses

Brazilian experiences in the field of associated labor gained ground beginning in the ’90s, when Latin American social movements were in a defensive situation.6 President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (January 1995-December 2002) deepened Brazilian neoliberalism, whose rhythm became dictated by the voracity of capitalism in its neoliberal tendency of financialization of the economy7: opening of markets, low growth, restructuring of production (Toyotism), an unbroken transition with the civilian-military dictatorship, State reforms that brought on the reduction of some of its social functions, attacks on social and labor rights, and privatization and de-nationalization that significantly increased unemployment and structural underemployment.

In this picture, the strategy of recovering factories, which in the ’80s was represented by a series of isolated experiences, picks up steam, taking place in productive units in crisis, especially family-owned businesses. In the decade of the ’90s, there was a significant increase in Brazilian experiences and a stabilization of the number of cases at the beginning of the 2000s. Such experiences have gained significant social space since then, especially in 2003, with the creation of the National Secretary of the Solidarity Economy (SENAES) within the Ministry of Labor and Employment of Lula’s government.

The BRWs were the object of study of various researchers in Brazil. However, most of them were case studies or multi-case analyses that did not intend to generate data about the whole set of the experiences.8 The study that investigated the greatest number of cases of BRWs in Brazil was done by Tauile et. al,9 as a result of an investigation funded by the SENAES/MTE and which involved 25 Brazilian BRWs. Beyond their quantification, the investigation established a typology of self-management out of criteria on management, market, credit, technology, form of ownership, and institutional participation. The seven resulting ideal types go from the “socially desirable”–the business of the workers in self-management–to the “socially unacceptable”–the “coopergato or outsourced.”10 These “types” were built out of the characteristics of the BRWs investigated, such that they materialize tendencies found in the experiences.

Previous research and studies done on this phenomenon in Brazil allow us to present some general information on the universe of the BRWs.

Some researchers11 were able to show the contradictory and heterogeneous nature of the experiences studied. Although this heterogeneity and the contradictions of the phenomenon can be found in other studies, it is still possible establish a general characterization of Brazilian experiences developed through the end of the ’90s, pointed out in different studies.

We highlight the following:

  1. Regional distribution shows that the large majority is concentrated in the South and South-east of Brazil, the most industrialized areas of the country, above all in urban areas. The main economic sectors are industrial (metallurgy, textiles, footwear, windows and glass, ceramics), as well as mineral extraction and services;
  1. almost all the experiences result from the recovery of family businesses, with the bankruptcy or pre-bankruptcy state, in many cases, being fruits of a process of an unsuccessful family succession; it is not unusual to find factories founded at the beginning of the twentieth century, with machinery over fifty years old;

  2. in general, those businesses already carry considerable labor liabilities, with it being common for workers to experience long periods with overdue wages and non-retention of labor and social rights by the businesses, owed for months and, sometimes, several years;

  3. given the imminence of the closure of activities, the workers mobilize to demand their labor rights and, at that point, there emerges the idea of keeping the factory working, with the departure of the former owners;

  4. in many cases, the union assumes the role of active leader in the organization of the workers, in the presentation and discussion of the possibility of keeping the business running, in the negotiation with the former owners and with public and private institutions in the search for financing. Sometimes the union also becomes a partner in the management of businesses under the control of the workers;

  5. it can happen that the workers renounce their labor rights and contract termination funds in exchange for collective ownership of the means of production of the businesses;

  6. in most cases, use of the cooperative form is chosen, in the absence of a legal framework that recognize the specificities of this phenomenon in Brazil;

  7. it is common to verify the use of term self-management, which tries to encompass both the alterations that occurred in the form of ownership of the businesses, as well as the democratic characteristics that should preside in the organization of work processes and the management of the cooperative. However, the general tendency of the experiences investigated in Brazil is to maintain the prior division of work, with the principle alterations concerning the division of the draws (“salaries”), of the surplus (“remains”) and of the decision-making process in the factory that, in general, takes place in general assemblies. This leads to keeping workers in the places determined by the division of labor when activities were restarted, to now labor in an environment in which the ownership of the business is collective and possessed by the whole of the associates of the cooperative;

  8. in spite of identifying changes in the division of the draws (“salaries”), there are few Brazilian experiences that opt for an egalitarian division. In Brazil, it is also very common to find cases in which the cooperatives stop taking new workers as members, and all new people become employees;

  9. this new situation, to be sure, has an impact on workers’ motivation, at least for a certain period, and makes them more inclined to do their productive tasks with more effort and zeal;

  10. in these experiences, the “competitive strategy” can make use of mechanisms like the extension of the unpaid workday or even flexibility in wage rates to accompany the oscillations of the market. In other words, faced with the potential inability to expand existing technologies or develop new ones, the businesses can make use of mechanisms that are characteristic of absolute surplus value to carry out their work processes.

  11. after the reopening of the self-managed business, what is seen is the gradual distancing of the experiences from the other social struggles of the category and field of the solidarity economy, and more and more talk about guaranteeing the viability of the “business.” This means that there is a reduced “politicization” of the experiences, in the sense that they are more isolated from other worker struggles and discussion about the role that they can represent in the construction of a society “beyond capital.”12

  12. the BRWs are immersed in the commodity-production system and cannot overcome production based on exchange values in isolation. The perception of the workers on this topic varies, but it may be possible to affirm that there already exists in Latin American social movements a mild perception of the need to produce for meeting human needs (use values), the need of the common good, of a society not based on the accumulation of capital;

  13. everything leads us to believe that the workers of the BRWs are much more in the field of contingent class consciousness that in the field of necessary class consciousness.13 The distancing of Brazilian BRWs from the movement of the Solidarity Economy and from a wider movement for the construction of a society beyond capital, surely will remain on the agenda of new research. The prevailing pattern is the maintenance of jobs, of receiving draws at the end of the month, of returning to everyday life. This is a very similar problem to those that confront the MST currently, which is to say, the stagnation of the struggle after the land is won. Instead of the struggle for land and for the recovery of factories being a medium, keeping in mind the combination of internal self-management with the development of other anti-capital struggles and the search for broader solutions in all spheres of work and life, the conquest of land and of the factory turned into an end, though with several partial victories.

Generally, the experiences that emerged since the ’80s and above all in the ’90s in Brazil were primarily motivated by the profound crisis in the labor market, and were able to avoid business closures and the resulting job losses. From the beginning, there was no concern for making the BRWs into a counter-model of organizing the production process that went beyond the creation of work and income, and that could serve as parameter for new kinds of struggle in other businesses.

The most representative entities of the recovered factories in Brazil, ANTEAG and UNISOL,14 originated in the union movement, even though this topic also remains, somehow, strange and distant from the strategic discussions of the union movement. We note that, over the years, those entities that emerged to give support to the recovery of factories moved on to work with other kinds of solidarity economic enterprises. UNISOL, for example, has 280 affiliated enterprises today, but only 10% are BRWs (25). The partnership between UNISOL and SEBRAE (Brazilian System of Support for Micro and Small Businesses), an institution with a clearly pro-capitalist ideological affiliation, ensnare those experiences in the networks of the market and of contemporary society, stripping the term "self-management" that they use of any emancipatory content.

For us, those changes reflect the way that this alternative, as a strategy of working-class struggle in recent years, is losing ground. There are those who affirm that this is due to the economic growth experienced by the country, which seems to us insufficient to explain the isolation of the experiences in the setting of the creation of jobs and income. Another element to be considered is the change in the bankruptcy law made in 2005 by Lula’s government, which benefited the judicial recovery of businesses by the owners themselves, which hampered or discouraged the use of the recovery of bankrupt businesses by the workers.

Some authors also point out the symptoms of a crisis in social movements, based, among other things, on the fact of that they still have not incorporated self-management as a central topic of anti-capital struggles.

Finally, but no less important, is the fact that, since the ’70s, social movements have suffered the loss of various sources of financing, especially international, or their criminalization, which contributes to a “minimum agenda” of survival in a context of advancing social barbarism.15

It is important to perceive that the phenomenon of the BRWs is emerging at a time of structural crisis of capital, which led to the precariousness of work and to an increase in unemployment. The expanse and depth of this crisis in each country resulted in specific situations for the development of experiences of the recovery of factories by the workers under self-management. In Brazil, the experiences began in the ’80s and were intensified in the ’90s due, above all, to the accelerated pace of neoliberal structural adjustments. Faced with the increase in unemployment and encroachments on social rights, social movements and the union movement organized intense mobilizations of resistance against the measures imposed by governments and businesses. In that sense, the BRWs can also be considered the result of that rise in mobilizations and resistance in society, and were able to find broad support for recovery processes.

With the most turbulent period over, and workers assured of the possession of the means of production and the facilities, the struggle to keep the BRWs working is added to the struggle for a legal framework that enables adequate working conditions, from specific legislation for the recovery of the factories to special conditions for financing the work.

Of course, in Brazil, the self-managed characteristics of worker struggles to take over businesses for the recovery of production as cooperatives began to wear away when a cadre of professional managers came on the scene and took command of those businesses, generally with the support of unions. Some examples can help us to understand that process.

Some special cases

In this section, we briefly present four experiences that will serve as an illustration of some of the issues mentioned above. These cases were selected for the importance they represent for BRWs generally, but we must emphasize that the characteristics presented here should not be generalized. We believe that this look at some cases that advanced a bit further in their struggles will help us to understand the potential of the phenomenon.

Cooperminas and the Proyecto Catende Harmonia

It would be fitting to mention, briefly, two cases that seem to us to be illustrative of the field of BRWs in Brazil. The first is the case of the CBCA, today Cooperminas (Criciúma, Santa Catarina), whose struggle began in the middle ’80s, perhaps the most enduring BRW. The second case is the Proyecto Catende Harmonia [the Catende Harmony Project], from the middle ’90s, surely the biggest and most complex recovery of a bankrupt business in Brazil.

Cooperminas emerged from the bankruptcy process of the old CBCA, the Cía. Brasileira Carbonífera Araranguá [Brazilian Araranguá Coal Company], founded in 1917 for the extraction of coal in the city of Criciúma, in the state of Santa Catarina. In the middle of 1987, with wages overdue by several months, the workers launched an active struggle to recover their labor rights. The business closed down. The workers mobilized in the defense of jobs, initially asking for nationalization of the mine. In the process, the workers agreed to reopening the bankrupt business, with the Miners’ Union of Criciúma itself as trustee. The business worked this way for 10 years, until 1997, when it reached as agreement with the former owners, leading to the creation of Cooperminas.

We want to highlight three aspects of this experience: first, that, during this time, the workers had to carry out intense struggles to keep the mine under their control and prevent the sale at auction of the assets to pay to creditors. In one of those struggles, the miners appeared in the national press with dynamite strapped to their bodies to block the withdrawal of equipment from the mine and its decommissioning. The second aspect is working conditions in the mine. We had the chance to visit and go down in the mine in 1992 and 2005. The miners from the CBCA made notable advances in working conditions, with significant observable improvements in ventilation, lighting, safety, and the acquisition of new equipment that decreases pollution in the mine. The third aspect is the market. The cooperative possesses, like the other mining companies in the region, a quota of coal whose purchase is guaranteed by thermoelectric plants, which allows a certain stability and the possibility of long-term planning.

At the beginning of the self-management of the mine, the workers created new institutions, with political and management characteristics. The Mine Commission was chosen by the workers from each section, and was responsible for both political and strategic decisions and for contributing to the organization of work. The assemblies were massive, with the participation of almost all 1200 miners. There were cases of replacement of the President of the cooperative by the General Assembly of the workers, and various cases of recall of members of the Mine Committee. Over time, however, there was an "institutional accommodation" of these sources of collective power, and they became means more of “top-down” communication than “bottom-up.” The bureaucratization of the structures of participation in the mine led to the prevalence of a certain passivity in the workers. The democratic differentiation of those experiences of cooperatives of resistance tends, in this way, towards the emergence of a sort of corporate cooperativism, with the business more and more dedicated to itself. The lack of involvement of the Cooperminas miners in other worker struggles in the region or in the recovered factories movement is a sign of that passivity of the workers and crystallization of bureaucratic processes.

The privileged condition of the miners of Criciúma regarding the marketing of production–since they sell all production to a large corporation (an assured market)–did not mean better conditions for the advance towards the self-management of the business. On the contrary, as the process has lasted almost 25 years, and given the special retirement of miners (at 15 years), many of those who struggled for the business have already retired, leaving a division between the “new” and the “old.” The absence of a systematic training process for self-management and of a way to keep alive the story of the struggles for the business favored the emergence of a feeling of apathy towards democratic processes and anything requiring worker participation. An example of that is the perception of the assemblies as bureaucratic rituals with little participation or in-depth debates about the fate of the business. The Worker Committees, over time, were transformed into spaces of legitimation of decisions made by the “technicians” and “managers” of the business. The function of the committees, currently, appears to be much more that of serving as a muffler of internal conflicts and of transmission channels for the directors of the business.16

The Proyecto Catende Harmonia is the biggest and most complex recovered business project operating in Brazil. It is a sugar "ingenio"17 founded in 1892 on the site of the even older Milagre da Conceição sugar refinery, built in 1829, and which encompassed, in 2009, 52 mills distributed over 26 thousand hectares, covering five municipalities in the zone of Selva Sur in Pernambuco: Catende, Jaqueira, Palmares, Água Preta and Xexéu. The refinery passed through several hands until it become the biggest sugar refinery in Latin America in the ’50s’, under control of the “Lieutenant,” as Colonel Antônio Ferreira da Costa was known. Under the management of the "Lieutenant," a railroad was built to transport the production and a hydroelectric plant to ensure energy, as well as the first distillery of anhydrode alcohol in the country.

The refinery fell into a crisis at the end of the ’80s, with the closure of the Institute of Sugar and Alcohol (IAA). The situation worsened in 1993, when 2,300 plant workers were dismissed. These mass firings started the struggle of the workers, who refused to leave the buildings without receiving their labor rights [severance pay]. Rural unions, with the support of CONTAG (National Confederation of Agricultural Workers), CUT and CPT (Pastoral Commission of the Earth, made up of the left-leaning bishops of the Catholic Church), helped sustain the struggle to guarantee labor rights. In 1995, the business filed for bankruptcy, and the workers took control and started the Proyecto Catende Harmonia. The business’ debts added up to nearly R$1.2 billion (the Bank of Brazil is the largest creditor, with R$480 million). The assets were valued as R$67 million, and labor liabilities were R$62 million. In 1998, the workers created the Cía. Agrícola Harmonia [the Harmony Agricultural Company], a corporation, to receive the assets of the defunct Catende Sugar Mill. In 2002, farmers created a producer cooperative called Cooperativa Harmonia de Agricultores y Agricultoras Familiares [Harmony Cooperative of Family Farmers], creditors of the old business who lived on the lands of the refinery. All in all, the project involves, between the fields and processing, close to four thousand families, or twenty thousand people. Besides the 52 plants and the sugar refinery (industrial park), the assets also include a hydroelectric plant, a pottery workshop, a furniture workshop, a hospital, seven reservoirs and their irrigation channels, a fleet of vehicles and machinery, and several “big houses” (one of them has been transformed into an education center). Seven years into the project, the illiteracy rate has fallen from 82% to 16.7%.18

In contrast to the other sugar refineries in the region, the Proyecto Catende Harmonia had strong organization among the workers from the beginning. After the struggle against dismissals and the bankruptcy of the business, the workers started construction on the collective project, with the organization of the 52 plants (rural units that have groups of inhabitants/mill workers), in places that are often times difficult to reach, especially in the rainy season. The representatives of the 52 Mill Associations met in the Council of Project Management, together with the five rural unions and the Council of the Workers of the Refinery, and met more frequently. The processes of collective deliberation, when there was an important issue, went through debate in the plants, and then through debates in the Council of Project Management (close to 120 workers), until it reached the General Assembly. This last step required an enormous effort, both because communications are still precarious (radio is used to organize the refinery assemblies), and because of the costs involved in the transportation of four thousand farmers.

