Reports from Argentina
Posted: Jan. 23 2003, 18:32Last night I attended a meeting of the Commission for Solidarity with the Occupied Businesses in the People's University of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. There were representatives from Brukman, Zanon, and an occupied supermarket in Rosaria called Tigre, as well as representatives from all the combative political parties, unions, and assemblies.
There were a number of items on the agenda, such as the newspaper of the occupied businesses "Nuestra Lucha" ("Our Struggle") and reports from an occupied clinic that was recently re-taken by the police. But the big news is that the long-discussed National Strike Fund is going to be set up this Friday. This will allow the Commission to support occupations all over the country without having to start a new campaign for each one.
The necesity of such a fund has become clear to me since I got to know the people who occupied the bakery last week: as soon as the occupation began they needed to make their own fliers, set up their own strike fund, and collect their own donations. With a National Strike Fund under workers' control, a lot of this work can be done collectively. The idea is to make sure the experience and the energy of the most advanced workers (those from Brukman and Zanon) serve to help those workers who are just entering the struggle.
I asked one of the representatives from Zanon how he could be at a meeting in Buenos Aires and simultaneously be a worker in the Zanon factory in Neuquen, which is 1,200 km away. I figured he was a bureaucrat who had assumed the post of "Buenos Aires representative", living in luxury and wasting the workers' divididends. But it turns out that every two weeks the Zanon workers pick representatives to take the eighteen-hour drive from Neuquen to Buenos Aires. These representatives attend meetings of the Solidarity Commission, visit political parties and popular assemblies, and tour occupied businesses in the Buenos Aires area, before returning to work at Zanon. This is workers' democracy in action!
One of the American girls from USAS asked me why Zanon and Brukman were special, i.e. if there are roughly two hundred occupied businesses in Argentina, why do we always hear about these two?
Zanon and Brukman are currently the only occupied businesses in Argentina who have rejected the offer to turn their factories into cooperatives. As I described in my report on Brukman, these cooperatives come with a lot of strings attached. The workers have to pay rent to the government for two years, and at the end of this period they have to pay compensation to the former owners. Then they are subject to all kinds of taxes, without any of the exceptions and subsidies usually given to the capitalists.
So in the end a cooperative is just another business (even though theoretically under control of the workers) that is isolated from the rest of the workers' movement. Many say "we have our collective, so why should we worry about the rest of the working class?"
History has shown that some of the older cooperatives, businesses that were occupied and made into cooperatives several years ago, generally fall victim to trade union bureaucracy and lose the workers' democracy that inspired the original strugge. In the end a new strata of workers emerges that controls everything in the cooperative without workers' assemblies or elected commissions. (Kind of like a small-scale Soviet Union: proletarian revolution followed by bureaucratic degeneration.) In several of these older cooperatives there already exist proposals to eliminate equal wages and create a pay scale! That means these new bureacrats will start earning more money than the average worker.
So in the end the cooperatives do not represent a major threat to the capitalists. The cooperatives function for a time as little islands of workers' control in a sea of capitalism, and eventually fall victim to bureaucratization or bankruptcy and a restauration of capitalist production.
(The more I think about it the comparisons with the Soviet Union are truly profound!)
So the Zanon and Brukman workers have decided to keep fighting. They will not accept that only their factories should be under workers control; they are struggling to unite the working class and put all factories – even the entire country – under workers' control. That is what makes these factories special: They are hard-core.
After the meeting I went to dinner with some comrades from the PTS. One of them, Santiago, has been to Zanon and was showing off some of his souvenirs.
The Zanon catalogue has the title "Zanon Under Workers' Control" and shows the different styles of ceramic tile made at Zanon. There is the "workers' line", with basic tiles like "workers' blue" and "workers' grey". Then there is the "Mapuche line" which was made in conjunction with the native Mapuche indians of the region.
Under the capitalist owners, the Zanon factory was a nightmare for the Mapuche: their land was stolen and they were driven off it without the least consideration. Now that it is under workers' control the Zanon factory works together with the indigenous peoples. The Zanon workers buy clay from the Mapuche and use traditional designs from Mapuche culture on tiles.
As Lenin said, the workers' government represents the interests of all opressed peoples.
Santiago also showed us an awesome Zanon souvenir: a little ceramic ball about three centimeters in diameter which is used in the factory as a ball bearing, but on ocasion helps the workers defend the occupation. These little balls are pretty heavy, and when fired just right from a slingshot they can break through police shields. It's great to see the creativity of the working class!
The Zanon workers have said that "they are only getting us out of here feet first" (i.e. dead) and they mean it. Whether with slingshots and ceramic balls, or with pistols and rifles, or just with the force of millions of employed and unemployed workers who support their cause, they will keep producing.
– Dzhon Rid