Worker Control


Freddy Espinosa & his friends run their workplace without a boss. So do the workers at Zanon the largest tile factory in Latin America. Many factories & other businesses are closing down in SA. We are told this is because of the “recession”. The real reason is the capitalists are greedy & incompetent. All over the world people are suffering because of this. Yet none of the political parties from the DA to the ANC has an alternative. This is because they are run by rich people who benefit from they way things are now. When people like Mr Malema talk about nationalization they are confusing you. We don’t need bosses black or white, capitalist or bureaucrat. South African workers can run these companies just like the workers in Argentina & other countries.

South Africa Workers take over factory to defend jobs
DSM (CWI in South Africa) reporters

On Wednesday 20 October, the workers of the Mine Line/TAP Engineering factory in Krugersdorp, just outside Soweto, started an occupation of their workplace to stop the former owner from stripping the factory of machinery and other assets and to fight to save their jobs. The workers are organised by the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa (MEWUSA) in which the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – CWI in South Africa)), plays a leading role. They are occupying the plant and mobilising a mass solidarity campaign, demanding state takeover of the factory, so that it can be reopened as a democratically run workers’ co-operative.

Mine Line/Tap Engineering, which produces valves, locomotives etc for the mining industry, was shut down in August as the owner, Mr. Mulder, was trying to escape responsibility for the deaths of three workers in a 4 August accident, caused by his gross disregard for workers’ health and safety. Despite the economic crisis, Mine Line has remained a viable business. The insolvency is the direct result of Mulder’s criminal looting, fraud and theft. He took R15m in cash from the company account, in addition to the fleet of luxury cars and helicopters he had bought himself with company money, and filed for bankruptcy the following day. While he has since been colluding with the liquidator, Commonwealth Trust, to loot the company, stealing its funds to set up business elsewhere, the 107 workers and the families of the workers who were killed are left with nothing to show for, in most cases, over 25 years of service.

Inside occupation
Workers decided on Wednesday 20 October to guard the premises to stop the ex-owner and the liquidator from stealing any more machinery or other assets from the factory. Workers are fighting to save jobs, pensions and benefits, but also to show that production and society in general can be run without the capitalist bosses. The workers are demanding that the state should transfer ownership to the workers and inject capital to revive the business, and are forming a co-operative to run the factory, as a step towards the nationalisation of the company under workers’ control and management.

The occupation of Mine Line is the first action of this kind by workers in SA to defend jobs since the onset of the recession in 2008. Over 1 million jobs have been lost in SA since the recession set in – according to the IMF this is the world’s highest rate, relative to growth rates. 55% of SA’s working age population is not economically active (although the official unemployment rate is “only” 25%).

Regrettably, the trade union movement’s leaders have reacted to the recession as if it is a natural phenomenon for which no-one can be blamed. Instead of coordinating a united mass action campaign to push back the bosses’ offensive and defend jobs, they have focused on signing deals with the bosses and government for the “common good” – in effect, bailing out the bosses. The Mine Line workers are refusing to pay for the crisis caused by their boss and are sending a loud and clear message to workers everywhere to do the same. The economic crisis has exposed to millions that the capitalist system is unable to take society forward and this struggle will provide important lessons for organised workers, struggling working class communities and youth organisations in SA and internationally on how to fight for a socialist alternative.

The workers are mobilising and appealing for the support of other workers and their communities. Already, the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in SA), COPAC and the wider Conference of the Democratic Left, a new united left initiative, are taking an active part in support for the occupation. There is now an urgent need to unite the weight of the entire labour movement and the mass struggles of communities and youth into a mass solidarity campaign. Pressure also needs to be put on the company’s main creditors: ABSA (bank) to pursue the ex-owner, not the company, to recover what is owed to it (he borrowed R35m on false pretenses and never invested it in the company). The same applies to the R15m owed to the South African Revenue Services (SARS).

The workers are inspired by the courageous examples set by workers at e.g. INNSE in Italy, the Vestas and Visteon occupations in Britain, etc. We appeal to all working class political organisations, trade unions, or individuals to send brief messages of solidarity to MEWUSA and the Mine Line Workers Committee as well as letters of protest to the liquidating company

More articles on worker control

A Report from the worker occupied factories in Brazil
Ejido, Óscar 2007

Without Workers Management There Can Be No Socialism
Janicke, Kiraz 2007

Occupy, Resist, Produce’
Klein, Naomi & Lewis, Avi

Recuperated Enterprises in Argentina
Trigona, Marie 2006

Workers’ self-management From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Worker self-management (or autogestion) is a form of workplace decision-making in which the workers themselves agree on choices (for issues like customer care, general production methods, scheduling, division of labour etc.) instead of an owner or traditional supervisor telling workers what to do, how to do it and where to do it. Examples of such self-management include the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Revolution, Titoist Yugoslavia, Algeria under Ahmed Ben Bella, the “recovered factories” movement in Argentina (in Spanish, fábrica recuperada), the LIP factory in France in the 1970s, the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation which is the Basque Country’s largest corporation, AK Press[1] in the United States, etc.

In Argentina’s recovered factories movement, workers took over control of the factories in which they had worked, commonly after bankruptcy, or after a factory occupation to circumvent a lockout. The Spanish verb recuperar means not only “to get back”, “to take back” or “to reclaim” but also “to put back into good condition”. Although initially referring to industrial facilities, the term may also apply to businesses other than factories (i.e. Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires).

English-language discussions of this phenomenon may employ several different translations of the original Spanish expression other than recovered factory. For example, recuperated factory/business, reclaimed factory, and worker-run factory have been noted. The phenomenon is also known as “autogestion,” which comes from the French word for self-management (applied to factories, popular education systems, and other uses). Worker self-management may coincide with employee ownership.

