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(en) Ireland, WSM, Red and Black Revolution #8 - Workers Without Bosses Workers' Self-Management in Argentina

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 21 Dec 2004 08:35:49 +0100 (CET)


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The last 30 years in Latin America have seen the introduction of
neo-liberal policies - structural adjustment programmes, austerity
measures, a shift from the industrialisation and "internal accumulation"
model to one that favours promiscuous financial capital, free trade
agreements and an increasing economic dependency of the region on the
USA. As usual, the people have suffered the worst part of these policies -
high levels of unemployment and depression of wages and the standard of
living. People's most immediate and basic needs were expendable when it
came to the real priorities of local governments: the payment of the
fraudulent external debt & the maintenance of high levels of profits for
both the local and the foreign bosses.

In Latin America, due to the bosses' onslaught of the 80s and 90s, we've
reached a situation which is in sharp contrast with the political scenario of
the 70s and early 80s. We have moved from a situation in which the
working class was on the offensive, to one in which the working class and
the popular movement in general is on the defensive. The 90s, in
particular, have been characterised by a fragmentation of struggles and by
the lack of a sense of unity in the fight of the different popular actors, and
by an offensive of the ruling class. But signs that a crisis is brewing for a
model that has run out steam are revealed by the different uprisings all
over the continent, in Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Perú and Argentina.

All these upheavals have a common sign: they indicate, in a looming
fashion, a new scenario, in which the popular movement has the
possibility once more of going on the offensive. The experiences of the
Argentinean people over the last three years are inscribed in that context,
and show, with all of its internal contradictions, the potential and the limits
of the current context of agitation in South America. And, undoubtedly,
the emergence of a new popular movement expresses the strengthening of
regional opposition to the economic dictates of the international financial
bodies. They show a new favourable moment for the spread of
revolutionary politics, signalling a new path for the deliverance of the
exploited and the oppressed throughout the region.
The "Argentinazo"

Argentina surprised the world on December 20, 2001, when a spontaneous
popular uprising obliged the former president, Fernando De La Rúa, to
resign. It seemed that all of a sudden the most prosperous economy of
Latin America was on shaky ground. But the reality is that the symptoms
of the Argentinean crisis were felt well before that, and what happened was
nothing but the expression of an accumulative crisis that erupted into a
"volcanic" popular anger on that day.

The popular anger was the expression of a deep economic crisis, common
to all of Latin America, that sprang from the dictatorships of the 70s and
their process of de-industrialization, which worsened in the 90s with the
frantic introduction of neo-liberal policies by the government of Carlos
Saúl Menem. By the end of the decade the crisis was indisputable:
unemployment was well over 20% and steadily growing, there was total
stagnation of the productive activities of the medium and small industries,
a persistent recession in the period between 1996-2001 and an external
debt that was out of control. These were all clear symptoms that
something was not working in the 'model economy' of Latin America [1].

The development of the crisis throughout the 90s lead to the emergence of
the unemployed workers movement as a new dominant player in the
popular struggles in Argentina. The Piqueteros, as they are called,
emerged in the middle of the 90s, as a new type of organisation, demanded
work through blockading of roads. They were pretty much inclined to
direct action and, in many cases, to horizontal forms of organisation [2].
Soon they became a real alternative to the bureaucratised trade unions and
to the increasing problem that an important segment of the working class
was not represented in the unions (due to them being marginalised
through their unemployment). This movement was the first ring in the bell
of a deep social crisis that was becoming deeper and deeper.

Apart from people's deteriorating living standards and the increasing
difficulties of the successive governments in dealing with the worsening
economic situation, it is necessary to consider a new factor in order to
understand the political crisis of that year: the internal frictions between
sectors of the bourgeoisie (ruling class). One was represented in the new
governing party (UCR, a liberal party) and the other by the Peronists (PJ, a
nationalist movement, with populist strands, but with strong rightist
trends). From the very beginning of the De La Rúa government the PJ
started to use all of their forces to oppose and destabilize his government
(bosses' confederations, unions and parliamentary opposition), as they saw
in this a plausible way to recover their lost power and political influence,
and pave the way to become the next government.

