On the Crisis of Capitalism, Argentina’s Worker-Recuperated Enterprises, and the Possibilities for Another World

An interview with Eduardo Murúa, former president of Argentina’s Movement of Recuperated Enterprises, on how workers occupy failing firms, resist repression and re-open them as workers’ coops.

On the Crisis of Capitalism,  Argentina’s Worker-Recuperated Enterprises,  and the Possibilities for Another World

Conducted during Eduardo Murúa’s visit to Toronto, Canada, June 3, 2006

Interviewed by: Jennifer Moore

Introduction, notes of clarification, and translation: Marcelo Vieta


Eduardo Murúa is the former president of Argentina’s National Movement of Recuperated Enterprises. Murúa currently is also an associate of the aluminum manufacturing plant IMPA, one of the first and most emblematic worker-recuperated enterprises located in the city of Buenos Aires’s Almagro neighbourhood. Murúa has been, from the first days of the worker-recuperated enterprises movement, a central figure in helping articulate the methods of workplace occupations by employees working in failing firms and reopening these workplaces as workers’ cooperatives.

Jennifer Moore is Canadian independent print and broadcast journalist currently based in Ecuador. Her journalistic work has appeared in The Dominion, Fighting FTAs, bilaterals.org, Pacific Free Press, Rabble.ca, Gorilla Radio, The Tyee, and Agencia Latinoamericana de Información.

Marcelo Vieta is currently a PhD Candidate (ABD) in Social and Political Thought at York University (Toronto, Canada). In 2011 he will be Visiting Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Trento’s European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (EURICSE). Since 2005 he has been working extensively with Argentina’s worker-recuperated enterprises and conducting ethnographic and political economic research in Argentina on the movement of worker-recuperated enterprises.


Setting the Stage

Once an emerging industrial nation with Latin America’s strongest labour movement, the continent’s most skilled workers, a solid middle class, and the region’s lowest rates of unemployment, the 1990s saw the pummeling of Argentina’s industrial base and its working class as a result of the country’s failed neoliberal experiment. The privatization of most of its public assets and natural resources; the implementation of stark anti-labour legislation; the sharp rise in local business bankruptcies due in part to the flood of cheap imported goods and an overvalued peso; the multinationalization of the national economy; rising unemployment, underemployment, and poverty…. These were some of the outcomes of the country’s neoliberal sojourn that led to the now well-known social, political, and financial crises years at the turn of the millennium and that fulminated into mass social protest on December 19 and 20, 2001. Within a conjuncture of increasing immiseration for its working people, Argentina’s phenomenon of worker-recuperated, worker-run enterprises (empresas recuperadas por sus trabajadores, or ERT) has been crafting promising and viable alternatives for over 10,000 workers in around 200 recuperated firms.

Eduardo Murúa, former president of Argentina’s now-fractured Movimiento Nacional de Empresas Recuperadas (National Movement of Recuperated Enterprises, or MNER), has had an important role in articulating the path to self-management for Argentina’s ERTs.[1] In recent years he has taken more of a back-seat role in the task of helping to organize and lobby on behalf of almost a third of Argentina’s ERTs. Between 1997 and early-2006, however, Murúa had been very active in the waves of social protest blanketing the country during these years, especially in the experiments in alternative economic and production practices being forged by Argentina’s myriad social justice movements. Most importantly, his was an important voice in the debates and experiments focusing on how workers were to occupy and recuperate their failing or owner-abandoned firms, how these firms were to be converted into workers’ coops, and how the practices of autogestión (self-management) could best unfold. During these years Murúa also helped found MNER, the first and, for a time, the most influential association and lobby group of worker-recuperated firms. Amongst other accomplishments, MNER played a central role in the struggle for securing a national law of expropriation for these workers’ coops, in assisting in articulating their processes of restarting production under self-management, and in the fight for the reform of Argentina’s bankruptcy laws in order to facilitate workplace conversions into workers’ coops.

Murúa was also central in organizing the Primer Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas por los Trabajadores (First Latin American Gathering of Worker-Recuperated Enterprises) that took place in Caracas, Venezuela in October of 2005. Supported financially and politically by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, it was the first region-wide gathering of ERTs in Latin America, attended by 400 worker protagonists from 235 recovered enterprises as well as sympathetic union leaders and rank-and-file members, and government representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay.[2]

