Occupy, Resist, Produce: Factories Without Bosses

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Beginning in 2001, Argentinean factory workers that had been fired from their jobs decided to take their jobs and their factories back.  Fighting against the former owners, the police and the government, these workers have reclaimed their right to work with dignity and without bosses. This is my undergraduate thesis that explores Argentina's occupied and recuperated factories and the history that led up to this unique social movement. This piece focuses on two factories, Brukman and Zanon, the most famous of the occupied factories.

A Factory WIthout a Boss: Brukman

A Factory Without a Boss: Zanon

OCCUPAR,RESISTIR,PRODUCIR: Occupy, Resist, Produce: The Story of the Fabricas Sin Patron - Argentina's Factories without Bosses (2001-2009)

Monique Gabrielle Maes y Salazar

Dele el mundo cambiale, y usted puede cambiar el mundo- Ernesto "Che" Guevera de la Serna1

"It's exactly what Capitalism, every day, tries to prove is impossible. Bosses are supposed to be indispensable." -Luis Zamora, member of Argentinean parliament.

"Se viene el estallido."-Bersuit Vergarabat


For the "Patrons" (bosses) of the factories in Argentina, December 19, 2001 is a day that should live in infamy. It started with a single staccato beat. It ended as one of the most successful relatively peaceful defiance against a government in the history of the world. President Fernando de la Rua proclaimed a state of emergency, requiring people to stay in their own homes. Some didn't. People started to create their own beats, and soon the citizens of Buenos Aires were peeking out of their windows and calling friends and family to see if they, too, heard the steady beat that was starting to echo through the streets. People began to gather on their balconies and street corners. The wave of the beat spread like a neuron delivering the life-giving snap to a dead limb, exciting a reaction from all across the city, an almost Frankenstein reaction. Buenos Aires was indeed alive. After living through a dictatorship that tortured and killed 30,000 political dissidents and kidnapped their children in the late seventies and early eighties and currently going through an economic depression that was crippling the country, the people were tired of struggling against the government, of living without having a voice in their own lives. This formal decree by the president was the last straw. Millions of people began to pour out into the streets, some only wearing pajamas. It soon became clear that without anyone leading them, they felt a collective spirit to head towards the political center of Buenos Aires, the Plaza de Mayo, home of the Casa Rosada, the Argentinean equivalent to the White House.
Everyone marched to the heartbeat. Thousands upon thousands converged onto the Plaza de Mayo, which was awash with dancing, singing, citizens connecting with one another as equals, brothers and sisters against a common cause. They sang protests to the beats echoing from every corner, lifting up a new phrase that would define the coming weeks, and even the coming years. "Que se vayan todos! Que no quede ni uno solo!" The same place where thousands of thousands gathered to scream and wave banners announcing the glory of Evita and the Peronista government now held thousands upon thousands of protestors decrying the government and its failure to protect them economically.
It wasn't just in the city; millions across the entire country were rising up. Piqueteros were blocking major highways; people were honking car horns in protest, looting shops and setting off incendiary devices.
By midnight, the Minister of Finance Domingo Cavallo had resigned. December 20, 2001, 7 p.m. Fernando De la Rua, president of Argentina, resigned under the supreme pressure of the Argentinean people. The people who had grieved their missing children's ultimate horrible fates, the babies who had been snatched from their families to be adopted into military or police families, the mothers who could not feed their children and worked like slaves in factories who refused to pay them but threatened them with termination if they didn't show up, the middle class who had their life savings locked against them. These were people who had lived in fear since the seventies. "Those of us who were here can't forget what happened in the 1970's: 30,000 people disappeared. This has touched us. It isn't just the 30,000, but also all of the fear that remained, as if people couldn't be political... and well, this is like waking up," says Paloma, a member of Asamblea Palermo Viejo, a neighborhood assembly. And that sound! That sound continued throughout the country, capturing the world's attention from a population with no voice. It was the sound of taking freedom back from those who would destroy it. They may not have had a voice, but they had pots and pans.
The police killed seven people in the Plaza de Mayo. Fifteen more in the provincias. Some put the figure as high as twenty-six.
"We lost seven comrades in the Plaza de Mayo. They had no political banner or ideology, they were only young Argentineans and wanted freedom. Then the government understood that people wanted to kick them out... Those that are up there in power are very worried that they can no longer order us around as before. Now people say 'enough'. We got together all social classes, from worker to unemployed, to say 'enough is enough,' together with people that have $100,000 and that can't take it out of the bank, people that broke their backs working to save up, together with us that maybe don't even have any food to eat. We are all Argentineans, all under the same banner, and don't want this to happen again," says a young piquetero6.
The people threw out four presidents in the next ten days including: Fernando De La Rua (December 10, 1999-December 20, 2001), Ramon Puerta (December 21-23, 2001), Adolfo Rodriguez Saa (December 23-31, 2001) and Eduardo Camano (December 31, 2001-January 1, 2002), a world record. Consider the enormity of this statement: These people threw out four presidents in ten days with pots and pans. It took us an eternity just to impeach Nixon.
Not only were they only armed with pots and pans, the majority of them were women. It has been estimated that over 70% of the protesting population was female. As a young piquetera named Rosa says, "When women no longer have the resources to feed their children, the government is coming down, no matter what type of government it is. Women have an enormous role in this revolution, from the women-only groups such as the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo or the mostly female occupied factories such as Brukman, the one that started the occupied factory movement. "Women were the first to go out in the street and fight. It's women who began the movement. They still maintain this initiative... but the women see the hunger in this neighborhood, in every neighborhood, and what happens is profound. It touches the women first," says Ariel, a male member of MTD Almirante Brown, an unemployed workers movement9. Women are beginning to move from a subversive role in the house as a wife and mother to an active role in local and national politics. Women are not demanding equal roles, they are creating equal roles out of a society that still holds on to traditional gender stereotypes. As Paola, a member of Barrios de Pie and La Toma, an unemployed workers group and occupied building, says, "It's a lot of work to break with this. Machismo is so deeply established. There are companeros who've fought next to you on the street for years, but sometimes they'll tell you to go wash the dishes. It's typical. It's a common joke. And we have to fight this every single day." And fight they are. This movement is unique because of feminine involvement. It is akin to the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, who went so far as to write a feminine bill of rights addressing procreative and domestic issues.
There are three groups that are essential to this entire movement: the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the piqueteros and the cacerolazos. Without each other, it is doubtful that they would have made the strides that they did and found their own ways of fighting back against the poverty and the corrupt governments and politicians that haunt Argentineans. This communication is common among the collectives and fabricas ocupadas of Argentina.

