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A Multinational Without a Boss: Report from The 1st Latin American Conference on Recovered Companies

A Multinational Without a Boss: Report from The 1st Latin American Conference on Recovered Companies

Spanish original: “Una multinacional sin patron”, La Vaca, http://www.lavaca.org/seccion/actualidad/1/1195.shtml

The 1st Latin American Conference on Recovered Companies is over. It brought together representatives from eight countries and 263 companies managed by their workers. President Hugo Chavez said that the recovered companies represent “the soul” of Latin America, the sign of a new era in which capitalism does not dictate economic, social and cultural policies. He suggested that they represent the antithesis of the FTAA. Below are details on the agreements, declarations and expectations that were put into play in the rounds of negotiations, as a first step towards the formation of an international network of factories and companies without bosses.

In spite of the different accents – and even languages – nobody seemed to be out of tune. Six hundred workers from companies without bosses from eight different countries all shouted together that “the factories belong to the workers and whoever doesn’t like it can go to hell.”

This was in the finale of the First Latin American Conference in Caracas, from October 27-29. “They close the factories, we open them. They steal the land and we occupy it. They wage wars and destroy nations, we defend peace and the sovereign integration of countries. They divide and we unite with each other,” declared Edith Oviedo from the Argentine cooperative Cefomar on the last day of the conference, when business deals were made in addition to the usual discussions about politics.

The Conference seemed to have a strong impact on the workers. After a long while, they left behind their cathartic meetings and their political demands in order to concentrate on production. This time they did not face repression, but instead were treated to many of the comforts that business people often enjoy at business conferences. Some even seemed like television stars. They went from interview to interview, and several appeared on Alo Presidente, the program hosted every Sunday by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

“When we started this struggle I never thought I would make it to Caracas. I was only thinking about continuing working. Now I feel very important: a government has invited me to share my experience,” confessed Emilio Valiente, from the balloon factory Global, with his chest as inflated as the different-sized and shaped balloons he handed out at the closing of the conference.

Similarities and differences

“It was very important for the workers to realize that in all of their countries they are dealing with the same labour laws, the same unemployment, the same fraudulent bankruptcies. It became clear that what has happened here is a systematic plan,” noted Eduardo Murua, one of the leaders of the National Movement of Recovered Companies and one of the organizers of this meeting. If the similarities were apparent in hallway conversations and in the presentations, they became startlingly obvious in the video presented in the Teresa Carreño threatre, when Argentinian, Uruguayan, Venezuelan and Brazilian workers told stories that seemed identical:

“The boss just felt like taking off,” said a Venezuelan from the Invepal paper mill.

“We were all older people. If we didn’t defend this, we had nothing else,” explained a Uruguayan from the Funsa tire factory.

“We are not interested in becoming bosses,” emphasized a Brazilian from Interfibra.

“If we can manage a factory, we can manage a country,” said Celia Martinez from Brukman, and the whole auditorium applauded.

Beyond the different versions of worker control that different workers fight for (the Brazilians struggle for nationalization, the Venezuelans for co-management and Argentinians and Uruguayans prefer cooperativism), shared hardships and having workers’ management in common allowed the workers to produce the Caracas Commitment, a kind of manifesto that synthesizes the debates of the last few days and announces that in June of next year the Second Latin American Conference on Recovered Factories will be held.

In the basement of the Anauco Suites hotel, before reading the Caracas Commitment, the Venezuelan Minister of Light Industry and Commerce Edmee Betancourt announced that the objectives of the conference had been widely achieved. She welcomed the opening of an international space for economic exchange and the exchange of ideas that help recover jobs and the industrial fabric of Latin America. She also emphasized the importance of creating a network that will complement the economic activity of the recovered companies, and facilitate access to raw materials and the financing and exchange of technology and training.

Results

The Minister calculated that 75 Latin American companies shared their experiences and that 209 – out of 263 that attended the conference – participated in the exchange circles.

  • Divided into eight working tables, they signed 75 agreements, 29 of them as letters of intent and 46 as letters of commitment.
  • The sector that managed to make the greatest number of agreements was tourism, with 21 agreements.
  • Wood, paper and cardboard reached 16 agreements.
  • In clothing and footwear 13 agreements were reached.
  • Foods, 12.
  • Plastics and transportation two each.

Argentinian companies signed 51% of the agreements through 59 cooperatives. However, some had expected greater production since the delegation from Buenos Aires was the most important of all: 294 people belonging to 141 workplace cooperatives.