Between 2006 and early 2009 Murúa had taken on a less public role, focusing more on the recuperation of new workspaces as they arose and if he was called on to assist, and helping out with the daily issues of self-management at IMPA, one of the first and most emblematic worker-recuperated enterprises located in the city of Buenos Aires’s barrio of Caballito. In August of 2009, Murúa returned to the public scene as IMPA’s workers faced eviction again. Over the span of three weeks in August, Murúa led IMPA’s workers to resist this most recent threat by convincing them to open a “permanent and open” workers assembly and calling on other ERT protagonists and sympathetic social movement groups to join IMPA’s fight. Throughout, the IMPA workers hosted almost daily cultural events at the factory. The workers also set up a camp outside of IMPA’s doors and secured an arsenal of molotovs and other weapons of self-defence in order to prepare to resist a potential eviction at all costs. During this time Murúa also went on a two-week hunger strike. These events were motivated by legal actions in recent years that are still placing IMPA’s continued existence at risk. Early in 2009, a partisan judge from the city of Buenos Aires agreed to reopen a case initiated by a group of former investors that wanted the plant back in order to sell the property in Buenos Aires’s lucrative real estate market. The judge had begun to rule in an earlier hearing that IMPA’s law of expropriation was “unconstitutional.” Due in no small way to the political struggle led by MNER in the early years of the ERT phenomenon, this law has been favourably applied to many ERTs. It legally cedes a worker-recuperated plant to its workers in order for them to reopen the plant as a workers’ cooperative without further legal repercussions. A final verdict of unconstitutionality in the IMPA case is still outstanding as of mid 2011. Should local courts rule against IMPA, the ERT would be forced to close its doors forever, once again preventing its workers from working at the plant. It would also close the thriving cultural centre, adult education program, and community health clinic that also operate within the factory. Moreover, such a ruling risks setting a harmful precedent for around 60% of Argentina’s ERTs that have also to date been expropriated on behalf of its workers. The public attention that recent worker and community mobilizations at the plant have been garnering has forced the presiding judge to delay on a final verdict. For now at least, IMPA continues to be in the hands of its workers while Murúa and his compañeros at the plant remain on a state of alert. This new round of legal issues faced by IMPA’s workers was enough to encourage Murúa to re-emerge publicly, and once again take on a leadership role in the struggle to keep IMPA a workers’ coop, as well as in the broader struggles for sustainability and recognition still faced by the ERT movement.


Independent journalist Jennifer Moore conducted the following interview on June 3, 2006 while Murúa was in the southern Ontario region as an invited guest speaker for the Canadian Association for Studies in Co-operation’s national conference. During the week he was in Canada he also gave several public talks and held numerous meetings with local unions and coops. In the interview, Murúa most poignantly predicts that the world’s capitalist system, debt-ridden and exploitative as it is, was inevitably heading for an impending financial crisis: a ‘corralito mundial’ as he has termed it elsewhere.[3] The interview can be read as an early forecast of the current crisis of world financial capital that began in 2008 and that we are still living through. He also expresses clearly and with passion his vision for a different Argentina and Latin America – where wealth might be distributed more equitably and where work, in and inversion of Juán Perón’s much-quoted vision, cannot equal dignity if one’s work continues to be permeated by alienated and exploitative forms of labour and informality. In sections of these passages, Murúa moves beyond his militant Peronist-Montonero roots and sounds more like and old Marxist. In other passages of the interview, however, he also comes close to sounding like an autonomist or libertarian Marxist, especially in his views of the necessity for bottom-up worker resistance and self-organization, for forging a new Argentina, as well as with his critical views of the state and global multinational organizations and their culpability in reproducing crises.[4]

While continuing to be an outspoken and at times controversial figure amongst Argentina’s social justice movements, there is no doubt that Eduardo Murúa’s vision for workers’ controlling their own productive lives continues to resonate within the debates that are attempting to articulate how it is that a better, more equitable Argentina can be forged. His words can also offer invaluable lessons and inspiration for the conceptual thinking and concrete struggles of workers and activists in the global North and South that are searching for paths beyond enclosures, especially in the current crisis of global capital. There is also little doubt in my mind that his voice over the past dozen years has helped continue the lucha of those Argentines that were tortured and killed in the 1960s and 1970s for their dream of a freer, more just society. Indeed, in the struggles for self-reliance, self-management, affordable housing, human rights, and more equitable distributions of wealth for all Argentines, Murúa – like many others – has been contributing to the recuperation of the desires and demands of Argentina’s past militant workers, activists and students for contemporary projects of liberation.



~Marcelo Vieta, September 2009





The Interview



Jennifer Moore – What were you involved in before the financial collapse of Argentina in Dec. 2001?



Eduardo Murúa – OK, well, the movement [of worker-recuperated enterprises] begins before the financial collapse of Argentina. Before I got involved with the movement of recuperated enterprises I was a political union organizer in Argentina. I was an oppositional individual within the steelworkers union. I was also a political militant in an organization that originated in the Montonero movement.[5] I was a militant on behalf of workers’ rights. I would get involved with workers’ conflicts in their struggle to better their wages and social benefits.



JM – Was the financial downfall of Argentina in late-2001 anticipated and what was the role of the movement [of worker-recuperated enterprises] during the financial crisis of that time?



EM – I’m wondering why you’re pivoting on the role of the financial crisis here? We shouldn’t really focus entirely on the financial crisis of December 2001. This movement began before the crisis; the movement of worker-recuperated enterprises began four years prior to the formation of the National Movement of Recuperated Enterprises [MNER]. What happened in 2001, that is, what it perpetuated, beginning with the financial crisis and the social crisis that this generated, was that all of the experiences of struggle of the labour movement – the movement of unemployed workers, the piqueteros,[6] the worker-recuperated enterprises – finally became visible to society at large. It wasn’t that these movements began with the financial crisis, but that all of this already started with what the neoliberal model generated, the model that was installed by the dictatorship of 1976 and that was continued by the subsequent formal democracies up to ’95-’96. And it was then that there was a decision by a good part of the collectivity of workers to begin a method of struggle that included occupying factories and getting them to produce again, but his time under the control and management of workers. This was many years before the financial downfall. But these worker-led actions perhaps presaged what was about to happen in the country, which ended up being the rupture of the chain of debt payments, the financial crisis, the massive closing of factories, and so on.