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

April 30, 1977, a woman named Azucena Villaflor de Vicenti gathered thirteen other mothers of disappeared children and went to the Plaza de Mayo to ask where their children were. They walked in circles, since the police told them to circulate. They didn't mean for them to remain, they meant for them to leave. It's been thirty-one years now. They still circulate. On December 10, 1977 Azucena Villaflor de Vicenti was taken from her home for the same crime as her child. She was taken to a concentration camp and killed. She was drugged, stripped naked and thrown from an airplane, like many of the previous 30,000 that disappeared into a watery grave in the vuelos muertos. Eleven other Madres and friends met the same fate. Their bodies are now political statements as well as evidence of corruption.
The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo have seen and experienced first-hand the cruelty of the government in Argentina. Every Thursday at 3:30 pm these women gather around the statue in front of the Casa Rosada in the Plaza de Mayo and walk in a circle around it, holding banners and carrying pictures of their children that were snatched away during the dictatorship to be tortured and killed, without notice, young adults who went to the grocery store or to school, never to return without a single word of their whereabouts. At this time everyone had a fear of green sedans, since these were the standard cars the government used when they were going to take someone to be tortured and killed. The green sedan was the only sign that something was awry, and it was usually too late to get away. The Madres are aging now, but they still walk as tourists gather to snap photos. Some are in wheelchairs, pushed by their grandchildren or other relatives, others hold onto the arms of their children who were not taken or rely on each other to remain upright. And yet they walk. They wear white kerchiefs upon their heads, a symbol that has become recognizable throughout Argentina and in blue cross-stitch declare their state as Madres of the 30,000 Desaparecidos. They have fought for over three decades against the government and are still continuing strong to this day because even though their bodies are failing, their memories are sharp and unforgiving. I took pictures through blurry eyes, watching these women that have incredible strength fight against the almighty government using nothing but their words and their presence. On December 19, 2007, the sixth anniversary of the cacerolazo uprising I watched as the women gathered marching in the circle, holding signs and after about half an hour they marched as close as they could get to the Casa Rosada, which was closed off by riot police and giant metal enclosures that could be closed at any moment in case things got out of hand, imprisoning us all. One viejita took to the microphone and gave an impassioned speech; recognizing the anniversary of what started the new, better Argentina. At the climax at her speech, the woman pointed her translucent, ancient hand at the Casa Rosada and said, "They are cowards! They will not come out to face a bunch of old ladies and tell us what they did with our children that they stole from us!" Tears flowed freely down my face, to see a proper Argentinean elder break free of her constructions as a woman and as an ordinary citizen and stand up as a dissident, something that her own child was killed for. Her voice never wavered, it only responded to the cheering that surrounded her by increasing in volume until it seemed as if her 70-something year old body would collapse. This woman was standing up in front of the symbol of the government, not to mention hundreds of riot police that sat on bike racks and waited outside armored vehicles with machine guns on top, waiting to slam the metal doors of that enclosure that I would invariably be locked into and subjected to whatever the police had in mind. The speech ended peacefully and the crowd was dispersed to wander around police that sat bored in their riot gear. I spoke to a Madre after the speech and asked her when she thought their mission would be finished. She told me, "It won't stop until they admit what they did. I won't say that my son is dead until they admit that they killed him." The Madres have an offshoot of their organization entitled Asociacion Civil Abuelas de Plaza De Mayo (Civil Association of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) who is dedicated to finding the children that were kidnapped and placed in adoptive families during the Dirty War. There are an estimated 500 children who were either captured or born into detention and the Abuelas have managed to locate about 87 of these children and reunite them with their biological families. The Abuelas have continued the fight for justice, and as a result of the their efforts, former dictator Jorge Videla, the man responsible for the ordering of the torture, murder and kidnapping was placed back into house arrest and eventually in federal prison in connection to the kidnappings, despite his pardon by his successor Carlos Menem.


The piqueteros look like your typical revolutionary stereotype. These unemployed workers cover their faces with scarves of indigenous designs or punk rock t-shirts, only exposing their eyes, carry around big wooden sticks, burn tires and block the roads. Upon seeing them, one is reminded immediately of their revolutionary cousins in Mexico, the Zapatistas, who wear ski masks and carry around wooden guns. They are mostly young, unemployed workers that have been given no other choice to display their desperate plight but to literally bring the country to a stop by blocking major highways and train tracks, the routes which most businesses transport their products and receive shipments. The major highways are also use by middle class citizens to get to their jobs. The very word "piquetero" comes from the Spanish verb "to block". A common piquetero gathering involves hundreds, if not thousands in the street waving banners to block the roadway from all traffic and burn tires and trash to ensure that no one is getting through. They are protesting because of the lack of jobs that has forced them to live below the poverty level, like 60% of Argentina's population after Menem's debacle with the IMF. They are also demanding aid from the government, which provides a 150 peso a month allowance, equivalent to fifty dollars, to the unemployed. The government, however, doesn't always pay up and even if they did, fifty dollars a month to live on is not a lot of money, even in the Argentinean economy.
Surprisingly, the biggest critics of the piqueteros are not politicians, but the middle class that is inconvenienced by the piquetero blockings from being able to traverse to their jobs. A friend of mine, Antonio Lopez, 24, who comes from a family of gauchos and sought to make more money in the city, told me that he would be more willing to side with the piqueteros if they didn't block him from getting to his job as a bartender, which is a good two-hour bus journey into the provincia Quilmes, which is outside of Buenos Aires. "They block the roads and then I have to find another way to get to my job, losing the money I would have made if I was there on time. It's very distasteful."
Despite the criticisms of the piqueteros, they have become an integral part of this new movement towards occupied factories, coming in aid when bodies are needed to protect factories. They are greeted with open arms and kisses by the other contingents that are there to show their solidarity with complete strangers that have become neighbors because of the fight. As is typical of protestors, a new term was coined to represent the solidarity between the three groups, "La lucha es una sola!" or, There is only one fight.


