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Learning from recovered companies

Learning from recovered companies

By Erika González

During his visit to Madrid last week, Ruggeri pointed out the central issues in the recovered companies: the processes of resistance to control the means of production, the unresolved problem of property, self-management as the only way to work, solidarity beyond from the workplace. Undoubtedly, from the Argentine movement of "companies without a boss" we can extract many lessons; let's see some of them.

1. Resistance: In a context of crisis, after the bankruptcy and abandonment of companies by their employers, the perspective of social exclusion determines the search for options by a part of the people who were employed. It is then when they begin the process that is condensed in the motto of this movement: "Occupy, resist, produce." Generally, the first step that workers take is “the taking”, that is, the occupation of the companies, which gives rise to a conflict with the State and the owners who try to protect private property. Thus, those who occupy factories, markets, schools or restaurants must resist evictions and repression exerted by the police, judges and aggressors hired by the former owners. The final objective, to gain social legitimacy and legal authorization to put the company to produce under a self-management model.

2. Property: Until now, the Argentine state has preferred to reduce social pressure rather than guarantee ownership to the former owners of the recovered companies. This is how it has been relatively easy to allow the collective management of facilities, but that does not mean that the ownership itself has changed. In most cases, what has been achieved has been usufruct; therefore, there is still a dispute over ownership. If the State, for the moment, has not chosen to be very belligerent in the face of this movement, it is "because it has achieved a high social legitimacy and because of its current relative weakness," says Ruggeri. In the event that certain private interests are threatened, when trying to recover a large company, for example the subsidiary of a transnational company, the state response could be very different.

3. Self-management: Once the collective management of production begins, one of the hardest phases begins. And it is that they have to face enormous difficulties to reactivate facilities that are deteriorated, without financing or initial capital with which to start the activity and without specialized personnel in areas such as engineering or administration. For this reason, many times those who have no other option remain and start from a lack of knowledge in key areas for production and marketing. In this context, the day-to-day life of the recovered company is far from the ideal of self-management: “Not because it is a recovered factory is there a group that is developing self-management with conviction, but rather it is being built in practice, with all its limitations ”, says the Argentine researcher. Of course, the fact of having shared moments of great conflict, such as the seizure of the factory and resistance to eviction, allows us to face the reorganization of work in a more equal way.

4. Democracy: There is great variability in the ways in which recovered companies are organized: from those that are more horizontal to those that maintain hierarchical structures, from those that have the main decision-making space in the assembly to others where the board of directors has a lot of weight. In any case, the assembly is the resource that those in the recovered company turn to to address decisions with which they do not agree. A fact that Andrés Ruggeri offers in this regard: "50% of the recovered factories hold an assembly once a week." Regarding the legal form they adopt, the vast majority are cooperatives, because it is better adapted to their reality and due to the legal advantages it offers them.

5. Contradiction: Another issue that cannot be ignored are the contradictions that can result from producing goods and services for the capitalist market: "The problem is that the times and the intensity of work are set by the market." Thus, it is not possible to abstract from the economic model because they have to obtain inputs, seek credit and establish clients to buy production. The situation becomes even more complicated when these companies are part of value chains such as those that manufacture auto parts. The pattern is not then within the company, but if its "client" is a transnational company, it is configured as an external "new pattern" that is more difficult to deal with. Even with everything, the way in which decisions are organized, related and made allows, generally, breaking with the logic of maximum benefit, imposing in their place logic of solidarity and equity.

6. Solidarity: "No company recovered only with its workers, they all did so because there were solidarity networks that supported them." In this way, Ruggeri highlights the importance of the role that popular movements and some unions have played in the recovered companies; the neighborhoods' social networks, which were created as a result of the 2001 crisis, have slowed down the eviction of businesses and provided food and resources to sustain the occupations. At the same time, the workers who receive this solidarity return it in different ways; one of them, transforming the company into what has been called an “open factory”, hosting socio-cultural activities carried out by different groups that have nothing to do with the activity sector of the company in question. The fact of supporting the local community and social organizations allows a greater strength of the movement of recovered factories, especially in the face of a possible eviction attempt: “It is not the same to face a group of workers than a series of social, educational organizations , cultural, of the community that surrounds it… It is a much broader social conflict, which makes them stronger ”.

7. Alternative: As we have said, the recovered company starts from a process of resistance by the workers, also questioning the absolute priority of private property over the common good and putting into practice other ways of managing property, decision-making and profits. which, in the end, have nothing to do with the usual modes of capitalist enterprise. Without forgetting, at the same time, the external and internal barriers to advance towards greater democracy in the company, as well as the limitations that derive from putting self-management into practice within the framework of a socioeconomic model like the current one. With all this, the experience of the companies recovered in Argentina appears, with its potentialities not without contradictions, as a mirror in which to look at itself when building economic alternatives that make possible a system based on solidarity, reciprocity and common benefit.

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