Worker-Owned Organization in the Southern Cone of Latin America

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
56 Barrows (Barrows Hall)
Anabel Rieiro, Universidad de la Republica, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Departamento de Sociologia, Montevideo, Uruguay
Our purpose is to debate the framework in which social and solidary economy are interpreted in the world of production, by focusing on these Uruguayan enterprises that have been recovered by their workers (“empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores”, or WREs) from a comparative regional perspective.

429 different cases make up the integrated database of worker-recovered enterprises (WREs) analyzed in this paper. Of these, 311 are from Argentina, 68 from Brazil and the remaining 50 cases are from Uruguay. Within this aggregate, 224 enterprises were surveyed: 113 in Argentina (82 cases in 2010, and 31 in 2014), 68 in Brazil (in 2013) and 43 in Uruguay (in a period encompassing the second half of 2013, and the first half of 2014).

As a result, all the information used to create this integrated database of WREs in the Southern Cone was sourced from studies carried in three national contexts: A) Uruguay – information derived from the field work of the doctorate itself (43 Uruguayan WREs were surveyed) B) Argentina – information derived from the surveys conducted between the years 2014 and 2014 by the “Open School” program, as conducted by the School of Philosophy and Literature of the University of Buenos Aires, and C) Brazil – information derived from the survey conducted in 2013 by researchers of several Brazilian universities, which included the following: UNICAMP, UFRJ, USP, UFOP, CEFET, UFSC, UFVJM, UFBP, UNESP Marilia and the UFRN.

This survey focused on: the existing processes prior to the recovery itself, the legal framework in which it happened and the productive profile of each enterprise. This systematization is rounded with the analysis of 43 in-depth interviews (uruguayan cases), conducted with the workers from such enterprises between the years 2013 and 2014. The purpose is to better-analyze the new conflicts and subjectivities that have come to define these contexts.

The emergence of WREs in Latin America has renewed the debate on the role that self-management could play on the reproduction and change of the current power relationships and socio-economic configurations.  According to our research, in the current state of regional decline some people that believe self-managed production units could stand as a political tool for the change from capitalism into a society mostly based on principles of cooperation.  

Conversely, others regard such a phenomenon as a tool for social inclusion, carried through the collective actions of workers aiming to withstand the processes of exclusion and marginalization that are present in contemporary society. This theoretical tension will be analyzed by taking the many enterprises which have been recovered in the region as a starting point.

The aim of this paper is to analyze collective processes of work recovery, focusing on the transition from privately-owned enterprises to enterprises that became managed collectively. In this sense, aspects to be delved upon include the emergency contexts in which these processes arose, the initials conflicts that surfaced and the fight tools employed in the region.

The information derived from these studies showcase that (on the whole) the phenomenon involved 28.223 workers in the region (13.462 from Argentina, 11.704 from Brazil and 3.507 from Uruguay). The relevancy of the subject matter is not justified by the number of workers involved, but rather by the particular subjective and productive processes that these individuals experience and carry out.

Throughout the paper, the characteristics of the recovery period in the Southern Cone have been analyzed. To understand the nuances of the process is necessary in order to contextualize the emergence of such a self-managed alternative, and all the possible interpretations of the phenomenon from a work and social point of view.

In Uruguay, there are two national opportunity frameworks which explain the experience: 1) The socio-economic crisis of 2002, and 2) The new public policies that became implemented from 2010 onwards.

The particular work conflicts and tensions within each collective process are also relevant, as the weight of the past experience under private managers shapes the new direction of the enterprise.

The fight measures enforced by the workers are directly related to the previous degree of labor conflicts and tensions they experienced, and the new enterprise is organized in a manner that enables them to effectively combat these injustices they have been subjected to.

In that sense, it is neither the recovery of the process in itself nor the struggle to make it a viable work alternative which automatically generates change-oriented political subjectivities. Rather, these subjectivities come from the self-management projects developed by the collective subjects, based on the structural contradictions and the oppression relationships that are undergone.

The result of such a scenario (where the utopic element that inspired collective action achieves its aim, namely the recovery of work) can be either the emergence of a new and broader conception of social fight and struggle, or the disappearance of such an utopic element altogether.

When workers seize the knowledge and the means of productions, they also seize a position where they can revive the role of work itself both as a political entity, and as a universal right. The workers that decide to recover the enterprise must build their social relationships anew, debate and take decisions and collective measures to make the enterprise functional once again. In a society where identity is more and more defined by individuality and consumerism, the subjectivities that emerge from the processes we have analyzed are rooted in the fact of rebuilding inter-subjectivity from the field of work itself.

This stage of the process can be interpreted from politic sociology as a certain enlargement of the public sphere, in which it becomes an alternative to the institutional political space where people and groups can interact among themselves, decide on which actions to take and build their own demands.

In these cases the workers manage to create a space for debate and legitimization of the ideals that inspired their collectives, then their demands undergo a transition, and the overriding concern evolves into a project that through its many concerns and proposals sets the scene for a new socio-political context.