The history of the cacerolazo, meaning pot banger, does not originate in Argentina, but actually in its neighbor, Chile. This practice of banging pots and pans with spoons is said to have begun when the housewives of Chile were protesting the Allende government because of lack of goods and also when they heard that Pinochet had been appointed dictator, after the democratically elected president Salvador Allende was assassinated by CIA trained agents. The cacerolazos have always been ordinary people, usually ones that had never been involved in politics before. Their politics arise from the most basic of human rights, the right to work, and the right to feed their families. They are usually middle-class citizens and couldn't be differentiated from the average person on the street. "There are also many, many people that were never part of any group or movement before, who are now a part of this. And there are even those who have put aside their criticism and participate enthusiastically," says Eluney, apart of Etcetera, a militant art collective. Basically, if you are banging a pot in protest then you belong to this group, no matter what country, class, race or creed. The days of December 19-20, 2001 were by far the largest demonstration by cacerolazos that the world has ever seen.

The Politicians

Juan and Evita Peron: Peronismo

Juan Domingo Peron is no doubt one of the most influential political figures that Latin America has in its roster. Born on October 8, 1895 in Lobos, a provincia of Buenos Aires, he was most likely an illegitimate child. His illegitimacy was kept a well-guarded secret, as his parents married later and both he and his brother were recognized. Any hint of scandal would have ruined both his military and political careers. He spent his childhood in Patagonia caring for guanacos and having little interaction with people. Dealing with this difficult animal no doubt taught him how to face tricky situations early on.
It's very hard to separate the image of Peron from the real Peron because they are so entwined in the people's memories and many texts, including the autobiographical ones by both him and his well-revered second wife Eva Ibarguren Duarte, another illegitimate child who forged legitimacy. Both are seen by Peron supporters as great champions of the working class and poor of Argentina, while their enemies saw them as over opulent and dictators. The truth lies somewhere in between.
While it is vehemently denied, it is true that Peron was an admirer of Hitler's regime and indeed profited from the German Nazis.

La Guerra Sucia: The Dirty War

One of the most horrific periods of Argentine history that continues to resonate strongly today is known as the Dirty War, or the military junta that was led by dictator Jorge Videla between the years 1976 through 1983. It is during this time period that an estimated 30,000 Argentinean civilians disappeared along with five hundred of their children, either snatched off the streets with them or born into captivity. Can you imagine your nine-month pregnant daughter being taken, tortured and killed only to have her baby born in captivity and then adopted into another family that you will most likely never know? Of course you cannot, which is why you are still in your seat reading this.
The number 30,000 should seem familiar to students of past oppressive governments as it is how many Algerians were killed during the French occupation of Algeria. In fact, France was who taught Videla what to do. Reynaldo Bignone, named President of the military junta, announced that, "The March 1976 order of battle is a copy of the Algerian battle."
The military junta was almost immediately rocked by terrorism and kidnappings from Marxist groups ERP and Montonaros, assassinations and torture led by Jose Lopez Rega, former minister of Social Welfare under Peron, Videla gained the justification to kidnap, torture and most likely kill 30,000 citizens of Argentina, who may have only said a passing comment, if anything at all, against the government. A common practice was to torture them, detain them for up to thirty months at a time in secret concentration camps, drug them, strip them and then throw them still alive from airplanes over an ocean, known as vuelas de la muerte, or death flights. This was officially labeled as the "National Reorganization Process", and it included taking the babies and children of the incarcerated that were either born in incarceration or captured outside of it and putting them into military and police families to be raised as their own. As the head of Bonaerense, the Argentinean police, Ramon Camps said, "Subversive parents will raise subversive children." Which, obviously, if you are trying to operate a military junta is the best way to assume things.
By the way, the United States' Ford administration knew and tolerated this entirely criminal kidnapping and murdering scheme orchestrated by the Videla government. This military junta was signed and stamped American approved under the guise of "national security doctrine". Carter reversed this and condemned what the junta was doing but as soon as he left office, Reagan argued that Carter had ruined most of the international relationships and in order to undo what Carter had done, Reagan had to recognize the military junta as the absolute force in Argentina, despite its crimes.
Videla banned labor strikes and unions and obviously repressed civil liberties of all kinds.
The economy also took a huge downfall during Videla's administration. At the beginning the country was eight billion dollars in debt and seven years later it was more than forty-five billion dollars in the hole, but it was still only the beginning of the astronomical numbers that the Argentine people were soon to see.
This time in history is known in Argentina and elsewhere as "La Guerra Sucia". This name was actually given to this time period by the Videla government, in order to insinuate that this was a type of civil war, a government fighting against terrorism within its realm. In actuality, the government was the one who was creating the terrorism, instead of the other way around.
After being convicted, Jorge Videla only served five years of his prison sentence before Carlos Menem, the former President of Argentina, pardoned him. He lived a normal life until his pardon was overturned and his conviction reinstated on April 25, 2007 by a federal judge after the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo's extreme efforts to put him back under punishment. He was kept under house arrest until the efforts of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo placed him back into federal prison in October of 2008. Most of his colleagues, however, walk among us, unpunished.

Failed Leaders: Carlos Menem

Carlos Menem is a hated man. His administration was rife with corruption and greed. He entrusted Argentina's economy to the International Monetary Fund and ruined it. The man pardoned Videla, Massera and Galtieri, all members of Videla's dictatorship on December 29, 1990. He himself fled to Chile, but returned to Argentina December 22, 2004 after orders for his arrest were cleared. He still faces questioning on tax fraud and embezzlement accusations.

