Imagine working in a place where there is no owner and no management other than your fellow workers. Almost anyone who has ever worked in any type of job where more than one other person was employed has probably dreamed of such a situation. Yet, very few people anywhere in the world have actually experienced it. Even in the former so-called worker’s states in Europe and Asia, a separation between the workers and management usually existed, despite efforts to make it otherwise.
The 2007 release Sin Patron:Stories from Argentina’s Worker-run Factories from Haymarket Books in Chicago tells the story of workers who live this working class dream in the Argentina after the capitalist collapse in 2001. It is the story of regular working people refusing to play the capitalist game of speculation and greed and fighting back against corporate owners who sold their years down the river. It is the story of owners willing to sell a company’s manufacturing equipment and other assets to the highest bidder, taking the cash and spending it elsewhere, then demanding that the workforce left behind leave the company’s premises after the workers turned the company back into a profitable business. It is also a story of the value of work and struggle and the moral bankruptcy of a class that has no morality but the morality of profit and the greed that morality demands. Ultimately, this book written by the Lavaca Collectiva–one of Argentina’s better known editorial and artist collectives–is the story of life after neoliberalism.
If one recalls Argentina in 2001, they will remember television video of young people in the streets of the country’s cities blocking traffic and liberating food and other supplies. They will recall a government collapsing under the weight of its own lies and belief in the IMF model of capitalism. They will also remember scenes of panicked middle-class Argentinians lining up outside banks in the hope that their money would be returned to them and that it would have some value if it was returned.
These scenes were only one part of the story in the wake of Argentina’s economic collapse. There were other tales of people setting up their own methods of food distribution and resource management. There tales of popular assemblies organizing the delivery of essentials like fuel and shelter. There were questions in the international capitalist media of how the global capitalists would recover their losses and if the collapse would spread to other nations that subscribed to the same debt-laden economic model. This same media had little sympathy for the plight of the working Argentinians, only concerns for the plight of the capitalists’ money.
Or, as the Lavaca Collectiva writes in its poetic introduction to Sin Patron: “In ages favorable to impostors, it’s prime time for business interests to masquerade as public opinion. Lobbyists honk their own horns in hopes of blocking news traffic…. And the media we have to help us interpret (these times) is really a pill that causes impotence.” They continue writing, encouraging the reader to reject this formula. “The limit of all predictions,” they write. “is what people are capable are doing.” This is the crux of this book and the stories therein.
These stories are about workers-the collateral damage of debtor capitalism. Here in the US, we see the first elements of this type of capitalism every time a layoff occurs because the corporate ownership wishes to keep their exorbitant salaries. Argentina in 2001 saw the ultimate effects of this type of corporate greed when the owners stripped the assets from the factories, stopped paying the workers and then called the police to protect their unused property form workers who wished to reopen the plants as cooperatives. Just as the Argentinian collapse of 2001 was a lesson for the capitalists on Wall Street and other money capitals, the response of the workers as told in this book are instructive to those of us earning a living by working for someone else anywhere on the planet. Sin Patron’s clearest message is that the workers really do control the means of production, if and when they decide to assume it.