Besides that, the management structure was complex. There was a bankruptcy trustee, named by the judge, but who was selected in an assembly with more than three thousand workers. There was also the management council, which met with the advisors and responsible parties on the Executive Committee and Directors of the Project. The workers even created the Cooperativa Harmonia-Proyecto Catende, [Harmony Cooperative-Catende Project], with the mission of organizing field workers when the expropriation for agrarian reform happened. So, the workers received the 26,000 hectares of land, but did not get the sugar factory, which remained bankrupt. There were also women and youth associations. Several advisory institutions worked with the workers’ organizations with the objective of diversifying production.

In spite of all the efforts in the democratic organization of the workers of the Proyecto Catende Harmonia, financial setbacks and the difficulties in guaranteeing the annual planting, harvest and milling always imposed difficulties on the consolidation of a new political culture in the Project, with progress and setbacks in the organization of the field workers and in their relationships with the mill workers. This historical division made relations between the two categories of workers difficult. It was even seen that even the cooperative project itself met resistance from the workers, due, above all, to the employer use of cooperativism to make labor relations precarious and exploit the workers of the region northeast of Brazil. In the bosses’ “cooperatives”–a sort of mini-market– the workers were practically “forced” to buy products that were much more expensive and worse. To date, the cooperative idea is looked on with distrust by the workers of the Project.

Still, the mechanisms and forms of participation in the Proyecto Catende Harmonia meant a radical change for the region and the sugar and alcohol sector in northeastern Brazil, which still has reports of forced or even slave labor.19

Notwithstanding, since 2008, the Proyecto Catende Harmonia has suffered from an obstacle put in its way by the legal system, which withdrew the trustee elected by the workers and installed an administrator in the management of the refinery. There are indications of deterioration of the assets that remained under the control of the bankruptcy case. Because of that, the Project could only be responsible for field production, and had to sell what it produced to other mills in the region. It was a hard blow to the Project, which may end up closing down if the federal government does not find an alternative form of support for field workers, such as, for example, through the implantation of an alcohol or biofuel distillery on the refinery’s lands.

Factories in trouble: the search for nationalization

Nearly all cases of Brazilian BRWs are seeking to preserve jobs and generate revenue through the cooperative model. However, there is a small set of cases that refused to adopt the cooperative model and instead demanded the nationalization of the factories recovered from bankruptcy.

The three factories in Brazil (Cipla, Flaskô, and Interfiber) that organized the Movement of Occupied Factories and demanded nationalization under worker control did not receive a positive response from the government and had obvious difficulties in surviving. In these specific cases, the preference for “nationalization under worker control” functions as a criticism of cooperatives that try to survive in the capitalist system. The legal fragility of these cases and the lack of receptiveness from the Brazilian government to the proposals of nationalization of bankrupt businesses end up leaving the workers in these businesses vulnerable to judicial attacks, as well as the rather obvious difficulties getting access to credit and business promotion.

While there may be an ideological component to justify waving this banner, there is always a financial argument present in talk about nationalization, like energy subsidies, but mainly the guarantee of salary payment even in times of crisis. We understand that even when the struggle is for “nationalization under worker control,” this disregards or underestimates the fact that we live in a capitalist State, and also an authoritarian Latin American State that does not even recognize forms of co-management, as happened in some European cases. Additionally, there is an enormous risk of bureaucratization, such as happened in innumerable cases of businesses supported by the State in the Fifties.

These cases fall into the theoretical and historical mistake of finding worker emancipation solely and exclusively in the form of ownership of the means of production, when it really only means that they would shift to being “exploited” by the State, rather than by private bosses. They fail to learn the lesson, learned by the Portuguese during the Carnation Revolution, that State socialism and private capitalism are not the only options.

Of the three cases mentioned, two have already suffered judicial takeover (Cipla and Interfiber), and only Flaskô continues operating under worker control. Even with the considerations we made above, it should be highlighted that Flaskô has implemented several innovations in its management. It reduced the workday to six hours and the workweek to five days. It opened its doors for events organized by the social movements in the city of Sumaré, in São Paulo. It gave factory space for the use of a working-class neighborhood and for sports activities for youth of the region. It began organizing a Centro de Memoria Obrera [Worker Memory Center], which puts out a semiannual magazine and organizes events in the factories that bring together academics and social movements.

The BRWs at the crossroads

The truth is, the BRWs are in the commodity-production system, and because of this, tend to reproduce the work relations inherited from the old factory. There are innumerable factors that make it hard to continue with more clearly self-managed relations in those experiences: a) an extremely unfavorable context that keeps them on the defensive and impedes the flowering of self-management and the “contamination” of other workers with vision of creating a society “beyond capital”; b) a hostile environment–called the “Market”–that strangles the development of BRWs; c) “economic” isolation between self-managed enterprises, which is to say, the lack of production chains, either before or after existing productive processes, that would give these experiences some distance from market relations or, at least, a “brake” on their capture by supply chains dominated by capital20; d) difficulties in influencing public policies; e) State restrictions on the purchase of products and hiring of services by the BRWs, and the stimulus it offers for the acquisition of inadequate conventional technology (machines, equipment and productive supplies); f) internal problems from the difficulty of cultural change from prior work, which was markedly hierarchical.

However, the BRWs were capable of making substantial changes to the work process, mainly in the following aspects: a) "software": cultural changes in the distribution of “salaries” and surplus (profits), which is to say, “shares” (formerly, salaries), which are now equal, or at least closer to it; funds (surpluses of the end of year) that are equal or proportional; the partial adjustment of the factory to the interests of the workers (improved working conditions, adjustments to the work environment, and the workers themselves setting the pace of work); and the appropriation of the knowledge of the productive process without modification of the division of labor; b) "orgware": appropriation of the knowledge of the productive process with modification of the division of labor, symbolized by the new decision-making bodies, whether formal (assemblies) or informal, and by the experiences they have successfully implemented for the turnover of functions and; c) "hardware": changes related to the acquisition of machinery, to adaptations and to re-empowerment.21 We were not able to identify many examples of re-deployment of the machinery, and that is the most difficult adjustment to make, given that it demands financial investment, time, and technical assistance that the businesses we studied generally do not have.

There is no doubt the very existence of BRWs in Brazil represents an accomplishment that must be preserved and accompanied very closely by the workers.

Perhaps inspiration can emerge from there to move in the direction of the dynamic sectors of capitalism, which, so far, have been kept immune to the practices of self-management of their work. In countries where neoliberals have never been willing to give up either their rings or their fingers, cases of occupation and the collective possession of the means of production in businesses like the Catende Mill, Cooperminas, Fogões Geral, Cipla, and more, cannot be ignored. And it is also impossible to remain indifferent after entering the Cipla factory (a factory in trouble), in which the training room was named the Ferreirinha Room, after an old metallurgical activist born in the region.

Final Considerations

We believe that the BRWs are a social phenomenon that is, to a certain extent, original, and in a certain sense, the heir to earlier historical experiences of the Latin American working class in a context of hegemony of financial capital, where the traditional union struggle for employment with a formal contract faces serious difficulties. In this article, we try present several peculiarities of Brazilian recovered factories, the attempt at partially overcoming alienated labor, and the contradictions in this process as well as its limitations. Let the debate and anti-capital struggles continue…


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Dagnino, Renato(2011). A importância das compras públicas para a Economia Solidária, Campinas, Impresso (mimeo).

Faria, Maurício Sardá de. (1992). Massa falida CBCA: proposta de leitura weberiana numa experiência de gestão operária, Monografia de conclusão de curso de graduação em Administração, Florianópolis, UFSC.

______. (1997). “. . . Se a coisa é por aí, que autogestão é essa . . . ?”Um estudo da experiência “autogestionária” dos trabalhadores da Makerli Calçados. Dissertação (Mestrado em Administração), Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis.

______. (2005). Autogestão, Cooperativa, Economia Solidária: avatares do trabalho e do capital, Tese de doutorado, Florianópolis, UFSC, Sociologia Política.

Faria, Maurício Sardá de;Novaes, Henrique T. (2011).Brazilian Recovered Factories: The Constraints of Workers’ Control, In: Ness, I.; Azzellini, D. (orgs.) Ours to master and to own – Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present. New York, Haymarket Books.

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Henriques, Flávio Chedid; Faria, Maurício S.; Novaes, Henrique T. (2012).“Os distintos caminhos das fábricas recuperadas no Brasil e na Argentina,”In: Rodrigues, F. C.; Novaes, H. T.; Batista, E. (orgs.) Movimentos Sociais, Trabalho Associado e Educação para além do capital. São Paulo, Outras Expressões.

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  1. Teacher at the School of Philosophy and Sciences of the Universidad Estadual Paulista (UNESP) – Marília and professor of the postgraduate program in Education.

  2. Teacher of the Universidad Federal de Paraíba.

  3. Tragtenberg, 1986.

  4. Novaes and Faria, 2013.

  5. For a comparison between Brazilian and Argentine recovered factories, see Henriques, Faria and Novaes (2012) and to look deeper into the cases, see the articles in this same volume by Ruggeri et al; Henriques et al.; Riero; Bustos; and Pierucci and Tonarelli.

  6. For the broader debate on social movements in Brazil, see Rodrigues, Novaes and Batista (2012 and 2013), among others.

  7. Chesnais, 2004.

  8. In 2013, a team of several Brazilian universities carried out the first national survey of BRWs. See Henriques et al., in this same volume.

  9. 2005.

  10. Coopergato is a false cooperative, generally arising from a process of outsourcing promoted by a businessperson or corporation trying to reduce costs.

  11. Vieitez and Dal Ri, 2001; Faria, 2005, Novaes, 2007; Henriques et. Al, 2013.

  12. Mészáros, 2002.

  13. “The fundamental difference between contingent class consciousness and necessary class consciousness is that, while the former perceives simply some isolated aspects of contradictions, the latter understands them in their interrelationships, which is to say, as necessary parts of the global system of capitalism. The former remains tangled in local conflicts, even when the scale of operation is relatively large, while the latter, by focusing its attention on the strategically central topic of social control, is concerned with a broader solution, although its immediate objectives may seem limited (for example, an attempt to keep a factory alive, under the control of the workers, that is succumbing to capitalist “rationalization”).” (Mészáros, 2006).

  14. There also exists the Movement of Occupied Factories, which we will address later.

  15. On this debate, see Pinassi (2011).

  16. Faria and Novaes, 2011.

  17. "Mill" in Portuguese.

  18. For a broader view of sugarcane in northeastern Brazil, we recommend the work of José Lins do Rego. Rego is a writer from the Northeast, best-known for his five books on the lifecycle of sugar cane. His books have been translated into countless languages. See, for example, “The Boy from the Mill.”

  19. Faria and Novaes, 2011.

  20. Dagnino 2011.

  21. Novaes, 2007.

The multiple scenarios of the contemporary capitalist world and the “return” to cooperativism, self-management and worker autonomy

Orlando Cruz Capote1
Institute of Philosophy


Today, when in the dissimilar and complex contemporary civilizing spaces-times, so asymmetric/unequal and globalized/fragmented,2 the majority of the different representatives of the revolutionary Left3 proclaim a sotto vocce the idea corroborated in Latin American-Caribbean practice, and even in other parts of the geopolitical South, that we find ourselves in a historical phase of profound turbulence and changes in almost all spheres of global and local society, shaken by constant popular insurrections-rebellions that have led, in some countries, to revolutions and, in other nations, to processes of socioeconomic and political reforms that are more or less profound, in which progressive leaders and groupings of different ideopolitical nuances have reached the government4 — and partly taken power — by the electoral route by defending the causes of the exploited and oppressed and also struggling for the integration of the countries-peoples of Our America5 and the imperative South-South complementation,6 confirms the certainty that new points of reference are gestating for the historical times in which we live.

In parallel, old and new sociopolitical actors urge us to search for a real anti-systemic, anti-hegemonic and countercultural alternative7 to globalization of neoliberal transnational monopolistic capitalism,8 above all against capital — because of its recognized capacity for (il)logical metabolic reproduction9 to pose, finally, the urgency of refounding, reinventing, and re-updating socialism in the twenty-first century.

This leads to an unusual visibility of socialism, and not of the exclusive and exclusionary “real socialism” (although we have to learn from its lessons and negative and positive experiences) which, after its catastrophic collapse in Eastern Europe together with the disintegration of the Soviet Union (1989-1991),10 brought as a consequence the challenging and bottomless crisis into which the international Left “fell”, with a few exceptions.

This hopeful dawn is the confirmation that a world without bosses and directed by, for and with the workers is possible, indispensable, sufficient and workable, and that gradual disconnection from transnational capital is feasible, as is the construction of the socialism well before the partial or terminal collapse of the regime of capitalist exploitation, whose fall-destruction will not be consummated by itself,11 which is why it will be work for multiple contemporary historical-political subjects of change. That is the historical mission that is upon us and must become reflection and permanent and inalienable transformation for revolutionaries.


Before those present and the real situation that can be glimpsed for the immediate future, it turns out to be inescapable for revolutionary Marxists, those of critical social thought,12 traditional political parties (those that met systematically in the Forum of Sao Paulo, which are not the only ones)13 and renewed and still disconnected social and political movements,14 among others, to reanalyze and reestablish critically and constructively the history of socialist15 and Marxist16 thought, both in theory and in practice, comprehensively across its broad spectrum of tendencies and independent forms of development at the international, regional, and national level to recreate it and even reinvent it,17 without overlooking the inadequacies and errors committed by the men who conceived of it, interpreted it and implemented it in a long and arduous historical age, in the socialist transition itself and in extremely difficult circumstances, towards the final destination of communism, or as some say, towards postcapitalism — twenty-first century socialism — which emancipates the human being, socially and individually, in the fullest sense, and not that “neodevelopmentalist” and “extractive” postcapitalism about which so much is written today.

It is a colossal mission that consists, first and foremost, of contributing collectively, modestly, and humbly, in spite of the ever-present differences between the divergences on the Left, which should not lead to destructive and sterile discussions and splits,18 to the recognition and active recovery of that classic, original and creative ideology,66 containing the best things written and created up to the present, hybridized harmonically with the most advanced of the historical-cultural traditions of humanity, of each national history, which is particular and unique to its people. And it overcomes, therefore, the most prominent of utopian and real (liberal) bourgeois rational modernity and its numerous schools of thought and tendencies (without underestimating what is valid in them), but which unquestionably excedes it ideopolitcally and ethically with practical revolutionary rationality, which is very far from instrumental morals, and is immersed, in contrast, in emancipatory morals; and is also an initiator of ruthless and destructive criticism against all the established powers of the bourgeois mode of production and, likewise, the founder of the weapon of revolutionary self-criticism, which is capable of undertaking renewal and permanent updating of its thought and acts.

