Keynote. Aktion / Arbeitsunrecht Workers’ Buy-Out Conference, Berlin, Germany, 20-21 June, 2020
Workers Saving Jobs and Businesses in Times of Crisis: Lessons From Italy’s Worker Buyouts and Argentina’s Worker Recuperated Companies
Neoliberal austerity, globalization, business outsourcing and offshoring, and union-busting schemes have led to recurring job insecurity, consistent waves of unemployment, and premature business closures for the past 40 years across industrialized and developing countries in the global North and South. The socio-economic ills caused by COVID-19 have added an additional threat to working people. With half of the worlds’ jobs at risk of permanently disappearing, according the ILO’s April 2020 report, we now stand at the brink of a new Depression. Workers, unions, and progressive governments should be looking to the conversion of workplaces to cooperatives as an already-existing solution for today’s deepening jobs crisis and to bolster local economies.
In this talk, I draw on lessons for workers, unions, and the cooperative sector for overcoming the crisis offered by Italy’s Legge Marcora WBO framework and Argentina’s worker-led empresas recuperadas (recuperated companies). To do so, I will review the most salient institutional policies and bottom-up practices of both the Italian and Argentine models of workplace conversion, such as: the right-of-first-refusal for workers to buyout firms in trouble, adequately reforming bankruptcy law, the use of expropriation, the cooperative notion of indivisible reserves and non-profit status, and cooperative–union–state collaborations for financing and supporting the creation of new worker-directed and worker-controlled cooperative firms.