JM – I realize now that I made a mistake in my initial question to you. Perhaps this has to do with my lack of knowledge on the particularities of the movement, and also an error in the information that I’ve been receiving up till now. But, OK, let me ask you straight out: How did the movement start?



EM – No, no. What I want to clarify is that it’s not a problem with, say, your lack of interest or with your education on these matters. The issue rests with the level of disinformation that often comes out of Argentina from certain sectors, like the parties of the left that joined these movements almost three or four years after the struggle that the workers had already begun. It’s as if when these sectors appear the struggle begins! So they tell the story from 2001 onwards when the story really begins much earlier. That’s why you at times most likely receive information saying that the recuperated enterprises began in 2001, but then you’ll find, if you dig deeper, that there were worker-recuperated enterprises in ’97, ’98, ’99.


But, OK, like I was telling you, the first factory recoveries begin in ’97 and ’98. I think the main reason for these first recoveries was the situation that the Argentine workers found themselves in, due to the high rates of unemployment in the country that [at its apex] affected 35% of the national workforce. This in a country that historically had a three or four percent rate of unemployment (that’s to say, almost full employment), that had a work culture that was firmly established with workers, a culture that in Argentina even defines dignity closely with work. So these factors caused workers – which at that moment were feeling that it was impossible to find work elsewhere when they got fired – to fight for the recovery of their employment. Rather than falling prey to structural unemployment, they decided to fight for recovering their factories and getting them up and running again under their own management. They knew that, otherwise, the fate that awaited them was to become structurally unemployed forever.



JM – OK. So can you explain the role of the movement from that point on a bit more?



EM – Yes, of course. Those of us that came from previous union and political struggles had already come to the realization that the usual methods of labour struggle would not be enough. It wasn’t enough to fight for wages or our work conditions; we had to, rather, find new methods of struggle that would ensure the preservation of employment for all workers. What the movement did very well was to accompany the struggle of workers in recuperating their factories, to create the experience – because it’s one thing to plan and propose, it’s quite another thing to actual do – of recovering factories that were almost emptied of their prime materials, machinery, that had their gas and light cut off. It was a huge challenge. A challenge that those of us that came from a history of militancy knew we had to confront. But those that really confronted these challenges were the actual workers. They were the ones that sacrificed the most, and it was the workers who recomposed the factories with what I would not hesitate to say were at times inhumane sacrifices. Inhumane because they had to stay in the factories all day, they had to suffer not receiving salaries, to work many more hours than what would be deemed normal.

But, OK, all of this helped to convince us that this method of struggle that we were proposing was actually viable. And the only ones that could make this strategy possible were the actual workers and their own will to resist being shut out of the nation’s productive apparatus. In other words, what MNER has always done well has been to accompany the workers, to be in solidarity with them, and to explain to them and attempt to convince them that they had to use the early struggles of the first recovered factories as examples for how to continue to work. So, more than anything, the most important thing that MNER gave workers was solidarity.


JM – Can you speak more about the cultural change that is needed in the workers that participate in this movement in order to move towards a notion of autogestión – self-management – in their work and their community?



EM – Yes. We are still a new movement that has much to learn, that has to study more, that has to have many more debates between workers. In the beginning I have to say that we didn’t set out to study the question of autogestión. Rather, we began by defining what juridical form would serve us best during that historical moment and in order to ensure that the factory would be able to continue to function. We thus decided that the cooperative form of organization would be best because it would permit workers to self-manage their enterprise, enable decisions to be made within an assembly, and ensure that revenues would be distributed equitably. Afterwards, the transformation of each worker is dissimilar. That is, the change in subjectivity in some workers is much more powerful than in others. The subjectivity and culture of many, many workers have not changed. Many workers go to work everyday and just do their tasks in the recuperated enterprise; they do them very well, perhaps with more effort than before when they worked under a boss. But they finish their job for the day and then they go home like they did in their old jobs. Other workers are different. They have reconceptualized the factory differently. They begin to talk and think in a new way. They have come to understand how their former bosses were exploiting them. They have come to understand how the economic system functions in Argentina, how the capitalist system destroys each one of our workplaces, how the monopolies function. The strongest change in subjectivity occurs in those workers that entrenched themselves the most in the issues of the recuperation of the enterprise in the early days of occupation. These early processes were very important for that.


Another change that for us was very fundamental was that, given the same salary with the same work conditions, we are most certain that a worker in Argentina today would chose to work in a recuperated enterprise over an enterprise under the management of a boss. No compañero[7] that has gone through the experience of working in a recovered enterprise will want to return to a job managed by a boss. That is, we’re assuming that work conditions are the same and that salaries are the same. For sure if there is an offer of x amount in wages that is more than what a worker would make in a recuperated enterprise it is possible that he would migrate to a capitalist enterprise. But under similar conditions, it is certain that that worker would not want to work under a boss. Do you understand? This has to do with the degree of internal democracy, the degree of freedom that that worker feels by working in a recuperated enterprise. That is, the change in subjectivity, I would say, happens even within the relations of production within the firm. Today the worker in a recuperated enterprise doesn’t feel like a worker any more, inside of a recovered factory the worker feels like a compañero. He doesn’t feel like a worker utilized within an alienating job. Independently from this though, we can’t forget that even in recuperated enterprises work is still alienating to a certain degree in some sectors.



