Thoughts on Argentina's Conjunctures :: Recuperating Work, Recovering Life (2005-2007)

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Worker-Recovered Enterprises Movement in Argentina:...

... Workers’ Self-Management and Hope within Social-Economic Crisis

The text and accompanying PowerPoint slides for my
March 20, 2006 CERLAC Brown Bag presentation.

This presentation covers the latest key themes in my ongoing in situ PhD research looking into the worker-recovered enterprises (empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores, or ERT) in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

RedPepper magazine articles on Venezuela

Red Pepper | On the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution

Agora TV - Online films on Argentina's experiments with social resistance


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Friday, March 16, 2007


Invitation to participate in…



Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires

July 19-21, 2007

University of Buenos Aires
217 – 25 de Mayo Avenue
Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina


Please send a 250-word (max) abstract by July 1, 2007, or any other correspondence to:
Correspondence in Spanish:
Correspondence in English:


The current debates surrounding self-management: A brief overview

Workers’ struggles have reemerged with force in the last decade in numerous forms—union-based struggles, self-managed workspaces, rural movements, unemployed workers’ movements…. These are responses to the hegemony of neoliberal globalization imposing itself throughout the world with absolutist pretensions after the debacle of so-called “real socialism.”

At the same time, the old methods and strategies of struggle—class-based parties and traditional unions, amongst others—have by now shown themselves to be, at minimum, insufficient. Old debates and ideological frameworks are now in crisis. The dominant discourses used to describe the functioning of the capitalist world system can no longer explain quickly enough (never mind predict) the changes in this system that have been occurring over the past few decades, while popular struggles have had to create new paths without having a clear horizon in sight from which to map out a final destiny. And the plethora of means ever available for capitalism to respond to threats against it, as well as the sheer force and relentlessness of its repressive power, amply overcomes the popular sectors’ capacity for change…with tragic consequences.

While the taking of State power has been the driving objective of political forces for more than a century now, more recently there have appeared compelling movements that, on occasion, have questioned such objectives for revolutionary action. At minimum, these movements distance their strategies and tactics from the aims of taking State power, recognizing the difficulties of such a task. But, as evidenced in various Latin American contexts, some popular movements with solid historical roots have ended up allying themselves with national governments swept into power via electoral triumph. And so, when they least expected it, these movements found themselves at times controlling key sectors of the State’s administrative apparatus which, in turn, needed to be profoundly transformed in order to be oriented towards grassroots-based policies.

Of particular importance for many of these grassroots groups are those policies that relate to managing production and the (re)distribution of wealth.

Wavering between these situations and theoretic-ideological debates, workers have been generating—through their actual practices—an alternative course for steering life between inaction and resignation on the one side and the fight for total political power on the other. Subjected to the permanent crisis provoked by neoliberal capitalism, a growing number of workers are playing an increasingly key role in the re-creation and self-management of greater portions of the means of production and the economy as an immediate outcome of their struggles and resistances. And this despite being in the middle of a capitalist ocean. In some countries, workers’ take-over of government and their increased control of the state apparatus (i.e., Venezuela, Bolivia) have, sooner rather than later, positioned grassroots workers’ organizations and their methods of self-management as legitimate vehicles for administrating the economy and as decisively important forces for controlling the strategic economic means of society.

Recovered factories, diverse kinds of self-managed microenterprises, rural cooperative settlements, new types of unionized workers’ movements, networks of fair trade and fair work, and numerous other kinds of organizations and forms of struggle are part of this new landscape. Sometimes they take on autonomous forms. In certain situations they are fragmented. In other situations they form part of powerful and popular political movements, larger social movements, political parties, leftist fronts and coalitions, and even programs that are at times stimulated by the State or, more directly, by a government’s actual public polices.

Regardless of the size and shape of these worker-contoured social-political landmarks, this new alternative landscape puts back on the table the question of the legitimate role of workers in the management of a society’s economy. The working class still does, after all, make up the majority of the world’s population. And workers still depend on their own labour for their sustenance, be they engaged in wage-labour, partaking of the cooperative management of their collective labour, or living in more dire circumstances such as the structurally unemployed, the overexploited, the marginalized, and the poor.

A debate and discussion around these issues, therefore, is needed now more than ever: While the processes and consequences of globalization have been deeply and consistently questioned by numerous social and international movements, the project of actually creating an alternative that can supercede the merely declarative, or intellectual-theoretic reflection, has not advanced much, at least in a form that consistently takes into account both the theoretical and the practical aspects of self-management. (This is not to ignore or lessen the very real, efficacious, and practical outcomes realized in efforts such as the World Social Forum.) Rather, what is increasingly and definitely advancing are the myriad resistances to neoliberal capital that have centred on self-management as a creative force for inventing new experiences and new lives. However partial and nascent these advances might or might not be, they can serve to fruitfully inform and inspire the greater global analyses and debates that are looking for alternatives to capitalist life.

The questions raised by self-management:

What we are proposing for this First International Gathering, however, is not what might be interpreted, at first glance, as a debate on the “social economy” (as fomented, for example, by the World Bank and NGOs focused on “social containment”). Rather, we are proposing the reverse: We would like to engage in discussions centred on the socialization of the economy. Instead of waiting for the fulfillment of the promises set in a far-off utopia grounded in a revolutionary conquest of political power, workers from around the world are presently advancing projects that are giving them back their lives and labour. However fragmentary and limited these projects might currently be, they tend to be rooted in actual practices and concrete experiences rather than in the promissory and the abstract.