That explosive mixture of inter-bourgeois conflict - deep economic crisis,
suffocating external debt, middle class unrest, the bankruptcy of the banks
(which made the government impose a "corralito" [3], a "fence", on the
savings, as the people were running to get their savings out of their
accounts) and the unbearable conditions of life for the working class - all
exploded on the 19th of December of 2001, when different actors (the
unemployed, middle classes, neighbours, etc.) came out to demand the
end of "corralito" and the resignation of the government. Suddenly
prosperous Buenos Aires was under siege by the suburban morochos and
negros (in posh Argentinean jargon, anyone whose colour of skin happens
to be darker than marble) coming from the poor slums, from those sectors
of Argentinean cities that certainly doesn't look like a South American
Italy [4].

The movement took over the streets, and after 48 hours of struggles and
clashes with the police, they toppled the unpopular government of De La
Rúa. Immediately, popular assemblies flourished in almost every
neighbourhood in Buenos Aires while the piqueteros went on the
offensive. And the left felt over confident about an achievement in which
really no group or party merited hardly any credit at all. Many in the left
went further and tried to decipher in the events of December a new
revolutionary subjectivity, a new way of doing a "revolution", confusing
the toppling of a government with the deep changes required to overcome
capitalism in revolutionary terms - this in fairness, was nothing but
recycled old spontaneism. But that revolutionary fight won't be won by the
working class in the streets, but in the factories, in the fields, mines and
workshops; not by toppling presidents, but by affecting the logic of
capitalist society and expropriating the bourgeoisie while destroying the
State and all other bourgeois institutions, building at the same time, from
the bottom up the new institutions of direct democracy.
The new economic situation

Some people definitely thought that the December upheaval had gone
further than it really had and that the revolution was around the corner. In
reality the political scenario is far more complex, with the ruling classes
returning to the offensive while the situation in Argentina has not
improved at all: 40% of the population is still living in poverty while hunger
affects the stomach of 25% of the population. Unemployment is still no
less than 21% and precarious employment affects 70% of the working
class. 10% of the population takes 51.7% of the national income, and
inequality is increasing - in 1991, the richest 20% in Buenos Aires was
17.5 times richer than the poorest 20%; in 2003, it was 52.7 times richer.
The external debt, keeps growing, and was U$114,600,000,000 in May
2002, early this year it was U$178,000,000,000 [5]. In this context,
Argentina is still drowning in a lasting crisis, with no hope of an end in the
short term, not even in a reasonably long period of time.

When De La Rúa was toppled by the popular uprising (followed by the
short government of Rodr"guez Saa), Duhalde, assumed the presidency,
and the whole mission of his government was to preserve "normality", i.e.
to preserve the institutions and the economic model; in short to guarantee
a transition....to more of the same. And the new president, Kirchner, who
was inaugurated in 2003, has followed this trend: keep denouncing
neo-liberalism, but leave capitalism untouched. Denounce the
international pressure on the poor countries yet keep prioritising the
payment of the external debt over raising the living standards of the
population. And most of all, he keeps repressing the popular movement,
playing the game of divide and rule as well as demonising the protests.
Despite the illusion of some leftists, who internationally see a progressive
trend in Kirchner's style of politics, his government is actually more of a
desperate attempt to preserve the old world and its institutions, albeit an
attempt disguised in different clothes.
The experience of the factories under self-management

As a product of the last few decades of the neo-liberal model and its
financial emphasis, industrial activity has fared poorly and this has
naturally meant the decline of Argentinean industry. The first experiences
of "f·bricas recuperadas" (reclaimed factories) happened seven years ago,
in the moments of deepening economic crisis in Argentina, well before the
social explosion of the 19th and 20th of December.

They were the expression of a working class on the defensive, trying not to
lose their jobs, trying not to fall into unemployment. They were far from
being the expression of a working class on the offensive.