JM – With what other social movements is the worker-recuperated enterprises movement allied with in Argentina?


EM – OK, well, I would say with all of the sectors that struggle against the system. With the compañero in the piquetero movement, the unemployed compañeros, the compañeros in unions. In all of these organizations there are compañeros that struggle for the destruction of the system. There are some organizations that are more centrist, others that align themselves with the left, but within these organizations there are always compañeros that are involved in the fight, that are in solidarity with other compañeros, and that are definitively fighting for a different Argentina, an Argentina without exploitation, for a freer people.


JM – Can you talk more about the economic cycles that Argentina is living through right now [in mid-2006]?


EM – I think that there is an entire discussion to be had around cycles, whether cycles exist or not. I don’t know if they are called ‘cycles’ anymore. Well, that is, there is a permanent cycle that is the decadence of the system. In Argentina what happened after the social and financial collapse of 2001 was that an accord was formed between the different sectors of power, between the interested monopolistic sectors in the internal market and those interested in producing products for exportation, another sector that is made up of the historical Argentine oligarchy and foreign groups and international financial capital groups, and yet another group that administered the privatized corporations and the financial services enterprises that proposed and spearheaded the dollarization [of the peso in the 1990s].[8] The group that ended up winning this intense competition was the export sector that succeeded with the devaluation [of the peso] in 2001, where there was also a small import substitution, and where there was a reconstitution of idle but productive capital, but that had already reached its limit point, and that, I feel, in the next few years, will provoke another crisis. International financial power gave us a brief summer after the chaos of 2001-2002, gave us brief respite, because we have to also say that for two years Argentina didn’t pay even one peso of interest on its debt with the permission of international financial power so that Argentina’s political power base that had lost all of its legitimacy could reconstitute itself. And it’s not that they gave this permission joyfully either, they gave this permission because they knew that if they didn’t give this permission the revolution in Argentina was imminent.


JM – So what do you think of how Nestor Kirchner is represented as leaning more towards the left or as part of this wave of the left in Latin America?


EM – Well, first off, I don’t think there is a wave towards the left in South America. What I do think is that international power has designs to continue with the same model, to change a few things in order not to change anything – acopiardismo.[9] What’s been designed for Latin America is a democratic assistentialism,[10] that’s why they used and are continuing to use a progressive discourse, the same progressive discourse that says ‘no’ to the IMF but yet pays it $10 billion US, like Nestor Kirchner paid to the International Monetary Fund, like the $15 billion US that Lula paid to the IMF. The same discourse that says there is a need for the IMF to recover that money, that says the international debt must be recognized – which is a fraudulent debt, a debt that was put into place via dictatorships and with the fall of our compañeros, with the death of our people and our country. Argentina’s economy continues on this transnationalistic path; over the past two years major Argentine companies have been sold off to Brazilian and American groups. The strategic sectors of our economy continue to be privatized and remain in the hands of foreigners. So to call Kirchner’s government a popular government of the left is, at most, a joke.


I want to say one more thing regarding this: What’s worse – and this really makes us angry – is the government of Mr. Kirchner sometimes appropriates, when it is convenient for him to do so, the memory of our compañeros who disappeared and died confronting the [1976-1983] dictatorship with arms – this memory is the only thing that remains alive, symbolically, of the struggles of our fallen compañeros. He often uses this when talking about the dictatorship.


JM – I’d like to talk a bit about the international movement: What’s happening with the movement of worker-recuperated enterprises in other countries in South America? Can you talk about this?


EM – Well, with regards to other workers’ movements, what happened in Argentina is happening in other places. It’s a byproduct of the crisis that’s inherent in the system. A system that can’t create employment, that creates societies that are completely dualistic. Slowly but steadily, this [crisis] will deepen more and more. What happened in Argentina happened in Brazil, in Uruguay, in Venezuela. We began to work with our compañeros in Venezuela, and with the Ministry of Labour in Venezuela, after the general work stoppage generated by that country’s bourgeoisie, the general lockout of workers by the country’s employers, and the closure of factories there. After some initial discussions with our compañeros in Venezuela, and with our connections with compañeros from the worker-recuperated enterprises in Uruguay and Brazil, we convened in Caracas in October 2005 to discuss and debate all of this, to see how we could consolidate this process of recovering work and jobs by the very workers of Latin America. Something we also discussed in Caracas as a movement is that we shouldn’t only think of this movement as a Latin American one, because the problem of unemployment is everywhere. Our intention is to [eventually] congregate all self-managed workers [from around the world] that practice autogestión. But it’s also important to say that it’s the intention of our movement to not only congregate those involved in recovering companies. Our people generated a plethora of options in the search for work, in order to create new work: microenterprises, peoples assemblies that got together to produce, cooperatives of rural workers, campesino movements recovering land, etc. The idea of our movement is to work towards congregating all self-managed workers in order to discuss, debate, and consolidate our processes and to be an alternative to that which capitalism is developing, which is rooted in exclusion. We want an alternative of inclusion that also obviously disputes power.


