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Argentine Factory in the Hands of the Workers: FASINPAT a Step Closer to Permanent Worker Control May 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Labor, Latin America.
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Written by Marie Trigona   www.upsidedownworld.org
Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Image

Photo Courtesy of Prensa Obreros Zanon

While many workers around the world are worried about downsizing, lay-offs and how to protect their jobs, workers in Argentina have come up with their own solution to business closures – Occupy, Resist and Produce. Many factories, like the Zanon Ceramics plant, have been running without bosses for almost a decade. In response to a financial crisis in 2001 that wrecked Argentina’s economy, workers decided to occupy their workplaces and start up production without bosses in order to safe-guard their jobs.



Zanon Ceramics, now known as FASINPAT (Factory without a boss), has re-defined the basis of production: without workers, bosses are unable to run businesses; without bosses, workers can do it better. As the largest recuperated factory in Argentina, and occupied since 2001, the Zanon ceramics plant in the Patagonian province of Neuquén now employs 470 workers.

This month, the FASINPAT collective is a step closer in winning permanent control of the factory. The provincial government presented a bill in the provincial legislature for the expropriation of the factory. If this bill is passed, and it looks favorable, it would mean a solution to the workers’ long standing legal woes.

Since the plant began production under worker control in 2002, they have faced numerous eviction threats and other violent attacks. The government has tried to evict them five times using police operatives. On April 8, 2003, during the most recent eviction attempt, over 5,000 community members from Neuquén came out to defend the factory.

In a press release, the worker collective said that the legislature received the bill was a positive step. “The historic progress we made today was the result of a hard fight. The collective struggle and mobilization of Worker Self-management, along with the workers in this country, community support and international recognition has made this possible.”

In 2001, Zanon’s owners decided to close their doors and fire the workers without paying months of back pay or indemnity. Leading up to the massive layoffs and the plant’s closure, workers went on strike in 2000. The owner, Luis Zanon with over 75 million dollars in debt to public and private creditors, fired en masse most of the workers and closed the factory in 2001—a bosses’ lockout. In October 2001, workers declared the plant under worker control. The workers camped outside the factory for four months, pamphleting and partially blocking a highway leading to the capital city Neuquén. While the workers were camping outside the factory, a court ruled that the employees could sell off remaining stock. After the stock ran out, on March 2, 2002, the workers’ assembly voted to start up production without a boss. For more than eight years, FASINPAT has created jobs, supported community projects and shown the world that we don’t need bosses.

Luis Zanon´s debts of over $70 million are still outstanding, while many of the creditors want their money back, pushing for the eviction and foreclosure of the ceramics plant. The current bill presented in the legislature would mean that the state would pay off 22 million pesos (around $7 million) to the creditors. One of the main creditors is the World Bank – which gave a loan of 20 million dollars to Luis Zanon for the construction of the plant, which he never paid back. The other major creditor is the Italian company SACMY that produces state of the art ceramics manufacturing machinery and is owed over $5 million.

Omar Villablanca, a worker at Zanon said that the workers are most concerned about providing job continuity – safeguarding the 470 jobs that the factory without a boss have created and maintained since 2001. He stressed that FASINPAT needs a formal long-term legal solution in order to survive as a competitive business in a faltering economy.

“The state needs to make laws so that workers can work. In eight years we haven’t asked the state for anything other than an expropriation law,” said Jose Luis Paris, another worker from FASINPAT.

Economic Crisis Grips Argentina

Argentina is in a better position than other Latin American nations in the face of the deepening global crisis. From 2003 to 2007, Argentina enjoyed a high economic growth rate, between 8 and 9 percent. However, with the global economy in recession the nation’s growth has come to a halt, and it is expected that Argentina will see a drastic drop Gross Domestic Product in 2010.

Many independent analysts expect that the global recession will affect Argentina’s real economy, that’s to say industry and employment rates will suffer from the crisis, rather than the financial sector which already took a major blow in 2001. Those who benefited from Argentina’s economic recovery of course are now those who are using this crisis as an excuse to downsize and lay-off workers.
The current government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has bolstered that unemployment has gone done from the staggering numbers post-2001 crisis. Many of those jobs are subcontracted and underpaid. Official unemployment statistics, which have been under fire for being conveniently inaccurate, report unemployment at 8 percent. However, many independent analysts say that the actual rate is much higher. Eduardo Lucita, economist from Economists of the Left said that analysts don’t have exact numbers because many of the firings are of workers without formal contracts and can’t be tracked. “Argentina has already had a crisis in the financial sector in 2001. The current crisis is directly affecting Argentina’s real economy. Since October, there are more than 50,000 people who are now unemployed. There have been mass firings, lay-offs and pay cuts.”

