Recovered businesses: the defense of dignity

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

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.

Genesis

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.

Limits

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.

Rights

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%.

Consequences

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.

Islands

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.

Perspectives

Dichotomy

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.

Awareness

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.

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