A Marxist and socialist theory (not necessarily the same thing) in which transformative praxis is intrinsic, as criterion to approach the truth, with its rigid-flexible and recreated militant principles—outside of formulas and a priori plans19—that does not overlook and ignore their short, medium, and long term eclipses, as happen with any theoretical-practical conception that is born, develops and “dies” (without falling into the recurrent apocalyptic and extincionist theories),which is to say, is transformed into its endless zigzags, signs that manifest its continuities-ruptures, of purposes and outcomes, often times unexpected and unknown, provided in part by the presence of incalculable intermediations, the intersubjectivity of human beings and by that indecipherable “parallelogram of forces” that Friedrich Engels masterfully described in his letter to Joseph Bloch in September of 1890, that eliminates the vulgar economic view that was imposed on the idea of determinism,20 which constitutes an unsurpassable lesson of unforgettable historical dialectics that must be present in the analysis and critical interpretations of objective and subjective reality, including (inter-) subjectivities.

This is why we assert that it is not possible to arrive at partial or final conclusions about whether, precisely, we find ourselves in a “age of change” or in a “change of age,” as revolutionary leaders and intellectuals of the world, especially Latin Americans, say in their speeches. Revolutionary optimism should not cloud or confuse really existing conditions, especially when imperialist capitalism has wrapped up in a multiple structural and functional crisis since 2006-2008 and still can find no way out towards a “saving” reconfiguration, but is much more aggressive towards mutant processes. Any simplistic and reductionist vision could disarm us before a unilateral capitalist World (dis)-Order—even if hints of very selective multilateralism are announced in the presence of a group of emerging powers (BRICs or G-20)—that pronounces and carries out, through the capitalist-imperialist centers of power, the most cynical and openly interventionist policies to reestablish, on an anti-ethical and illegal basis, its “renewed” domain and military, economic-commercial, cultural and political planetary hegemony over countries and peoples that are opposed to their designs. A true re-neocolonization and a new division of the world.

What is truly verifiable is that contemporary society is going through a very complex historical-critical transitional moment, immersed in an expanded cycle of the recessive development of globalized capitalist imperialism in its often-mentioned post-industrial, hyper- or meta-industrial phase—within what is called history of long duration21—that is being raised and complemented by the new phase of the third scientific-technical revolution, which began in the ’90s of the last century, in which none of the processes and events currently under way can be considered finalized, because they are conditioned by the obvious crisis of civilization, of epoch, and of the ideologies that coexist in the so-called “perplexed” history of humanity that conceptually and functionally questions the paradigm of Western capitalist hegemonic Modernism—written with a capital "M," because other modernities coexist with it—announce the exhaustion of consumerist and predatory instrumental rationality of the system of multiple domination of capital,22 with their world centers of power or the so-called ostensible world government, under the aegis of declining US imperialism.23

It is an intense period of dynamic recomposition of the correlation of geopolitical forces at the international, regional, and national level. Added to this are drastic mutations in almost all countries, provoked, in part, by endless immigration from the country to the city and from the underdeveloped world to the developed world as a result of polarized inequalities, nations’ internal and external debts, wars and imposed violence that are creating new zones of high labor precariousness, unemployment, marginal density, misery and massive poverty; of a social class reconfiguration where the third sector of the economy occupies a more and more preponderant place and, therefore, groups and sectors of workers being relocated into what are called financial, cultural, IT, communication and services industries—without abandoning traditional forms of producing in cities and fields; in which the informal sector seems to substitute for common public and private jobs; in a world in which acute conflicts and tensions coexist in gender, generational, age, sexual, racial, national, ethnic, religious problems and those of original peoples; also as a product of the endless and growing migratory movements that have brought with them identity-based nomadism, the dislocation of identities, the cross-border and porous nature of countries and the reinforcement of hybrid cultures24 by an excessive penetration of ideas through the multiple and “unique” channels of communication; as well as of unculminated attempts at epistemological dialogues, among them the rebirth of the epistemologies of original peoples, subject to a true epistemicide in the process of conquest-colonization, in which the survivors of genocide have returned to contemporaneousness their more and more weighted ancestral knowledge. These are social subjects and phenomena recognized in the dialectics of the existence of identity in diversity.

And where humanity is, in turn, facing unusual changes in traditional paradigms25—which does not mean that they are totally obsolete, as the postmodernism of the Right proclaimed—of linguistic and semantic systems, of computerization and interpersonal communication between groups and societies, prioritizing exchanges, most of the time, diachronic to heterogeneous information, knowledge and cultures (multiculturalism),26 among other phenomena, that can be summarized in a geo-cultural and strategic change of the (pre-)established planetary map, in which the options to save the human species from the holocausts of war and ecological destruction, weakened biodiversity and ecosystems, the changes in climate patterns, the multiple crisis: financial, economic, energy, and food, all caused by the irrational and disfunctional model of production–consumption of the rich, developed, Western North, which leads, without fail, and more than ever, to the relegitimation of battle slogan of the Marxist Rosa Luxemburg, which is more true than ever: Socialism or Barbarism.

Finally, together with that reordering and restructuring, which does not exclude the maladjustments and large-scale capitalist-imperialist social decomposition across the geopolitical atlas, innumerable fronts of heterogeneous struggles and popular resistance have been forging, expanding and deepening—though occasionally only perceived in very localized Third-World regions and zones of the globe27—because of their composition and geographic location (geopolitics), that propose again and again the reprocessing of political programs, whether minimal or maximal—which now must be very flexible and transmute into each other—strategies and tactics of struggle, as well as the methods of confronting the globalization of neoconservative—or neoliberal—transnational capitalism in their countries and regions, that signal an important phase in the recovery and gradual accumulation of classist and social combat—more diverse and heterodox than before—envisioning the emergence of a historical-political multiple subject, without erasing, as some scholars do in a simple “sleight of hand,” the working class as the center of the spectrum of class struggle, capable of taking paths to effect revolutionary transformation—Social Revolution—influencing subjectively and actively-catalyzingly on the gradual destruction or liquidation of the capitalist system-world: a whole renewed and plural historical-political gravedigger of capital.

The diversity of the new (some not so novel) current social and political movements, including indigenous/original peoples, picketers, community, neighborhood, environmentalist or ecological, the landless, anti-FTAA, anti-Free-Trade-Treaty, anti-external debt, alternatives to neoliberal globalization, recovered businesses, feminists, gay and transsexuals, anti-war or pacifist, religious, pro-human rights, etc., demonstrates the inevitable emergence in the recognized sociocultural, national, class, ethnic, racial, gender, and age diversity, among others, and from the intersubjective spaces that have been created, of which is necessary to take possession realistically in the polemic debate on how to take on, respect and deploy that heterogeneity in the search for a connection that provides us with an anti-capitalist-system identity.28

The bourgeoisie and the Right know, from historical experience, that one of the worst dangers for their system of domination is the growth of social explosions (and let us affirm that everything social becomes political) and the boom of revolutionary organizations that take steps towards an awakening of a global political actor.

Recent events have reactivated the classic double debate about, on the one hand, the relations between organization and spontaneity and, on the other hand, the relations between militant organization and mass electoral parties, unions and popular and social movements. And it is extremely important to pay attention to that whole process of enrichment and the complexity of the battles of the present and the future.29


Notwithstanding, within these varied and contradictory scenarios, succinctly described, new challenges are imposed on the mission of recreating and developing more democratic and solidarity-based political and civil original societies, with more autonomous and participatory associations, cooperatives and forms of self-management among wage laborers, included the unemployed, the marginalized, and sectors of the informal market, in the exploitative, oppressive and alienating capitalist system.30 And a renewed vision to characterize that contemporary imperialist capitalism is urgent, both in the countries of the rich, developed North and of the influence and its distinctive features in the so-called Third World—the geopolitical South—as well as in what are known as the "reserves" of the Third World or the periphery of the First.

And because that turbulent, disturbing and also optimistic sociohistorical, tensional and dynamic panorama urgently needs to revalue current social and political movements, unions that have survived the ruthless attack-disassembly of neoliberal capitalism, the traditional parties of the Left, critical social thinkers, and revolutionary Marxists, the readjustment of theory and the practice concerning the State, methods of governability, political-administrative-social direction and management at all levels, as well as the updating of the philosophical labor of education of the masses in capitalism, during the worker takeover of power and when they exercise the reins of government and/or of power, to avoid that relapse once again into the hands of bureaucratism and bourgeois technocracy, even those that are incubated within socialism itself.

This is an epistemological place where the educator learns from the educated, and it avoids the perverse manipulation of citizens with distortion and misrepresentation of the facts and historical-political processes by the ideology of the oppressive and exploitative capitalist system and the surviving symbols of the ancien regime in the new revolutionary project. Because it seems to be easy to forget and underestimate the power of capital to create a fragmented, atomized, sectoralized society, one that is divided in selfish and individualist micro-particles, allegedly isolated from each other, in spite of the extreme objective socialization of the transnationalization that capital itself imposes and determines, which reinforces that multidivision into small groups. As Iñaki Gil de San Vicente says, “(…) Only in the everyday clamor of the struggle against oppression can the being human know the true nature of capitalism. Academic intellectuality—non-organic, we add—turns so quickly towards reformism or to the Right, because, among other things, it feels horror at organized activism. Another thing it is necessary to say about student sectors is that, being progressive, they think that is enough to be up to date on the latest intellectual fashions. The Leninist organization can and should contribute an all-encompassing critical praxis totalizing of inhuman bourgeois commodification, although meritorious individual efforts can reach a fairly broad perception of the problem, but unilateral and tending towards sectarian individualism by not being contrasted by critical collective praxis that only a revolutionary organization guarantees.”31

Everything can and should be carried out from the bottom up, inverted and horizontally,32 but not should go back to the sole and ubiquitous systems of socialist direction and governability without real and effective feedback from the social grassroots, to extreme statist formulas—some authors call it statolatry—and verticalist methods and of command and control, that may work in specific circumstances and situations, but have been demonstrated to be permeated with difficulties that hinder, fossilize, routinize and formalize the wealth of true popular participation, in particular the working masses; old schemes that can (semi) operate in mobilizations and convocational capacities, but which are inapplicable in the definition of macros and micros policies, in decision-making and in the management, control and regulation of the State economy and its cooperative-self-managed solidarity forms.

In history of socialist and Marxist thought and the practice—and there are different Marxisms and socialisms—it has been of vital necessity for the modern working class and its eternal heterogeneous social movement, under the influence of multiple ideopolitical tendencies, that wage laborers of all kinds deploy various forms and associative contents—the seed and development of civil and political society as a whole, tensional and dynamic counterpart and complement of the State—with the purpose of being contrasted with the brutal, exploitative, and alienating capitalist mode of production. So is it that, from the very beginning of the birth and development of the working class, the worker movement and the modern union movement—three categories or concepts that name different essences and phenomena—throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the recently begun twenty-first century, cooperativization and self-management constituted the first embryonic and spontaneous forms, which were more or less conscious, of producer associations, of consumption, and above all, of egalitarian and solidarity-based distribution among the workers who joined them voluntarily.

Any definition of them, after the experience of the English textile workers of Rochdale in 1844, continues with several basic ideas about those beginnings, though these should reviewed and renewed. Because a cooperative constitutes an autonomous association of people grouped voluntarily to satisfy their economic, social and cultural common (and spiritual) needs, by means of a business that is possessed as a whole and is controlled democratically, which is to say by the majority of its members. Therefore, they work towards ends other than profit, and individualist ambitions should not be manifested within it, even though they respect individuality. Its governability is established on a democratic basis, which is why each partner can become it leader, in some cases, on a rotating basis. It is not permissibel to speculate with the stocks of the members and with the benefits obtained, which are returned to members equally, on the basis of the patronage of each one.

Even if the spirit of solidarity and internationalism is prized, it must function equitably, without a distinction for who provided the greater amount, or even because of seniority. Cooperativism, which now must be of a new kind, puts into practice the values of equality, justice, mutual aid, effort itself, honesty, social responsibility, democracy, constructiveness, sacrifice and solidarity. These can also be instilled by the implantation of educational systems within cooperatives themselves.

Because of this, cooperativization as an economic and social system—which is not at odds with ideology and socialist politics, as was and continues to be mistakenly asserted by an old mentality—is based on ideas that go from mutual aid to prioritizing human beings over money (often times exchange and/or benefit is based on bartering or the simple exchange of products), from equitable participation in the profits (in this case, benefits) to the achievement of an egalitarian society—which is not synonymous with egalitarianism. Still, at the same time, they must accomplish accumulation to be able to reproduce itself and increase in members and production, as well as increase their efficiency, efficacy and autonomy.

It is true that, in their first sprouts, these associations with their reformist, economistic and utopian vision, very much in keeping with the times, did not go beyond simple subsistence within the capitalist system, without trying alter its status quo. And that feature remains present. Due to these characteristics, some authors have called it "light," because they were also considered apolitical and nihilistic. However, that persistence in an essence that was reformist-liberal, later utopian socialist, social-democratic and of Marxism that was non-radical—a word that comes etymologically from "roots"—spread over time together with its foundational sins of not being anti-systemic and counterhegemonic to capitalism.

Cooperatives and so-called self-management, which are substantially different, can and should be united, a process that would be the ideal, because they have continued to corroborate, in practice, that workers can subsist without bourgeois employers, but failed in the attempt to develop in a medium that was very hostile to them by nature and suffered innumerable defeats that continue to date.

After the experience of the Paris Commune (1871), the triumph of Bolshevik-socialist Russian Revolution (1917), the victory of socialism in Eastern Europe (1945), the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban Revolutions, cooperatives with certain degree of autonomy and self-managed forms, at their different scales, were present in the socioeconomic and political agendas of the workers and their socialist and communist vanguards. Cooperatives always predominated and only the Yugoslav case developed a sui generis self-managed tendency, which should be studied in detail.

However, there were many fiascos and very few successes in these processes of cooperativization and self-management in triumphant socialism. The same thing happened, though for different reasons, in the bosom of bourgeois societies.

In the first case, excessive intrusion of the socialist State left them without a capacity for autonomy — it made their plans, excessively controlled their budgets and choose to decide from above, as well as teaching the impossibility of their managing their budgets, buying their supplies, marketing their products, and distributing the benefits among their members and to the rest of society. In the second case, the bourgeois State tried—successfully, in most cases—to corrupt, divert, co-opt and destroy the real intentions of these worker-popular forms of entrepreneurialism. Every trace of empowerment through economic and social power that could become an option contrary to capitalism was overtly or covertly hindered.

Likewise, there are many examples of cooperatives, self-managed or not, appearing with the idea of supporting the rest of society, but which were transformed into “cooperative” corporate businesses, several into capitalist transnationals, in which they started operating with extreme competition under the law of supply and demand, in which their production and marketing was carried out in both the internal and external market under the unequal laws of capitalism. Plain and simple, they did not escape the logic of the system of multiple domination of capital.

The case of Mondragon, however, would be the most symptomatic to which we must pay attention to get to know its small virtues and its numerous defects and distortions.

The development of Marxist and socialist theory after the death of V. I. Lenin, in 1924, unfortunately, left cooperatives and worker self-management in an opaque and (dis)-qualified position, given the undisputed and enormous historical difficulties that arose in the practical realization of the association of free workers in a triumphant socialism that always occurred at the undeveloped periphery, surrounded and constantly besieged by global industrialism, and also by the serious deviations unleashed during its construction and endogenous development, where Stalinism was a real example of anomaly and distortion.

