No, IMPA is not the stereotypical factory -- upon its takeover in 1998, the workers spawned a cultural city that thrives today. The space provides for not just the production of metallurgic materials and jobs, but the production of ideas through free expression, art, theater, concerts, workshops, and community events.
Just last month, IMPA won a battle that, had they lost, would have meant immediate eviction. This sort of victory is no stranger to worker-occupied factories in Argentina. The Zanon ceramic tile factory (the largest worker-run business in Argentina) recently concluded their nine-year struggle by gaining full legal control of the factory; the Brukman suit factory continues to operate as a cooperative after sustaining insanely brutal police repression; Hotel Bauen lives on after workers tore down official tape intended to block the entrances. Etc.
Throughout Argentina since 2001, companies have exploited economic crises by creating their own bailout. They declare bankruptcy, fire employees, and move their business offshore to a more lucrative location. In 2001, amongst mass protests, and the toppling of five governments, Argentine workers discovered an alternate path of resistance. Today, there are over 250 factories (employing an estimated 16,000 workers) in Argentina that have been rescued by workers, with the help of national organizations, alternative lenders, and huge networks of solidarity.
Many of these saviors have faced and still face tremendous obstacles. In the beginning, they go months without paychecks, scraping up funds to pay off old debts and replace capital that has been sold off by the owners; they must learn management skills and regain clients. Once they get all that wrapped up, THEN they have to fight owners that want their factories back now that they're lucrative again. The quest for legal expropriation is a long and uncertain process, but it is in fighting through these obstacles that people debate and learn; it is through struggle that people become unified and empowered. Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos!
And besides, in these factories, the workers get to give themselves higher salaries and better working conditions. They've done away with the Modern Times image of factory work; they've proved that workers can listen to music and drink mate, and still produce. There are no bosses. Resources recovered from cutting off management costs and executive salaries are used to implement social services, educational centers and health-care clinics. Unlike cooperatives in the U.S., recuperated factories run within a horizontal political and economic frame. All workers have an equal say in factory decisions, and in most cases, receive the same salary. Representatives are voted on, paid the same wage as a janitor, and are instantly recallable. And wouldn't you know it: this democratic control -- this absence of bosses -- actually leads to greater productivity.
Sound a bit communist? It is!! GASP. It's more communist than Stalin or Mao or Castro ever were. These factories succeed on a critical point where "communist" countries have failed -- they are controlled by the workers. THIS is democracy. This isn't a dictatorship looming over a planned economy, and (without mentioning any names) this isn't the shadow of democracy where we have the privilege of casting a vote every two to four years, for one of two candidates that will both ultimately answer to the corporate cash anyway. This is true democracy, and yes, albeit small-scale and internal, Marxism. Yet to these workers, it's not about some abstract ideology. Though many have developed ideological political views in the process of struggle, to most it's simply an obvious choice, a choice of vitality made out of necessity; a choice between a job with better working conditions, better pay, empowerment... or no job and impending poverty.
As for IMPA, they're not done. They've won their first victory, but they've yet to win legal expropriation. Ademas, the workers at IMPA have not failed to recognize that their struggle is emblematic of a larger movement, and they vow to remain committed to the ongoing struggles of other factories.
For an incredible documentary about the takeovers, and the initial inspiration for my current presence in Argentina, see The Take. For a depressing yet oddly hopeful documentary about how foreign interests have undermined Argentina's economy, see Argentina Latente. And standby for chapter two: Recuperated Factories Infect the World. It's time to stop asking, and start taking.
“If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement, then hang us. Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, the flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.” -- August Spies, executed during the fight for the eight-hour day.