JM – What type of infrastructure can you see as an alternative for the different manifestations of this movement amongst these diverse peoples, such as the proposal for a ‘multinational of the people’ and those types of proposals?[11]


EM – Well, what we proposed to the Latin American workers in the meetings in Caracas is that we need offices of interchange in the different countries in order to form a database of experiences, in order to understand better the level of productivity that we can rely on, to complement each other in our productive activities, in order to exchange knowledge between the workers of each country. Also, in order to exchange technology between each country, which would differentiate us from the financial agreements between the big multinationals. Replicating a model of capitalist multinantionalism is of no interest to us because the development of ‘the market’ in each country is of no interest to us – what is of interest to us is that each of the nations’ peoples experience their own development. Therefore, we want to be able to share with all of our compañeros our technologies, our learning, and also be able to commercialize our products between the workers of the recovered enterprises. We want to be able to share between all of us an entity that would help in [a new type of] commercialization; that is a ‘multinational of the people’ that could distribute our products directly to the people of Latin America. We want to be able to ultimately compete with capitalist production. We feel that we could even have competitive advantages over capitalist enterprises, not by having the same economic and financial capital that they have, but because we consider and have confidence in the conscience of our people: That is, we feel that if we arrive on the market with the same quality of products at the same prices, that people will prefer to buy products from workers of recuperated enterprises or from self-managed workers rather than capitalist products. So, on the one hand, [our broader economic strategy] is to generate a [new] market, a brand,[12] a new form of integration between peoples.


On the other hand, we [are proposing] the creation of a ‘bank of the worker.’ A bank that would take care of the savings of the working and middle classes. [This bank would] redirect this money back into local production, not into the international financial system, not into the financial game of chance, in umpteen types of bond and investment schemes. Rather, we think that the people’s savings should be directed into physical production in order to then enable [these funds] to be redistributed. We think that one of the deficits that self-managed workers have in the recuperated enterprises movement is lack of capital. And we think that we are more than able to not only produce well but also to capture these savings and transform them into new types of production while at the same time being able to return the savings to those that have saved with this bank, and even return these savings with some interest as well, right? Nobody is going to contribute one’s own savings without seeing some interest returned to them. We feel that we would be able to return this interest to savers and at the same time take away the mediation of the traditional bank. When one puts money into a traditional bank on a fixed term rate he or she is paid a predetermined rate of interest, and when he or she takes out a loan the same bank charges them three times more interest. This gap wouldn’t exist in the workers’ bank we are proposing.


One of the other things that we are proposing – and this is perhaps more immediate – is to call on all Latin American self-managed workers to carry out a boycott against all monopolies. To unite against the big monopolies and oligopolies that drive the structures of production in our countries, beginning with raw materials and the prices and the conditions of payment they establish in our countries. We’d call on this boycott in order to impede these policies that are an offence to all small- and medium-sized enterprises and all workers. This, I think, is something that we can already do. If we settle on thinking that we can be profitable only by recovering factories and that that’s it and that nothing else has to change we’re going to make a mistake because, at some moment, just like the small- and medium-sized enterprises that disappeared [some of which we took over] and just like the old bosses went bankrupt, there is a strong possibility that we too could end up bankrupted, especially if we don’t look at modifying the market system and if we don’t begin to put into place the rules necessary for [the creation of ] a popular economy.



JM – What do you think about the fair trade system that we’ve been talking about a lot over the past few days, and maybe also the similarities or solidarity between the fair trade system and what you’ve been describing up until now?



EM – Yes, I think it’s extremely important to have this type of mechanism. To be sure, those of us that are involved in the production and the commercialization of these types of products must come together so that our products can effectively reach our communities. When we speak of a ‘just price’ we also need to discuss what this price should be and how this final value will be distributed among the whole of the chain. In any case, it seems to me that this is an important issue because we could even set benchmarks to control the enterprises [that engage in these practices] by setting the norms within which they must operate using criteria such as how they treat their workers, how they distribute salaries, allocate vacation time, etc. That is, if the enterprise desires to enter this market that we call ‘fair price’ or ‘fair trade’ we would need to better control those enterprises that carried this certification.


I think this is all a bit incipient, still, however. We would have to discuss these possibilities further. I, we, need to study and debate these options further to see if we could incorporate the system of worker-recuperated enterprises within this mechanism. But I do think it does line up with our thinking around setting up an alternative market to those markets that are dominated by the monopolies and oligopolies.


While we need to remember that the instruments that we generate within our various alternative movements – the recuperated enterprises and the fair trade and fair price movements – are all important, we must never forget, at the same time, that the struggle is also a political struggle, the struggle for mobilization, the struggle of bodies on the streets.[13] These things are, in the end, the only things that will ensure that one day we will have the possibility of liberated peoples living democratically and with justice.



JM – We spoke a bit about [Nestor] Kirchner already. I’d like you to give your opinion on Hugo Chavez, too, and the way he is presented in the international mass media and also his role right now, perhaps not for proposing the solution for South America, but perhaps with respect to his role in creating a space for the social movements.



