2001 – Argentina workers occupy factories in wake of crisis

Since 2001, the Empresas Recuperadas (‘taken factory’) movement in Argentina has successfully occupied failed or failing factories in order to run them under ‘workers’ control’ or ‘worker self-management’. While Argentina’s economy has struggled in recent years, these worker-owned businesses have flourished, inspiring similar take-overs in crisis-hit countries such as Greece.

The Empresas Recuperadas movement emerged after the Argentine economic collapse of 2001, when foreign investors pulled out after seeing Argentina’s industrial sector crumble. The economy lost thousands of factories and millions of jobs. Workers saw no sense in letting their former workplaces lie empty, and slowly occupied them, demanding the right  to work (protected under Argentina’s constitution) and to re-start production as worker-owned cooperatives.

Those deciding to take over factories faced a long and often complicated judicial processes, and often had to camp out for months in or near their factories to ensure that former bosses didn’t gut them in the middle of the night and sell the machinery.

Early in the process, many occupations became violent as police tried repeatedly to evict entrenched coop members. The process has now become more streamlined, and though the movement is now institutionalized, it has maintained its radical principles, while beginning to access mainstream markets. In Argentina there are now more than 300 cooperative factories employing tens of thousands of workers.

The movement has also inspired similar worker-occupations in the Americas and Europe. In Chicago, workers at New Era Windows restarted production under workers’ control in 2012 after years of struggles with former owners and bosses. And in financial-crisis afflicted Greece, workers have also shown that workers can prevent being laid-off and build effective businesses through direct, democratic self-management.

In the wake of Argentina's dramatic economic collapse in 2001, Latin America's most prosperous middle class finds itself in a ghost town of abandoned factories and mass unemployment.