Que se Vayan Todos

From Rebellion to Reconstruction

There has been a clear pattern of rebellion against the IMF across the world over the last decades. From Indonesia to Nigeria, and Ecuador to Morocco, people have vented their desperation and anger against austerity measures which have destroyed their livelihoods. Riots have erupted, sometimes the military is sent in, occasionally governments fall, but inevitably the IMF remains and austerity programs continue. Nothing changes, except for the growth of poverty and mistrust.

In the Buenos Aires Herald, we read a timely article about a new computer game called "Playing Minister" in which you replace the Brazilian economic minister, and are charged with keeping the country on an even keel in the face of emerging market crises, domestic bank collapses and currency devaluation. The game, according to its creator, is designed to "test your skills at juggling interest rates, controlling inflation, balancing budgets and managing debts." Apparently managing the accompanying health care crises and the food riots are not a part of the challenge when "Playing Minister."

During a recent interview, investigative journalist Greg Palast revealed how useful these riots are to the IMF. Palast relayed a conversation he had with Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank: "'...everywhere we go, every country we end up meddling in, we destroy their economy and they end up in flames', said Stiglitz. And he was saying that he questioned this and he got fired for it. But he was saying that they even kind of plan in the riots. They know that when they squeeze a country and destroy its economy, you are going to get riots in the streets. And they say, 'well that's the "IMF riot"'. In other words, because you have riots, you lose. All the capital runs away from your country, and that gives the opportunity for the IMF to then add more conditions."

What the IMF doesn't expect and certainly doesn't want, is for people to take things into their own hands, for them to shift from resistance to reconstruction, from the desperation and rage of rioting to the joy of creating alternatives. As the economic crisis tears into the social fabric of Argentina, pushing more and more people to the edge, the tension between hope and despair becomes a conducive and creative space for change. Between laughter and tears exists the space of optimism, the space of radical social transformation.

For the workers of the Zanón ceramics factory in Neuque, it is this spirit of optimism that has enabled them to occupy their factory, one of Latin America's largest ceramics producers, for the last six months, running it with astounding results. The company stopped production last year, claiming that it was no longer profitable and that they could no longer pay the workers' salaries. Rather than join the growing ranks of Argentina's unemployed, the workers decided to occupy the factory and keep the production lines running themselves.

"We showed that with two days' worth of production, we were able to pay the wages of all the workers for that month," explained Godoy, one of the 326 workers involved in the occupation, thus exposing the realities of where the company profits were really going. The workers market the tiles at 60% of the previous prices and have organized a network of young vendors who sell them in the city. José Romero, a maintenance worker at the factory, adds, "This fight has opened our eyes to a lot of things."

Like so many in this movement, they are critical of hierarchical forms of organization. Godoy continues, "Now we have no full-time officials. The officials work eight hours like everyone else and we do our union activity after hours. The decisions are all made at general assemblies of workers, not behind closed doors." Photographs of the occupied factory show workers laughing and joking as they pull tiles out of the kilns. In Ursula Le Guin's extraordinary novel, The Dispossessed, which is perhaps the most tangible and touching description of an anti-authoritarian society in the English language, the word for work and play are the same. It seems the workers of Zanón have begun to make this dream a reality.

Meanwhile, a mine in Río Turbío has been occupied, as well as a textile factory in Buenos Aires, which recently opened its doors for an International Women's Day festival. These worker-run endeavors are setting examples for Argentinean factories everywhere, and perhaps setting precedents on ways of doing business in the "new" Argentina. One manufacturer, who was on the verge of bankruptcy, called together his workers and told them that since he could no longer pay their salaries he would instead turn over blankets produced in the factory which the workers could either sell or take to the local barter markets, to exchange for other commodities. Perhaps he was worried by the example set at Zanón, or perhaps he is beginning to recognize the futility of continuing business as usual in such unusual times.

next part: Popular Economics | Que se Vayan Todos | Argentina