Economy International Labor

Zanon: Happy Expropriated Birthday

The following two short pieces appeared last fall to commemorate the Zanon ceramics factory’s 10 years of operation under worker control. Zanon’s status as one of the iconic international symbols of the Argentinian workers’ self-management movement makes these posts of interest to global English speaking audiences. We are therefore pleased to republish the updates here with the permission of Lavaca.

Zanon Demands Enforcement of the Law

Source: Lavaca (Argentina); originally posted August 12, 2011; translated by Steve Fake (corrections welcome)

The workers of the recuperated Argentinian business, Zanon, and the Ceramics Union of Neuquén decided to go to the streets to enforce the law. For two years they waited for implementation of the expropriation approved by the provincial legislature. Without the regulation, which is the responsibility of the provincial executive, the plant is exposed to a legal limbo which, among other things, seriously complicates their commercial activity and “jeopardizes the source of work for 130 families,” according to a statement. The text states: “This August 12th marks two years since the historic day when the Legislature of the Province of Neuquén approved the Zanon expropriation law sent to Governor Sapag, as a political decision to safeguard our source of employment, a product of the enormous consensus in the community backing our struggle.”

Zanon demonstration
Zanon demonstration

Suspicious Delays

Zanon workers explain: “The Sapag government has constantly delayed the completion of the process of expropriation. A simple procedure, like presenting the law together with the agreements of the creditors with privilege in the bankruptcy, filed in the court which is also handling the bankruptcy of Zanon Group, still took 9 months.”

As a consequence, “We cannot access credit so that we may renovate our technology for future projects. Furthermore, in recent weeks, factories that were expropriated in 2005, such as Motta (also in the Zanon group) and the emblematic Recuperated Hotel Bauen, were put to auction in order to evict the workers with the same rationale that we denounce – abandonment of the law by the provincial government.”

The Zanon workers provide the context: “On October 1st, we complete 10 years of workers’ management, and we have seen how, over the years, the same process of emptying and shuttering our sources of work has deepened, affecting companies in the same industry, such as Valle and Stefani. The only ceramic factory which continues under the direction of the bosses has received loans from banks and the provincial government and has nonetheless been placed in receivership with debts of more than 20 million pesos.”

To reclaim the effectiveness of expropriation, the workers conduct outreach activities in different parts of the city of Neuquén with demonstrations, radio announcements, and marches.


Zanon: Happy Expropriated Birthday

Lavaca, originally posted September 26, 2011

On 1 October it will be 10 years since the workers took their factory, Zanon, in Neuquén. They will celebrate it on October 8th in Zanon with Bersuit Vergarabat, Arbolito, and local bands from Neuquén, while the bankruptcy judge upheld the Expropriation Act passed by the Neuquén legislature two years ago, which the provincial government still has not implemented. Raul Godoy tells Lavaca: “That is central to being able to renovate the technology in the plant.”

It has already been two years since the Neuquén Legislature approved the expropriation of the Zanon ceramics factory, without the law being implemented. Godoy comments, “As there was no movement, the Zanon family began to appear, along with people from the old bureaucracy that were displaced from the ceramics union. What they did was to ask that the Expropriation Act be ruled unconstitutional.”

The scam that saved the workers

Judge Valeria Perez Cazado did not find in favor of the employer’s claim. Raul Godoy explains: “She rejected the idea of overturning the law and suggested that after attempting to sell the factory, vacate it, or auction it off, the owner never could because it was occupied by workers, and all attempts to end this situation caused social and political conflict at the provincial and national level. Therefore, the only thing to do is to implement the law.” The judge also endorsed the sum agreed upon: 23 million pesos to creditors, mainly the World Bank and SACMI. Godoy says, “We do not agree, in part because the bankruptcy was fraudulent. The creditors have a responsibility for the emptying of the factory, a scam for which his own family has come out against him. But hey, that’s a government arrangement with the creditors, while we remain on the sidelines.”

Technological renovation and workers’ control

The expropriation leaves the factory in the hands of the FASINPAT Cooperative (Factory Without a Boss). A proposal for nationalization under workers ‘control, sought by the workers, is, for now, the only viable option: a cooperative run by assembly, which leaves the factory under workers’ control, and facing the possibility of growth. Godoy explains, “In the ceramics industry, it is known that every five years it is necessary to renovate a facility’s technology to modernize the plant and improve production. We have survived 15 years without being able to do so – the last 5 years under the bosses’ reign (from 1996 to 2001) with all the depletion, and the 10 years after we took charge of the factory. We have no access to credit because everything is always subject to the question of final ownership of the factory. This can give us another chance.”

4,000 per month, and more

This would also affect the income of each worker at Zanon, which now hovers around 4,000 pesos a month. “We did not come to fail; we believe we can increase that number and continue to grow, given that we are using 40% of the capacity of the plant.” And all with no other capital than human capital, which, as can be seen, is crucial.

Expropriation would only require workers to prioritize the state in sales of tiles for public works. “I wish we could always do it. We’d love to build more and more homes, more schools and hospitals with Zanon materials.” The factory under workers’ control has been donating materials for social and community projects.

A party and a memory Lavaca-Zanon

On October 8 at 6PM, Zanon doors will open for a party and concert to commemorate 10 years in existence, with Bersuit, Arbolito, and local bands. Godoy comments that, “The presence of Bersuit is special because it was the first band that came to support us in 2002. It is a return: they told us that they supported us, and they can see where we are now.”

For Raúl, the coincidence of birthdays awakened another memory: “From the beginning we always called Lavaca, and I remember chatting with my compañeros because we didn’t know what it was, and we had no Internet. We’re talking 10 years ago because you were from the beginning.” Two ceramics in Mu, Punto de Encuentro (Lavaca’s movement cafe) dedicated by Zanon, a cover of Lavaca’s periodical Mu (issue #15, Zanonizate), several programs on Decí Mu (Lavaca’s radio program), and serving as the inspiration for the title of the first book produced by Lavaca, Sin Patrón, are just a few examples of the shared experiences of this generation.

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