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Historical background of the Zanon Factory Workers
"Take" over of their factory

March 18, 2004 
Zanon, Argentina 

By Marie Trigona 

At the break of dawn on a frigid winter day the
 workers of Zanon, a ceramics factory under worker
 control, file into the plant for the day's first shift
 (6am to 1pm). They greet the men in charge of security
 at the plant's entrance and punch in to the time

Since March, 2002 the factory has been producing
 without an owner, bosses or foremen. The factory sits
 among the red earth and rolling hills of the Southern
 Neuquén province in Argentina and is the largest
 factory in the region. After a long-standing conflict
 with the owners for back pay, sudden closure of the
 factory and firings in the fall of 2001, Zanon's
 workers occupied the factory and set an example of
 resistance against capitalism for workers all over the
 world that workers can produce even better under

"It was a decision to stay here and struggle or go
 home, I could have gone home but I decided to stay
 here in the factory and struggle. I learned to defend
 my 15 years of work here in the factory and fight,"
 forcefully expressed Rosa Rivera, one of the 15 women
 among the 300 employed by the factory. 

"The owners never paid taxes, during the epoch of
 former President Raul Menem they were given millions
 of dollars in subsidies, the exploitation of the
 workers was extremely high and the company were
 stealing Mapuche land for raw resources for the
 ceramics factory." 

When corporate welfare ran dry due to the Argentina's
 economic collapse in 2001, Zanon's owners decided to
 close its doors and fire the workers without paying
 months of back pay or indemnity. October, 2001, of the
 331 original workers, 266 decided to continue to come
 to the factory to work to continue in their job posts.
 For four months workers camped outside the factory,
 pamphleteering and partially blocking a highway
 leading to the capital city Neuquén. 

During this time, the events Argentina's popular
 rebellion December 19 and 20, 2001 and the brief
 post-rebellion upsurge of other factory occupations
 and organizing among the popular assemblies and
 unemployed workers organizations also influenced the
 decision to begin working under worker control. 

"When we re-entered the factory we began selling the
 materials produce on a small-scale level, when those
 ran out, we asked ourselves what do we do-fight for an
 unemployment subsidy of 150 pesos [about 50 US
 dollars] or put the factory to work?," explains
 Fransisco Mollinas. 

In March, 2002 the workers of Zanon reentered the
 factory and began to produce. "This is a battle
 against individualism, against everything that those
 above impose upon us. Here inside the factory we are
 fighting for a new human being." 

As soon as the workers began to produce without an
 owner or boss, relationships inside the factory were
 re-invented, breaking with hierarchical organization,
 isolation and exploitation. Workers describe the
 company's practices of controlling the workers-one
 example is that workers had to wear a uniform of a
 certain color, to identify which sector a worker
 belonged to and it was prohibited to speak with a
 worker from a different sector. 

On the wall in the factory's offices hangs a ceramic
 tile with an image of a young man, Daniel, with an
 inscription remembering him as a fellow comrade who
 died in the factory. Production inside the factory was
 set to maximize the company's profits, reducing
 salaries to the minimum possible level, cutting
 corners on worker safety measures and pressuring
 workers to produce at higher levels making it possible
 to have less workers on the production line. 

These conditions previous to the workers' occupation
 led to an average of 25-30 accidents per month and one
 fatality per year. In the years of Zanon's production,
 14 workers died inside the factory. Since Zanon's
 occupation by its workers not one accident inside the
 factory has occurred. "With the owner, you worry and
 are pressured. Without him you work better, you take
 on more responsibility with consciousness," one worker

The factory is now organized practicing the ideal of
 horizontalism, direct democracy and autonomy.
 Everything is decided in an assembly, there is no
 hierarchical personnel or administration. Each sector
 such as the production line, sales, production
 planning, press, etc, has a commission which votes in
 a coordinator. The coordinator of the sector informs
 on issues, news and conflicts within his or her sector
 to the delegate's table. The coordinator then reports
 back to his or her commission news from other sectors.

Today, Zanon employs over 300 workers and continues to
 plan to hire more workers. Since the factory's
 occupation over 70 workers have been hired. The
 workers' assembly decided that it is necessary to take
 on workers from the unemployed workers organizations.
 Most new workers participate in the MTD (Unemployed
 Workers Movement). Each worker receives 800-pesos a
 month salary, which was based on the cost of basic
 "canasta familiar" or family needs. 