The first of the occupied factories, the cold-storage enterprise YaguanÈ,
was taken in 1996; then, in 1998, came IMPA, and then in the year 2000
90 metallurgist workers from the Buenos Aires district of Avellaneda
seized the GIP metal company. They formed the Cooperative "UniÛn y
Fuerza" (Unity and Strength), and in January 2001, after paying
compensation, opened a factory in a place which over the last years had
seen more than 1,000 enterprises go bankrupt [6]. That year, the tiles
company from NeuquÈn, ZanÛn, and the textile factory Brukman in
Buenos Aires, were both abandoned by their respective bosses and seized
by the workers. Brukman was seized on December 18th, just one day
before the "Argentinazo". ZanÛn has increased productivity and created
new working posts (250 workers now run the factory). Jacobo Brukman,
the ex-owner of Brukman, expelled the workers on April 18th last year,
but in October 2003, the company was finally declared bankrupt,
expropriated and given back to the cooperative of workers "18 de
Diciembre", so the workers could start production once again, while
singing "Aqu" est·n, estas son, las obreras sin patrÛn" (Here they are,
these are the workers with no boss)...

In the meantime, the owner had destroyed the machinery, and the workers
were camping for six months outside the factory, preventing the attempts
of the boss to restart production with scab labour [7]. Today, there are
some 170 seized enterprises, and 10,000 workers are taking part in that
experience of collective work. In all of them managerial hierarchies have
disappeared and the income is shared equally by all workers. In the past,
some companies spent 65-70% of their revenues on bosses' and managers'
wages.

When the "Argentinazo" came, in December 2001, the seized enterprises
started weaving a network of solidarity around them through the many
activists that started giving them strong support. The popular assemblies
opened their doors to them as well. Soon they started to organise to fight
collectively for the demands that they had in common. The first thing was
to change the law regarding bankruptcy. This law states that, after an
enterprise is declared bankrupt, its machinery and facilities should be
auctioned in no more than 4 months time, in order to pay the creditors.
And in the cases where workers have seized the factories, where
compensation has been requested and otherwise, the owner can reclaim
his property after a while. The workers claim that this law favours the
payment of the debt over the right to work or the continuity of production.

The government currently is preparing a modification of the law, widely
rejected by the workers as it would allow a shareholder model in the
enterprises, which attacks the demand of the workers that every one of
them should enjoy a working condition free of dependency.

The enterprises organised in the MNER (National Movement of Seized
Enterprises), that have taken the legal form of cooperatives, demand
modifications to this law. Some enterprises that aren't organised in this
movement demand the application of Article 17 of the Constitution (the
most prominent of which is ZanÛn - Brukman was also among them,
before switching to form a legal cooperative last year). This article states
that expropriations can take place when the public benefit demands it.
They declare that, just like when there is an expropriation to build a road
there should be expropriations of some enterprises in order to create more
employment. This is the main controversial issue in a broad movement
that is united by the will of the workers to keep their employment, but at
the same time, of changing radically the relationships of dependency,
hierarchy and exploitation, into relationships of mutual aid and equality
(wages are all equal in those factories).

Thus, in the middle of a crisis, under the motto "Ocupar, Resistir,
Producir" (To Seize, To Resist, To Produce), the workers have
spontaneously showed the world their skills to keep society going, once the
employers have fled.
Problems and prospects

a. Relations between the political actors and the new emerging social
movement

The Argentinean upheaval in December 2001 wasn't headed by any of the
leftist parties. Many of those parties and groups undoubtedly had a
presence in many of the working class organisations but the rebellion
happened spontaneously and was autonomous of those organisations.

This opened a new scenario for organisations born right out of that revolt,
like the popular assemblies, that tried to search for a type of politics quite
different to the one of the traditional parties (both to the left and right). But
remaining with spontaneity, they were unable to develop a political project
that could have given coherence in the long term to the whole experience
of organisation from the bottom up. And on the other hand, most of the
leftist parties insisted in assuming the traditional link between political
groups and social movement - one in which the social movement assumes
a passive role, and the "political" actor is the one that assumes all
responsibility.

