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.

Production

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.

Conclusions

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 http://www.recuperadasdoc.com.ar/Informacion%20relevamientos/informeTercerRelevamiento2010.pdf. 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.

One thought on “Recovered businesses in Argentina in 2010: synthesis of the results of the third national survey

Comments are closed.