Occupying Companies, Creating Cooperatives

Workers' Self-management in Argentina

Marcelo Vieta’s new book Workers’ Self-Management in Argentina has been published in 2020 by Brill Academic Publishers and Haymarket Books.

Based on fifteen years of research, the book documents the emergence and consolidation of Argentina’s empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores (worker-recuperated enterprises or ERTs), and explores how workers have transformed once-capitalist businesses into worker-run, directly democratic and horizontally organised enterprises.

Associate Professor Vieta says “Since beginning this research, I have not only seen workers creating cooperatives from out of the ashes of failed capitalist firms, I have seen them transforming these recuperated workplaces into socially focused enterprises that become deeply concerned with the wellbeing of surrounding communities and neighbourhoods, and that respond directly and locally to social distress and economic depletion.”

In Argentina, around 400 companies have been taken over and converted to cooperatives by almost 16,000 workers in sectors as varied as printing and publishing, metalwork, gastronomy, textiles, health care, foodstuffs, shipbuilding, waste management, construction, education, rubber and plastics, fuel provisioning and tourism.

The book explores questions such as what is at stake for these workers in their strategies and tactics of ‘ocupar, resistir, producir’ (‘occupy, resist, produce’), the slogan borrowed from Brazil’s landless peasants’ and workers’ movement? What exactly are ERT protagonists ‘recuperating’ when they take over troubled businesses in order to self-manage them? How do ERT workers learn cooperative values and practices? How are they bringing to light the continued relevance of working-class struggles?

For Vieta, the book has a personal connection as many of the ERTs are located in the southern suburbs of Buenos Aires, the heavily working-class and immigrant-based region where he spent the first five years of his life before immigrating with his parents to Canada.

As well, many of the ERTs are in the metallurgic and construction sectors, and Vieta’s grandfather on his father’s side, who had immigrated from Italy to Argentina in the 1920s, had been a welder and member of the Argentine steelworkers’ union, the Unión Obrera Metalúrgica (Metalurgical Workers’ Union), one of the few unions that actively supported Argentina’s ERTs early on.

But the book has relevance to the ongoing struggles for democratic participation and self-governance that are occurring across the globe today, as it shows how workers have the capacities to lay claim to their creative abilities, run their own places of work, and collectively manage the production of social wealth.

Vieta along with Ana Inés Heras has a chapter on worker-recuperated cooperatives in Argentina and Latin America in the recently published Handbook of Diverse Economies.

Jenny Cameron