This article originally appeared on NaomiKlein.org
In 2004 we made a documentary called The Take about Argentina’s movement of worker-run businesses. In the wake of the country’s dramatic economic collapse in 2001, thousands of workers walked into their shuttered factories and put them back into production as worker cooperatives. Abandoned by bosses and politicians, they regained unpaid wages and severance while reclaiming their jobs.
As we toured Europe and North America with the film, every Q&A ended up with the question, That’s all very well in Argentina, but could that ever happen here?
Well, with the world economy now looking remarkably like Argentina’s in 2001 (for many of the same reasons), there is a new wave of direct action among workers in rich countries. Co-ops are once again emerging as a practical alternative to more layoffs. Workers in the United States and Europe are beginning to ask the same questions as their Latin American counterparts: Why do we have to get fired? Why can’t we fire the boss? Why is the bank allowed to drive our company under while getting billions of dollars of our money?
On May 15 at Cooper Union in New York City, we’re taking part in a panel that looks at this phenomenon, called Fire the Boss: The Worker Control Solution From Buenos Aires to Chicago. We’ll be joined by people from the movement in Argentina as well as workers from the famous Republic Windows & Doors struggle in Chicago.
It’s a great way to hear directly from those who are trying to rebuild the economy from the ground up, and who need meaningful support from the public, as well as policy-makers at all levels of government. For those who can’t make it out to Cooper Union, here’s a quick roundup of recent developments in the world of worker control.
In Argentina, the direct inspiration for many current worker actions, there have been more takeovers in the past four months than in the previous four years.
Arrufat, a chocolate maker with a fifty-year history, was abruptly closed late last year. Thirty employees occupied the plant and, despite a huge utility debt left by the former owners, have been producing chocolates by the light of day, using generators.
With a loan of less than $5,000 from The Working World, a capital fund/NGO started by a fan of The Take, they were able to produce 17,000 Easter eggs for their biggest weekend of the year. They made a profit of $75,000, taking home $1,000 each and saving the rest for future production.