Autogestión and the Worker-Recuperated Enterprises in Argentina The Potential for Reconstituting Work and Recomposing Life (Draft)

Paper to be presented at the 2008 Anarchist Studies Network conference, Re-imagining Revolution, in the panel: “‘¡Autogestión ya!’ The promises and challenges of self-management in Argentina’s worker-recuperated enterprises” Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008

Marcelo Alejandro Vieta, août 2008

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Résumé :

The Argentine worker-recuperated enterprises (empresas recuperdas por sus trabajadores, or ERT) are direct, diverse, and non-traditional union aligned responses by roughly 10,000 urban-based workers to recent socio-economic crises. Over ten years since the first workplace occupations and their recoveries as self-managed workers-cooperatives, this latest wave of workers’ struggle in Argentina has shown promising alternatives to capital-labour relations and the neoliberal enclosures of life.

But why were almost 200 failing, closed, or bankrupted small- and medium-sized businesses spanning the entire urban economic base subsequently occupied and reopened as self-managed workplaces by former employees in Argentina since at least 1997? Why do most ERTs decide to reorganize themselves as workers’ cooperatives? Why do many of them also decide to open up the shop floor to the diverse communities surrounding them, symbolically and practically tearing down factory walls by sharing their workplaces with community centres and dining halls, free clinics, popular education programmes, alternative radio and media centres, and art studios? Finally, why Argentina?

To begin to answer these questions, I first explore some of Argentina’s key socio-economic and historical conjunctures motivating workspace occupations and the formation of self-managed workers’ cooperatives. Second, I begin to theorize the concept of autogestión (self-management) as it tends to be practiced by Argentina’s ERTs. Third, I sketch out some of the ERTs’ most common micro-economic and organizational successes and challenges, exploring how the struggle to reconstitute a once capitalist workplace as a self-managed workers’ coop interplays with an ERT’s reconstituted labour processes. I conclude by appraising the future possibilities of ERTs for social transformation in Argentina by mapping out four “social innovations” being spearheaded by the phenomenon.