Thursday, November 22, 2007
Avi Lewis On Occupied Factory Movement In Argentina: "This phase is less overtly political, certainly less overtly revolutionary."
Anyone living in Toronto, a city with sidewalks wheat-pasted wildly with posters knows this; the Brunswick Theatre is creating an extraordinary space in a city bereft of places to engage with cinema. Regular discussions and talks happen, with documentaries sharply matched to a purpose rooted in popular education. If there is a criticism, it's that ticket prices are pretty steep. Last night's Avi Lewis lecture cost 15 dollars, but running a cinema at the location and with the frequency they do can't come cheap.
The poster for this screening foregrounded Lewis' public lecture, so at the start a moment was taken to see if watching the movie was actually worth while. Just over half of the raised hands had already seen the 2004 documentary that follows the fortunes of workers in the Forja auto plant as they struggle to turn it into a worker cooperative, yet the organisers ploughed ahead as planned. Using it to give ground the inevitable more abstract discussion to follow in human insight to the recuperated factories movement.
The night also doubled as something of a launch for Haymarket Book's translation of Sin Patron, a collection of interviews with participants in the recuperated factory movement. Lewis called this "a living document in the words of the workers themselves with an absurdly, provocative and piercing analysis by the Lavaca collective." A second edition is coming out soon with updates from some of the 160 something factories and workplaces indexed at the back of the present edition.
Shortly into The Take, there's a montage of boorish interviewers throwing demands for alternatives at Klein, so she explains the purpose of the movie as a search for alternatives outside the model of neo-liberal development. On the night Lewis glanced back at The Take as a glimpse of a moment in very recent social history, where large swathes of people realised "that changing pieces on the chessboard is not really changing the game." This bursting of the ideological bubble in a country where even the street signs were brought to you by Mastercard under Menem needs a closer look now that Argentina has largely stabilised, again "in the grips of a capitalist dream, where Kirchner does a good job of railing against the IMF, a bit like the NDP here, yet governs to strict IMF rules."
After the film with attention rapt for updates since it was made, the most pertinent question as Lewis saw it was more abstract: "is there a memory of struggle there, just beneath the surface? Is there a strengthened social movement that has built real bases in the communities and the workplaces?" The tone of his voice suggested a very optimistic "yes."
He'd just spent an hour and a half talking to somebody who works with This Working World in Argentina prior to this Brunswick talk, so Lewis was able to give some decent updates on the state of play in the factory movement at the moment: "this phase is less overtly political, certainly less overtly revolutionary as it deals with the nuts and bolts of making sustainable businesses work."
A friend of Zannon's ex-owner, who appears in the film as a cliche of bourgeois vampirism with the champagne bottle lurking in an ice bucket in his opulent office, recently used his position of governor of the province to run for president. The discourse he used in his campaign was largely a return to the language of the dictatorship, but he got less than 1% of the recent vote. Zannon under workers control now employs 480 people and provides more than the domestic demand for ceramics in Argentina.
On a visit to the Brukman suit factory that is dramatically re-occupied in the film, Lewis couldn't find anyone to talk to him, forcing him to comment that: "if there's a social movement or co-operative that doesn't need journalists; then you know its a success.
More recuperated businesses are coming on stream, including a landscape gardening co-op that works creating city parks. This sector tends to be controlled by Mafia type groups linked to Peronism so it was necessary to use political force for the city to sign a contract with them. Using the strictures created by the business practices of the previous operators, the new co-op was able to pull a massive scam loan legally to fund other co-ops in the region. A meat packing co-op has been set up that employs 800 people, a river boat casino is coming under workers control and the only balloon manufacturer in Buenos Aires is under workers control and supplies the whole province.
On a bleaker note many of the recuperated factories and businesses will be facing new difficulties as the legal system allows only a two year term of expropriation. With workers successfully turning failed businesses around, the bosses may try coming in through the back door of the courts leading to hazards ahead. The balloon co-op for instance may have to up stakes and use its capital to open elsewhere. For a movement that has concentrated so much effort on carving out spaces of dialog and popular education with communities, this geographic displacement may well blunt part of their projects, leaving them more easily prey to future evictions.
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