Workers Paying for the Crisis

In the failing economy, the jobs at FASINPAT are more important than ever. But the government seems to have all but forgotten that the recuperated enterprises and worker cooperatives provide nearly 20,000 jobs for Argentina, while the government has failed to provide a long-term legal solution to the workers without bosses or subsidies that standard businesses regularly have access to.

Another factor in the struggle at FASINPAT is the lack of subsidies for the cooperative. Sales have dropped by 40-50 percent since 2008 due to a radical slow-down in the construction industry nationally.

“Because of the drop in construction, we aren’t producing as much,” says Paris. In 2006, the plant produced 400,000 square meters of ceramics per month, today that number has gone down to 150,000 square meters per month. The cooperative has had to shut off some of the ovens and shorten production shifts. On top of this drop; the workers controlling the factory have had to face sky-rocketing energy prices. The workers pay over 300,000 dollars a month for electricity and gas. And for Paris, the workers should not have to pay more than other businesses do: “Many industry leaders get government energy subsidies up to 70 percent. We want to buy directly from the gas companies to lower our costs or receive subsidies that we are entitled to.”

Many of the 200 worker controlled businesses and factories in Argentina are being affected by the crisis. But unlike their capitalist counterparts, the worker cooperatives are taking any measure possible to avoid laying off workers, something which they are opposed to doing.

“We aren’t like the capitalists. You can’t throw workers out like they are lice,” said Candido Gonzalez, a veteran worker from Chilavert worker occupied print factory in Buenos Aires, one of the first occupied plants after the 2001 crisis.

During the Argentina’s financial crisis in 2001, he occupied his workplace and fought until he and his fellow workers won legal recognition. Now that business is slowing down, many assemblies at the worker occupied factories would rather accept collective pay cuts, than their fellow workers lose their jobs.

When Capitalism Fails – Occupy, Resist and Produce

Capitalism has taken a turn for the worse, spinning itself out of control into a downward spiral which many are characterizing as the second depression of the century. And during this crisis, there are going to be winners and losers. The winners? Most likely big business and banks receiving bailout plans. The losers? The millions who are facing unemployment, dropping wages and inflation.

 “During a capitalist crisis, when the businessmen and governments are trying to unload all their responsibilities onto the workers of the world, Zanon under worker self-management, is a clear example of how workers can come out of this crisis,” say the workers at FASINPAT.

Since late 2008 there have been several new factory takeovers in Argentina. Many workers from the newly occupied factories say that their bosses saw the crisis as the perfect opportunity to clear their debts by closing up shop, fraudulently liquidating assets, firing workers and later re-start production under a new firm.

“[However] Many companies are still open because they are afraid of the recovered factory phenomenon; we have to keep them scared,” said Paris from Zanon. In almost all of the newly recuperated factories, the workers suggest that the owners had no real reason to close up shop – meaning that the businesses had production demand. I have heard workers on numerous occasions say that during the crisis, the bosses are taking advantage of the situation of a recession.

The worker controlled factories and businesses occupied after 2001 may not be by themselves a social revolution, but the example of worker self-management has helped many workers today facing the possibility of losing their jobs with the idea that they can occupy their workplace in order to defend their rights as laborers. Nearly 10 factories have been occupied since 2008. This may be a sign that workers are confronting the global financial crisis with lessons and tools from previous worker occupied factories. Strategically, the previous worker occupied factories have been fundamental in providing advice of all kinds, including legal, political, production and moral.

For many at the recuperated enterprises, the occupation of their workplace meant much more than safe-guarding their jobs, it also became part of a struggle for a world without exploitation.

