Workers Self-management in Argentina


Over 20 years of IMF loans, structural adjustment plans and "free-market reforms", involving the privatisation of practically all public services, has left Argentina - once one of the richest country's in the world - with an economy in utter ruins. Over half of the countries population now live below the poverty line and unemployment has sky-rocketed leaving over one in five people jobless.

In December last year, as the government responded to the worsening economic crises with vicious cuts in public spending and the expropriation of a substantial part of the capital of hundreds of thousands small and medium savers, popular unrest which had been growing for several years exploded onto the streets of Argentina. The president had declared a state of emergency when, soon after a general strike involving 7 million workers, hungry people began looting shops and supermarkets so they could feed their families. All constitutional rights were suspended and meetings of more than three people banned. Argentineans had had enough and in Buenos Aires alone, over a million people voiced their anger and disgust at the discredited political elite by defying the state of emergency and taking to the streets.

Despite the lack of mass unified actions since then, the mass movement is in no way over and a report by the Interior Ministry holds that some 13,582 protests, road blockades and similar political actions have been staged so far this year (1). As well as protesting, however, people have - largely through necessity - started to take matters into their own hands and to organise together to try make real changes to improve their situation.

Neighbourhood assemblies

Even before the events of December in some neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires local people had begun to meet on street corners to share their unease about the deteriorating economic and institutional situation and to discuss effective forms of protest. After the December protests these neighbourhood assemblies quickly multiplied and by February alone there was over 50 such assemblies meeting in different neighbourhoods throughout Buenos Aires (2). An inter-neighbourhood assembly was soon created to co-ordinate the proposals and report back on the work of the local assemblies. This mass inter-neighbourhood assembly meets once a week and has an average of 3000 local co-ordinators from all the city's neighbourhoods participating in it. The local assemblies, which are autonomous, rotate the task of co-ordinating and organising the inter-neighbourhood ones.

The local assemblies are organised non-hierarchically and are open to almost everyone. People get a chance to discuss the problems they are facing and to organise effective ways of dealing with them. For example, in one neighbourhood, the assembly organised pickets to prevent the authorities from closing down a baker who could not afford to pay his rent.(3)

In a move that is a direct challenge to capitalist property the assemblies have also started to occupy abandoned commercial premises, reusing them with a social function, such as turning them into neighbourhood social centres which provide a permanent presence and meeting space.(4)

More general questions on the economic and political system are also discussed at the assemblies and proposals such as "The people must govern through its assemblies" are brought back to the inter-neighbourhood assembly. Through these grassroots assemblies the idea of direct democracy, of mass direct intervention in public decision-making, has gained legitimacy amongst wide sectors of the population.

Occupied Factories

However the most direct challenge to capitalism is the occupation of factories by workers. On the 1st of October last year, the workers of the Zanón ceramics factory in Neuquén, one of Latin America's largest ceramics producers, occupied their factory and have kept it running ever since. The bosses had stopped production, claiming the factory was no longer profitable and that they could no longer pay the workers. In similar circumstances in Buenos Aires, the female workers of the Brukman textile factory occupied their workplace and have been running their plant successfully for the last 10 months.

The textile workers managed to get rid of all wage arrears and to get the same pay they used to get under the bosses. Likewise the workers in Zanón have managed to keep their pay at the same level as before despite the fact that they sell the tiles at 60% of the previous price. They have even hired, with equal pay, unemployed people coming from the picketers (unemployed workers) movement in the region and are planning to set up a Technical School to train young people and create more jobs.

The workers became acquainted with the whole production process, set up departments for running production and marketing, and in Zanón organised a network of vendors who sell the tiles in the city. Both factories are operated on the principle of grassroots democracy with decisions been made at general assemblies of workers, and shop stewards and co-ordinators relying on grassroots' mandate.

By October 1st this year, the workers of the occupied factories, had already published five issues of their own paper "Nuestra Lucha" (Our Struggle/Fight) with the motto "An injury to one is an injury to all" and "take over and run production in every single closed company". They have already convened two National meetings of occupied factories, the last of which saw the participation, among others, of a delegation elected from the Jun'n Clinic from Córdoba province, which has been in operation without the bosses since last June 13. 40 neighbourhood assemblies were also involved in this meeting and there is now an attempt to set up a co-ordinating body to build permanent links with the neighbourhood assemblies. The workers of the occupied factories are also raising the need for a National Congress convened by the assemblies, the picketers and the occupied factories.(5)

By restarting production in the occupied factories, the workers have shown up the parasitic nature of the ruling class and have set an example to the exploited class that there is an alternative way out. This shows, once again, that when we finally overthow the market economy of capitalism we will have little difficulty in taking control of our workplaces and our lives.

Deirdre Hogan

(1) Some reflexions on the revolutionary days of December, By Manolo Romano and Emilio Albamonte Oct 1,2002

(2) Some comments on neighbourhood assemblies. By The Comrades of the José Ingenieros Popular Library, Buenos Aires, 22/02/2002

(3) Que Se Vayan Todos: Argentina's Popular Rebellion, 15th Feb. 2002

(4) Que Se Vayan Todos: Argentina's Popular Rebellion (2), 2 July. 2002

(5) Some reflexions on the revolutionary days of December, By Manolo Romano and Emilio Albamonte Oct 1,2002


See also

Argentina says "Enough"
On the 19th and 20th of December 2001, there was a major popular revolt in Argentina. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets. The demonstrations were sparked by the government's plan to cut public spending as part of an emergency financial package demanded by the IMF


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This edition is No73 published in November 2002

WS 73 front cover