The factory that spans for blocks has 18 production
 lines, while only three are currently functioning.
 Meanwhile, the factory is only producing 12-15% of its
 capacity, with lowered levels of exploitation (workers
 working less hours, higher salaries) they have been
 able to hire new workers. 

One of the keys to Zanon's success has been the
 insertion of the workers' struggle into the community.
 At the factory's entrance, workers have constructed a
 mural made of broken ceramics. The mural tells of the
 history of the struggle inside Zanon. It begins with
 men and women around a large pot cooking above a fire.
During the months outside the factory, neighbors,
 students and workers from piquetero movement
 demonstrated solidarity-giving funds and groceries for
 the workers campaign. The prisoners from the jail
 behind the factory donated their food rations to the
 workers. Social organizations such as Mothers of Plaza
 de Mayo have acted in solidarity, some of the women
 are 70-years old, have declared that they to will
 defend the factory with their lives. 

Zanon's self-defense and security scheme is the back
 bone of the factory. The government's response to
 Zanon has been violent, using different tactics to
 evict the factory. The government has tried to evict
 the factory five times with police operatives. 

Each time thousands of community members came to
 defend the factory. When there is the threat of
 eviction, everyone leaves their job posts and assumes
 the role of security-unemployed workers organizations
 with self-defense lines outside the factory, while the
 workers go to the roof-top to take on self-defense
 measures like using the sling-shot. 

Prison number 11 sits right behind the factory. One
 night, we accompanied the workers in charge of night
 security on their nightly rounds around the factory we
 near the prison. About 20 meters away we hear
 "clack-clack", a prisoner guard loading his rifle
 while we pass by. 

The factory has developed particular measures to
 ensure that infiltrators do not enter the factory.
 Each worker must punch into the time clock-not to
 punish him or her for arriving late but to keep track
 of who is inside the factory. Before the plant's
 security was used to guard against workers stealing
 equipment. Today, workers in security make sure each
 worker coming to work brought his or her sling-shot to

On November 25, 2003 workers from Zanon and unemployed
 workers organizations in Nuequén protested a debit
 card for the unemployed (rather than receiving the
 150-unemployement welfare to work subsidy in cash the
 government now wants the jobless to use the bank card,
 forcing them to only be able to take out a minimum
 amount in cash from the banks and having to purchase
 defined goods in 'commercial networks' which are to be
 transnational supermarkets). 

The protests ended with violent state repression.
 There were over 22 injured - 10 from lead bullet
 wounds. Andrés from MTD and worker of occupied
 ceramics factory Zanon was injured with over 64
 impacts from rubber bullets. He was held for over 8
 hours by police without medical attention while he was
 tortured. He lost his left eye. 

On December 2, 2003 seven hooded men entered the
 factory armed and stole 32,000-pesos. This was also
 after organizations in Nuequén were brutally repressed
 in November and workers and activists with MTD were
 continuously threatened in their homes. "We see this
 as a way to pressure those of us who are struggling
 for a more just society," published the workers in a
 press release after the infiltrators made off with the

The government is also using cooperatives to co-opt
 the factories under worker control. Other than Zanon,
 there is only one business, Tigre supermarket in
 Rosario that has refused cooperatization. "The
 government is co-opting the movement through different
 methods. The state offers cooperatives but you have to
 stop struggling," explains Raul Godoy, worker at

The workers of Brukman, suit factory in Buenos Aires
 that was evicted on April 18, 2003, have reentered the
 factory recently but under cooperatization. They now
 have only two years to buy the machinery and building
 under the agreement that the government offered. Since
 the Brukman eviction, the political Left has been
 criticized for its damaging intervention in the
 conflict (convincing the workers that self-defense
 tactics were not necessary during the workers 16-month
 occupation of the factory and during the attempt to
 re-enter the factory after the eviction). The factory
 now has private security company, a shameful
 reminder of what the factory once symbolized. 

Rosa Rivera, worker at Zanon for 15 years explains
 that Zanon is not only a struggle for the 300 workers
 inside the factory but a struggle for the community
 and social revolution. "If factories are shut down and
 abandoned, workers have the right to occupy it, put it
 to work and defend it with their lives." 

In the shambles of Argentina's highly divided
 movements, Zanon continues as one of the most dynamic
 expressions of resistance against capitalism. The
 social process inside the factory has brought
 inspiration to break with the patrón (boss) for other
 workers occupying factories and for the working-class
 all over the world. 

Marie Trigona is an independent journalist and
 activist based in Argentina. She participates in Grupo
 Alavío, video and direct action collective. She can be
 reached at mtrigona@riseup.net 

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