Failed Leaders: Fernando de la Rua

Fernando de la Rua inherited the crumbling Argentinean economy from Menem. He was also not a fan of human rights, one of his last acts as president being to ban extraditions for human rights violations, directly relating to the dictatorship of Videla. His term as president is also seen as being ripe with corruption and soon the people would scream, "Que se vayan todos," referring to his administration. He resigned the night of December 19th, at midnight. Ezequiel of Asamblea Cid Campeador, a neighborhood assembly, says of the resignation, "When the fall of de La Rua was announced, it was already irrelevant-at least where I was, people didn't rejoice, didn't erupt in joy. At this point it was an annoyance, a little thing that was not so important."


In Argentina, factory after factory closed down, the owners claiming bankruptcy and leaving millions in unpaid wages, always promising to return with money. They didn't return. They had been consistently firing loyal workers who had sacrificed years of their lives, cutting down salaries to beyond laughable rates, not even enough for the workers to take public transportation to their jobs. Soon they were promising everything and giving nothing, but told the workers to keep producing so they wouldn't have to close the factories and fire everyone. After taking their government subsidies the bosses lined their own pockets and took off, declaring bankruptcy and leaving the factories in debt, and the workers without many options. The workers of many of these factories started to occupy the buildings, sometimes camping out of tents and vans in front of them. Twenty-four hour watches were put on to make sure that the owners didn't sell any of the machines. Some people re-entered factories that had been closed for a while, like Forja St. Martin, an auto-parts factory, to find machines, cables and raw materials missing, only to have official middlemen between the government and the owners testify in court that nothing had been taken.
A lot of people would like to simply file this movement under mass anarchism, but this is not the case. The truth is far more complicated than that. These factories depend on the government to make new legislation in order to survive. Without it, they have no legal right to start the machines, begin producing or keep producing. The hardest part of getting the factory going in order to produce is to go through the infuriatingly slow bureaucratic process of creating laws and having them approved not just by local legislature, but the deputies as well. Their toughest opponents are the judicial and legal systems.
To begin the process of overtaking the factory, workers negotiate to rent the factory, as it is stated in Article 101 of the Bankruptcy Law that, "authorization for keeping the company open will be given by a judge only in cases in which closure could result in a serious decline in value or if it would interrupt ongoing production." After they win the right to occupy the factory they must expropriate the machines and the last stage is expropriating the actual property. In order to do this, new laws must be passed and no longer go to a judge, but to local legislature. As the people believe in direct democracy and direct action, staying around the clock at legislators' offices in order to make their voices heard are not a rarity. This process is incredibly long, hard and filled with bureaucratic nonsense that the workers must fight every single day as most factories haven't regained complete control of their factories officially and have only been handed over temporarily. There are ways to make this process easier, and the easiest way is to form a worker cooperative that legally releases them from the owner's debts and in this cooperative, the workers own bodies are considered to be enough capital to run the factory. All you need is forty-five dollars and six members and you can possibly be exempt from capital gains taxes and sometimes-municipal taxes.
Eviction is a constant threat for these factories. Luckily they have friends in the Madres and the piqueteros who show up in the thousands to protect the buildings and workers from police. These people are willing to put their lives at risk to protect the machines the police try to smash.
Sometimes, the hardest part isn't any of the bureaucratic formulas, protecting the factories or protesting, it is convincing others that becoming an occupied factory is indeed viable. "They thought I was crazy," said a worker at the Grissinopoli bakery. People are starting to realize that they no longer have to live under their bosses' thumbs, but can take charge of their own futures for themselves.
The Federation of Work Cooperatives of the Republic of Argentina (Federacion de Cooperatives de Trabajo de la Republica Argentina) lists twenty-five cooperatives in Buenos Aires, but this is only scratching the surface of how many of these factories there are. There are, in fact, over two hundred and thirty cooperative factories in existence today in Argentina, over two hundred and thirty cases of thousands of workers refusing to be put out on the streets because of the fabrica owner's greed. labase.org lists 232 cooperatives that are currently functioning with photos and contact information whose businesses are anything from seamstresses to metal workers, to bars and restaurants and textiles. It's been estimated that fifteen thousand jobs have been created by these reclaimed fabricas.
In Argentina it is illegal not to vote. If you do not vote, you will be denied access out of the country and could face fines or jail time. Traditionally, most of the workers that have taken over factories choose not to vote. They see the system as so flawed that they prefer direct action and direct democracy, rather than deal with a supposedly democratic system that seems to elect the same upper-class politicians with the same ideals and policies but different faces. They have had problems with party officials hijacking neighborhood assemblies and shouting so that no one else can be heard. Graffiti is tattooed on most of the buildings in Argentina, both for candidates and also against the government. One popular graffiti slogan is, "Our dreams don't fit on your ballots." Maty, a young activist that works at Ceramica Zanon says, "That's what I feel. That's what brought me to the decision not to vote... It's a blow, the 19th and 20th was for ‘Que Se Vayan Todos.' And there they all are. Those five candidates there are the ones that we wanted gone."
In Argentina, corruption is rampant. In fact, in a recent study done by Transparency International, Argentina was ranked as a 3, which means rampant corruption within the government. Politicians and party members routinely bribe people with food or pay fifteen pesos (about five dollars) a day to hand out stickers, put up posters and graffiti walls. With 60% of the population living under the poverty level, there are a lot of people who will take candidates up on their offer of a sandwich and a coke for a little bit of campaigning. It isn't uncommon to see the same people handing out stickers and propaganda for two different candidates in the same week. I spoke to a woman, Suzy Reed Arquez, a United States ex-pat who lives in Tucuman, another major city in the north of Argentina. "They pay the people to vote for them with bags of food. After the election, they found a warehouse full of food that they hadn't handed out. In the middle of all this poverty and starvation, they had an entire warehouse full of food, just rotting. It was disgusting, such a waste." The workers at the fabricas don't trust in a system that creates poverty and then hires them to re-elect the same politicians, with the same political beliefs that started the problem in the first place. They are trying to break the circular politics and invent a new one.

