Reviewed: Sin Patron: Stories From Argentina’s Worker-Run Factories, edited by Lavaca, 320 pages, Haymarket Books, 2007.
Following the social upheaval in
The book includes a number of illuminating interviews and chapters by Lavaca, a journalism collective based in
The timing couldn’t be better for the release of this book in English. Readers in the
One story of occupation and worker control told in Sin Patron is that of Sime Quarry, located in the
María met with fellow workers and members of the Movement of Recuperated Companies, and they discussed taking over the quarry themselves. They decided to arm themselves before the takeover in case they ran into any resistance. “We took firearms, and some neighbors lent us shotguns. We announced that we didn’t want to shoot anyone, but wanted to defend our workplace and keep the bosses from stealing anything else.”
It was a terribly hot time of the year and mosquitoes were everywhere. No one had any money, so they used the guns to hunt. “To eat, the men hunted apereá rabbits – they’re brown; they look like big mice. They also fished caruchas from a nearby lagoon, and Don Joaquín would send us tarpon fish from the market. What had happened to us? We thought of ourselves as middle class, and here we were, begging and hunting to make ends meet,” María said. At one point, the workers were getting so desperate they had to sell furniture in order to buy meat.
Over time, they formed a cooperative and a judge ordered the plant be given over to them in April of 2003. Now the quarry is back in business, fully operational under worker-management.
The Zanon ceramics factory was also occupied and put under worker control around the same time. Reinaldo Giménez, a long time worker at Zanon, spoke of when the business was closing down and the boss refused to pay the workers what was owed to them. The boss “put everyone in the same boat, and the workers with the longest tenures said, ‘This scumbag should have paid me. I gave him my life, but he has no feelings, no compassion, and he makes no distinctions.'”
The tension with the boss blew up, and the workers went on strike, setting up tents outside the factory, marching, picketing and organizing a communal kitchen. Local schools, workers and neighbors helped out however they could; even prisoners in jail supported the workers by donating their food. The workers reached out to the community, explaining their plight to passersby. Locals empathized with them because they were hard-working people with families. It was this connection and support from the community that helped the workers of Zanon eventually transform the factory into a cooperative. Ramírez said, “We always said the factory isn’t ours. We are using it, but it belongs to the community.”
That’s a key message at the heart of this book – that these failed factories and businesses should belong to the people, not the wealthy bosses who mistreated workers and then abandoned ship. Such challenges to classic ideas of private property and workplace hierarchy course through every page in Sin Patron. These examples of worker management defy the bankrupt logic of capitalism itself.
Angry workers everywhere should grab a copy of Sin Patron to read of the
Benjamin Dangl is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in