EM – What I have to say concerning President and Commandante Hugo Chavez is this: I think he has made a very important contribution to all of the world’s peoples when he proposed, from the presidency of a nation – that is, from an institution that is as important as the presidency of a country – to suggest that the capitalist system is finished and that we have to invent a new system, which is undefined still, which we must create collectively, that must be created between the world’s peoples. It’s a proposal that he hasn’t attempted to define, and I think it’s respectful not to define what this other system should be. But he has certainly said to the entire world that our system of capitalism is finished. No president has ever dared to say this much. And I believe that this is important and it encourages the collectivity of our people to debate whether [solutions] should be like this or like that.


Also, with respect to what we’ve worked on together, I think that we have found in President Chavez and his ministers a special attention that we did not find in the governments of our country with respect to the problematic of workers, to the problematic of employment, of the necessity for the productive development of our countries.[14] And, in point of fact, the Latin American workers of recovered enterprises were able to get together thanks to the support of the Venezuelan state.[15] It was the Venezuelan state that permitted all of the workers from Latin America – because it wasn’t only workers of recuperated enterprises that got together but rather also workers from many unions and leaders from many unions throughout Latin America – to debate how this method of struggle that some workers had initiated some time ago was multiplying throughout Latin America….


So, I think that what Chavez is doing in his country is very important, although surely there is still much more to do. But the most important thing that I have seen in Venezuela is the policy decisions initiated by the government that favour popular organization. That is, everything that Venezuela does it does in order to make popular organization functional, to make democracy possible, to facilitate the unity of each barrio.[16] Wherever there is a necessity an organization is formed, and it’s not about the state needing to direct solutions but that the solutions should begin to emanate from social organizations, each demand comes from the social organizations, and the state assists in complementing these. To me, it seems that – much beyond just the words of President Chavez with respect to the system, much beyond just the words of President Chavez with respect to what Mr. Bush is, or what US imperialism implies – what is really worrying the system about Venezuela is the organization that’s forming in the grassroots, how the campesinos and workers are organizing without intermediaries. It is that [kind of] democracy and that organization from the people that can prevent any foreign intervention.


JM – What can you say to the workers and the people of North America, that is to the people of the so-called ‘first world,’ about what can happen here, about the changes that are also needed here?


EM – I think that, just like in my country, in the first world there are two classes of sectors. One sector is the majority of the people, that is the group that I like to talk about, that is the majority of the working class that will suffer the consequences of the crisis of the model that is entrenching itself more and more, that will suffer the same fate that the Latin American people have suffered: the loss of employment and of [deteriorating] life conditions. I would tell this sector to organize, to occupy those spaces that are empty, that they should occupy these spaces in order to produce, that they should start their own productive activities, their own culture, their own education. Spaces must be occupied. We can’t let ourselves be robbed any longer; we can’t allow our rights to be taken away anymore. We have to organize ourselves.

And to those sectors that today feel included? I say to them that their current strategies are not the best form of security. First, it’s as if they’re living in a bubble, or a great lie. A great lie because they believe that their lives are secure with their pension funds, retirement funds, savings, bonds upon bloody bonds, and all of these things that generate the mechanisms of debt. One day they will find themselves with the great surprise that in reality they have nothing. And, furthermore, the thing that they are really generating is poverty. Each supporting act that they do, beginning with their proposals for ‘security’ – and I say this word between scare quotes – is really adding another brick to the wall and is killing another child in Iraq. Do you understand? The world needs other things. It needs its peoples to complement themselves. In needs for all of us to work for the integration of all people. There is no way out from within the system of capitalism; there is no way out using the capitalist system. We’re not going to tell the world what to do, though. I think we have to all sit down and debate this. But we do have to change all of the institutions that are now invalid and out of date – like the International Monetary Fund, like the UN, the WTO – where four or five decide what can and cannot be discussed. We instead have to find new forms of integrating and structuring society. The world has reached a level of technological development where we could all live well. The problem is that what is lacking are the institutions that can properly distribute this wealth. Humanity has already attained such a high level of knowledge that we could produce everything that we need. Now what’s needed is the right degree of consciousness of society in order to create the [proper] institutions of distribution.


JM – OK, well, for now, I have no more questions. Thank you. Before we end, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us?


EM – Well, I love Toronto. [Laughter.] No, really, I’m serious. I was just telling my compañeros here earlier today that I am certain that Toronto has its problems, that there are compañeros in Toronto that are badly off. Lamentably, I know the state of Latin American cities better and I would say to the people of Toronto that poverty appears to be far tougher there, in Latin America, for more people, however. The streets there seem to me to be harder. Far too many of our people are badly off. And, unfortunately there still continues to be, as in colonial times, the extraction of resources or of production from our Latin American countries to sectors of the first world. All of this must change if we want to have a better, different kind of world.