The Language Gets A New Word: Autogestion

Autogestion doesn't have a direct English translation. It is, like everything else in this movement, a word that is developing as time passes. The term was actually created by Frenchman Pierre Josephe Prudhon, the first person to call himself an anarchist. It is only appropriate that his magnum opus is entitled, "Qu'est-ce la Propriete? Recherche Sur le Principe du Droit et du Gouvernement" or "What is Property? Research of the Principle of Right and the Government", which he wrote in 1840. Now the word is being used in South America to describe the new movements that are rising. It is a reference to these movements being self-governed, without a hierarchical system that hands down orders. Utilizing direct democracy and forming collectives, the word is used as a description for this continually developing movement of the individual and community making decisions. As Marina Sitrin says, "Autogestion is based not in the what, but in the how." These communities are reinventing the meaning of this word every day, every factory that is taken over, every time they vote in assembly, every time they triumph over the courts and the owners. They are, in Prudhoun's terms, exploring what property is, whether the machines and the factories are really property of the absent owners, or of themselves, the ones who started the machines back into production.

Another New Word: Horizontalidad

Yet another Spanish word that does not have a direct translation, horizontalidad refers to something that exists on the same plane, workers making decisions amongst themselves without a higher power. "Horizantalidad is a new way of relating, based in affective politics, and against all of the implication of ‘isms'." The plane of equality is ever expanding, each new facet adding on to the definition. The way that language is changing points to a future where nothing has to be certain, that if there is something wrong, it can be changed.

Fabricas Sin Patron: Zanon

Perhaps one of the most famous, and certainly the largest, occupied factories is the ceramics factory called Zanon, in the Neuquen provincia. The factory sits on 22 acres and is an incredible 80,000 square feet. The owner was a man by the name of Luis Zanon, a particularly toady individual who counted among his friends the notorious Carlos Menem. Luis Zanon abandoned the factory and put a stop to production in 2001 when he claimed that it could no longer afford to pay its workers. Six months later, the workers were running Zanon by themselves, by means of a popular assembly. Luis Zanon tried five times to reclaim the factory from the workers and the workers beat him every time backed by thousands of people from the community. They formed a worker collective in order to be seen as a different factory from the old Zanon and to legitimize their fight to expropriate the factory and from then on, they renamed themselves Fasinpat, which is a contraction of Fabrica Sin Patron.
In an interview conducted by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein with Luis Zanon, who is infamous for his shit-eating grin, was asked if he was going to get his factory back.
"I'm going to get it back."
"How are you going to get it back?"
"The government will give it back to me."
He repeats that last line, with that trademark grin on his face. The man is so cocksure of himself it triggers a gag reflex.
Despite all of these setbacks and constant threats, the workers of Zanon have created an occupied factory utopia. Everyone works an eight-hour shift doing his or her respective job and everyone earns the same salary. The workers pay for rent and utility bills first, and then divide up the rest of the money equally amongst themselves. There are popular assemblies several times a day where all issues are voted upon, one worker, one vote. They were doing the impossible, sustaining a factory without a boss, something that everyone said could not be done. Not only were they sustaining the factory, they were thriving. The workers actually increased their laborers by 80%, from 240 when they first started and then had increased to four hundred by 2004 to 470 in 2005. "We showed that with two days' worth of production, we were able to pay the wages of all the workers for that month," explains Raul Godoy, Zanon Union Leader. By popular assembly, everyone decided that wages for each worker would be 800 pesos a month. (about equal to 260 dollars) At that time, the employees numbered 326. On top of that, the workers now only charge 60% of the original price, using vendors throughout Buenos Aires and their website (www.fasinpat.com.ar). They donate tiles to local schools and hospitals and have gained the complete support of the community, who view them as an asset. In June of 2006 the plant produced more than 400,000 square meters in tile, a record amount of production for the fabrica's history.
This fabrica does not allow hierarchical organization of the business. As Godoy says, "Now we have no full-time officials. The officials work eight hours like everyone else and we do our union activity after hours. The decisions are all made at general assemblies of workers, not behind closed doors." In a capitalist society, it is hard to imagine such a thing occurring. Anyone who has ever held a job is going to wonder what the bosses are thinking, and how their performance affects their opinions. With the popular assembly, there is no water cooler gossip about the boss, because everything is left open to everyone. This creates a lower-stress environment in which workers can feel free to be themselves, without worrying about being constantly judged and then talked about behind their backs. Photographs and videos of the workers at the factory show smiling faces, of people who could truly enjoy their jobs without having to worry about the weight of an omni-present boss on their backs to work harder and produce more. "When we had an owner, I couldn't talk the way we are right now. I couldn't even stop for a couple of minutes. Now I work calmly, with my conscience as my guide, and without a boss yelling that we have to reach the oh-so-important objective," Nuinimera, a worker at the factory says. The workers even decide when to take their own lunch hours.