What conclusions and lessons can we take from these experiences, then? What connections do these workers’ struggles have with traditional social and political struggles? How do they relate to, or interconnect themselves within, the popular, grassroots-based governments that are increasingly taking hold of power in Latin America? How do these experiences of economic self-management survive in the hostile markets of global capital? How can they generate a new business logic of self-management within the framework of a suffocating system? Can they survive without change to the actual economic system and without transforming those very forms of organizations that they are attempting to overcome? Are they isolated instances of resistance, consequences of the very crisis of global capital, or do they show a path toward a new way of organizing production within a more just social system? Can workers already organized in unions once again come to pressure capital and dispute capital’s power-base, or should the struggle to overcome capital now be engaged from within the actual spaces of production and be about the actual self-management of production by workers? Will these struggles actually be used and appropriated by capital to more efficiently accumulate capital? These are just some of the questions that we feel should be at the centre of the debate amongst workers, intellectuals, and social and political organizations.

This is not just an academic debate, however. It is essentially a political one that should be moved forward with the participation of workers and their organizations. Proceeding in any other way would render the debate an interesting intellectual exercise with little practical consequence. But those who are thinking about these and other issues related to social movements and alternatives to capital from within an intellectual perspective should also of course, out of necessity, participate in these debates. Also at the table should be social and political leaders that encompass views from the perspective of labour organizations and political processes that are disputing State power and that, as in Venezuela or Bolivia, are carrying forward policies that are fostering these experiences of self-management.

From the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires, we propose further strides towards this necessary debate. For five years now we have been working in conjunction with workers in Argentina’s recovered factories and workspaces, attempting to support their processes, document their experiences, investigate their practices, and to better comprehend and reflect on the consequences of their experiments. From the Open Faculty Program (Programa Facultad Abierta) and the Interdisciplinary Program in Scientific and Technological Transference with Worker-Recovered Enterprises (Programa Interdisciplinario de Transferencia Científico Tecnológica con Empresas Recuperadas por sus Trabajadores) we have been developing with these workers projects that seek to extend technological capabilities, develop skills, build capacity, and strengthen the viability of these cooperative workplaces, investigating, on a broader level, the self-management of productive unities abandoned by their owners and recovered and reopened by workers. For us, and we hope for many others, the time has come to incorporate the conclusions stemming from these lessons and experiences—both from the perspective of workers and also academics—into the debate that is occupying the world more and more, a debate that is fundamentally about the direction of these struggles and the change needed in the system of social, political, and economic relations.

From this place we convene this First International Gathering to debate and discuss self-management and its possibilities and challenges…

By: Andrés Ruggeri
Translated by: Marcelo Vieta



July 19-21, 2007

University of Buenos Aires
217 – 25 de Mayo Avenue
Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Open Faculty Program (Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires)
Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (
International Institute for Selfmanagement, Frankfurt, Germany (
Argentina Autonomista Project (

Conference format:

Debate Roundtables:
Debate and discussion roundtables based on central themes, interspersed with panels to guide the discussion.

A final synopsis of each roundtable will be realized and made available as conference proceedings.

Opening and closing plenary sessions will be held.

The debates and discussions will be filmed and recorded for archival and educational purposes in order to make available materials and resources for research purposes, consulting purposes, and for assisting current and future self-management projects.

Thematic Roundtables:
More specific roundtables and panels will be convened focusing on particular themes of interest to participants.

Presentations of documents and already completed or ongoing work for discussion.

Those who forward their work to the gathering’s organizers with enough lead-time will have their work published in a CD before the conference to be available at the conference. Please forward materials to include in the CD by April 30, 2007 to:

Preliminary conference schedule:
Thematic debates and project roundtables (first two days):
• The capitalist economy today: Stages of global capitalism from the perspective of popular movements.
• The self-managed economy: Discussions concerning the experiences of self-management in the era of global capitalism (recovered enterprises, rural cooperatives, self-managed and solidarity microenterprises, cooperative movements, alternative networks of exchange, fair trade and fair work initiatives, etc.)
• The challenges faced by popularly-based, grassroots-supported governments regarding the social management of the economy and the State.
• A critical look at the cooperative movement.
• New challenges faced by union movements; unions; new types of workers’ organizations and collectives; co-management and participatory decision making.
• Plenary sessions (last day)
• The (re)distribution of wealth: The social economy or the socialization of the economy? Suggestions being offered by workers’ movements.
• The limits of self-management: The political possibilities and challenges of a production regime under workers’ control.
• Articulations, expressions, and experiences of the struggle for self-management with regard to other political struggles and other social movements.

Special roundtables:
• The environment and workers’ self-management.
• Experiments in self-management with regard to other social-political struggles and social movements.
• Work from the perspective of gender.
• The role of the university and intellectuals in workers’ struggles.

Free admission, donations accepted:
The gathering is free for participants and audience members. We invite donations for assisting the travel expenses of workers from outside of the Buenos Aires area. For U.S. tax-deductible donations, checks in U.S. dollars should be made payable to: Research Associates Foundation. Please write “Workers' Economy Conference” in the memo, and send it to:
9902 Crystal Court, Suite 107, BC-2323, Laredo, TX 78045. Donations can also be made on-line at Please again note Workers' Economy Conference.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

My upcoming talk on the worker-recovered enterprises in Argentina

York University
March 20, 2007
York Lanes, room 280

"The Worker-Recovered Enterprises in Argentina: Worker Self-Management and Hope Within Socio-Economic Crisis"

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