Friday, October 03, 2008

Support Workers Control

By Florian Zollmann at Oct 3, 2008
FASINPAT - Another world is possible

For six years the workers of the ceramics plant Zanon have run their factory. They call it FASINPAT - "Factory Without a Boss". The worker cooperative is part of the movement of Argentine's worker-run factories consisting of about 180 recuperated enterprises that provide jobs for more than 10,000 Argentine workers.

The 470 workers at FASINPAT/Zanon are spearheading in democratic workplace organisation. Alejandro Quiroga, a FASINPAT worker explains the fundamental FASINPAT experience: "We are demonstrating an economic alternative to what the capitalist model proposes".

Currently, more than 30,000 workers are employed in worker run, recuperated businesses in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The movement of recuperated enterprises in Argentina arose after Western neoliberal policies produced one of the worst economic crises of the country: In 2001, thousands of factories were locked down and millions of workers lost their jobs.

FASINPAT, at that point of time still named after highly indebted former owner Luis Zanon, was closed as well, the workforce fired. Following the slogan: "occupy, resist and produce" workers declared the plant under worker control in October 2001.

At first, workers made this decision out of the necissity to defend peoples jobs and secure their families' incomes. Nevertheless, former union struggles had cemented a deep class consciousness among the workers. As a result of these fights at the file and rank, FASINPAT's long term goal has become to achieve national expropriation to remain the factory under complete worker control.

This could be described as a revolutionary strategy. There are other examples of factory takeovers in the history of worker activism in Argentine. But most former factory takeovers were rather temporarily and used to gain reformistic improvements like wage increases. After reaching reforms, occupations were abadoned.

Contrary, workers at FASINPAT came to the conclusion that fundamental improvements can at best be achieved if the factories remain under worker control. The following changes implemented at FASINPAT illuminate this fact:

First of all, workplace institutions were revolutionized. Worker control at FASINPAT is based on values such as classlessness, solidarity, self-determination, direct democracy, autonomy and equality.

Consequently, the hierachical corporate system was replaced by a general assembly - a basis-democratic body responsible for all decisions made in the enterprise.

Carlos Saavedra, a glazing line worker describes the assembly as follows: "For the workers the decisions should be decided by the assembly as the only authority in the factory. It shouldn't be like the old administrative system with managers, unionists or one delegate who decides what is to be done."

All tasks in the Zanon factory - including marketing, management and production - are now done by the workers.

In practice, newly implemeted forms of organization could significantly improve working conditions and antagonise alienation which was a consequence of corporate division of labour. This, by taking back workers' knowledge through self education and breaking with exploitative workplace relations.

The following progressive efforts were gained by FASINPAT-workers:

- Relations inside the factory were significantly changed along the values described above. Corporate workplace organization was substituted by a democratic assembly and a system of rotating coordinators who address specific sectoral problems. Moreover, oppressive methods of control like assembly bans were abrogated.

- Working processes formerly done by the managment and technocrats were learned and are now done by the workers. Workers also have the opportunity to train and work in other areas of the factory in order to counter alienation and monotony.

- After recuperation, the factory lacked state support and was not equipped with up-to-date technology and infrastructure. Moreover, the workers were short on credit and reinvestment capital. These factors led to disadvantages on the capitalist markets. FASINPAT developed a strategy to overcome these problems: a support network with other reoccupied enterprises to barter products was built. Consequently, the enterprise could partly stay independent from the state and market pressures.

- All workers of FASINPAT gain the same ammount of icome. More than 230 workers have been hired since the factory takeover.

- In 2004, a Women's Commission (Comision de Mujeres de Zanon ) was created in order to overcome sexist institutions and address problems women face due to their overlapping roles as being working women, mothers and political activists.

- FASINPAT/Zanon has developed strong ties with the community by supporting poor people, students and schools in the region. The factory also hosted rock concerts and theaters in order to raise awareness and gain support for their cooperative.