Zanon's struggle has been going on for a decade. It came to a head in the year 2000, when a twenty-year old worker named Daniel Ferras died of a respiratory heart attack. The workers discovered that the first aid room was a complete fraud, even lacking basics like oxygen tubes that were filled. As Ramirez recalls, "They suspended people, the strikes began, and everything went to hell." Not to be daunted by the huge shadow of Zanon and his powerful entourage workers set up tents and prepared for the long haul. They organized protests and large demonstrations. The government lent Zanon a loan so that he could pay his desperate workers. As in accordance with his character, Zanon kept the entire loan and did not pay a single centavo to his well-deserving workers. "Zanon was making 44 million dollars in profit annually. In '94 it reached 67 million dollars. But they started cutting back on materials and supplies. They even took away our working material, all with the union's complicity," according to Reinaldo Gimenez, one of the fabrica's young veterans. It wasn't soon after that Luis Zanon declared that the factory wasn't making any profit and would have to be declared bankrupt and shut down. The workers refused to accept this and started to organize marches and political rallies again to reclaim the factory. Their slogan, emblazoned on huge banners that are baby blue and white, the colors of the Argentinean flag, was, "Zanon es del pueblo, apoye los obreros" (Zanon is of the people, support the workers). They sang in the streets, "Now that we are in production, Zanon, you can kiss our asses."
They reclaimed the factory and won their judicial fight. They won the first ruling and won again in the appeals court of the Superior Court of Justice and the Supreme Court. Each decision that was made was in favor of the workers and the courts even gave them the right to protect the factory. After a telegram came on November 30th from Zanon saying that the workers were no longer needed, they burned tires and a photocopy of the letter. The police chased everyone wearing a purple shirt, the uniform of Zanon, throughout the streets of Neuquen and shot teargas into a hospital where Zanon workers had taken refuge. After they left the hospital, a four to five thousand strong march began to protest the release of the Zanon workers that had fallen into police hands.
In the same interview with Zanon, Naomi Klein asks him what he thinks of the slogan his former employees.
Zanon: He chuckles. "What can I say? It's not true, it's not of the people." He chuckles again. "The investment was mine, all the work was mine. I put in everything. It can't be ‘of the people'."
Gimenez says, "He put everyone in the same boat, and the workers with the longest tenures said, ‘This scumbag should have paid me. I gave him my life, but he has no feelings, no compassion, and he makes no distinctions.'"
Because of the constant pressure that is being put on the fabrica, it means that the workers never leave the factory. A twenty-four hour watch is in effect, and for defense every worker of Zanon is equipped with a state of the art, hand made slingshot. That's right, slingshot. As Gustavo Cordera, lead singer of one of Argentina's most popular rock n' roll bands Bersuit Vergarabat says, "What the guys in Zanon did, fighting against the police, with just marbles, like when we were kids with slingshots, against real weapons, they took over the factory." Zanon workers don't just have slingshots; they have the respect and support of the entire community. The people recognize that Zanon workers are not trying to hurt or kill anyone, in fact they are only trying to help themselves while helping the community.
See, the workers aren't only concerned with tiles. In early 2004, the Zanon asamblea voted to create a health clinic for the surrounding neighborhood of Nueva Espaqa and built one in three months, something the neighborhood had been lobbying the government for twenty years.
"We did something else-we took charge of the means of production and made them work. That, to me, is the most alternative thing there is," Alberto, a worker at Zanon says.
Zanon has been the victim of many horrific crimes including robbery, harassment by government officials and common criminals, phone tapping and even kidnapping of Zanon employees. A police official threatened Raul Godoy and the police also waved weapons at his daughters and robbed his house, trashing the entire place. Neighbors described it as a "commando operation". Carlos Acuna, the press spokesperson for Zanon saved himself from being thrown into a car by screaming as loud as he could. A woman was forced into a green sedan (the most feared symbol from the seventies') and was repeatedly cut with a knife and threatened. Her kidnappers told her they knew where her daughter played and would kill her if the workers didn't hand over Zanon. They released the woman back to her home. A police guard was called to watch the woman's house overnight, but an intruder got in and repeatedly slashed the woman with a knife and repeated the same threat. Out of ten policemen, only one was left when the incident occurred, and he claimed to have no recollection of the event.
Even the cell phones of Zanon have been infiltrated. Police use them like radios to record the asambleas of the workers. As Godoy says, "The other day I told someone, ‘Get your phone out of here, you idiot, you're transmitting the whole meeting.' This is completely normal here."
The Zanon workers have spent seven years fighting the police, the government and Luis Zanon. They are winning. Zanon is considered one of the most successful occupied factories in Argentina, always increasing production and expanding their work in the community. Despite every setback and hardship, the workers of Zanon are an astonishing example of the indomitable human spirit. A song plays in the fabrica today, by Bersuit Vergarabat, written for the workers, whose lyrics speak about finding a pact to live by. The workers have found their pact to live by, a pact of equality and work. Once just another ceramics factory in Argentina, the workers have made their name into a household one, a name that is invoked by almost every fabrica that looks to recuperate their workplace. Zanon is la esperanza, the dream that exists in reality. And for the almost five hundred people living that dream it is an incredible victory of historic proportions.

