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

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Worker-Recovered Enterprises Movement in Argentina

Self-Management as a Potential Path to Recovering Work, Recomposing Production, and Recuperating Life

Marcelo Vieta, PhD candidate in Social and Political Thought, York University
May 2006
Toronto, Canada

Dedico este artículo a los
trabajadores inspiracionales de Artes Gráficas Chilavert.

This paper takes on the aims of historically contextualizing and exploring some of the latest developments in Argentina’s most recent experiments with workers’ self-management for English language readers. Grounded in a theory of workers’ control read through the lenses of Marx’s labour process critique and critiques of the commodity form, the paper sets out to show how the worker-recovered enterprises movement (empresas recuperdas por sus trabajadores or ERT) is both a direct response to and a viable alternative that moves beyond Argentina’s socio-economic crises and capitalist enclosures of the past 30 years.

Part 1 briefly touches on the history of the movement and begins to draw out a few of the most important social, political, and economic factors that motivate workers’ occupations and the recoveries of their workspaces. Part 2 grapples with two interrelated themes currently being worked out by the movement: First, it appraises a few of the most important microeconomic, organizational, and political successes and challenges that are beginning to trend across the ERT movement. Second, it assess a few of the possibilities for social change growing out of the movement, the new forms of production being experimented with, and the transformation of working life that the movement is spearheading. And, Part 3 explores some of the links being forged between the Argentine ERT movement and comparable workers’ movements across Latin America.

The reflections in this paper, first reported on my travel and research blog Thoughts on Argentina’s Conjunctures, are rooted in work inspired by my month long internship at one of the most stirring worker recovered enterprises in Argentina, Artes Gráficas Chilavert over the summer of 2005. The paper is also inspired by myriad informal conversations I had throughout my stay, together with interviews I conducted with protagonists of the ERT movement, activists from the unemployed workers movement, anti-poverty activists, officials of the executive and congressional branches of the national government as well as officials from the city of Buenos Aires, neighbourhood assembly leaders, and numerous academics.

This paper would have been impossible to write without the time and grace extended to me by the following people: The 19 fellow travelers and compañer@s from Canada and the US with whom I had the great pleasure of sharing many experiences and discussions with as part of the summer internship program entitled “Occupy, Organize, and Produce: The Factories, Streets, and Dreams” ( Graciela Monteagudo and Marcelo “Kelo” Dimentstein for organizing the internship. The University of Buenos Aires’s Faculty of Philosophy and Letters for hosting three exceptional courses on Argentina’s newest social movements and political economic history. The UBA’s Professors Pablo Pozzi, Sylvia Delfino, and Hugo Trinchero for their deep insights into Argentine politics, culture, and its myriad struggles for the liberation of life. Andrés Ruggeri and Carlos Martínez of the ERT Documentation Centre for allowing me to leisurely peruse the ERT archives. Eduardo Murúa, Edith Oviedo, and Maria Rosa González for allowing me to sit in on countless invigorating MNER meetings over mate. My Canadian compañer@s en la lucha por la felicidad, Greig de Peuter and Christine Shaw, for reading early drafts. And York University’s Professors David Noble and David McNally for much invaluable feedback throughout the last year and a half.

The paramount sentiment of gratitude, of course, must go to Cándido González, Fermín González, and the rest of the valiant and inspirational workers of Chilavert. This paper is dedicated to them.