“The recuperated enterprises are working to change society. We are changing the way of working, working without exploitation and show workers that we can function without bosses,” says Jorge Suarez from Hotel BAUEN, an operating worker occupied hotel in down town Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s worker factory takeovers reflect a strategy of workers defending their rights and taking hold of their own destiny. Hard times require desperate measures – and one measure may be for workers to occupy, resist and produce.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Argentina. She can be reached at mtrigona@msn.com

Happy Mothers Day to the Bravest Women I Know May 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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madres de la plaza de mayo

(Roger’s note: this excellent article published recently in Jakarta does not, however do full justice to the Madres de la Plaza.  During the Dictatorship, when many labor leaders and other leftists remained silent, the Mothers virtually alone stood up to the Fascist generals by defying their orders about demonstrating in the Plaza)

 

 

Mothers of Plaza De Mayo: Justice for disappeared loved

ones, one step at a (long) time

Tifa Asrianti ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 04/26/2009 12:35 PM  |  People

Why are there women here dancing on their own?/ Why is there this sadness in their eyes? ../ They’re dancing with the missing/They’re dancing with the dead/They dance with the invisible ones/Their anguish is unsaid … (Sting)

The idiom “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” applies to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.  Established in 1977, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is an organization of Argentine mothers whose children disappeared during the “Dirty War”, the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

Since 1977, the bereaved mothers have gathered to walk around the Plaza de Mayo in central Buenos Aires for 30 minutes every Thursday afternoon. The simple action of walking gradually caught the world’s attention. Their movement has also inspired families of the disappeared and victims of the human rights violation in Indonesia to engage in similar peaceful protests in front of the State Palace. The Argentinean women have received international awards for their work on human rights. Songs have even been dedicated to them, such as “They Dance Alone” by Sting and Mothers of the Disappeared by U2.

Two members of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (who are now grandmothers) Lydia Taty Almeida and Aurora Morea, visited Jakarta between April 16 and April 22 to share their experience with families of the disappeared. They also met with the National Commission on Human Rights and National Commission on Violence Against Women to boost efforts towards the ratification of The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention against Enforced Disappeared). In the words of Morea, those who kidnap people and make them vanish want to ensure that the victims “are non existent, are nothing, with no identity.” “But Juan, Carlos, Susana [her own son]… exists among the 30,000 who disappeared.”

“Holding on to the memory is the way to fight remains of the past regimes which want the whole story of the disappeared to vanish,” Morea said through an interpreter. During their time in Jakarta Almeida and Aurora sat down with The Jakarta Post for an interview;  the following is an excerpt.

 

 

How did the mothers start the movement?

Almeida: In 1976, there was a military coup and the government was taken over. But the disappearances already started in 1975. After the military coup, more and more people disappeared. The mothers started to ask around about their sons and daughters. [Almeida’s first son Alejandro, a first year medical student, disappeared after he left home in 1975. In 1976, Morea lost four family members: daughter Susana, who was two months pregnant, Susana’s husband, the mother of her son-in-law and another son-in-law. – Ed.]

Azucena Villaflor de De Vincenti, one of the founders of the group, decided that there’s no point in everybody going separately, we have to go together to achieve something.  She decided to get everyone together and said, “Let’s go to the Plaza de Mayo.” It is the square near the government building. Everything, from demonstrations to celebrations, is held there.

At that time, there was a law prohibiting more than three people from gathering together. There were 14 mothers gathering at the first meeting and the police kept asking us to walk on. So we walked in pairs around the square. That’s how we first started the movement on Thursday, April 30, 1977. Until today, we walk around the square every Thursday.

How do the mothers keep the spirit for 32 years?

Almeida: Even if you are not an activist, no woman is ever prepared to lose the most precious thing top her, her children. Most of us were schoolteachers, housewives, and some were professionals, but none had ever experience in activism. We asked questions to the government. Everything was learned by doing.

We just march and we have achieved things very slowly. But in the last 10 years, we have seen justice upheld. There were trials and some of the perpetrators have been convicted. It keeps us going and gives us energy, we will not stop until the last perpetrator is convicted.

Morea: In the beginning, it was the desperate feeling of losing the children and nobody was able to tell us where they were. It was the powerlessness that brought us together. Then the police would kick us around [when marching around the plaza] and put us in prison. It was like walking constantly against the wall. The more we didn’t find out [news of the children], the more determined we were to keep going around the plaza.

 

What are some of the problems the mothers have faced in the past?

Almeida: When we started, no one took us seriously. People called us crazy. In a way, perhaps we were crazy because of our grief and pain. If we went to the police to report the disappearances, the police would say, ”Oh yes, don’t worry, your son has probably gone away with his girlfriend.” Many people were also scared and ignored us. It was important for us to form the group, to have other mothers uplifting each other’s spirit.

Morea: Many of the disappeared were thrown out of airplanes alive, they were called death flights [according to the perpetrators’ testimony given in courtroom]. The bodies were never found. Many women taken into custody were pregnant. The perpetrators waited until the mothers gave birth, killed the mothers and gave the babies to military families. So we made another organization called Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. It is estimated around 500 babies were lost this way, and only 90 were found. They were not sure if they were children of the disappeared, because some of them refused to participate in DNA tests.

