11: ZanON and ON and ON!
“The fights live on in Zanon, workers control lives on. The factory is the peoples’ factory, Zanon will not be defeated.” – Protesters’ Song at solidarity demo for Zanon workers.
Argentine workers have stuck two fingers up at the bosses and are running their factory for themselves at the Zanon plant after the owner closed it down claiming it wasn’t making enough profit. But since the occupation the cooperative has taken on 50% more workers and production levels have increased threefold.
The occupied factory is a success story in a country where the US-driven neoliberalist project has dramatically crashed and burned, much like the rest of South America. And just like in other South American countries the government is bowing to external pressure from the IMF, the World Bank, and all the other US-dominated institutions that have ravaged the continent to crush all evidence that there is another way to run a factory, a country, or a planet besides predatory corporate capitalism.
There are plenty of statistics that illustrate the failure of neoliberalism in Argentina. During the 2001 economic crisis 20,000 Argentineans slid below the poverty line every day. $130 billion left the country for Western banks. Unemployment skyrocketed. Five presidents were ousted in two weeks. Even the multinational Citibank lost some $2bn. But soon things started to get back to normal, with mass arrests and protesters being shot dead. Yet another ‘Peronist’ president took power in 2003, the same year that Citibank saw its profits rise by a third.
During the crisis, Que se vayan todos! (Out with them all!) became the common call of protesters. The Piquetero (flying picket) movement of thousands of unemployed workers who use direct action have fought pitched battles with the authorities. In Argentina’s second biggest city, Cordoba, civil servants set fire to the city hall. And you know things are hotting up when middle class people start smashing up banks!
Yet only a year and a half after the crisis nearly two thirds of the electorate voted for politicians from traditional ‘Peronist’ (right wing) parties. The winner, President Néstor Kirchner, once expressed sympathy with the unemployed, touting anti IMF rhetoric. Before Kirchner came to power five presidents had passed through the revolving doors of the presidential office in just two weeks, determined to stay in power he played it slow with his real agenda. Now the gloves are off and he is clamping down on anti-capitalist demonstrations and organisation, with the closure of worker controlled factories.
Kirchner fans reckon he’s done some great stuff, such as forcing into retirement loads of generals and police chiefs from the “dirty war” years of the late 70’s and early 80’s when people were ‘disappeared’ on a daily basis. More than 30,000 Argentineans were murdered by the CIA-backed regime. To his credit Kirchner repealed the amnesty granted by previous presidents to the generals involved, and even told Congress to take fewer bribes! But his self-proclaimed vision of a “normal capitalism” has failed to tackle the most serious obstacles to sustainable, fair economic develop- ment. Government policy is still all about foreign debt payments, privatisations and corporate-friendly laws.
Piquetero and Choose
One in five people in Argentina are unemployed and many felt that they had had enough and could do a better job of running things than the bosses. There has been a wave of worker takeovers. Cleaning staff have been running four-star hotels, a supermarket was taken over by its clerks and even pilots and cabin crew talked of turning a regional airline into a cooperative! There are now more than 15,000 workers occupying 200 workplaces. Occupied businesses are usually run on a one worker, one vote basis and many factories pay all their workers the same salary. The Zanon workers’ co-operative is one of those occupied businesses. Called FaSinPat, short for Fabricas Sin Patrones, (Factories Without Bosses), it has occupied a ceramics factory since October 2001.
And there are many reasons why the local community is so supportive of the co-op. For the past twenty years the poverty stricken community of Nueva Espaqa has been asking the government, without success, to build them a health clinic. Taking on the challenge, Zanon workers voted to build a community health centre and finished the job in just three months.
The factories offer an alternative to corrupt bosses and the politicians they have bought. Running scared of successful community-supported workers co-ops; government agencies have been ignoring the cooperative’s attempts to become a legal entity. Instead judges and politicians have been planning offensive actions against the movement. Workers are being told to toe the line. In an attempt to split the co-operative the government has offered 250 jobs to 400 workers in a new factory making prefabricated buildings. If they refuse they face violent eviction, harassment and a long time on the dole with a marked card. Zanon’s ex-executives have even organised groups of several dozen “barrabravas” (paid hooligans) from the football club Cipolletti to hassle Zanon workers.
Threats against Zanon are part of a wider clamp down. In August more than one hundred workers of the occupied factory Gatic (which makes Adidas clothes), were evicted with tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets. Kirchner has also refused to cancel the political trials of 4,000 activists arrested during the previous regime. The Minister of the Interior promises to enforce a court ruling from April 2004 criminalizing piquetero street blockages.
But the measures have united the piquetero movement, and has led to massive protests. Right now, Argentina’s phone network is on the verge of collapse following strikes by more than 20,000 workers who are demanding fairer wages. In Buenos Aires, the action has intensified with workers storming and holding buildings belonging to the country’s phone companies.
The Supreme Court has just instructed Zanon’s local authorities to immediately carry out the local court’s eviction order. Five attempts to evict the factory have been resisted by the workers, but the latest eviction order looks like it might be carried through. With enough international support the Zanon workers reckon they can resist another eviction attempt.
* Help them stop the evictions by signing the petition now! www.petitiononline.com/zanon/petition.html
* Check out the excellent ‘The Take’ a film about the occupied factory co-operatives: www.nfb.ca/thetake
– from SchNEWS Friday 10th December 2004 Issue 477
SchNEWS, c/o on-the-fiddle, P.O. Box 2600, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 0EF