The Zanon factory in Neuquén province in Argentina has operated under workers’ control for four years. It is a great example of the creativity of working class people. Julian Pununuri from Zanon spoke to Paul Hampton during his recent UK tour, organised by No Sweat and the Argentina Solidarity Campaign.
PH: Zanon is an inspiration to socialists and activists across the globe. What’s going on there now?
JP: The struggle continues, supported by the local community, the unemployed organisations (MTD), the left and of course the workers in the factory. The factory’s former owners decided to shut it in October 2001. So workers occupied the factory and restarted production in March 2002 under workers’ control.
We run a newspaper, Nuestra Lucha, a radio station and a website to publicise our fight. We have a DVD telling our story. We support community projects, help build hospitals, visit schools and organise concerts.
Our aim is for the factory to be nationalised under workers’ control. Last year we managed to get the factory registered as a cooperative, called FaSinPat — Fábrica Sin Patrones (factory without bosses), with a statute to work for a year.
PH: Who decides the law on cooperatives?
JP: A national judge decided that we could operate as a cooperative for a year. It may be extended. There is no time limit. But we are still effectively illegal. That’s why we want nationalisation.
At present, we have around 300 workers and are operating at about 15% capacity. We took on 30 unemployed workers. About 15 are women.
PH: How is workers’ control exercised?
JP: The key decision-making body in the factory is the assembly. This is a meeting of all workers and meets every month. The factory is divided into sections - sales, planning, buyers etc. Each section elects representatives who sit on the coordinating body. These reps, known as coordinators, are respected and trusted by fellow workers in their section. The coordinators meet every Monday. They earn the same salary as other workers. There can be an election at any time to replace a coordinator. We also rotate positions.
PH: What can the left learn from the experience of Zanon?
JP: Democracy is the key factor. Workers have a voice and are part of the decision-making process. The assembly is a democratic body, authentic and capable of running the factory.
Zanon shows the left should learn from workers and their communities, from their needs and their struggles.
PH: What have Zanon workers learned from the left?
JP: Zanon workers have learned through the struggle. We’ve learned from students and teachers from the university, who have helped us restart production. We’ve learned from the opinions and conflicts on the left. We value pluralism, those who see reality differently. There are many opinions and discussions within the factory. But there is one reality. Debate is important. But unity is important too.
Socialists are active in every struggle. They are with us, in the factory and in the community. They have helped us rethink, to formulate an alternative to neoliberalism.
Social change is possible. We’ve built a movement, which now includes other factories in Neuquén, in Argentina and across Latin America.
PH: What are the prospects for the factory?
JP: We think nationalisation is possible. We don’t want to stay as a cooperative. We could be robbed of our work. The government, the courts could take the factory away - but not without a fight.
PH: In the history of the workers’ movement, coops have sometimes gone bankrupt during economic downturns, or simply become businesses that exploit workers.
JP: That’s why nationalisation under workers’ control is important. We don’t want bosses. We want to remain waged workers. We’re not aiming to be rich.
PH: What links does Zanon have with other recovered factories?
JP: There are around 300 recovered factories in Argentina, loosely defined - as this includes many cooperatives. There is a network of factories that we take part in - we are all fighting for the same thing. We support their struggles, against the police, the courts and the government. We also take part in international gatherings. In other parts of Latin America, such as Brazil and Venezuela, there are other factories that have been occupied or taken over by workers. We work with them too.
PH: What role does the union play?
JP: Our union is called the Sindicato Obreros y Empleados Ceramistas del Neuquén (SOECN, the Neuquén Ceramic Workers’ Union) and was set up in 2000. It used to be part of the ceramics federation and the CGT [one of three union centres in Argentina]. We left the federation and are now an independent union. We have organised branches in four ceramics factories. The unions in Argentina are weak and still influenced by the Peronists [who run the government]. But over the last year there have been many workers’ struggles, in hospitals, in airlines, on the subway and now among oil workers.
• More on Zanon