Fabricas Sin Patron: Brukman

Brukman is a suit-making factory located in Balvanera, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Owned by the Brukman brothers, the suit-making factory employed about 300 workers but had to fire over half their workforce due to the business shrinking in relation to the economy. They kept cutting down on the remaining workers salaries until the workers couldn't even pay the transportation fees to get to their jobs, the workers going from 100 pesos a week (about 33$) to two pesos (about 77 cents). On December 18, 2001, about fifty of the employees, mostly women, demanded that the owners provide at least enough money for them to get to their jobs so that they wouldn't be fired for not showing up. The Brukman brothers promised that they were going to return with some wages for the workers and left. Jacobo Brukman told the Brukman women, "If you think you can run the factory better than we can, then here is the key." Instead of fulfilling his threat, he fled. Since the workers couldn't even afford a train back to their homes, they got the keys from the doorman and spent the night waving banners demanding their wages. It was the same night that would turn into a day that thousands were converging on the Plaza de Mayo. The owners didn't return, and the seamstresses took to taking old and new clients, increasing production and paying off debts. Soon they had increased production to the point that they were able to give themselves a raise and hire ten more workers. Celia Martinez, a long time employee says about the economics of it, "I don't know why the owners had such a hard time. I don't know much about accounting, but for me it's easy: addition and subtraction." They were adopted by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo for their success. They made every decision by a vote in an asamblea and had bands play at night at the factory. Some of the lyrics are, "I can see it now! Brukman and Zanon under worker control!" The lyrics are sung with pumped fists, a sign of solidarity.
Eviction was imminent. The women who had taken back their jobs and their machines had made a profitable business and soon the scavengers arrived, sniffing about hungrily. Menem was still in the race to become president and according to Avi Lewis, it was rumored that his friends had been causing trouble in order to reinforce Menem's campaign of security. The date of the eviction is not likely a coincidence. April 18, 2003 was the sight of one of the worst police repressions of an occupied factory that had been seen yet. At midnight, 300 infantry troops forced the workers out and surrounded the entire block the factory was on with metal gates, machine guns, riot gear and police dogs. As an extra precaution, they welded the factory gate shut. Matilde Adorno, who had been at home during the eviction, tells of how she found out the eviction occurred, "I got home from midnight mass, I changed into my pajamas, turned on the TV. That's when the phone rang. I jumped up, knocking over everything in my path. My co-worker Elisa said, ‘Matilde...' And that was it. I knew it." She says this standing in front of a metal gate, almost nose to nose with a riot policeman. She turns and looks him straight in the face. He is young enough to be her son. Liliana, another Brukman worker says while standing outside of the same metal gates says, "I sometimes think that this-our lack of fear-worries those who are in power. It bothers them that we keep struggling. They don't want us to be an example for others." Protestors point fingers at marching riot police, screaming, "Brukman is of the workers! And those who don't like it can screw themselves!" This from middle-aged women and the septuagenarian Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. The gate is opened barely for the joining policemen and is shut quickly with fumbling fingers. They had reason to fear, before dawn over 3,000 demonstrators, including piqueteros and the Madres, had joined the 58 Brukman workers, waving banners and joining in on the chant. In fact the crowd grows so strong that Brukman worker Celia Martinez grabs a megaphone and asks everyone to stay calm. Tires burn in the distance and smoke curls to converge with the clouds.
The workers of Brukman ask to speak to the Police Chief. He approaches the fence where a Brukman worker is hoisted up to see over the top. The workers ask for the police to leave, respectfully, and the Chief replies that since there is a judicial order, he will not allow the police to leave. This is day three of the standoff. He asks the workers, "Are you thinking about shedding blood?"
They respond, "No you are!"
Celia Martinez yells into the megaphone"...we're going to try to get in companeros!"
Someone pushes, the wall falls and then all hell breaks loose. As the workers of Brukman, dressed in their subdued blues cross the line, elbows interlocked make about five steps towards the factory before the police explode with tear gas, rubber and lead bullets, riot bats... The crowd either chooses to fight with rotten vegetables or small rocks or disperses in terror as police club whoever they can reach. People reach to cover the Madres and the workers of Brukman as people head towards streets where they can't see police. A haze of tear gas hangs in the air and debris litters the streets.
As a Federal Judge Rimondi said in the 2003 Brukman eviction order, "Life and physical integrity have no supremacy over economic interests." Perhaps defining capitalism in the most basic and brutal way, it is for us to understand that capitalists are free to pursue the cheapest, dirtiest means of production without regard for human life or safety. It means that workers have no rights to work and complain about working conditions, lest their jobs be spirited away to a more desperate people who will endure harsher conditions and less pay without complaint. This is capitalism, and the workers had been buying it for years, thinking they had no other option.
Matilde Adorno has cancer. When she worked for Brukman under owner control, they would deduct a day's wages from her paycheck when she had to go for her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Now, to continue her treatments the workers of Brukman have pooled their own money to help pay for her them. As her sister says, "These are the people that count. These are the people of Brukman." Humanity has trumped capitalism with a profit.
"My pain wasn't important... I believe I was blind, because I worked, and thought I deserved the wages I got. I believed the owners. Now it's different...I believe this will help our children... and other young people that are still blind today. Through us, and our experience, they're opening their minds, and the same things won't happen tomorrow," says Liliana, a Brukman employee.
In a triumphant day in the city legislature of Buenos Aires gave the women of Brukman back their factory. The sight of sparks flying off of the lock of the factory is greeted with the loud cheers of thousands. On Deember 29, 2003 the workers re-entered the factory. Now, in 2009, Brukman lives to fight another day.

No, They Don't Get Married and Live Happily Ever After

It's not always sunny in Argentina. It would be naïve to think that despite the deep relationship that the workers have with each other there aren't massive disagreements, sometimes leading to the dissolution of the cooperative. The situation is not unlike the situation that was created by the Argentinean revolution led by San Martin. After defeating the Spanish it was, "Okay... now what do we do? How do we form a new identity that is separate from the old one and still unifies us as countrymen?" The workers of the fabricas are now faced with this same dilemma. How to create a new identity completely separate from the old one? How does a former prisoner deal with freedom? The transition is not and will never be easy. Moving from dictatorship to direct democracy is a huge culture shock and one that cannot be dealt with lightly.
As Matilde Adorno said about the early assemblies, despite after everything they'd been through together, "For many of us it was difficult to understand how to live with each other, and treat each other equally. Now we know what it is like in the other person's shoes and we have made peace. In the assemblies we would be able to pull each other's eyes out in order to defend our respective points of views. But afterwards we'd drink mate together."
There needs to be the understanding that any time you get a group of people into the same room to discuss issues there are going to be disagreements and hurt feelings. The challenge is to let the issues lie where they lie in assembly and not carry on grudges but instead accept the majority's wishes.
The high stress of the situation doesn't help either. Constant fighting with riot police and judges at their benches as well as money problems and machine malfunctions is enough to make anyone's cheese fall off of their cracker, but the important part is that they keep trying despite Marx v. Trotsky ideological disagreements or whether or not tardy workers should be docked pay. Instead of letting these sores fester, the workers talk everything out until there is an agreement.
Capitalism is a very individualistic system that has taken hold in our social upbringing as well. It's every man for himself, a dog eat dog world and whatnot. When I first started learning about the occupied factories I asked the other workers at my restaurant what they would think about working in a collective restaurant where all the profits and tips are pooled and evenly distributed. The back of the house, the cooks, dishwashers and bussers who make 7-10 dollars an hour all thought that it was a great idea whereas the servers (of which I am one) and managers who make 10-40 dollars an hour weren't so keen on the idea. A co-worker told me, "That's why I became a server, because we make more money. I don't want to have to share it with anyone else." It's a normal reaction to want what is best for you and yours before anyone else, it's not that they're greedy insolent bastards-although my coworkers are. It's the system that we grew up in and it's the only thing that we know. If you tear the tree up by its roots and plant a new sapling, it will take time before the sapling's roots will fill the holes left by its predecessor.
The most nagging question is the sustainability of these occupied factories. With so many factors working against them it's a surprise that more of them haven't shut down. So far, an occupied factory system hasn't lasted for more than a few years and the Argentineans are going on 7 and a half years of production. Only time will tell if the factories will be able to withstand the pressure from the capitalist market, especially if Chinese products enter it. The workers live day to day.