Workers’ self-management is often the decision-making model used in co-operative economic arrangements such as worker cooperatives, workers’ councils, participatory economics, and similar arrangements where the workplace operates without a boss. Decision making is not decided by consulting all employees for every tiny issue in a time-consuming, inefficient and ineffective manner. Real-world examples show that, only large-scale decisions are made by all employees during council meetings and small decisions are made by those implementing them while coordinating with the rest and following more general agreements.

Autogestion was first theorized by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon during the first part of the 19th century. It then became a primary component of some trade union organizations, in particular revolutionary syndicalism which was introduced in late 19th century France and guild socialism in early 20th century Britain, although both movements collapsed in the early 1920s. French trade-union CFDT (“Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail”) included worker self-management in its 1970 program, before later abandoning it. The philosophy of workers’ self-management has been promoted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) since its founding in the United States in 1905.

Critics of workers’ self-management from the left, such as Gilles Dauvé and Jacques Camatte, do not admonish the model as reactionary but simply as not progressive in the context of developed Capitalism. Such critics suggest that Capitalism is more than a relationship of management. Rather, they suggest Capitalism should be considered as a social totality which workers’ self-management in and of itself only perpetuates and does not challenge – despite its seemingly radical content and activity. This theory is used to explain why self-management in Yugoslavia never advanced beyond the confines of the larger state monopoly economy, or why many modern worker-owned facilities tend to return to hiring managers and accountants after only a few years of operation.

One significant experiment with workers’ self-management took place during the Spanish Revolution (1936–1939).[2]

In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, Titoist Yugoslavia advocated a socialist version of autogestion, leading to a break with Moscow, which practiced central planning and state ownership of industry. The economy of Yugoslavia was organized according to the theories of Tito and – more directly – Edvard Kardelj. Croatian scientist Branko Horvat also made a significant contribution to the theory of socialism (radničko samoupravljanje) as practiced in Yugoslavia. With the exception of a recession in the mid-1960s, the country’s economy prospered under Titoist Socialism. Unemployment was low, the education level of the work force steadily increased. The life expectancy (which was about 72 years) and living standards of Yugoslav citizens was nearly equal to the life expectancy and living standards of citizens of “western” capitalist countries such as Portugal. Due to Yugoslavia’s neutrality and its leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslav companies exported to both Western and Eastern markets. Yugoslav companies carried out construction of numerous major infrastructural and industrial projects in Africa, Europe and Asia.[3][4]

After May 68 in France, LIP factory, a clockwork factory based in Besançon, became self-managed starting in 1973, after the management’s decision to liquidate it. The LIP experience was an emblematic social conflict of post-68 in France. CFDT (the CCT as it was referred to in Northern Spain), trade-unionist Charles Piaget led the strike in which workers claimed the means of production. The Unified Socialist Party (PSU), which included former Radical Pierre Mendès-France, was in favour of autogestion or self-management.[5]

In the 1970s, the Spanish Legitimist Carlist movement split among the supporters of Don Carlos Hugo’s new Carlist Party, confederalist and autogestionary, and his brother Sixto Enrique de Borbón’s Traditionalist Communion, extreme-right.

South America
In October 2005 the first Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas (“Latin American Encounter of Recovered Companies”) took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with representatives of 263 such companies from different countries living through similar economical and social situations. The meeting had, as its main outcome, the Compromiso de Caracas (Caracas’ Commitment); a vindicating text of the movement.

The Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires, occupied and self-managed since 2003.Throughout the 1990s in Argentina’s southern province of Neuquén, drastic economic and political events occurred where the citizens ultimately rose up. Although the first shift occurred in a single factory, bosses were progressively fired throughout the province so that by 2005 the workers of the province controlled most of the factories.

In the wake of the 2001 economic crisis, about 200 Argentine companies were “recovered” by their workers and turned into co-operatives. Prominent examples include the Brukman factory, the Hotel Bauen and FaSinPat (formerly known as Zanon). As of 2005, about 15,000 Argentine workers run recovered factories.

The phenomenon of fabricas recuperadas (“recovered factories”) is not new in Argentina. Rather, such social movements were completely dismantled during the so-called “Dirty War” in the 1970s. Thus, during Héctor Cámpora’s first months of government (May-July 1973), a rather moderate and left-wing Peronist, approximately 600 social conflicts, strikes and factory occupations had taken place.[6]

Many recovered factories are run co-operatively and all workers receive the same wage. Important management decisions are taken democratically by an assembly of all workers, rather than by professional managers.

The proliferation of these “recoveries” has led to the formation of a recovered factory movement, which has ties to a diverse political network including socialists, Peronists, anarchists and communists. Organizationally, this includes two major federations of recovered factories, the larger Movimiento Nacional de Empresas Recuperadas (or National Movement of Recuperated Businesses, or MNER) on the left and the smaller National Movement of Recuperated Factories (MNFR)[7] on the right.[8] Some labor unions, unemployed protestors (known as piqueteros), traditional worker cooperatives and a range of political groups have also provided support for these take-overs. In March 2003, with the help of the MNER, former employees of the luxury Hotel Bauen occupied the building and took control of it.

One of the highest difficulties such a movement faces is its relation towards the classic economic system, as most classically managed firms refused,[verification needed] for various reasons (among which ideological hostility to the very principle of autogestion) to work and deal with recovered factories. Thus, isolated recovered factories find it easier to work together in building an alternative economic system and thus manage to reach a critical size and power which enables it to negotiate with the ordinary capitalistic firms.


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