But in the new socialist State to build,33 cooperatives and self-managed forms would no longer be mere egalitarian, paternalistic and assistentialist works of charity, but regulators of fuller equity, equality and social justice, adding very important missions like real empowerment of the workers, relative economic sustainability, care for man-nature harmony, the environmental ecology, bioethics and solidarity, not only in the heart of their countries but beyond, connecting with other cooperative and self-managed forms of people in the differnt regions and on the planet. It could be said that we urgently need a transnationalization-socialization of connection, cooperation, collaboration, solidarity and internationalism between all those who fight against the transnationalised system of capitalist exploitation: a renewed internationalism that does not renounce or reduce the real emancipation of labor, and by extension the human being, and where, by right, there are cooperatives and self-managed communal-popular forms.

The reification of the political must be delinked from the social-protest and the ethical-political and, therefore, we must rescue the importance of building new methods and modes of human coexistence, or what some call new, alternative social interaction patterns in which liberating—understood as politically and humanly emancipatory—demands cannot be postponed for a predictable future, because they constitute — at the beginning, during and always — the very reasons for revolutionary struggle. We must redefine the notion of politics. The political is not only in the framework of institutionality and the government, but must be located, because of its very nature, in the diverse social world, creating connections in the search for an identity which is not and will not be uniform. Likewise, self-management, which is different from cooperativism, though they can be linked, becomes a true school of dealienated and dealienating political exercises, which is why it is also a transversal methodology that crosses alternative economic, social and political practices, creating counterhegemony and preparing subjects to not repeat verticalist and domineering practices, which is to say, it creates the base for a new, populist statehood, with another kind of planning. And that does not mean that the role of the State is omitted and disparaged in socialism, but if the popular subject surpasses it with experiences of accumulation in self-managed leadership and confrontation, it will be easier to avoid or prevent the hypertrophying of its functions.

But, we repeat, these socioeconomic, ideological-political and cultural constructions must be carried out on a complicated international stage that should not be forgotten with naivety or underestimation. The reconfiguration and counterattack of the internal Right and global industrialism could put an end to any national and regional effort if sociopolitical actors blindly or myopically overlook the real correlation of forces and act on the plane local without knowing what extraordinary powers they face at the global level, and vice-versa.


There are very few experiences of cooperativism and self-management in Cuba: we can say that are being developed in a new and definitive stage.34

A synthesis can demonstrate that, though created fundamentally in the agricultural sector since the application of the First Law of Agrarian Reform in 1959, when the first of Credit, Service and Production Cooperatives emerged, the debate that existed with the vision of orthodox Marxism about whether these forms would lead to creating petty bourgeoisie mentalities in the producers meant that they sailed with very little luck and political understanding. At last, State farms—the large State property—dominated over the cooperative experience, which had several stages. In 1972, with the entry of Cuba into the Council of Mutual Aid Economic (CAME), existing cooperatives in Cuba were those that demonstrated their worth in production and distribution of food in the agricultural sector (in 1968, the remains of the small ownership industrial and commercial were taken over and nationalized). Small landowners united in the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) have been, through the present, the most productive in agricultural work.

But the cooperative process in Cuba, even though in many cases it proliferated among the membership, had the handicap of strong socialist State intervention (planning and budgeting) that, most of the time, slowed the initiatives. That meant that everything from the number of cooperators, the price of what was produced, how to bring it to the market—collection or through other intermediaries—even the forms of self-directing (including budgeting) was determined from above by State bodies. Although it is true that the construction of socialism in Cuba has been pressured by the abnormal presence of hostility from the US establishment with its aggressive and genocidal policy, whose most visible face is the blockade.

And it is at this moment for Cuba, after the celebration of the VI Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (2011) and their First National Conference (2012), that an expedited way was opened to update the socialist model nationally, where the cooperatives and, in the future, the forms of worker self-management have vital space to deploy all their potential.35 A space where the basic question lies and remains focused on global control of work processes by associated workers, and not simply in the question of how exert property rights over the means of production. Of how to accomplish a necessary harmony between centralized planning and decentralizing processes, the struggle against excessive bureaucratization, the avoidance of extreme verticalism—and the instrumentalization of horizontalism—and gradual elimination of the systems of command and control and other practices inherited from the system of multiple domination of capital that reproduced metabolically in the heart of socialist societies and inside cooperatives and self-managed societies, damaging its principles of serving society, collective freedom, solidarity and internationalism.

An epilogue of sorts

As the crisis of the capitalist mode arises, expands and intensifies, the need for revolutionary organization—which should not necessarily be a party in the old sense—cannot be put off, but the solution to this problem that can become decisive will depend on how it acted in periods of “calm and “normality”—were they really?—when some generalize the erroneous idea that exploitation and oppression have disappeared (with the end of imperialism and other malicious nonsense) or about that they have softened up enough that several “deciduous theories” are no longer necessary, including Marxism and critical social thought.

If no social collective has kept the organizational embryo and its social-political belligerence alive, the bourgeoisie will scarcely find organized resistance, much less revolutionary programs that facilitate the leap from social unrest to political consciousness within a program of socialist transformation. The internal and external Right will move freely, knowing it has many resources to prevent the indignation of a minority from being transformed into a rebellion of the majority. Without revolutionary organization, there is no revolutionary movement, and vice-versa.

In the Cuban case, the Congress of the PCC and its conference, already mentioned, proclaimed their support for decentralization strategies, for continuing to cut the administrative apparatus of the State and the Government, ceding powers towards local governments and l ministries (in frank restructuring and availability of personal, given overstaffing), respect for the autonomy of the entrepreneurial system, the advancement of local development and of municipal, provincial and national life, and the expansion of non-State forms of management, grant in usufruct land and local for the development of agricultural, industrial, and service cooperative forms, plus self-employment.

Notwithstanding, changes must explicitly inter-link State decentralization with the endless building of citizenship, of the collective and individual human being, with the promotion of popular-citizenship forms of life based on the values of self-organization, autonomy, solidarity and responsible socialist consumption.

To acheive this, the necessary economic decentralization must democratize life of the business from below. On many occasions, not enough emphasis is put on in worker participation and on People Power, nor is the development of forms of popular-citizen control over mercantile activity deepened, such as by submitting all forms of ownership to greater social, community and environmental responsibility, and to the principles of the care economy (rights of citizenship), establishing citizen mechanisms for the protection of consumer rights and remedying of prejudices, establishing broader labor rights for non-State wage laborers, anti-monopoly legislation (whether state, cooperative or private), etc.36

And these essential aspects, which did not have that initial space, have been appearing and will emerge with greater strength, to the extent that a more integral cadre is formed that takes into account not only social economics but the political, legal, ideological, and many others aspects of citizen life — in the end, socialist democratization in all its ramifications.

What socialism do we want in Cuba? When will that long, medium and short-term program be ready? It is these questions that approximate the multiple concerns about people, the government and the Cuban political directorate, its Party, about how to organize and project their sense of life with a collective historical perspective from daily life, how and why to accomplish a predominant popular consensus around the revolutionary transformative process, how to connect the diversity of meanings while respecting the multiple identities that make it up, how to not stop being active and transformative subjects, how to connect needs, interests, desires, knowledge and individual and collectives values in the Cuban socialist project. They are demands of social practice that only can find responses in the profound dialectical connection of a diversity of cognition, evaluation, expression, knowledge, and actions that converge in the current Cuban context.37 Socialism as a catalyzing and emancipatory process of transformative human capacities, is built on collective and humanist values and has a critical, ethical, creative, and eminently political nature.

To try promote a socialist ideal outside of the needs and interests of the everyday life of the men and women that build the socialist society leads to failure of the experience and to the discredit of the guiding ideal, which may vary but not lose its foundational essences. We must be prepared fearlessly rectify immediately, because the Cuban Revolution is, for the first time, against the national, regional and international time-space in its long battle of 54 years of indisputable victories, and that means that a tactical or strategic error could lead to its failure and reversibility that would be very self-destructive.

The unity around socialism cannot be a slogan or a mediocre campaign; it has to respond to the ability of the process of integrating actions and heterogeneous relationships to reproduce transcendental and everyday life out of mutual respect, solidarity, care, a culture of coexistence, protection of nature and self-sustainability, and with an epistemological and praxiological vision not only towards the endogenous, but towards the exogenous in all its dimensions.

The directors of the Cuban Revolution and the predominant consensus of the people have proclaimed themselves to be for a prosperous and sustainable socialism, which has to be rebuilt every day, at all hours and in every instant. The liberating utopia that expresses the popular desire to change things confronts the common sense of what is established, the old mentality, inertia and immobility, corruption, illegalities and crimes, bureaucratism and technocracy inserted into a society which is prepared to take new steps towards meeting the New Man, extolled by Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

The depth and the speed—without hurry but without pause, Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz has said on multiple occasions—that demands updates to the Cuban socialist model, require greater coherence and harmony between talk and practice. The current processes of changes in Cuban society advocate for integrated national and local development, however, in these spaces, it is manifest that there are still divisions and fragmentation between institutions and social actors, partial ignorance of the objectives of the project that calls for change, absence of holistic strategic visions in some leaders and directors at high, medium and low levels, a lack of transparency in decision-making and resource management, a predominant thoughtless immediacy in the carrying out of the process, which is synonymous with volunteerism and idealism; strong social relationships are not built between social actors; secretive, sectarian and discriminatory attitudes are presented; prejudices and taboos exist that limit interpersonal communication; verticalism and authoritarianism are reproduced to work and call on a diversity of actors.

Cooperatives and worker self-management are not a panacea for these evils, but they can become an indispensible democratizing mediation if we do not detour and distort the course of their practical implementation. They are part of the diverse paths that must be cleared to continue in the complex process towards the unknown that is building or moving towards socialism, the path to communism.

In that great socialist task—and to be agitated is to subvert and make revolution permanently—Cuban society and its Revolution moves irreversibly.

Dr. Orlando Cruz Capote
Havana, 13 August, 2013.

  1. Dr. Orlando Cruz Capote is Research Assistant of the Institute of Philosophy, of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, (CITMA), Cuba.

  2. R. Cervantes, F. Gil, R. Regalado y R. Zardoya, Transnacionalización y Desnacionalización. Ensayos sobre el Capitalismo Contemporáneo, Editorial Félix Varela, La Habana, 2002.

  3. Claudio Katz, Las disyuntivas de la izquierda en América Latina, Ediciones Luxemburg, Buenos Aires, 2008; Nils Castro, Las izquierdas LATINOAMERICANAS en tiempos DE CREAR, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2012; Nayar López Castellanos, Perspectivas del socialismo latinoamericano en el siglo XX, OCEAN SUR una editorial latinoamericana, Cuba, 2012.

  4. Roberto Regalado, La Izquierda latinoamericana en el gobierno: ¿alternativas o reciclaje?, OCEAN SUR una editorial latinoamericana, Cuba, 2012.

  5. Orlando Cruz Capote, “La urgencia de la unidad dentro de la diversidad enNuestra América,” enRevista Cubana de Ciencias Sociales, Nros. 38 / 39, Instituto de Filosofía, La Habana, 2009.

  6. Las diversas formas de integración, cooperación y complementación que están surgiendo y fortaleciéndose en América Latina-Caribe desde el ALBA, PetroCaribe, UNASUR, hasta MERCOSUR y la CELAC, por mencionar las más distintivas y dinámicas en los últimos años.

  7. Roberto Regalado, América Latina entre siglos: dominación, crisis, lucha social y alternativas políticas de la izquierda (edición actualizada), Ocean Sur, México, 2006; Eliades Acosta Matos, Imperialismo del siglo XXI. Las Guerras Culturales, Casa Editora Abril, La Habana, 2009.

  8. Luciano Vasapollo, La cara sucia de la Globalización, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2006.

  9. István Mészáros, La Teoría de la Enajenación en Marx, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, la Habana, 2005.

  10. Orlando Cruz Capote, Unas notas y dos visiones sobre la Perestroika y sus consecuencias, Revista Cubana de Ciencias Sociales, No.36-37, Instituto de Filosofía, La Habana, 2006.

  11. Michael Lebowitz, El socialismo no cae del cielo. Un nuevo comienzo, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2009.

  12. BeatrizStolowicz, Los desafíos del pensamiento crítico latinoamericano, Contexto Latinoamericano, No. 8, México D.F., 2008, pp. 135-144.

  13. Roberto Regalado, Encuentros y desencuentros de la izquierda latinoamericana: una mirada desde el Foro de São Paulo, Ocean Sur, México D.F., 2008.

  14. Ariel Dacal Díaz (compilador), Movimientos Sociales. Sujetos, alternativas y resistencias, Ruth Casa Editorial, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2010.

  15. “(…) even though socialism, in a sense, started long before, and in another meaning several decades after the great French Revolution, there is […] reasons sufficient to take the year 1789 like point of departure for un study of the development of modern socialist ideas. This is the moment from which is possible continue, not only continuous development in the sphere of thought, but also a growing connection between el thought and the movements that try to give him practical expression,” in G. D. H. Cole, Historia del Pensamiento Socialista I: Los precursores (1789- 850), T. I., Fondo de Cultura Económica, México D. F., 1986, p. 19.

  16. Atilio Borón, Javier Amadeo y Sabrina González (Compiladores), La Teoría marxista hoy. Problemas y perspectivas, CLASO, Buenos Aires, 2006.

  17. Renato Simoes, “Nueva agenda para partidos, movimientos sociales y gobiernos progresistas,” Contexto Latinoamericano, No. 9, México D.F., 2008, pp. 155-163.

  18. Orlando Cruz Capote, “Los principios éticos de una polémica desde la izquierda,” 16 de abril de 2008, en y otros medios digitales alternativos de izquierda.

  19. Orlando Cruz Capote, “Una vieja deuda. Los núcleos duros y esenciales de una teoría política de izquierda,” en dos partes, 4 y 5 de marzo de 2009, en, y otros medios alternativos de izquierda internacionales.

  20. Federico Engels, Carta a Joseph Bloch, Obras Escogidas (en 1 tomo), Editorial Progreso, Moscú, s/f, pp. 717-718.

  21. Frederic Jameson, La lógica cultural del capitalismo tardío, Centro de Asesoría y Estudios Sociales, Madrid, 2005; Ernest Mandel, Las ondas largas: ensayo de una explicación marxista, Revista Crítica Comunista, No. 143, París, 1995.

  22. Gilberto Valdés Gutiérrez, Posneoliberalismo y movimientos antisistémicos, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2009.

  23. Inmanuel Wallerstein, El Foro Social Mundial en la Encrucijada, en América Latina en Movimiento, No. 385-386, 20 de julio del 2004; La decadencia del poder estadounidense, Ediciones Le Monde Diplomatique, El Dipló, Capital Intelectual, Buenos Aires, 2006; Daniel Mato,Think Tanks, fundaciones y profesionales en la promoción de ideas (neo) liberales en América Latina, en Cultura y neoliberalismo, Alejandro Grimson (compilador), CLACSO, Buenos Aires, 2007.

  24. Daniel Mato (Compilador), Cultura, política y sociedad. Perspectivas latinoamericanas, CLACSO, Buenos Aires, 2005; Alejandro Grimson, Cultura y neoliberalismo, CLACSO, Buenos Aires, 2007.

  25. Pablo González Casanova, Las nuevas ciencias y las humanidades, De la Academia a la Política, Anthropos Editorial, México, 2004.

  26. Hugo Zemelman Merino, Conocimiento y Ciencias Sociales. Algunas lecciones sobre problemas epistemológicos, Universidad de la Ciudad de México, México, DF., 2003.

  27. Néstor Kohan, Marx en su (Tercer) Mundo. Hacia un socialismo no colonizado, Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello, La Habana, 2003; Fetichismo y hegemonía en tiempos de rebelión, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2005.

