ARGENTINA: Zanon workers under attack

April 20, 2005

Raul Bassi

On March 4, four people kidnapped a woman worker from the Zanon ceramics factory outside her workplace. Bringing back chilling memories of the 1970s "dirty wars" against left-wing activists, the woman was forced into a green Ford Falcon, the same car model used by security forces during the military dictatorship.

The woman was tortured, with cuts to her face, hands, arms and breasts. The men showed a detailed knowledge of her movements. The following morning, she was attacked again, this time in her own home. Incredibly enough, the police were supposed to be guarding the front of the house, when the group entered via the back door.

The workers at the Zanon factory, situated in Neuquen, a southern province in Argentina, are in no doubt that this attack was politically motivated. After the old bosses closed down the factory in October 2001, some of the Zanon workers decided to move back in and take over the running of the factory. This occurred only two months before the economic crisis which triggered the Argentinazo uprising, culminating in a situation where Argentina had four presidents in the space of one week. Since then, the Zanon workers have become a powerful symbol for the recuperated factories movement.

Zanon was one of the factories visited by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis in their 2004 documentary on the occupied factories The Take.

Under the banner of "occupy, resist, produce", more than 200 factories have been "recuperated", and are being run by worker cooperatives.

Continuing threats

The attackers reportedly told the woman: "We want you to go home with your hands and face dripping in blood, and tell [Raul] Godoy and [Alejandro] Lopez this is what is going to happen to them, that this has to do with Zanon. That union is going to run with blood."

Raul Godoy is a Zanon worker and general secretary of the Ceramist Union, whilst Alejandro Lopez is the general secretary of the Neuquen Ceramic Workers Union. This is not the first time these two have been threatened, nor are they the only ones to have received death threats.

Benjamin Dangl, in a March 9 article posted on Znet, reported that at a press conference following the incident at Zanon, Lopez stated, "What happened there has happened elsewhere. Subway workers have been threatened and are under constant surveillance. Student groups have also been threatened. The subway workers have been at the forefront of a resurgence in working class fight back in Argentina, and through militant strike action have won both a campaign for a six-hour work day, as well as more recently winning a 44% pay rise."

A beacon

The reason that Zanon is being singled out is clear: it is a powerful beacon of what is possible. In a country where the economy has collapsed by more than 30% in a few months; unemployment has surged to around 20%, poverty levels have risen to more than 50%; and death by starvation has returned — despite Argentina producing enough food to feed 10 times its population — the example set by the Zanon workers is something the ruling class cannot tolerate. Zanon, along with the other occupied factories, is a reaction by the working class to misery it has been thrown into as a result of neoliberalism.

The Zanon workers have organised the factory in a completly new way, based on direct democracy, where everything is decided in general assembly. All people elected to positions of coordination must report back to factory assemblies and can be recalled at any time.

The assembly also decides when new workers are needed. When they are required, they are generally selected from those involved in the piquetero unemployed workers' movement. From a situation where the boss claimed he could not give a job to a single worker and that it was more profitable to close down, the Zanon workers and now receiving a higher wage than ever and have expanded the work force from 266 to more than 450 people.

Rosa Rivera, a Zanon worker for 15 years, commented to independent journalist Marie Trigona in June last year, "Zanon is not a struggle for the 400 workers, but a struggle for the community and the social revolution".

Need for solidarity

The Zanon workers have been able to build powerful alliances with other sectors of the community as part of their campaign to defend the factory from right-wing and government attacks. When their struggle first began, neighbours, students, other unions, and piqueteros all showed their solidarity by collecting money and groceries for the workers.

Since Zanon restarted production, the state has used violent tactics in five separate attempts to evict the workers. Each time the police have been met by thousands of people willing to fight to defend the factory.

Engineering students at the nearby Comahue University have used university facilities to research and develop new techniques to increase production at Zanon.

Solidarity has cut both ways. The Zanon workers have been at the forefront of broader community struggles, locally and across the country. They have supported other workers. When students occupied nine university buildings, in an ultimately successful battle with campus administration, Zanon workers mobilised in their defence. One of the demands that the students won was a public apology from the university rector and a retraction of his denunciation of the engineering students who had helped the Zanon workers.

In response to the recent attacks on their leaders, Zanon workers organised a 5000-strong march to the Neuquen Government House on March 8, to denounce the death threats, physical attacks and torture.

More than ever, the workers, with the support of the community and other sectors, are acting in solidarity. They need your solidarity as well. The Zanon workers has set up an online petition and are urging those who support their cause to sign. The petition is at <>.

From Green Left Weekly, April 20, 2005.
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