~ June 3, 2006, Toronto, Canada




[1] The eventual fragmentation of the once-influential MNER in early-2006 was primarily due to tactical and political differences between some of its most politically active protagonists. These differences included: the strategies and tactics MNER should adopt concerning Argentina’s political and business establishments; issues concerning how a recuperated enterprise should best organize itself and face its continued microeconomic challenges; and how to best deal with then-president Nestór Kirchner’s centrist labour policies. Moreover, in April of 2006 some strong disagreements arose within MNER concerning the internal political and financial handling of the ongoing economic difficulties at IMPA, a metallurgic workers’ coop widely recognized as one of the first and most symbolic ERTs. A more thorough account of this history can be read in: Vieta, M. and Ruggeri, A. (2009) ‘The worker-recovered enterprises as workers’ co-operatives: The conjunctures, challenges, and innovations of self-management in Argentina and Latin America,’ in D. Reed and J. J. McMurtry (eds.) Co-operatives in a global economy: The challenges of co-operation across borders. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 178-225.




[2] For more on the Primer Encuentro, see: Martín, J. (2005, Nov. 6) ‘Primer Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas por los Trabajadores,’ elmilitante.org and Barcelona Indymedia [http://barcelona.indymedia.org/newswire/display/213621/index.php]; Trigona, M. (2006, Mar. 19) ‘Recuperated Enterprises in Argentina: Reversing the Logic of Capitalism,’ Citizen Action in the Americas [http://americas.irc-online.org/pdf/series/19.recoupent.pdf]; Vieta, M. and Ruggeri, A. (2009) ‘The worker-recovered enterprises as workers’ co-operatives: The conjunctures, challenges, and innovations of self-management in Argentina and Latin America,’ in D. Reed and J. J. McMurtry (eds.) Co-operatives in a global economy: The challenges of co-operation across borders. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 178-225.




[3] “Corralito” is the Spanish diminutive for “corral” or “enclosure.” It was the nickname given to President Fernando de la Rúa’s government’s policy put in place on 1 December 2001 to prevent a massive run at the banks when default on Argentina’s foreign debt was seen to be inevitable. The corralito in effect legally barred Argentine’s from withdrawing more than $250 pesos a week from their bank accounts when the convertibility law was rescinded and the peso was allowed to float once again and devalue against the US dollar after more than 10 years of being pegged to it. This law had much to due with enflaming the popular uprisings of 19-20 December 2001.




[4] For similar sentiments expressed by Murúa elsewhere (also in English), see the collection of interviews on Argentina’s worker-recovered enterprises: Toronto School of Creativity and Inquiry (interviews and assemblage). (2007). ‘Recovering and recreating spaces of production: A virtual roundtable with protagonists of Argentina's worker-recovered enterprises movement.’ Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, vol. 1, no. 1 [http://affinitiesjournal.org/index.php/affinities/article/view/6/45].




[5] The Montoneros were a leftist-Peronist, mostly urban guerilla group involved in both clandestine paramilitary activity and more visible political lobbying and protests from the late-1960s to the late-1970s. They were substantially decimated by the military dictatorship of 1976-1983 during the infamous ‘dirty war’ of that period. During the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, a small group of former Montoneros and new militants attempted to resuscitate the movement by forming a short-lived Montonero spin-off organization known as the 17th of October group, named after the heavily symbolic day in 1945 when Juan Perón was released from prison by the military junta of the day. Murúa was involved with this latter iteration of the movement.




[6] A piquetero, or picketer, is the commonly used term for a member of the organized unemployed workers that began to emerge circa-1996 across Argentina and that use tactics of road-blockages as their principal protest strategy. Piqueteros are usually, but not always, members of the myriad groups belonging to the Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados (Movement of Unemployed Workers, or MTD).




[7] The noun compañero, literally ‘companion’ or ‘partner,’ loosely translates into ‘comrade’ or ‘comrade-in-arms.’ In Latin America, the concept also evokes a sense of deep friendship and inclusion between individuals who have shared in common struggles or otherwise share some sort of deep experiential affinity.




[8] The ‘dollarization’ of the peso refers to the fixed-rate exchange policy (officialy called the ley de convertibilidad, or ‘convertability law’) introduced by President Carlos Menem’s administration, and specifically spearheaded by his now vilified Minister of the Economy, Domingo Cavallo, in 1991 in order to stem the tide of acute inflation and hyperinflation that had plagued much of Raúl Alfonsín’s government, Menem’s predecessor, throughout the 1980s. While inflation was curtailed by this monetary strategy, an overpriced peso caused exports to gradually decline throughout the 1990s. As a result, a chronic trade deficit took hold by the middle of the decade as cheaper imports saturated local markets. Unable to do business in such an economic environment, an escalating number of once-profitable small and medium sized businesses, faced with dwindling national and international markets, went bankrupt.




[9] The verb ‘acopiar’ means to gather together or to stock up and, in an economic sense, to buy up in order to create a monopoly. Here, Murúa’s use of the derogatory expression ‘acopiardismo’ alludes to the systemic strategies and practices of monopolization that have plagued Latin America for the past three decades.




[10] In Argentina, ‘assistentialism’ (asistiensialismo) refers to the practice by the state and other institutions of offering assistance programs linked to work (i.e., work-for-welfare) or providing social assistance payments to the most needy and marginalized in order to, on the surface, meet their basic necessities but that, in reality, serves to co-opt, corral, and contain these groups and behold them even further to the establishment. Autonomous groups such as MNER and some MTDs view the practices of assistentialism as blatant attempts by the state and other intuitions to co-opt the unemployed, the impoverished classes, and the indigent in order to minimize their political capacities or cut off their activist activities that could threaten economic, social, or political stability. The term is also closely associated by some observers and activists with the age-old practices of ‘clientelism.’




