Friday, July 22, 2011

Without bosses: the process of recovering companies by their workers in Argentina, 2001-2009

By Red Libertaria de Buenos Aires,


From late 2001 and the beginning of 2002, sectors of the Argentine working class staged an extraordinary experience of struggle. The occupation of companies and the commencing of production without bosses. In the context of an economic crisis, high levels of unemployment, bankruptcy of companies and massive retrenchments, thousands of workers organised themselves to keep their jobs.

Economic and Political Crisis

Between 1997 and 2001 there was a severe economic crisis in Argentina that impacted heavily on the bloc in power. This crisis was surmounted by a popular rebellion on the 19th and 20th of December that, facing a state of siege, forced the resignation of President Fernando De la Rúa and the opening of a process of leaderlessness in the executive branch of the Republic [1], and an advancement of popular struggle. This rebellion put an end to a series of neoliberal governments in the country, while there was a breakthrough in popular struggle: neighborhood assemblies, movements of unemployed workers and the recovery of factories and businesses by workers.

During the '90s an economic model based on the "convertibility" of the currency was imposed in Argentina. This meant that 1 peso was equivalent to 1 U.S. dollar. Clearly, the only way of maintaining this parity was through external credit. When, from 1997, credit became more expensive, Argentina's economy went into a severe recession. While the economic model had generated a high rate of unemployment (over 10%), the crisis of unemployment now soared to over 25%. Many businesses went bankrupt, pushing more workers onto the streets. The government's response, following the advice of the IMF and World Bank, was to implement national budget cuts, which worsened the people’s situation. By 2001, Argentina had ceased to be a haven for financial investments, with much capital having left the country. The government's response was to freeze savers' bank deposits, a situation that eventually constituted an expropriation of the workers and middle class to save the banking system.

Faced with this situation, the bourgeoisie was divided around two programmes to overcome the crisis. One side sought to abandon "convertibility", devaluing the currency, to make local production more competitive at a global level. The other side wanted to adopt the dollar as legal tender, making the local economy more dependent on the U.S. economy.

The social situation became intolerable in December 2001. The freezing of bank deposits prevented workers from having access to their wages. The lack of money supply accelerated the process of bankruptcy and unemployment increased. It was in this way that, on the 15th, the looting of shops began in the slums of the big cities. The government responded by declaring a state of siege (state of emergency), suspending the population’s constitutional rights on the night of 19th December. After transmission of the presidential message on national TV, the population of the large cities began to take to the streets, banging pots and pans, chanting "What jerks, what jerks! They can put the state of siege up their ass!" or "All of them must go – not one of them must remain!", demanding the resignation of the minister of finance, the president and all the politicians. Thus began the popular rebellion, of an insurrectional nature, that ended the presidency of Fernando De la Rúa.

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