The intuition of the people rejected this; but intuition is not enough, and
sooner or later, they ended up "accepting" the traditional role of the official
or leftist parties, or the experiences they had built were drowned in their
own contradictions. This was, dramatically, the case with most of the
popular assemblies. Thus, the original battle cry of Argentinean people
"Que se vayan todos" - We want all of them out - that expressed the will to
break with the corrupt bureaucracies, with the political class, turned out
with all of them staying in the end.

And at this point, an anarcho-communist alternative has a lot to say, for
this current is the one that, in rejecting the State and traditional forms of
politics, in advocating direct democracy and direct action, had more to
offer to the Argentinean people. And anarcho-communism was the
political current that could have played a key part in giving a political
framework to the development of a strategic revolutionary and political
programme for the people, based on their own experiences, but using the
resources given by previous revolutionary international experience, from
which anarchism is nurtured. Such an alternative is still to be built, but
definitely many comrades are working on that task in Argentina.

b. Property and management.

One of the main debates in the left around those enterprises is what
immediate solution to follow which would be in harmony with a
revolutionary project - should the factories be in the hands of the workers
themselves as cooperatives, or should they should be managed by the
workers, but owned by the State. A quote from an article in EN LA
CALLE, paper of the Argentinian anarcho-communist group OSL
(Socialist Libertarian Organisation), poses the problem in very accurate
terms and links it to the anarchist alternative:

"In this context, various leftist currents tried to install the debate workers
control vs. cooperatives. 'We fight for nationalisation... we don't want
cooperative... thus, we don't have the ghost of competition haunting us...'
said Celia Mart"nez, of Brukman's internal commission (then candidate
for the Trotskyist PTS [8]), confusing the legal status of cooperative,
needed for expropriation, with the political prospects of cooperativism.
Their proposal consists of demanding expropriation with no payment, that
the Sate provide initial capital, that takes the task of paying salaries and, in
some cases, that it buys production. In other words, that the State gives,
but the workers plan and manage. Expropriation makes necessary that
workers adopt a legal status like, for instance, cooperative. But despite
Brukman, Zanun, Ghelco, Panificaciun 5, Grisinupolis, among other 150
seized factories adopted this status, the problem is far from being a legal
one.

Statisation under worker's management is only possible in the context of a
State subject to the workers and people's power (to understand this
strategy doesn't mean to share it). To demand to the bourgeois state that
expropriation wouldn't be a solution in the capitalist context, but that
would transform it into exercise of workers' power by giving the factories
back to the workers themselves, taking charge over wages, giving an initial
capital, taking into account that the same State-government was the
architect of the situation in which those workers are now, and also that the
workers' movement is in a purely defensive phase, is nothing but an
illusion.

On the other hand, Cooperativism is not a project that gives a definite
solution to the workers' problems. It is far from giving an answer to the
bulk of the workers, according to their interests. It never questions the
capitalist relationships of production, it only questions superficial features
(monopolies, competition, etc.) it is less feasible to create, through a
network of cooperatives, a subsystem parallel to capitalism.

The idea of workers' management of production and society implies that
the only power in a revolutionary society is that of the organisations of the
working class. This workers' management should be understood as the
abolition of all power exercised by a minority, the abolition of bourgeois
power, that is to say, the abolition of any form of State. We, the workers,
shouldn't just assume the workers' management in the fields, factories and
workshops, but also, in the rest of society" [9]

Thus, according to the comrades, the solution was not in one or the other
as political projects (cooperativism, or workers' management with
Statisation), but in providing the conditions for workers not to lose their
jobs - i.e. by assuming the legal status of cooperative (without politically
assuming cooperativism) - to retain the capacity for self-organisation and
in the collective search of a global alternative way of organising society,
understanding that whatever reforms we can win now are only partial steps
that need to be complemented by the struggles given by other actors in the
popular struggle.

c. Towards a Society Free of Managers and Capitalists?