Although the invitation from Chavez’s government seduced all the various movements and faction of the organizations of recovered factories, the Buenos Aires cooperatives couldn’t avoid letting the differences between the different groups make their way to Caracas. “Now we have a year to work and arrive at the Second Conference better prepared, knowing what to expect. There will be no excuses,” said Marcelo Ruarte, president of the Cooperative of the Bauen Hotel, which signed exchange agreements with the Ministry of Tourism and with Hotel Kamaratta.

Multinationals for workers

The Uruguayan delegation, made up of 45 people from 18 companies, was perhaps the group that secured the most sizeable agreements. President Chavez announced a seed capital fund of five million dollars that will rotate among the companies, but will first be used by Funsa, a tire factory, and Vicental (formerly Midober’s), a tannery. These Montevidean companies will also receive raw materials, and as payment they will train Venezuelan workers to set up equivalent plants in their country.

The final objective is that once new companies have developed, they will work together with those that helped them start up, and thus become multinationals for workers, where the values of cooperation replace those of competition.

Without a doubt, the movement of recovered companies made important political gains when it received explicit acknowledgement from a government, the Venezuelan government, for the first time. Worker management has made it onto the continental agenda since this conference was organized by the Chavez administration. In his opening speech, the president defined the movement as “the soul” of Latin America and he interpreted it as a sign of a new era in which capitalism will not dictate economic, social and cultural policies. He emphasized the role of these factories as the antithesis of the FTAA: the proposal to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas was harshly rejected by the participants in the Caracas conference.

Invited to the conference by the Venezuelan government, different parliamentarians and other officials met in the Caracas Hilton to discuss a legislative framework and national policies that will facilitate the recovery of jobs via the participation of workers in management and administration. The level of commitment shown by the governments was quite different. Uruguay sent no less than the Minister of Labour Eduardo Bonomi, and Venezuela sent the Ministers of Labour, Light Industry and Commerce, and Popular Economy.

Argentina has different priorities

The Argentine delegation was on the opposite side of the spectrum, only represented by the Office of Self-managed Labour and the head of the National Institute of Industrial Technology, Eduardo Martinez. What is more, until just before it commenced, the Argentinian Department of Foreign Affairs worked to prevent the conference from taking place, and pressured the Venezuelan government to prevent the visit of Eduardo Murua, one of the leaders of the Argentinian National Movement of Recovered Companies. The parliamentary delegation was also weak: the only national legislator present was Jose “El Cuero” Roselli, the former partner of Luis Zamora in the Self-determination and Freedom party, who is about to complete his term.

The conclusions reached by the group of Legislators and Governors at the conference include a recognition of the workers’ efforts to defend their jobs, a commitment to continue debating a legal framework that will regulate the recovery of idle or closed plants together with social movements, and the promotion of the topic of recovered companies in the MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) and the Andean Union.
Officials agreed to meet on December 12th in Brasilia to continue studying this issue. In order to make further progress before this date, the governmental participants created six working groups that include legal, commercial, technical and financial aspects. “The economy should satisfy people’s needs, and not the markets’ interests,” declared Maria Cristina Iglesias, Venezuelan Minister of Labour.

Call to the unions

During the conference, the movement of recovered factories received another valuable acknowledgement. Representatives from 21 unions from 13 countries in Latin America met in El Paraiso, the office of the Union of Venezuelan Workers. In a document with a tone of self-critique they called upon their organizations “to deeply transform themselves in order to be in tune” with the new forms of production. They also indicated that unions must recognize all workers, irrespective of their status of employed or unemployed, formal, informal, precarious or from recovered factories. They also committed themselves to promoting the development of worker-managed factories and to creating an observatory to monitor them. From Argentina, participants included representatives from the printing union, the Association of Public Employees and the Quilmes section of the Union of Metalworkers. Fabio Basteiro from the Argentinian Workers Central (CTA) was also present, as was Julio Piumato from the CGT, who faced jeering whistles when he was mentioned in the closing ceremony.

“The recovery of companies is here to stay,” stated Eduardo Murua, one of the four people who dreamed up this conference in April in the office of Maria Cristina Iglesias, the Venezualan minister. In Caracas on Sunday, the date was set for the second conference, which will be held in June 2006.

  • Translated by Shana Yael Shubs

    Spanish original: “Una multinacional sin patron”, La Vaca, http://www.lavaca.org/seccion/actualidad/1/1195.shtml


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