  28. Carlos Vilas, Democracia y alternativas al neoliberalismo, en América Latina y el Caribe: Perspectivas de su reconstrucción (Raquel Sosa Elízaga, coordinadora), Asociación Latinoamericana de Sociología, UNAM, México, 1996.

  29. Iñaki Gil de San Vicente, ¿Por qué y cómo debemos organizarnos?, en La Haine (digital), 30 de mayo de 2011.

  30. Andrés Ruggeri (Compilador),Las empresas recuperadas. Autogestión obrera en Argentina y América Latina, Editorial de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Programa Facultad Abierta, Secretaría de Extensión Universitaria, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2009.

  31. Idem.

  32. Isabel Rauber, Construcción de poder desde abajo. Claves para una Nueva Estrategia, Editorial Pasado y Presente XXI, Santo Domingo, República Dominicana, 2000; Movimientos sociales y representación política, Editorial Pasado y Presente XXI, Santo Domingo, República Dominicana, 2003. Romper el cerco, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2003.

  33. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Reinventar la democracia. Reinventar el Estado, Editorial José Martí, La Habana, 2005.

  34. Cooperativas y socialismo. Una mirada desde Cuba, Camila Piñeiro Harnecker Compiladora, Editorial Caminos, La Habana, 2012.

  35. Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, VI Congreso del PCC, Editora Política, La Habana, Abril de 2011; Primera Conferencia Nacional del Partido Comunista de Cuba, Editora Política, La Habana, 2012.

  36. Georgina Alfonso González, Diversidad plural y sentidos de vida ¿Qué socialismo queremos?, en Cuba: “transformaciones necesarias,” América Latina en Movimiento, No. 465, Año XXXV, II época, mayo 2011, pp.17-20,

  37. Idem.

The Spanish State: new resistance and self-management in the heart of the crisis

José Luis Carretero Miramar
Member of the Institute of Economic Sciences and Self-management (ICEA)

Self-management, syndicalism, constituent processes, popular resistance, class positions… this whole string of expressions have again found meaning in the Spanish State, tied to current events and material reality.

Social conflict and its expressions, constructive or destructive, unfolding in what was the global capital of the real-estate market and “the easy life,” of “party nights” and wild speculation.

More than three decades of a political regime that succeeded Francoism and is internationally recognized as a democracy (despite the obvious gaps in the institutional architecture and rules built out of the fibers of the earlier dictatorship), together with an economic proposal centered on construction, which has led to the greatest real-estate bubble in history (at least so far; records are made to be broken), created an especially conformist society, enormously resistant to even the slightest change in the political sphere, connected by the so-called “consensus” of the Transition.

Three decades of glitz, Olympics, entry into the European Union, adoption of the euro, fierce bipartisanship, the formation of an omnipresent “political caste” connected to the big parties and the different “clans” of construction business owners, worship of an untouchable monarchy, and iron control of information. These are the essential elements that structured, in terms of politics and the social narrative, the general pact of the elites, which proved enormously stable, and allowed for a certain inequitable redistribution, permitted by the temporary entry of a traditionally backward society into the First World.

But the magic threatens to be broken with the emergence of the global crisis of the capitalist system. Since 2008, a trillion euros of real-estate wealth have evaporated in Spain, and external debt, public and private, is figured by several sources at close to 2.3 trillion (million million) euros. It must be kept in mind, also, that this is mostly private debt of financial institutions and big businesses of the IBEX-35, in the midst of a process of socialization.

The data on social reality is more than alarming: an increase of 8% in poverty since the beginning of the crisis; an unemployment rate (in the first quarter of 2013) of 27.6% of the active population (6,202,700 unemployed, the highest rate in the European Union, together with Greece); more than 500 evictions1 daily; the first cases, in June of 2013, of malnutrition of grade-school children and fainting in the classrooms due to a lack of food; a total of 1,900,000 homes with all occupants unemployed; an unemployment coverage rate of 63% (which is to say, only 6 out of 10 unemployed are receiving some benefit or public subsidy for their situation)…

We could go on. The figures are chilling and testify to a dynamic of social and economic disconnection that has dragged the country into some of the last places in the European Union and a “debt trap” fed by social cuts and austerity measures imposed by the “Troika” (the Central European Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund). To avoid the bankruptcy of financial institutions, in summer of 2012, a European line of credit of 100 billion euros was accepted, of which 40 had already been used, in exchange for new reform measures, inspired by the most orthodox neoliberal creed.

Social resistance to this process has, of course, existed. It has been expressed primarily in the emergence of an innovative and massive phenomenon: it is called the May 15th Movement (or 15-M), which has experimented with new forms of political intervention and, of course, as we’ll see, with the recourse to self-management as a mechanism for productive organization.

If the only response to first round of cuts (pension freezes, salary cuts for public functionaries, privatization, and spending caps for the Administration) made by the socialist government in May of 2010 was a shy and disorganized strike by public functionaries and a one-day general strike on September 29th of the same year (which was weaker and more isolated than expected, maybe because of the demobilizing effect of the time since the measures), the following onslaught (deferred pension cuts in February of 2011) were only answered, given the passivity of the major unions that signed the agreement, by localized strikes in the Basque Country and Catalonia, and weak mobilizations by alternative syndicalism.

In March-April of 2011, the situation seemed to have stalled. The Left not affiliated with the Socialist Party generally showed a painful weakness and was lost in discouragement due to its inability to mobilize in the face of cuts and unprecedented social aggressions that were happening at a dizzying speed.

It was in this scenario that the events of the 15 of May of 2011 came as a wake-up call. Just before municipal elections (held the following weekend, and which the Right had every expectation of winning), a group of young people was camping in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol plaza, after being violently dispersed by the police following a demonstration against the crisis, encouraged by fledgling platforms like Democracia Real Ya [Real Democracy Now], or Jóvenes Sin Futuro [Youth Without a Future].

After resisting several attempted evictions and encouraged by the recent imagery of the resistance in the plazas of Arab countries in previous months, the encampment ended up becoming a massive phenomenon, with moments of high emotion, like when, thanks to the massive citizen presence, they stood up to the threat of the use of force by the police.

In a few days, the scene in Puerta del Sol became a veritable swarm of assembly-based and pluralist initiatives that tore through the seams of the old Left. Additionally, the movement was quickly imitated, and the camps were expanded throughout the country at a dizzying speed.

Additionally, the large assembly in Sol didn’t take long to facilitate its own expansion into the neighborhoods of Madrid, beginning a movement of popular assemblies in every district and in adjacent cities. All this created a dynamic of unified and massive participation, mainly centered on neighborhoods with more of a history of neighborhood marches, like Lavapies, Vallecas, or Retiro.

The eviction and the dispersion of the different camps did not prevent the transformation experienced by antagonistic sectors in those brief days from continuing for months (and even years), profoundly and innovatively, beginning a new cycle of struggles and expanded popular participation.

The proof of this new vitality has been the new social movements that have been building in recent years, some of which we will mention now:

Movements in defense of public services (the “Tides”)

The social cuts suffered as a result of austerity policies imposed by Europe have largely centered on implementing an ever-accelerating process of dismantling of State public utilities. Settings like education or health, therefore, have become the center stage for social conflict.

Starting from the experience of earlier citizen and union movements (like the anti-privatization Health Coordinator of Madrid), revived by obvious aggression by autonomic governments and fed by new participation by sectors that traditionally had stayed out of protests because of their situations of relative economic well-being (like specialist doctors), the movements have worked on the creation of a recognizable image (the green T-shirts of teachers and white for health workers in Madrid, for example) and of the promotion of mass activities like demonstrations, sectoral strikes, workplace closures, performances, or occupations of public places.

An example of that was the secondary education strike in Madrid during the last months of 2011, which motivated the beginning of classes on the street, by teachers, as well as the emergence of assembly organization mechanisms (the so-called Green Network) or the use of practices like blocking central city streets or occupying schools.

However, their dispersion, the often times ambivalent attitude of the major unions, and their inability to converge at the same time and place have meant that, while they are far from being defeated, they have been slowing down “separately” and “in turn” in different Autonomous Communities (let’s remember that in the Spanish State, certain public utilities, like Education or Health, are the responsibility of the autonomy communities [regions], which establish different regulations, though equally neoliberal, concerning the personnel they have hired).

The Platform of Those Affected by Mortgages (PAH) and the struggle against evictions

The gigantic real-estate bubble created in the Spanish State over the last decades has created, in the heat of the crisis, a socially unsustainable situation. Hundreds of thousands of mortgage-holders have been unable (with the increase in unemployment and the drop in the prices of their houses) to keep up with their debts. The banks have insisted on evictions and continuing to pursue the former owners with the idea of making the most possible from the loans (let us remember that in the Spanish State, civil legislation does not allow for cancellation of payments, which is why the mortgage-holder, after being evicted and the house auctioned, continues to owe the part of the loan and interest not paid by the amount from the auction). The situation of abandonment and social exclusion that evicted families end up in has pushed some people to suicide.

Coming out of the struggles against the increased cost of housing at the beginning of the century, the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (known in Spanish as PAH), which is assembly-based and has numerous local chapters across Spain, has organized debtors to confront evictions and promote a change in legislation.

So, PAH has launched the “Stop Evictions” campaign, which consists of the attempt to physically avoid judicial dispossession through the massive presence of neighbors and activists. This campaign has undoubtedly borne fruits, both in the media (PAH has been transformed into the figurehead on the prow of social marches, and its leaders, like Barcelona’s Ada Colau, into well-known personalities) and in practice (at this writing, more than 711 evictions have been avoided this way in recent years).

Additionally, PAH has fought for a Popular Legislative Initiative on the topic of mortgages, with three fundamental points: an immediate moratorium on evictions, cancellation of payments (that the debt be considered repaid with transfer of the house), and the formation of a public park of houses for social rent. The initiative was finally processed in Congress, under popular pressure, but its content was totally decaffeinated by the deputies, so as to not damage financial institutions. During the processing of the text, PAH launched a campaign of peaceful escraches against the legislators, which resulted in having to face obvious attempts at criminalization by the media and the dominant political parties, which reached the point of insinuating relationships between Ada Colau[^47] and terrorism.

Since September of 2010, PAH has also implemented its own “Obra Social,” consisting of the occupation of empty buildings belonging to the same banks that carry out evictions, by neighbors and families that have been object of dispossession. They have occupied ten buildings in Catalonia and another twelve in Andalusia (the famous “Corralas”), as well as some individual buildings in other places. On several occasions (like in the Catalan town of Terrace, where the occupation affects eleven families) it has been possible to legalize the situation through social rent contracts with local cooperatives.

So, the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages has become one of the essential pieces of popular mobilization, and one of the principle tools to go from mere demands to the implementation of effective and participatory solutions from the grassroots. Its popularity has grown like mushrooms, and its frenetic activity in resisting evictions has expanded through neighborhoods and towns, often times in parallel with the emergence of popular assemblies of 15-M or neighborhood organizations of mutual support and the solidarity networks that have proliferated in recent months.

Labor resistance and general strikes

Also since 2010 and the beginning of austerity measures set in motion under direct orders from Brussels, the Spanish labor community has been restless and changing, although it is true that, given the consistently passive attitude of the major unions, not as much as might be hoped.

We must remember that, together with cuts for public-service workers and massive layoffs, the labor situation has been marked by two large reforms in social legislation: one under the socialist government of Zapatero, and the other under the direction of the conservative executive of Mariano Rajoy.

These reforms amount to “revolutions” in labor law, seriously affecting essential elements of labor relations like dismissal or collective bargaining. The common thread between them is the increased flexibility to be able to fire workers (lowering severance costs, introducing new causes or eliminating procedural requirements), thus making it possible (for the businessperson) to individually and unilaterally modify working conditions. We are also approaching the demolition (which is out of control, because in fact, even concrete sectors of the bosses have opposed it) of the Spanish system of collective bargaining (going to an architecture based on the preeminence of business agreements, on the facilitation of dropping what was agreed on due to difficulties faced by the boss, and on the “dynamic” essence of collective agreements).

Resistance has taken the form of frequent worker mobilizations, even though in many cases they weak, and centered principally, as we have already indicated, on public-service workers (some in obvious situation of precariousness and very easily affected by reforms, like janitors or municipal service workers), and on three large General Strikes, convened by the major unions almost unwillingly, under pressure from the union rank and file and from alternative organizations and citizens.

Some mobilizations (like the ones held by the Metro workers of Madrid or the air-traffic controllers, in 2010) have had important impacts on the media, and nearly all have found themselves up against a widespread media narrative aimed at presenting the workers as “privileged,” because they still have jobs and “good” working conditions in a context of uncontrollable expansion of unemployment and precariousness.

General Strikes at the state level since the beginning of the crisis (September 29, 2010, March 22 and November 14, 2012) were forced on union leadership by the grassroots and alternative syndicalism, because the leaders of C.O. and UGT2 have repeatedly resisted creating a Greek-style dynamic of continuous labor unrest. Each strike has been bigger and more socially diverse than the previous, and in this framework, the possibility has begun to take shape of the emergence of new forms of action related to the neighborhood work done by the 15-M Movement.

Precisely, the inability of the growing precarious layer of the proletariat to mobilize, and the difficulties in creating the necessary job security to carry out an isolated one-day strike in the sectors most adhered to the new labor norms based on temp work and the increased flexibility in dismissal, have been the main ballast that have prevented general strikes from working like they did at the end of the ’80s, paralyzing all of social life.

In the framework of work stoppages centered mainly on industry and some public utilities, many services and businesses only close as the protestors pass, opening their doors again minutes later, which would only seem to be able to be addressed through the rebuilding of an authentic autonomous local counterpower capable of weaving networks between workers subject to precariousness in the same surroundings.

In this scenario, the activity of alternative syndicalism (organized mainly, though not exclusively, at the regional level, by the anarcho-syndicalist organizations CGT, CNT and Solidarity Obrera), has consisted of forming “Unitary Blocks” to converge with certain assemblies of 15-M and other social organizations in ongoing action campaigns aimed at forcing a call for general or sectoral strikes (like the one in several kinds of public transportation that happened in a coordinated fashion in Madrid and Barcelona on September 15, 2012). The fragmentation of “minority” syndicalism and its internal struggles (even inside each organization) make it hard for them to present a viable alternative, today, to the majority, except in Basque and Galician areas, where nationalist unions of assorted kinds have managed to sweep away the prominence of CO and UGT, calling several general strikes in their respective territories, with a broad following.

“Constituents”: A new republicanism?

Without a doubt, one of the most surprising phenomena from the wave of mobilizations sparked by 15-M has been the emergence of a whole new narrative, with an organizational and activity framework defined by the demand for the immediate opening of a “constituent process,” both at the national level and at the scale of concrete territories like Catalonia.

Constituted around cross-class alliances that are difficult to define and classify from the perspective of the previous transformative Left, the new “constituent movement” (which is not made up of one unified, concrete organization) has come to life in specific mobilizations (such as September 25, 2012, as an emblematic case of the several attempts to launch a peaceful “assault” on Congress) and in debate mechanisms and growing formal connections (such as the Constituent Days convened by the Coordinador 25-S).

Together with State structures (like the Coordinator created after the mobilizations of September 25, the Constituyentes organization, or, on a level defined in the media as the most radical, the Coordinadora En Pie), the perspective of transforming the Constitutional architecture has also permeated new independence initiatives, mainly in Catalonia, following the largest mobilizations for self-determination in that territory since the end of Francoism.