The most important thing to remember about this movement is that this is not a movement of self-proclaimed revolutionaries, it is not inhabited solely by people who cover their faces and carry sticks, this is a movement of normal, everyday people, lower-class, middle-class, upper-class that look like anyone you could sit next to anywhere, from a greasy spoon to a fine dining establishment. As John Jordan and Jennifer Whitney note in their personal account of February 18, 2002, "For one thing, it was impossible to tell the demonstrators from the passersby. Men in suits and ties with briefcases in one hand and hammers in the other, women with gold bracelets, hand bags, and high heels sharing cans of spray paint, anonymous suits on their lunch break joining the fracas and then melting back into the crowd." This is an occurrence of people uniting despite their obvious differences and starting to do things they'd never imagine they'd do, spray painting banks and taking off their shoes to smack metal barriers. These instances occurred in broad daylight, with no one hiding their faces. As Jordan and Whitney continue, "...17 banks were 'visited'... women with shopping bags and high heels kicking at corporate windows, huge lipstick grins spreading as they watched the glass shatter into thousands of pieces... they also surrounded every armored security van transporting cash from bank to bank that they came upon and covered each one in graffiti, while men in pin-striped suits proceeded the unscrew the wheel nuts and other pried open the hood... Soccer moms jumped up and down on top of the vans, smashing anything that could be broken, side mirrors, headlights, license plates, windshield wipers and antennae." Walking the streets, it is hard to imagine anyone driving a minivan to erupt with furious anger when encountered with an armored truck. It is even harder to imagine everyone else joining in. They had united with the piqueteros and the Madres, each side greeting each other with hugs and kisses. Even common language changed, instead of calling each other "companero"(comrade) they started calling each other "vecino" (neighbor) to represent their new identity as neighbors, despite geographical location. As an elderly shopkeeper says, "Never in my whole life did I give a shit for anyone else in my neighborhood. I was not interested in politics. But this time, I realized that I have had enough and I needed to do something about it.57" The workers that took over the fabricas were themselves terrified, some not even knowing that the cacerolos had descended upon the Plaza de Mayo, or that the government had changed hands so many times as they huddled in their factories, fearing retribution if they left.
This movement is without a doubt, the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen in my life. It is also the most non-political thing I've ever seen. To see people, without any political training or ideology or party affiliation, taking over factories simply so that they can work to provide food for their families is something we've never seen before to such an extent. To see people as old as my parents and grandparents take on riot police without so much as a care for their own safety is absolutely devastating to me. Coming from a society of apathy the passion these people have for their fight, for their cause, is more than enough to give this jaded cynical bastard some hope. And not just some hope. This movement could be instituted all over the world, and not only can but is providing poor people with means to help themselves, not given down through orders by a higher up, but by the people themselves, alone and without any political affiliations are working to provide for themselves. As Luis Zamora of the Argentinean parliament says, "Workers, without ideology, without trying to prove anything, out of necessity, are putting factories back to work58." For 15,000 workers this is the salvation of their lives, dignity and rights. To be able to provide basic human necessities for their families where they could not provide before is the definition of the Dream of Life. In the end it is a moral question of what is right. Is it right that millionaire owners of factories walk off with government subsidies without using them for paying their workers? Or is it right that the workers of the factory decide to keep on going without bosses to feed their families? This movement is serious.
The slogan, "La lucha es una sola" relates to more than this movement. Our struggle, the struggle of every person dedicated to human rights and human dignity seemed like such an impossibility to us after studying time after time after time that the people have been repressed. The idea that people, from below, the bottom of the pyramid can rise up successfully against a corrupt government is the dream of all of us. That salvation doesn't come from a higher up, an icon, a king, a dictator but is found within all of us.
There are no barriers between the unemployed and hungry. There are no barriers between those who are being prosecuted by unjust laws. There are no barriers between us, human beings with the simple goals of providing for our families. In the end, we all have the same needs and wants. In the end it is the question of how much can we stand? How much dignity are you willing to lose? How much is it until we say, "ENOUGH" in any language? How long is it until we work together, instead of against each other? These are questions I've had my entire life. These questions are the reason that I wanted to study political science. To find that the root of politics is not slick politicians or elitist theory, but in fact is the heart and soul of a people who simply want to work with dignity and live with dignity. To see a person's smiling face while they are at work, a former impossibility, is breathtaking.
Despite all of the doubt, these factories are just beginning their metamorphosis. They are joining together not only within the country, but within the continent. In October 27,28 and 29, 2005 the first Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas was held in Caracas, Venezuela. The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, a well-known populist, called this meeting. Representatives from 263 recovered factories and four countries, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and obviously, Venezuela attended the meeting to write the Commitment of Caracas, which is a collection of recommendations to the various Latin American governments in how the workers of these occupied factories, as well as the unemployed workers want to be treated and dealt with.
The legend of the occupied factories is far from over. Zanon, Brukman as well as the over two hundred other companies are still occupying, resisting and producing. There are new occupied factories every year.
This is a complicated story that has no ending, only a beginning. All that is going on now is growth, a creation that has not come easily. They are still creating, each and every day politics are evolving on a grassroots level in Argentina. Every year the amount of occupied factories is doubling. Doubling. The workers show no sign of stopping their struggle and to that, Amen.




Attached Files


Contact email: moniquegmaes@yahoo.com


Presentation 5/14/09 7 PM @ crossroads infoshop kcmo

Monique will be giving a presentation on this at the crossroads infoshop on Thursday May 14, 7 PM.

Details below:

Argentina Occupied Factories: Past to Present (presentation)

The beginning of worker-run factories in Argentina from 2000-2009. How businesses in Argentina have bucked the traditional capitalistic reality of having a hierarchy and have created their own reality within the capitalistic system.

Presentation given by Monique Gabrielle Maes-Salazar

Crossroads Infoshop 3109 Troost Ave kansas city mo 64109