[11] Aside from completing 75 contracts and promissory agreements between the region’s worker-recuperated enterprises, the Caracas conference participants also managed to cobble together what has come to be called the Compromiso de Caracas (Caracas Accord). The accord detailed the vision for a multinational, worker-led, and continent-wide initiative for a solidarity network of worker-recuperated and other self-managed enterprises that Hugo Chavez termed ‘Empresur.’ Empresur was envisioned as an intercontinental social economic network that would engage not only in traditional forms of trade between the region’s self-managed firms, but would also see these firms interact with each other outside of the neoliberal marketplace. As the Caracas gathering’s participants envisaged it, such solidarity-based interactions would also include the sharing of technical know-how, the creation of funds for ‘fair loans and investments,’ and the provisioning of raw materials rooted in bartering, all working within a transnational network of co-operation that would also offer political support for the legal hurdles faced by self-managed enterprises across the region. Crucially, Empresur was to be grounded in grassroots, socialist-minded, and democratic economic initiatives. Indeed, as Chavez outlined in his inaugural speech at the Oct. 2005 conference, he viewed the experience of the region’s worker-recuperated enterprises workers at the time as the ‘soul’ of contemporary Latin America, underscoring how the experiences and values of the region’s self-managed enterprises’ protagonists symbolized the antithesis of what the FTAA represents. In fact, the concept of a regional co-operative solidarity movement of self-managed enterprises within an alternative social economic framework was subversively labelled, in an appropriation of neoliberal terminology, a ‘multinational without a boss.’


For more on the proposals for Empresur and a multinational of the people that emerged out of the First Encuentro in Caracas, see: PortalALBA (n.d.) ‘¿Qué es la Alternativa Bolivariana para América Latina y El Caribe?’ PortalALBA [http://www.alternativabolivariana.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=1], visited 24 April, 2005; Movimiento 13 de Abril (2005, Oct. 28) ‘Instalado 1er encuentro latinoamericano de empresas recuperadas,’ Movimiento 13 de Abril [http://movimiento13deabril.blogcindario.com/2005/10/00066-instalado-1er-encuentro-latinoamericano-de-empresas-recuperadas.html], visited 28 October 2005; Lavaca (2005, Nov. 11) ‘Lavaca en Venezuela: Una multinacional sin partón: Concluyó en Venezuela el 1º Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas’ Lavaca.org [http://www.lavaca.org/seccion/actualidad/1/1195.shtm], visit 20 December 2005.




[12] One of the proposals that Murúa discussed at length in his talks and with protagonists of the fair trade movement from Mexico, Peru, and Canada in his June 2006 trip to the Toronto area was the strategy of branding products produced by worker-recuperated enterprises, microenterprises, and workers’ cooperatives as ‘fair work’ products, or ‘producto de trabajo justo.’ This proposal is inspired by and parallels the marketing strategies and production criteria of the fair trade movement.




[13] Murúa and MNER call their tactics of resistance – of ‘occupying’ workspaces, ‘resisting’ repression and the dictates of the capitalist system and lobbying governments with their physical presence in courts and regional legislatures, and ‘producing’ under the tenets of self-management – ‘the war of bodies.’




[14] Between 2004 and 2006, Murúa had been spearheading a working relationship with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Mainly through the efforts of Murúa, in August 2005 and later in October 2006 as part of the First Encounter of Recovered Enterprises in Caracas, MNER managed to strike a favourable loans deal with Chavez by piggy-backing on a greater regional economic accord negotiated between the Venezuelan and Argentine governments to more closely integrate the two economies. This greater accord between Argentina and Venezuela is part of Chavez’s alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Zone of the Americas (FTAA). Chavez has dubbed this alternative regional social economic initiative the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas and the Caribbean (La Alternativa Bolivariana para América Latina y el Caribe, or ALBA). See: PortalALBA [http://www.alternativabolivariana.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=1].




[15] Here Murúa is perhaps being overly modest. In many respects, Chavez came to know the possibilities inherent in the worker-recuperated enterprises in Argentina thanks to Murúa. And, due also to Murúa’s own lobbying, Argentina’s most recent experiments with worker self-management have played a crucial role in both inspiring other recent worker recoveries in other countries in the region and in the recent push for an intercontinental social economy articulated at the October 2005 Caracas meetings. Furthermore, because of the legitimacy of the Argentine movement, gained through its long struggles for worker self-management, it is not surprising that Murúa was one of the key players in organizing the first meeting of Latin American recovered enterprises in Caracas. And because Argentina also has the most ERTs by far of any country in Latin America, it perhaps is also no surprise that the 300 Argentine worker delegates that attended the Caracas meetings represented the gathering’s largest contingent of workers. Consequently, the Argentine delegation managed to secure the largest number of work contracts and memoranda of understanding of any of the national delegations in Caracas, despite the lack of participation by Argentina’s national government.




[16] ‘Barrio’ is the word for ‘neighbourhood’ in Spanish, especially used in Venezuela and the Southern Cone.