...of workers' control in action. Some very interesting stuff for those of you who are interested in worker's self-management and workplace democracy (as I know most of you are
The first one is from Argentina with what is known as 'fábrica recuperada', or the 'recovered factories' movement. In the wake of Argentina's 2001 economic crisis, many factories faced bankruptcy. Many were simply abandoned. Even after going through extensive wage cuts, the workers were looking at a high level of unemployment. Instead, the workers began to occupy the factories and run them themselves as worker cooperatives. About 200 companies were recovered in this fashion, with about 15,000 workers. Most are run cooperatively by the workers, with important management decisions being made democratically.
The first and most famous of these is the Brukman textile factory, in Buenos Aires. Debts had piled up and the owners abandoned the place. The workers took over the facility and began to operate it on their own. They eventually made new clients, paid off the debts, organized an assembly, set their own wages and hired more employees. The owners eventually returned and wanted to retake control. After much legal wrangling, the workers eventually prevailed and continue to operate the factory as a workers' cooperative.
There is a documentary about this phenomenon called The Take
, by Naomi Klein.
The second example is very different. Instead of being implemented by the workers, with much acrimony between them and the bosses, this one was implemented by the boss, Ricardo Semler.
Semler's father owned a factory in Brazil that he ran in the traditional style of autocratic management. But when Ricardo took over, he instituted some sweeping changes. He fired many of the old managers, gave day to day running of the factory over to the workers, and implemented a 29% revenue sharing program. The company has prospered as a result. Annual revenue has increased from $4 million, in 1982, to $212 million, in 2003.*
Semler was named 'Brazilian Businessman of the Year' for 1990 and 1992 and he has written a book about the process, called Maverick
. You can read part of the introduction to the book at Amazon.com. It provides more detail on the operation. Fascinating stuff.
So there you have it. Two very different approaches toward worker self-management. One instituted from below and one from above. But perhaps the most relevant point is that this is workplace democracy within
a capitalist system. Even if capitalism is here to stay, there's no reason it can't be made more democratic.