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!

* Check out the excellent ‘The Take’  a film about the occupied factory  co-operatives:

– from SchNEWS Friday 10th  December 2004 Issue 477

SchNEWS, c/o on-the-fiddle, P.O. Box  2600, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 0EF