The ideological foundation of this world is tremendously varied. In this cross-class and often confrontational amalgam, narratives can be found in defense of assemblies, of the new Latin American constitutions, of wikigovernment and forms of electronic democracy, of Swiss-style participatory democracy, of single-member districts of Anglo-Saxon inspiration, and more. The common thread is the denunciation of the anti-democratic nature of a political architecture built on the mythologized Spanish “Transition.” This was an institutional construction based on consensus among elites, depoliticization of citizenship, an unrepresentative “partyocracy,” and tendency towards corruption and the defense of the most ancient imaginings of the earlier social conservatism (monarchy, privileges for the ecclesiastical hierarchy, etc.). Many of its “topics” unconsciously amount to a new version of the historical, pre-Franco “federal republicanism”; but its discourse and its people can be traced to enormously varied environments (some centralist parties with rightward leanings, certain libertarian tendencies, fans of Anonymous, several tendencies of the “autonomous” world, classic Marxists, “life-long” republicans, independents…).

All these movements presented so far are some of the knots in a more and more complex and multifaceted net. Encouraged by the parties and unions of the “classical” Left, the autonomous initiatives of the social movements of the previous decades, popular assemblies and various organizations derived from 15-M and the “Tides,” coordinators, platforms, and networks of all kinds, the social movement has reached a previously unknown magnitude and gained respect for its breadth, its ability to advocate, and, at the same time, its pluralism and organizational and thematic heterogeneity, in a scene that is complex, rich, and also, it must be said, often times enormously confusing.

In the middle of this boiling magma, resorting to the self-managed perspective and the revival of earlier experiences, or the building of new initiatives, around cooperativism, is more and more popular, being very topical at the moment.

Neighborhood assemblies, often times transmuted into “solidarity networks” or “precarious offices,” together with earlier organizations, like certain unions or autonomous social movements, have favored and promoted the building of cooperatives and other experiences (like bartering networks, time banks, social currencies and markets, or the occupation of houses and towns), as an essential tool to face the immediate effects of unemployment and impoverishment, and as instruments that can prefigure the new social design sought with the demonstrations, beyond the neoliberal model based on predation and looting.

They are varied and heterogeneous initiatives, whose common thread is often times a practical approach to obvious collective problems, like impoverishment, the scarcity of housing, the destruction of nature (ecology is a major focus of most of the experiences, both from the point of view of their environmentally responsible design and in the narrative built to try to legitimize them), the conformation of an experiential and axiological alternative to the capitalist world, or the creation of community and social density in the neighborhoods.

This new emergence of self-management has often times been based on the revitalization and expansion of earlier projects, like credit unions and organizations of ethical banking, like Coop57 or Fiare, or like the popularization of associative libraries and counterinformation media with deep social roots and a long history, for example, Traficantes de Sueños [Dream Traffickers] or the newspaper Diagonal.

A good example of this revival of what had already existed would be the expanded audience for the latest occupations of land by laborers of the SAT (Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores, or Andalucian Workers Union) to work it communally. While the experience carried out in the Sevillan town of Marinaleda since end of the ’70s has come back into the public eye with the action campaign in supermarkets carried out by this organization last summer, and has been criticized or praised by the mass media, what is certain is that the recent occupation of other farms like Somontes, in Palma del Río (Córdoba), has also gained widespread attention.

On this farm, which belongs to the Government of Andalusia and which was barren and abandoned land until its occupation the fourth of March, 2012, the landless workers of the SAT have already raised more than 55 hectares of organic wheat and 74 of other crops, installed a drip-irrigation system, bought numerous cows, and resisted various attempted evictions.

And together with the revitalized processes are the new creations. "Precarious offices" and mutual support offices, time banks, social currencies (such as the boniato [sweet potato], of the Social Market of Madrid), agrarian initiatives (like the Garaldea farm, near the town of Chinchon, in Madrid, where work is done cooperatively in an ecological setting by people in situations of social exclusion), Cooperativas Integrales (that are betting on creating a whole system parallel to capitalism, from a holistic perspective that means attempting to build a set of social services and health cooperatives), new networks, like Madrid’s Red de Colectivos Autogestionarios [Network of Self-managed Collectives] (which renounces public subsidies) or consumer and producer cooperatives. Right now, all this shows the vitality of a whole cluster of new initiatives, of enormous creativity, which enjoys an increased popularity since the wave of mobilization began the 15 of May, 2011.

We should mention the appearance, as a simple example, in the neighborhood of Palma-Palmilla of the Andalusian town of Málaga, of “Er Banco Güeno,” located in an occupied branch office of the financial institution Unicaja, abandoned more than seven years ago. This is a project that started after the General Strike of November 14, 2012, and after the attempted eviction of a neighbor in the District. It is made up of a soup kitchen (which is not financed by the government) for the unemployed and families with economic problems and offices of Social Rights and of People Affected by Mortgages. It is also the meeting place for the local chapter of 15-M, the Association for the Integration of the Gypsy Community of Palma-Palmilla, and Baladre (a network of activists against unemployment put together in the 90s). It has also become the center of neighborhood struggles for the right to water, which is of special importance in the town, because the Municipal Water Enterprise (EMASA) is now attempting to demand (in a time of cuts and massive unemployment) that many neighbors with flats that are not in the Property Registry make back payments for service since the beginning of the water supply, in 1976.

So, it is a plural and heterogeneous world. A bit confused and contradictory, as well. Numerous kinds of legitimizing narratives and various ideological constructions have been decanted into it, including classic or renewed anarchosyndicalism that has borne fruit in the form of initiatives like the Institute of Economic Sciences and Self-management (ICEA) and other union organizations (let us remember the enormous depth of the Spanish self-management revolution, during the Civil War of 1936-39); eco-feminism and the narrative about degrowth articulated by thinker-activists like Carlos Taibo or Yayo Herrero; the narrative of common goods and their defense, sectors linked to the so-called “area of autonomy” (a clear example is the “Foundation of the Commons,” which is close to other projects like the Dream Traffickers bookstore, the publisher of the “Manifesto of the Commons,” or the self-training space “Common Notions”); "reform" and eco-socialist Marxism, with an eye on Latin America and in their experiences of social entrepreneurialism (we should mention the publication of a number of books based on the magazine El Viejo Topo [The Old Mole]); the apologetics of “integral revolution,” linked to the Integral Cooperatives set in motion by the activist Enric Durán, consisting of a holistic structured position that encompasses the personal, and tries to build “an entire life on the margin of capitalism”… these narratives are sometimes contradictory and complex, which leads to a churning, at this very moment, of the perspectives in defense of self-management in the Spanish State.

The attitudes of, and responses from, what we might call the “classic Left” (parties and unions, and even earlier social movements) to the emergence of 15-M and of the current self-management tendencies, which are built ideological constructions that are often times confusing and ambiguous and have a large dose of heterogeneity, were, from the beginning, ambivalent and somewhat contradictory.

The institutional Left (principally the parliamentary party Izquierda Unida [United Left], which is closely linked to the Communist Party of Spain, though not exclusively) and the major unions first tried to act in accordance with their usual practices towards social movements: making use of them in the media, without too much attention to their background (which is profoundly anti-system, more than anti-government) and channeling collective practices into institutions. The plan, obviously, did not work. Cayo Lara (the maximum leader of IU) was shouted down by participants in the attempt to stop an eviction in Madrid, when he made the opportunist choice to start speaking with journalists, ignoring (based on his institutional position) equilibria and collective decisions. However, he did manage to show his intelligence by not making the matter into a reason to split with the movement, while his coalition incorporated figures belonging (or, at least close) to 15-M on their electoral lists, and the grassroots of his party participated actively in many popular assemblies. The attitude of the Socialist Party (PSOE), however (if the organization that began the process of social cuts can be describe as Left), has been just the opposite.

Its youth leaders and activists have shown an attitude that often times borders on aggressive and contemptuous, especially after the failure of several crude and insultingly brazen attempts at manipulation and appropriation of the movement in the media. Its social discredit is noteworthy and glaring, and its political inability is clearly shown in its tendency to burn bridges with social movements and, on specific occasions, like the escrache campaign of the PAH, even favor their criminalization.

As for the non-parliamentary Left, the large majority of the parties of the Marxist variety has participated, more or less decidedly, in popular assemblies and mobilizations. Some, in fact, have taken advantage of the movement’s momentum to strengthen links between them and to build unified platforms and alliances, which are still under construction and which may have electoral arms, like Alternativas desde Abajo [Alternatives from Below] (where sectors converge that range from militant ecologism to Trotskyism, plus citizen platforms, like Julio Anguita’s Frente Cívico [Civic Front]) or Unión Popular de Clases [Popular Class Unity]. Only the most decidedly Ultra-Orthodox and minority sectors (like the one represented by writers called “Marat”) distanced themselves actively from 15-M, even denouncing it as a right-wing plot, without actually providing a viable alternative and staying on the margin of the development of events.

Autonomous and libertarian initiatives, however, have also participated enthusiastically in the new dynamic, including the most “orthodox” sectors of anarchism, which, despite leveling occasionally ferocious criticism at the Movement (as “social-democratic”) have not avoided using their media collectives and their networks to try to expand its discourse. The criticisms have mainly come from sectors that are centered on “ruralist” perspectives and simplistically “anti-State,” with a narrative that often times borders on so-called “anarchocapitalism.”

The incipient danger, which did happen in the first days of the camp in Sol, of control of the Movement by initiatives that come from new talk on the Right (republican or “constituent”) focused only on the modification of the Electoral Law and on passing off as progressive various measures called for by business lobbies and conservative politicians (like the forcible recentralization of the State), was discerned clearly during the constitution of the neighborhood assemblies, where it became clear to see that there was a class essence to the rage about the budget-cutting measures of Spanish governments and the ideological hegemony of the Left (understood in an innovative sense, very broad and very plural) in a movement that naturally tended to have a narrative that was opposed to neoliberalism, if not directly anticapitalist, as well as seeking a deepening of democracy.

What has been creating (or created from the beginning) misunderstandings and dysfunction between the “classical” Left and the movement of the plazas was precisely the plural, heterogeneous, assembly-based and, even, interclass essence, of a dynamic that burst out of the ideological and organizational corsets of a “social left” settled in to collaboration with the regime or passivity and aimlessness fed by internecine sectarianism. The neighborhood assemblies, and other mobilizing dynamics like the struggles for public services or against evictions, made activists and non-activists, neighbors with different ideological and personal histories, all collaborate. That created (and creates, to be sure) great confusion and contradictions of all kinds, but it was the indispensable base of a horizontal reconstruction of the social fabric which has allowed it to legitimize narratives that, previously, were absolutely marginal.

The essential danger around the dynamics of the “classic Left” (a danger that increases just as the Movement ebbs, when the people in the grassroots stop meeting directly) is the return to the festival of internal confrontations and struggles for power and control that are so common in its world. It is a way of operating that excludes and scares many sectors that are often times very active in practical terms, but that are most depoliticized in ideological terms. The possibilities granted by the new reality of extending anti-capitalist narratives, or those that lead to social transformation, only can be made use of with respect for, and convergence with, the people in the street, and by making clear efforts to stop cuts and to constitute a new reality, and that means not turning common spaces into “internal battlegrounds” of the Left, but grounds for creativity and cooperation.

The moment requires an inclusive pact between all sectors affected by the brutal neoliberal offensive. The building of that large social alliance creates an ideological space to show off the practice and theory of self-management and resistance, and to give it a profound, transformative, democratizing, and social base. The confusion, however, is inevitable (and maybe creative). The process of raising the consciousness of a society dedicated to individuality and a consumerist frenzy (which Spain was five years ago) is plagued with dead ends and attempts that are, on occasion, outlandish or just plain wrong. But energizing the process, getting it under way, demands the convergence of the people and fraternal discussion, as well as organization and political pedagogy.

In this scenario, self-management and cooperativism begin to be seen as one of the essential parts of the new movement, as a practical alternative to impoverishment and misery, and as something to be built to affirm the new reality that is boiling up from the neighborhoods and the people, against the sad designs that the Troika wants to impose on us.

Madrid, June 26, 2013.

  1. In Spain, evictions are executions of debtors’ mortgages. (Editor’s note).

  2. Comisiones Obreras and the Unión General de Trabajadores are the leading majority unions (Editor’s note).

Syndicalism and self-management

Claudio Nascimento Brazil

The Meeting held in the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), in July of 2013, allowed us to develop some points on the topic of syndicalism linked to self-management. What are the challenges for the union movement in that relationship? What is the project of twenty-first century syndicalism? What is the historical context that syndicalism responds to?

There are many debates around the turn of the century. This expression translates into a widespread feeling of perplexity about the transformations under way in the world. Truly, the great change of century already happened (it was a short century, that started late in 1914 with the First World War and ended early in 1989). In a certain way, the current transformations were already happening at the molecular level in the ’70s, or even in the year annus mirabilis of 1968. What is certain is that they brought light to a complex world that is profoundly adverse to workers.

In Europe, the capitalist counteroffensive began in the ’60s. Its main weapons were the process of globalization and the computerization of production. Syndicalism did not realize, at that time, the breadth and depth of transformations in production. When did it, it was long after the fact.

Through computerization and the globalization of the financial market, leading groups of capital redesigned knowledge and the place of labor in the productive process, leading to a profound crisis in the mass parties and unions, and to questioning of the State-Nation.

The transformations radically affect two environments of the modern world:

  1. The worlds of labor

  2. The notion of the State-Nation-Territory

The first refers to the field of the restructuring of production; the second, to the setting of the territory, of cities, of public policies. The first requires analysis of the sphere of production, of the current stage of “Capital”; the second, analysis at the level of space-territory, of social reproduction. As a set, this is the phenomenon that Milton Santos calls the “technical-informational system.”

In the current development of the capitalist system, the world of labor is the object of transformation in the broader process of restructuring the organization of production.

The changes are so deep and radical that they seem to be capital’s “revenge” on labor. This really comes from a new form of global capitalism, which is very different from multinational capitalism.

One of the main symbols of this history of the globalization of capitalism is the development of capital in general, overcoming markets and borders, political regimes and national projects, regionalisms and geopolitics, cultures and civilizations.

In the center of the process is the crisis of the world of labor, the technological revolution under way. In certain ways, in the age of the globalization of the world, the question of labor is reopened. What characterized the world of labor at end of the 20th century is that this became really global. On the same scale as the globalization of capitalism, there was a globalization of the world of labor, which is to say, to the extent that the globalization of capitalism, seen as civilizing process, reaches the whole of human society and breaks social and mental frames of reference. This “disorder of labor” acts on all social life: we see the rise of new forms of socializing, a new kind of individualism, new religions, crisis of representation, violence and barbarism. All institutions (union, party, school, family, State, Nation) suffer the effects of the restructuring of the production process. For example: in the world of labor, the notions of Space, Time and function are being radically altered, forcing a revision of the relationship between time and the nature of work.

New technologies produce global cultural impacts on society as a whole and, particularly, on workers. "Flexibilization" involves a whole internal and external reordering of the working class, at the national, regional, and global level. Their patterns of socializing, cultural life, and consciousness are modified, at the same time that there are changes in the conditions of organization, mobilization, and making demands.

Several important points emerge from all this: the crisis of industrial civilization and the transformation of the value of labor. The globalization of the world expresses a new cycle of the expansion of capitalism as a mode of production and civilizing process with a global reach. The future is headed for a dualist fragmentation of society with consequences of marginalization and social exclusion, as well as structural unemployment and labor precariousness.