The Argentinean experience, despite the many contradictions and
problems they face, shows unequivocally the superfluous nature of a ruling
class, or of a class of managers. Whenever the bosses proved unable to
administer the industry and to keep it producing, the workers organised
and demonstrated that they can do it as well - and better. The history of
the exploited's movement is full of such examples (Chilean industrial
networks, Spain and its industrial and rural collectives during the
Revolution, Soviets and Workers' Councils in Russia in 1917, etc.) and the
Argentinean experience shows us once again that the working class has
lost nothing of its intrinsic capacity after a century and a half of proletarian
struggle. It shows us the fundamental factor of production: without
workers, bosses are unable to run industry; without bosses, workers can do
it better.

These experiences also highlight many of the problems anarchists
elsewhere face in the wake of popular risings and they show us that the
building of a libertarian society is not a matter of repeating clichés and
slogans. There are no easy answers, and the experiences will vary greatly
according to the local factors, taking into account the much-dismissed
legal problems, economic limitations and local history of working class
resistance. The revolution doesn't happen overnight, but it is the
accumulation of different factors, happening in different places and times.
We have to link them all in a coherent way with a revolutionary and
anarchist strategy, which demonstrates the importance of building an
anarchist organisation, as we anarcho-communists advocate [10] to serve
as a catalyst for the people's struggles. Pure spontaneity is not enough.

We have to start thinking seriously of the sort of problems faced by the
experiences of working class resistance in the pre-revolutionary period (the
relationship between property relations and management of production, for
example, as clearly posed by the experience of the seized factories; the
relationship between the popular movement and the political
organisations). We have to consider the concrete conditions of the struggle
and the particularities wherever the struggles are happening, in order to
have clear policies and practical answers. And at the same time, being able
at a programmatical level to understand the different struggles and to link
them together in order to pave the road towards the libertarian revolution.

All of these experiences prove that the anarchist aspiration of a society free
of managers (both economically and politically [11]) and capitalists is not a
lofty utopia, but a real possibility, rooted in the present, in the capacities of
the working class itself. Again and again history proves that the moment
for social justice and freedom is ripe, here and now, and that all we have to
do is prepare the moment, organise and fight to make it a reality sooner
rather than later. Therefore, when anarchists demand the impossible, all
they show is that the realm of the possible is wider than what the
bourgeoisie would like us to believe. And we demonstrate that every social
experience, every revolutionary action in the constant movement of the
oppressed against their oppressors, which requires the organised forces of
anarchism to take a paramount role, highlights new problems, new
perspectives, while laying, in the very corpse of the capitalist regime, new
bricks in the building of the society free of managers and capitalists.

by José Antonio Gutiérrez D

Footnotes

1 Hombre y Sociedad No. 14, Suplemento. Diciembre 2001.

2 Though over the last couple of years, there has been an increasing
tendency in some piquetero tendencies to bureaucratisation.

3 A demand that was mostly felt by the middle class.

4 A large proportion of the population of Buenos Aires are descendants of
Italian immigrants.

5 EN LA CALLE, Buenos Aires, No. 52, june-july 2004.

6 CNT, No. 301, May 2004.

7 CNT, No. 298, February 2004.

8 Trotskyist party.

9 EN LA CALLE, Buenos Aires, No. 49, Septiembre 2003.

10 The efforts of our comrades of OSL in Argentina, of OCL in Chile, and
of the WSM in Ireland, among others who have grasped the spirit of the
"Platformist" current of anarchism, are directed in this way.

11 Regarding to a society "free of political managers", that is, where the
State as an institution is abolished, the Argentinean experience of the
Popular Assemblies give a good insight into that, as just like the workers
in the seized factories took production and their workplace into their own
hands, people in many neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires took the political
affairs in their own hands in those horizontal spaces of self-organization.

========================================
This article is from Red & Black Revolution (no 8, Winter 2008)
http://struggle.ws/wsm/rbr/rbr7/index.html
Read more articles from this issue
http://struggle.ws/wsm/rbr.html

Print out a PDF file of Issue 8
http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf/rbr/rbr8.html
Back issues of Red and Black Revolution
http://struggle.ws/wsm/rbr.html#Back


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