- A broad solidarity network between community groups, workers and national as well as international recuperated enterprises and organizations was established.

- A press commission produces radio programmes, newspapers, videos and a website. This, in order to communicate with the local community and with the Zanon workers and to address important political issues concerning the factory.

- The plans for educational programms to foster political participation in the factory and the establishment of a library are being discussed in the assembly.

- On October 20, 2006, the workers won a longstanding legal dispute for federal recognition of FASINPAT. With the court decision the cooperative was legally accepted for three years. The decision came after a period of intensive community activisms and struggles where workers faced hostility and frequent violence from the state. Thereby support by local people and activist groups in the Neuquén province, where the factory is located, was a crucial factor to defend these attacks.

Nevertheless, the workers of FASINPAT need our support.

The three year federal recognition (until 2009) was cut by a federal court, so that the legality of the factory will run out in October 2008.

The court decision was arguably due to pressures by creditors (among them the World Bank and the provincial government) who want to get paid back loans that highly indepted former owner Luis Zanon owes them.

The creditors arguably are going to demand an auction of the Fasinpat/Zanon factory.

Significantly, creditors could also go after Luis Zanon's private assetts which he took aside as collaterals. Moreover, 95% of the factory's machinery already belongs to the provincial state because of the debt the Zanon family ran up with the IADEP (provincial investment institute).

Considering these facts, the workers at FASINPAT rightly campaign for expropriation, a step which would only need a political decision by the provincial government.

Here are further reasons why an expropriation makes sense:

- The workers have succesfully ran the factory for six years.

- On three occasions (2003-2006-2007) the workers presented a legal project for the Expropriation to the provincial legislature, with more than 90,000 signatures from the local community in support of the cooperative.

- There is the legal framework for the expropriation of a factory in favor of a worker cooperative. The legal framework is found in the national constitution and provincial constitution under articles 76 and 83.

- In most of the cases of recuperated businesses and factories (more than 160 in all of Argentina's provinces) the workers won expropriation laws voted in by provincial legislature.

- The expropriation is the most direct, fast, and economical concrete solution for the 470 workers at the Zanon/FASINPAT cooperative. Why not consider the factory as a common wealth?

- Expropriation would mean more jobs, increasing community projects that the FASINPAT/Zanon has supported with donations, festivals and solidarity.

- In the 6 years of worker control the factory has increased production from 20 thousand square feet of ceramics in 2002 to 400 thousand feet that the plant is currently producing every month. 470 families are supported by the factory directly and 1,500 families indirectly (truck drivers, contractors, taxi drivers, suppliers).

- In order to continue to produce the FASINPAT/Zanon cooperative has already paid a debt the Zanon family had with the Provincial Energy Comission of 1.5 million pesos (half a million dollars).

- The cooperative pays over 200,000 dollars a month for electricity and gas, plus the fines that apply to the factory.

- Monthly, the cooperative donates more than 1,000 square meters of ceramics to families in need and community projects. The cooperative has built the "Nueva Espana" health center, three houses for families in need in a neighboring barrio.

Worker self-management is an important solution to eliminate the exploitative and destructive effects of corporate work division and market capitalism. FASINPAT has done a significant step to overcome these grievances. Worker self-management also provides an alternative to captalist and marked-socialist institutions.

The workers at Fasinpat/Zanon need our support in order to achieve expropriation and remain their factory under worker control. FASINPAT is an inspiring model of how economic institutions can be successfully organized along social, democratic, solidary, classless and humane values.

Fundamentally, FASINPAT demonstrates that another world is possible.


In order to support FASINPAT please distribute this letter or write and distribute other letters of support. It might be a good starting point to contact alternative and mainstream media organizations in your area/country.

To start a campaign I would suggest to contact the Argentine embassy:

E-mail address of the political section of the Argentine embassy in the US:

E-mail address of the Argentine embassy in the UK:

For the official website of FASINPAT (in Spanish) see:

For further information on FASINPAT see Marie Trigona's Z Space website:

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