The field of the worlds of labor is translated into a “conservative modernization” of productive structures, combining the various forms of work (slavery, Fordist, post-Fordist, etc.), bringing unemployment and exclusion to thousands of workers. The central objective of the employer counteroffensive, which started at the beginning of the ’90s, is to dismantle the base of experience in the field of praxis of collective organization through the flexibility of work.

The citizen-community union

The transformations in the world of labor and in the world of life lead us to profoundly rethink the union movement. From what perspective? From that of the growing syndicalism in society; a social syndicalism and more in solidarity, integrated with citizenship, both in factories and in cities. It must be an organic union, but also one of citizenship, which represents the workers and which is also a social movement, that can face the challenges of capitalism as a mode of production and civilizing process. It must integrate work and environment, work and education, work and feminism, work and culture, work and well-being, work and youth, work and old age.

This new syndicalism requires an integration of working-class consciousness with citizen consciousness. Citizenship outside of the world of labor calls on the union movement to expand to new forces and social movements located outside the production process. Just as democracy must enter workplaces, syndicalism must encompass citizenship, the democratic and popular public space. The privileged space of syndicalism has been the business and the profession (the union and the federation). Currently, the geographical aspect at the local level tends to play a greater role. At the local level, syndicalism must participate in the democratic debate, in the management of the city, which is to say, have an active presence in local life.

From this perspective, syndicalism must go through profound transformations. Some aspects can be pointed out:

  • Faced with the challenges under way, syndicalism must change, and above all, must be allied with forces in civil society. To address the process of globalization, it must build new bonds of solidarity. This is new territory for the union movement, which means a true “cultural revolution,” which means abandoning a certain conception of representation and hiring that was determinant when its central objective was the conquest of the monopoly on hiring in the businesses. How to build a hiring collective that also includes the interests of sectors of the population and of “excluded” workers in diverse fields: housing, social security, basic income, education, health, transportation, minority status, etc.?
  • This revolution in corporate union culture also involves its forms of organizing. So, a syndicalism structured in vertical trade organizations, will hardly be able to organically or politically represent the world of those who are in the informal sector, unemployed, or dispersed across the country. It demands an enormous qualitative leap. This means considering their organization at the national level, and joining the dimension of the territory and that of the interprofessional organization at a new historical level. Connecting the “organic union” with the “citizen union.” Organizing the union in workplaces and trades, and enlarging its political mandate to society in general.
  • In “business unionism,” affiliated workers’ rights are stronger than those of the sectors that are “excluded” from work processes. On the other hand, the alternative of a national union encompasses the interests of many other social sectors, not only of the workers. The central point is that of representativeness of the union, building alliances with other sectors of society to be able to be a privileged agent in the collective formulation of an alternative project. The fundamental topic is that of knowing what the world it is that the union must represent.
  • Given exiting misery and unemployment, syndicalism must assume a determining role in relation to the Nation-state, by valuing work through policies of professional qualification and new rights that allow the qualification of work, the creation of new jobs that are still “on the margin” of the formal economy (“Solidarity Economy”), controlling training processes in businesses, and questioning the current education system.
  • Syndicalism needs new strategies for job creation. The transformation of an economy of exclusion and informality into a “solidarity economy” can create a number of well-paying and qualified jobs such as recovery of the territory and the environment, waste recycling, services for people, permanent training, etc.
  • Creation of cooperative communities for mutual aid between workers. They are the new frontiers of work.
  • Fighting the hegemony of savage individualism means building a culture of solidarity, and being open, therefore, to a set of new subjects that have been, so far, strangers to union culture. This opening brings confrontation with cultures that were not part of the union world, but that bring new values and hopes. This new solidarity brings new perspectives for syndicalism, a new ethic to configure the identity of syndicalism in the twenty-first century.
  • A new political culture means the politicization of the everyday. Culture is praxis, something elemental, a context for production. The expression “political culture” indicates an everyday relationship, the way people discuss and decide their fundamental problems. Culture is born of needs, is fed by history, and cannot be introduced “from above” by cultural institutions. It is a vital activity of the mind and of the senses, a human capacity. However, syndicalism acts as if culture and political were two separate spheres. It is not aware of its cultural mandate. In the counteroffensive of capital, the development of microelectronics brings an extension of the industry of consciousness, whose ultimate consequences still we cannot fully foresee, above all, in changes of mentality and opinion. It favors disintegration and a fragmentation of the conscience and of the human behavior.

It does not seek to transform its interests and most organized needs at a political level, as a means of public and collective expression.

Citizen syndicalism (management of work and management of the city)

Historically, citizenship in workplaces tends toward integration with public space of citizenship. For example, at the beginning of their struggles, the workers, when they went on strike, left the factories and went to the city squares (the word “strike” in Spanish, huelga, comes from the name of a place where the workers used to meet to make collective decisions).

From this perspective, the key to citizenship in the world of labor (in workplaces), is local labor organizations, instruments through which the workers can develop resistance, control, and the management of the organization of labor. We call this process self-management of production. At the level of cities, citizens exercise democracy directly through instruments like participatory budgeting, city forums, etc. We call this social self-management.

Therefore, power at the local level is expressed at the level of work settings connected with urban-rural public space. This is the essence of what is called the “citizen union,” or “communal union.”

The solidarity economy

With the process of exclusion and structural unemployment, we have to rethink the topic of work, because while there is no employment, there is a lot of work when we think about the needs of society.

From the analytical perspective of Milton Santos, in cities of underdeveloped countries, the particular mode of organization of the space connects the most varied forms of capital, work, and technology. This organization of urban space is characterized by “divided space,” with two circuits in the urban economy: an upper circuit, which has its direct origin in technological modernization, where monopolies operate, and a lower circuit, which is made up of small-scale activities, and has its roots in poor populations.

The relationship between them is dialectical, which is to say, the lower circuit is the product of the logic of the upper circuit and, at the same time, an obstacle to its expansion.

In these cities, zones of resistance proliferate in the form of activities dedicated to attending to concrete and immediate needs of survival: small businesses, which serve a circuit of production, distribution, and consumption that operates far from the world of the rationalized and computerized economy.

Therefore, there is, on the one hand, a globalized economy, produced from above, and on the other hand, a sector produced from below that, in poor countries, is a popular sector and, in the rich countries, includes the least privileged sectors of society, including immigrants.

So, the formation of a new field in the economy turns out to be possible: the “solidarity economy,” made up of businesses directed by their own workers, and producer/consumer cooperatives.

In field of the economy of employed wage labor, the workers are organized by workplaces; in the field of the solidarity economy, in self-managed businesses and cooperatives, the workers can experience new forms of associated labor.

This way, in cities, through local power, citizens develop their organs of direct democracy (participatory budgeting, various forums of popular participation).

In current experiences, popular-communal power is “power” that, in itself, brings the concrete utopia, the “viable unknown” (Paulo Freire) and the “not-yet-being” (E. Bloch).

Our reading provides elements from the methodological field of the social sciences of Latin America, which seek to reflect the experiences under way and, undoubtedly, many of the ideas in development on our continent.

With a viewpoint in line with the long wave, or long memory, we see that the various attempts by the workers to make an “assault on heaven,” in truth, are rehearsals for building “organs of people power,” often times antagonistic to the fundamental nucleus of the metabolism of the capitalist mode of production.

They are the cases of active mass revolutions, and also of revolts and rebellions. In these moments, the workers found organs of self-management which are, in truth, communal organs.

If, in the field of the “short memory,” we take the experience of Poland, of 1980-81, as the close of a long cycle started in the postwar period, a new cycle was begun in the years between 1990 and 2000 in Latin America: possibly with the indigenous rebellion in Chiapas, in 1994, which revived the ideals of Zapatismo in the Mexican Revolution of 1910-11.

On the one hand, in a way in which the potential is more explicitly becoming “reality,” looking at the movement “from below,” like in the experiences under way in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and less explicitly and solidly, even doubtfully, in countries like Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

If we go back in time, digging into the field of the “long memory,” these communal expressions of popular power can be found since the experiences of the “revolutionary committees” in 1848, in the neighborhoods of Paris, or in the course of the French Revolution of 1789, in the years 1793-94, in which the sans-culotte created their revolutionary organs of power.

And, above all, we have the founding experience (“the way at last found,” says Marx) of the Paris Commune, in 1871, when the factories became managed by the workers themselves and the people of Paris forged a proposal to manage the whole city. The Commune influenced all revolutionary struggles that followed it, like the Soviet uprising of Petrograd, in 1905, and, above all, the Revolution of 1917, in which the central slogan was “all the power to the Soviets,” which is to say, to the “organs of popular management,” arising in all spaces in Russian society: in factories, neighborhoods, Parliament, the fields, students, etc.

In Our America, the experience we can locate in the field of the long memory, in the ’70s, is Popular Unity in Allende’s Chile, in which organs of popular power were founded: Industrial Corridors, networks that connected factories managed by the workers and neighborhood assemblies. They even foreshadowed a Popular Assembly.

As we already pointed out above, the last offshoot of the cycle started in the postwar period was in the ’80s, in Poland, continuing a long wave begun in 1953-56 of revolts, rebellions, and revolutions. In the heart of the post-capitalist societies of Eastern Europe, there emerged the Self-Management Network that controlled the 3,000 largest businesses of the country, connected through the “Solidarity Free Union.”

At its Congress, which lasted 2 weeks, the workers created, as their Highest Program in Poland, the “Self-Management Republic.”

With the struggles in Poland, possibly, the cycle of the hegemony of the “old working class” closed, which was centered on the great industrial centers. That cycle had the center of the popular project in the factory, and its political expressions were the union and the party, with the peculiarity that, in the countries of so-called "real socialism," due to the merger of the single party and the State, the union expressed the anxieties of all the popular sectors and citizens.

The experience of Allende’s Chile also had the workers’ movement as its main subject, through the Chilean CUT, which was embedded in workplaces.

The current cycle brings new characteristics of popular power. The old mole changed geographic space in subsequent years and, at least in Latin America, took on a “community form.” And he came to the surface first in the Andes, with thousands of Indians, through various insurrections and other forms of struggle, organizations and people power of a “communal nature,” but incorporating the experience accumulated in the previous cycle by country and city workers, in parties and unions.

These historical experiences, keeping the specificity of each country, demonstrate that the construction of new power and counterhegemony in the societies of Latin America only happen to the extent that it is possible to build a pluralistic, multi-part political subject based on ethnic and cultural diversity.

That long cycle of struggles for the emancipation of labor is a phenomenon of great depth that demands studies in the field of philosophy, specifically from the “ontology of the social being.” While, on the one hand, that long history of experiences of emancipation has been marked by defeats, on the other hand, that concrete utopia was not extinguished, and does not die, but is always present throughout the historical process.

It is a common thread, always marking and always coming to light in the historical moments of the change of cycles. That is why it is permanently established in society. And, thus, it demands the connection of different times, short memories and long memories, history, and everyday life.

Anton Pannekoek, who studied this phenomenon and called it “worker councils,” though they are really communal forms of popular power, said that:

“(…) worker councils do not mean a fixed form of organization, developed once and for all and in which there only remains the task of correcting and perfecting details; it is a principle, the principle of worker self-management of factories and of production. (…) It is exclusively a common thread for a long, hard struggle for the emancipation that the working class still has ahead of it.”1

And, historically, its first and clearest form emerged with the Paris Commune. The “political form finally discovered to carry out within it the economic emancipation of labor.”2

So, we can talk about the “principle of community power” or “principle of self-management,” which can take many and various forms: worker, campesino, or neighborhood council, or as the revolutionary praxis of many and plural historical subjects: workers, campesinos, men and women, youth and adults, students, soldiers, Indians, and quilombolas.3

On the Latin American continent, the experiences the community form are phenomena of “long duration” and are part of the civilizing process of indigenous communities, of original peoples.

For example, the Peruvian “ayllu” has its origin in the pre-Incan “ayllu,” which is lost in the mists of American prehistory. What is most likely is that the origin of the “ayllu” is parallel to the settlement of nomads. The “ayllu” was the community cell of the Incan Empire. So great is the strength of the agrarian community in the Andes that it has been maintained from the pre-Incan period up through our day, in spite of the devastating work of the Conquest, which, during its first years, levelled even the most remote caverns of the Andes.

Through the ideas of the Marxist Peruvian Mariátegui, the collectivist and even self-managed nature of the community form is clear. In his “Seven Essays,” while criticizing liberal-individualism, the author speaks of these experiences as a basis for a possible “American Indian socialism.”

Mariátegui says: “I fundamentally consider that incontestable and concrete factor which gives a peculiar character to our agrarian problem: the survival of the community and of elements of practical socialism in agriculture and in indigenous life.”4 For Mariátegui, these elements emerged in Peru in pre-Incan times and were developed together with an economy that was developed “spontaneously and freely,” until the Spanish conquest. Which means that these elements were not eliminated or affected by the Incas, who did not alter that natural state; on the contrary, according to Mariátegui, they “empowered” it: “Collective work and common effort were used beneficially for social purposes.”

This way, these elements guaranteed the subsistence and growth of the population. In the framework of the Incan Empire, communities were cells of a “dynamic” State.

With the Spanish Conquest, a new “vision of the world” was imposed, as René Zavaleta has said well:

The Spanish brought the desire for gold, which is to say, the notions of abundance and shortage, which were unknown in that collectivist culture and also, as a consequence, the ideas of loneliness, competition, and the individual. It is the language of ambition that, in the gold rush of the Conquest, built the myth of Eldorado, whose version in Upper Peru is the Great Paitití, lost or hidden in the inaccessible jungle of Moxos.5

Various Latin American authors point out that there exists a communal system which is expressed in economic and political forms: collective ownership of resources and private management or usufruct of the same. In the system of collective ownership there is collective deliberation and rotation of representation. The representative is not designated to command, but to “simply organize the course of the common decision.”6 That communal system has the characteristics and principles of the experience of the Paris Commune.

The economy of the communal system excludes exploitation or appropriation of others’ work, because collective goods are used privately or by families. In the same way, alienated labor does not exist, because the family and its members control the modes and rhythms of production, and are not subject to control from outside the community.7

In the sphere of political power, the figure of the communal representative is the opposite of what we know in traditional politics: “(…) In the communities, representation is not voluntary, but mandatory and rotating. In contrast to neoliberal logic, in the community, it is not the most capable or the most instructed or intelligent who is chosen, but simply whose turn it is (…). As representation is not an option but a duty that is provided to the community, everyone in turn must provide it if they want continue to use common goods (land, water, fields).8

In Raúl Zibechi’s analysis, it is clear that large mobilizations occur because there is a dense network of relationships between people. These relationships are also forms of organizing. In everyday life, they are the relationships of neighbors, of friends, of companions, of allies, of family. These are also important relationships/organizations. These community relationships bring enormous strength, and it is within them where insurrectional movements are built.

The construction of popular power means a radical transformation of the State, which connects the expansion and deepening of the institutions of representative democracy and democratic freedoms, the conquests of the struggles, with the construction of forms of direct democracy at the grassroots level, and also with forms of self-management.

If we look in Mariátegui, the three central points with which he defined American Indian socialism can be identified in the communal societies of the Andes: the principle of the “community form.”

  • The socialization of the means of production, meaning the abolition of the private ownership of productive and natural resources and their substitution with social ownership;
  • The socialization of political power, the participation of free and equal citizens in the collective formation of a political will and in the direct exercise of authority; in the end, direct democracy;
  • The transformation of the world of intersubjective relationships, in the sense of affirmation of solidarity.


García Linera, Álvaro (2010). A potência plebeia, Boitempo Editorial/CLACSO.