Almeida: The disappeared can be anyone, not just activists, but journalists and people who went to slums and told people how to do things. It was just a social thing, but the government didn’t like it. You only needed to make a comment against the government [to get abducted].
The government at the time instituted neoliberal economic policies …  The majority of the disappeared were people who had homes and food but they fought for equal access to water, education and healthcare. It definitely didn’t fit into the economic plan. If they had continued their fight, Argentina would have become a whole different country.

We found around 600 detention centers, where they tortured, killed and raped the victims. There’s a military school in Panama,  run by the US Army. When the US army were in Vietnam, they learned torture techniques. After the Vietnam war, they went to the school and taught the Argentinean military how to torture. A lot of torture techniques used in Argentina are learned from the American armies [In 2000, the US government under Clinton administration released a 1978 cable from the US ambassador to Paraguay, Robert White, to the Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. The cable shows the US were involved in the disappearances of left-wing activists in South America], that’s what shocked us.

When did you start to get results from the movement?

Almeida: In 1983, when a democratic government was reinstalled, the government put the military generals on trial. It was a huge step after so many years. People began to feel justice was being served. Unfortunately the generals were released later.  Some of the military members had pressed President Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín to stop the trials. Eventually he bowed under the pressure. He also passed two laws prohibiting such trials [The Argentinean Congress passed Full Stop Law in 1986 and Law of Due Obedience in 1987. The laws limited the trials and gave immunity to perpetrators]. It took things back to square one.

The first time we really felt results was in 2003, under President Néstor Kirchner. He was the first one who actually made [forced disappearances] a political issue. It was the focus of his government. He denounced the above laws, listened to the mothers and knew the perpetrators should be put on trial.  A number of generals have been convicted. There are barriers, but we’ll never give up the cause until our last breath.

Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner [wife of Néstor who is Argentina’s current president] were democratically elected. Both are the result of people’s choice. Cristina now continues the work of her husband.   We don’t have the bodies to bury, there were no remains. We need to have burial rituals because we don’t know where they are, what happened to them.

Morea: Anthropologists play an important role in our cases because when we find burial sites, they can identify the bodies even if they had been buried for 20 years.  In 1999, we found a mass burial site and the anthropologist identified the remains of Susana, who was shot in her head, along with the remains of Susana’s husband. The mother of my son-in-law and the other son-in-law were never found, perhaps they were taken onboard a death flight, but we don’t know for sure. Now I can go [to Susana’s grave] and mourn and pray. At least one chapter is closed.

That whole process is really important. You don’t know whether they were alive, whether they suffered, tortured or shot instantly. Many bodies have been found, but it is still a long process. This helps mothers deal with it psychologically

What are the challenges the mothers face today?

Almeida: The trial process is very slow, we are getting older. We worry that we are running out of time. We want to see every perpetrator put in prison. From the moment you see the lawyers until the perpetrators are put in prison, it could take years.  

Morea: In my cases, it took 23 years to find the bodies, and eight years to try two perpetrators. But in the end, only one was put in prison, the other was set free. It can take 20 years or 30 years. We don’t need to find the bodies, testimony from witnesses is enough. But it is still difficult. 

The organization of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo split into two factions. Why?

Almeida: It is a difficult subject. We split in 1986 because we had different visions on how to continue the fight. Our group, Founding Line, only wants justice, we want to know what happened to our children and put the perpetrators on trial.  We don’t want to disagree and agree to everything. It’s not a fight with the government, it’s more a discussion. If the government does something good, we congratulate them. If not, we will lobby the government. We are not a political party.

The other group is more political. But I’m going to leave it at that. [The other faction, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Association, reportedly wants more fundamental changes in Argentina]

What was the meeting with the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights about?

Almeida: We talked about the importance of ratifying the convention on the protection against forced disappearances and about the human rights cases. It is a very big field to work on, because the Criminal Code still uses the Dutch version. And every single case [on human rights] must go to parliament, to the Attorney General. If the process in Argentina is slow, it is double slow here. It is difficult. But people here are still young, the mothers of the disappeared must continue. If they don’t do it, nobody else will.

What suggestions do you have for the movement here?

Almeida: Lose no hope. Keep fighting. Guard the memories. We wear headscarves with the names of our disappeared children. We also bring the pictures of our children. It prevents us from forgetting them. We need to show that the disappeared are humans; they have names, faces and families.

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