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

Monday, August 08, 2005

The recovered factory movement is a community struggle of the neighbourhood; what is recovered is not only work, but neighbourhood spaces also

(Cefomar, publishing house.)

There is something interesting I’m beginning to notice within the recovered factory movement: This movement is a struggle ensconced in the neighbourhood. All of the plants we’ve visited thus far – Patricios, Cefomar, La Nueva Esperanza, Chilavert, and IMPA – are in densely populated neighbourhoods, physically and emotionally woven into the fabric of the local community. (Chilavert, Nueva Pompeya.) All of their stories of occupation share the common element that the neighbourhoods in which they’re located in supported their takeovers and continue to support their legal battles. Many of the workers’ neighbours shared in their struggle, directly and indirectly. All of the workers’ stories we heard spoke of neighbours and family members coming to their aid in their moment of greatest need, bringing them food, clothing, and mattresses during the long months of occupation. (The barrio of Caballito, from an open window at IMPA.)

The recovered workspace movement is, I’m starting to see, a neighbourhood struggle. The emotional and political support of the local community – and, indeed, even the community’s physical support as the community members also place themselves at times in harms way in solidarity with the workers’ fight against the state’s repression – was vital in all of the narratives of occupation and recovery we heard. All spoke of how much they appreciate and covet the love that their neighbourhoods and loved ones continue to give them in their continued struggles with the courts and the state.

Perhaps this is why the cultural and educational events and programs that the recovered plants host and sponsor are so integral to the movement. In fact, perhaps the cultural spaces that form within the recovered plants are merely extensions of the greater community they’re ensconced in. Hosting such cultural events is not just a way of giving back to the neighbourhood out of self-interested corporate “goodwill.” Instead, the cultural spaces within the plants are continuations of the neighbourhoods’ needs. They are always open to the neighbourhood and the neighbourhood uses them often. The workspace walls are not boundaries that protect the work inside from the community outside. Rather, the recovered workspaces are rooted deeply in the needs of the local community because they are also integral parts of the community. (La Nueva Esperanza, recovered balloon factory.) What is recovered in these workspaces is not merely work, but also rearticulated sense of community and belonging and that work need not be – and indeed, can never be – torn apart from the other areas of life. To live passionately, this movement is teaching us, is to understand that no clear boundaries ever exist between a healthy work life and a healthy communal life. They are, as it were, one and the same. As Chilavert’s Cándido González eloquently put it: “If one desires to defend one’s work one has to also defend the work of the other. And, to ensure one has food, one has to ensure the other has food, too."

To recover work and to fight for workers' control of their labour-time, labour output, and their relations to the machines and processes of production is to also recover their dignity and the already-always present connections between work and everyday life from the abstractions of the commodity form and the rational logics of capitalist modes of production. This was one of the articulations made possible by the economic and social crisis of Dec. 19 and 20, 2001.

- Chilavert, Nueva Pompeya, Buenos Aires, July 19, 2005