Mariategui, J.C. (2008). Os sete ensaios de interpretação da realidade peruana, Sp: Editora Expressão Popular/CLACSO.

Marx, Karl(1977). La guerra civil en Francia, Moscú, Editorial Progreso.

Nascimento, Claudio (2010). Do beco dos sapos, pelos canaviais de Catende, aos caracóis de Nuestra America: autogestão, poder comunal, socialismo, Digitado.

Pannekoek, Anton (1982). Les conseils ouvriers, Paris.

Patzi, Félix (1996). Economía comunera y explotación capitalista, La Paz, Edcom.

Patzi, Félix (2004). Sistema comunal, una propuesta alternativa al sistema liberal, La Paz, CEA.

Sader, Emir (2009). A nova toupeira, Boitempo Editorial.

Santos, Milton (1979). El espacio dividido: los dos circuitos de la economía urbana, Editora Francisco Alves.

Santos, Milton (1994). Técnica, espacio, tiempo: globalización y medio técnico científico informacional, Hucitec.

Tapia, Luis (1999). Turbulencias de fin de siglo, La Paz, IINCIP.

Zavaleta, René (1967). Bolivia, el desarrollo de la conciencia nacional, Montevideo, Editorial Dialogue.

Zibechi, Raúl (2006). Dispersar el poder. Buenos Aires, Tinta Limón Ediciones.

  1. Pannekoek, 1982, p.7.

  2. Marx, 1977, p.67.

  3. Descendants of the residents of the quilombos, territories of fugitive slaves (editor’s note).

  4. Mariátegui, 2008, p.69.

  5. Zavaleta, 1967.p.19.

  6. Zibechi, 2006, p.38.

  7. Patzi, 2004, p.171.

  8. Zibechi, 2006, p. 39-40.

Worker self-management: A sociocultural and historical perspective

Carlos Eduardo Martínez
National University of Córdoba


In this work, we will address the problem of self-management and its sustainability with a sociocultural and historical focus. In this framework, technology will be analyzed, broadly speaking, as a social product and as a mechanism to regulate an independent (and at the same time, heterogeneous) space, built in the framework of unequal social relationships.

The concept of “appropriate technology” will be seen as a contribution towards finding productive solutions that try to become forms of production equipped with greater social sustainability, to the extent that they try to become productive spaces that accompany the development of an associative logic imbued with democratic and self-managed processes run by the workers.

The concept will be discussed this way as part of a proposal framed by the possibility of thinking of popular sectors as sectors specifically linked to the adoption of technologies called "appropriate," and in the context of a practice that tries to lay the foundation for a new productive framework linked specifically to self-management. The political potential of these forms of production must be accompanied by a space for connection with networks that allows not only knowledge and political alliances, but also debate and exchange of experiences as ways of consolidating a space to go beyond being a circumstantial proposal in times of social, economic, or political crisis.

The transition towards a new form of production is blooming in this kind of experience, and its advance into different productive sectors is part of a new experience for the working class, in both urban and rural spaces.

Some criteria and concepts in self-management

To refer to this topic, and to try recreate this subject with the greatest clarity possible, it seems important to us to establish what kind of of phenomenon and/or activity we’re referring to when we talk about self-management by workers. We also believe it is necessary and important to clarify that this concept, applied to processes that occur between workers, can be closely linked with the story of the autonomous organization of workers and with their diverse struggles, through which we must analyze and contextualize these experiments in self-management. That is to say, we do not believe it is possible to isolate this kind of productive and social experience from the long tradition of struggle and of conflicts with capital that workers have carried on throughout their history.

The use of the concept of self-management has connotations with great ideological weight, rather than concrete. The concept, seen from various viewpoints, is part of an idea or alternative with democracy and solidarity, linked to a given project, that tries to make explicit what the characteristics of economic, social, and political relationships should be in a society, and show that they can transcend the limits imposed by capitalist relations by laying out an alternative proposal for society.

In this way, when these experiences are analyzed, they are visualized as fundamentally positive and proactive phenomena; but, together with this vision, it is necessary to also have a critical view, so as to not hide or minimize a series of concrete problems or the fact that they are embedded almost structurally in this kind of experience. Therefore, it is important to avoid an idealized and uncritical vision of their functioning that ends up having few points of contact with the concrete reality in which they develop. In this regard, Peixoto de Albuquerque1 points out that the concept of self-management resurfaces associated with collectively-managed businesses that have inherited bankrupt companies in the process of neoliberal globalization and, at the same time, “again taking up the political and ideological struggles that gave rise to the concept, that is, associated with a utopian ideal of transformation and social change.” In spite of this, and as the author himself recognizes, it continues to be an ambiguous and polysemous concept that generally refers to a certain idea of “collectivism,” which encompasses social relationships, but more directly and specifically, economic relationships, though without getting too deep into their specific characteristics, which is why the concept ends up referring to multiple processes, without clarifying concretely what shape production spaces connected with self-management take, or should take.2

With the objective of minimizing this conceptual ambiguity, we will establish that when we refer to productive self-management, we are talking about and referring to “worker management of a productive unit without capitalists or managers, developing their own organization of labor under non-hierarchical forms.”3 That is, we understand that self-management means that the workers collectively impose the rules that regulate production, the organization of the work process, the use of surpluses and the relationship with the rest of the economy and society. This last aspect is of vital importance, because the current attempts at self-management seek to transcend the limits of the productive space.4

On the other hand, self-management is also susceptible to being understood as an appropriation by the workers of the productive process. This appropriation entails, in a nutshell, the possibility of the productive processes beginning to be taken over by the workers, who have the possibility of modifying the rules governing such processes in a capitalist venture, with the goal of being able to replace them with another kind of organization of labor.5

It is important to clarify as we seek to deepen the debate on the concept of self-management that, for certain visions, it does not necessarily refer to an alternative form of economic organization of production. With this in mind, it is necessary to establish that it is a concept in dispute. With the habitual discursive capacity of the hegemonic system, it has reused the concept of self-management, introducing it into the very sphere of capitalist production.

In this regard, so-called “Toyotism” promoted a space for concrete “self-organization” in so-called “quality circles,” where “self-organized” workers are supposed to reach production quotas. This system means an overexploitation of the worker, since it not only exploits their physical capacity, but intellectual and dynamic as well. This new business model tends to replace the tight control of productive time exercised by the Taylorist-Fordist model of organizing work with another model in which the workers get involved in a space-time that goes beyond productive time.6 Self-organization led by capital turns workers into subjects who must “live” in service to the business, and their free time is reworked into productive time whenever they have to carry out functions of planning of production to guarantee a better development of the product.

The new self-management practices

From a general point of view, it is no longer possible to understand the practices of self-management in a purely economistic and productivist way; it is necessary take into account the new sociocultural practices in them, because their differented value and their chances of success, as well as of continuation and expansion, will only be possible to the extent that a differential value resides in them that holds them up as a possible alternative to the hegemonic model of labor exploitation that capitalist society offers. This society’s current strength has to do with its ability to enforce not only a productive model, but also a value system, in the end, a culture in which the workers themselves are not absent, though they are the weak link in the set of social relationships.

In the current self-management proposals in Latin America, there is something distinctive, something with different characteristics, which can transform these experiences into models of production that contribute politically towards a change in social relationships in a revolutionary sense and not simply progressive.

In this regard, we believe that is important not only to reflect on productive practice, but also what value system these practices are going to be oriented to. We are reminded of the old anarchist political practices, where the social library meant a mechanism of action that tried not only to struggle in the production space, but also to do battle on the plane of ideas and symbolism, which is to say, in the space where a cultural model is built that, inevitably, is reflected in our practice as historical subjects.

This summation of social organizations that are different from each other has a long tradition in the history of capitalism. It can traced back to the middle of the nineteenth century as a response to the contradictions in industrial capitalism. These organizations tried develop a productive logic that was different from the capitalist logic that implied a steady concentration of wealth and profit. In contrast, community organizations that are managed with the logic of what is commonly known as the “social economy” or “solidarity economy” try to create an alternative founded on practices that are based on collaboration and solidarity among members that belong to an organization. This conception of the economy tries to displace capital as the guiding center of relations in the productive sector and places human beings at the center of the economic connections of society. “These experiences are fed by the principles of cooperativism created in Rochdale, England, in the middle of the nineteenth century, and were perfected and reworked in different socio-cultural contexts.”7

This second dimension of the concept also rescues the potential of what some prefer to call the solidarity economy,8 which presents many of these economic or microeconomic experiences from the point of view of proposing an alternative to capitalism. According to this perspective, the solidarity economy is important above all as a chance for society to learn about economic forms based on solidarity, with the potential to become an alternative to the neoliberal political economy. Sustaining initiatives that border on subsistence gives, for this dimension, a dignifying meaning to human beings reduced to conditions of “exclusion” and generally provides the only way out of extreme social situations through relationships of economic solidarity and linked to movements and popular organizations that can gather the potential for transforming the struggle for survival into a new model of economy. Coraggio9 maintains, for example, that the social economy is “a transitional proposal of economic practices for transformative action, conscious of the society that they want to create from inside the currently existing mixed economy, in the direction of another economy, another economic system, organized by the principle of the expanded reproduction of the life of all citizen-workers, contrasted with the principle of the accumulation of capital.” From this programmatic conception, self-managed experiences like the businesses recovered by their workers that are most linked to the workers’ movement take on a different dimension, which holds up when put to the test of the greatest challenges of the rebuilding of another logic of work and production that revalidate the smaller but much more numerous experiences that swarm in the framework of the precariousness and informality of work, especially in Latin America.

In this sense, the most detailed analysis of the processes of self-management is possible, which sees them as an innovation in the use of technology and in possible changes, as well as in the limits that are discovered in the framework of these processes.

Taking into account the analysis of Ruggeri and Novaes,10 it is possible to see self-management processes and frame them in analysis of the relations of ownership, as well as the changes in the work process and changes that occur in the subjectivity of the workers. It is obvious that in all self-management processes currently underway, whether in experiences begun in businesses recovered by their workers,11 in other kinds of cooperatives, or different groups that are beginning to work on the production of a good or service in a self-managed way, the problem and the adaptation of “really existing technology” becomes a problem to solve, or rather, to adapt to. This problem begins to be substantial if the intent is to work in another way and not simply repeat the form of capitalist production. According to Novaes and Dagnino,12 the important thing is to analyze what technological development is in the processes of self-management.

The authors mentioned above point out that to think about the problem in a more theoretical framework, it is necessary to analyze the role of productive forces and to place that analysis in the framework of the dialectic of the capitalist mode of production and its possibilities of changing on the path towards another social system.

The question appears to be, then, how a technology can be verified as appropriate and how it can be visualized from the theoretical point of view. In that sense, Herrera proposes the concept of “technological space.” According to the author,[^13] the concept presents several advantages because: 1) it frames the technological problem in a global context; 2) it recognizes the historical-productive particularities of the societies involved; and 3) recreates basic concepts such as local participation and endogenous development.

Such characteristics mean understanding technological space as a dynamic space not susceptible to being fossilized, because no space with these characteristics remains unaltered over time. The problem, then, of what could be called Appropriate Technologies, must consider these points and analyze how the different self-managed spaces relate to the broader framework of capitalist relations that surround them and impose limits and restrictions on them.


The quantity and quality of self-managed enterprises that have emerged in the last two decades have accentuated several matters that are important to analyze. At the level of general context, it is a confirmation of the weakness in hiring the work force in capitalist society, despite verified economic growth in the last decade in the majority of the countries of our region. This “weakness” means that, in cases of business crises, capital opts to dismantle the labor force, even abandoning productive activity. So, there remain in our countries not only a reserve industrial army in the form of permanent structural unemployment, but an enormous percentage of the labor force that remains precarious and easily abandoned by capital in the case of economic necessity or simply of seasonal dips in profit rates.

In this context, which was intensified in the 1990s, self-managed enterprises have demonstrated a growing capacity to absorb, in autonomous spaces, a certain number of workers that, while not a large part of the labor market, are a growing number and, more importantly, constitute an alternative for the above-mentioned crises.

The challenges of self-management, then, can come to be understood as the other side of the permanent crisis of the capitalist economic system, and are finding a productive framework that situates them in a scenario of autonomy, where different technologies can be developed that help to develop their productive capacity.

In this regard, the development of new technologies must keep in mind that they are indissolubly attached to their political capacity to establish networks and alliances with other social actors. Today, more than ever, it is necessary to understand the space of self-management as a political, technical, and productive space, at the same time that it is being analyzed as a sociocultural space. Technology, thus understood, is capable of being transformed into a space for struggle and political connection that contributes to the construction of a new productive form that offers itself as an alternative for workers, just as it is carried out currently by thousands of workers in very diverse contexts, both geographic and productive.


Coraggio, José Luis (1998). Economía Popular Urbana: Una nueva perspectiva para el desarrollo local, Cartillas 1, Instituto del Conurbano, Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento.

Coraggio, José Luis (2008). Economía social, acción pública y política (hay vida después del neoliberalismo), 2da. ed., Ediciones Ciccus, Bs. As.

Gaiger, Luis (1996). "Emprendimientos solidarios: ¿Una alternativa para la economía popular?", in Unisinos, Sao Paulo, Brasil.

Herrera A. O. (1981). The generation of technologies in rural areas, World Development.

Martínez, Carlos (2004). "Procesos de autogestión en empresas recuperadas," Presentation to the Second National Congress of Sociology.

Novaes, Henrique T. (2005). Para além da apropriação dos meios de produção?

O processo de Adequação Sócio-Técnica em Fábricas Recuperadas, Masters Thesis, Universidad de Campinas

Novaes, H; De Assis, U; Dagnino, R (2004). "Mapeando mudanças em empresas recuperadas sobre a óptica do Conceito de Adequação SócioTécnica," Trabalho apresentado no 2º Encontro Internacional de Economia Solidária, São Paulo.

Peixoto de Albuquerque, Paulo (2004). "Autogestión," in La Otra Economía, Cattani, A. D. (Comp.), Fundación OSDE – Altamira – UNGS, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Ruggeri, Andrés (2004). "La política en las Empresas recuperadas," Ponencia al II Congreso Nacional de Sociología.

Ruggeri, Andrés (2009). Las empresas recuperadas: autogestión obrera en Argentina y América Latina, Buenos Aires, Editorial de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras.

Ruggeri et al. (2011). Las empresas recuperadas en la Argentina. 2010. Informe del tercer relevamiento de empresas recuperadas, Ediciones de la Cooperativa Chilavert, Buenos Aires.

  1. 2004.

  2. The case of this concept is like the use of the concept of reciprocity in anthropology and sociology. Its misuse has left it unclear what it refers to and in which circumstances it is appropriate to apply it.

  3. Ruggeri, 2011.

  4. Ruggeri, ibid.

  5. The experience of businesses recovered by the workers is an example of these possibilities (Martínez, 2006).

  6. There is no doubt that it is an appropriation of the concept by the capitalist organization of labor. Self-management was never part of capital’s conceptual treaty with labor.

  7. Gaiger; 1996.

  8. Although the term “social economy” is also used in this sense.

  9. 2008.

  10. Ruggeri, 2009; Novaes; 2007.

  11. The Businesses Recovered by their Workers started a process of self-management that was and is the fruit of various reflections on self-management. The phenomenon goes beyond our country and is found in various countries in Latin America.

  12. Novaes and Dagnino, 2004; Novaes, 2007 (prologue by Dagnino and Sardá de Faria).