Factories under workers' control. A lesson for the working class.

Last December, in a meeting organized by the Argentina Solidarity Campaign, two workers from Argentina outlined the experiences in their factory (Zanon Ceramics), which was the first factory to come under workers' control during the current crisis. It was a very inspiring and informative account.

Due to the economic crisis the unemployment figures have rocketed up. The number of beggars is now officially four million, more than nineteen million live under the poverty line. The Argentinean population is only thirty seven million. During the late 90s, the working class had fought back against the De la Rua Government and the vicious IMF plans with several strikes and demonstrations. This struggle reached its peak when during the revolutionary events of December 19 - 20, 2001 the masses took to the streets and overthrew the Government. The response of capitalism has been to plunge the country into still further economic chaos as they seek to try and save their remaining profits in the face of the oncoming disaster that they themselves created with their lust for loot.

But the response of the industrial working class to the crisis has not been as massive and organized as would be the case with other sections of the class. The fear of losing their jobs has held them back in the struggle. But some workers could no longer wait for the rest of their class to move and felt that they had to do something faced with the closure of their factory. This is the case with the workers of Ceramicas Zanon (Zanon Ceramics). Despite the profitability of this company, set up with Italian capital (the owners also opened another factory in Buenos Aires), 100 redundancies were announced in 2000 together with a cut in the wages of all remaining employees. This caused an immediate 34-day long strike. After the strike the management then proposed the sacking of 300 of the 360 workers left in the plant. Faced with the effective shutting down of the plant the workforce decided to occupy the factory under worker's control.

Now the workers meet three times a week to decide production and coordinate their work. They have discussed the problems that the various factories under workers occupation face from the attacks of the police, boycott of other supplier companies and so on. When they saw that none of the usual suppliers were going to provide clay for a factory under workers' control, they asked the indigenous people of the region of Neuquen (the Mapuche people) to provide them with cheap raw materials. The Mapuches who previously had refused to give clay to Zanon, agreed because they saw this struggle as being linked to their own.

The workers have transformed the union at a local level and joined in the struggle of the unemployed movement (piqueteros) to help provide them with jobs.

Another example of the level of organisation now in place is the establishment of their own workers' militia at the factory perimeter to defend themselves from the raids of the police and the bosses' thugs.

After the example of Zanon other factories have followed including Brukman, another ceramic factory with a long tradition of struggle . At the moment there are more than 150 factories being run by workers. There has been a National Assembly of occupied factories which passed a very politically advanced resolution. Among other things they have called for the following:

1 - A federation of the occupied factories, united with the unemployed in a plan of struggle.
2 - Occupation under workers' control of all factories closing down and the opening of the books to see the true situation rather than that presented by the old bosses.
3 - The creating of a fighting fund for those on strike and their families.
4 - Nationalisation of the banks and the creation of a National Bank giving low credits to the factories under workers’ control.
5 - Immediate recall of the workers representatives at any time.

Not only that, they are also calling, because the capitalists are leaving the country with millions, for a workers Government.

The major handicap at the moment is the size of the companies involved. So far none of the occupied factories are from the major industrial sector in the country, but this is just a question of time. As soon as the crisis bites still further, capitalists are going to withdraw their money from Argentina leaving the big oil companies, the steel industry, transport and so on under threat. This will pose the question of who runs society as the first point on the agenda. The unions that have not fought yet, will have to do so. And this will open up a new stage in the Argentinean revolution that started on 19th and 20th December 2001. What is really needed is a joint struggle of the piqueteros, the popular assemblies, the federation of the occupied factories and all the unions, armed with a fighting leadership and a socialist programme.

Sometimes when we talk about a revolution people think about a far away country, poor and backward. This is NOT the case of Argentina, a rich and industrialized country. It is the fourth food exporter in the world, and an economic power in Latin America.

The effects of the current crisis are the results of the IMF plans to open up markets, the so-called neoliberalism or, in reality, capitalism at the end of the 20th Century. What is happening today could happen in any other country with similar characteristics (i.e. any economically developed country ). We need to learn from the lesson of the present and organize to prevent such a development here in Britain. Only a system that can put an end to booms and slumps can avoid the Argentinean experience. The workers in Argentina and the workers in Britain need the same solution, a socialist transformation of society.