The "Fire the Boss!" Tour
John W. Lawrence, GEO
In November 2005, members of Argentina’s Recuperated Factories Movement and Unemployed Workers’ Movement (piqueteros) toured North America speaking with local unions, independent workers’ organizations, day laborers, community organizations, and students. In 20 days they held 27 workshops with a total of 880 people in 14 cities throughout the East Coast! In addition they participated in 4 radio programs including Democracy Now.
In 2001, after years of neoliberal “reform,” Argentina’s economy collapsed. Instead of wallowing in despair, the people of Argentina took to the streets and took control over their factories, seized the machines and once again started to produce- without the boss. The unemployed movements began to provide for the unmet needs of their communities, creating bakeries, small cooperatives, and community gardens. On the tour, two workers recounted their ongoing participation in these movements.
For 28 years, Elsa Montero was employed as a hospital administrator in a private surgical and cardiac health care clinic. In 2003, the owners of the clinic announced that they were broke and closing the clinic. They owed the workers of the clinic a year and half of unpaid salary and five years of social security fees. The owners began selling off the clinic’s expensive equipment and pocketing the cash. Elsa declared that she and her co-workers were “left naked in the street with no opportunities for jobs. It is hard for the young to get a job and impossible for the old.” Out of desperation, the clinic workers began to brainstorm about how they were going to survive and support their families. They decide that their only chance was to start a worker coop.
In March 2003, the clinic workers secretly reoccupied the clinic. When the judge overseeing the case heard of the occupation, she sent 40 soldiers to kick the workers out. However, the clinic workers had decided not to back down. “To our surprise, our neighbors, the popular assemblies and the national Recuperated Factories Movement came to our side.” After a one-year struggle, the government relented and gave the clinic to the workers.
Elsa said that the clinic is now up and running again. The operation of the clinic has changed dramatically. She described how decisions are now made democratically. They treat patients on a sliding scale and there is a solidarity wage scale.
Carlos Alberto Barra is a member of the Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados (MTD- Unemployed Worker Movement) in Allen, Rio Negro, South Argentina. MTD Allen is a movement of unemployed workers that uses direct action street blockades to demand everything from government reforms to food. They attempt to live outside of capitalism, producing everything possible themselves in workshops like an organic farm, chicken and rabbit hatcheries, a community kitchen, a hair cuttery, and a canned foods group. The MTD Allen maintains a collective space for meetings, popular education, productive workshops, and collective meals. Through the Coordination of Autonomous Organizations, MTD Allen works with other unemployed movements who share similar goals, like MTD Cipolletti, MTD Solano, and MTD Guernica.
Carlos declared, “We find ourselves in a situation that we are inventing everything from scratch. We don’t want to be under the salary system. We want to create something new. I will give you an example. We were donated a dishwasher. We converted the dishwasher into an oven. We are now able to produce bread at a really low price for those in the movement and a solidarity price for people outside the movement.”
Carlos emphasized the revolutionary nature of this bottom-up democracy. “We organize horizontally and democratically. Fundamentally, we believe in changing social relations, from our feelings to our affections. We are creating alternatives to the capitalism system. We struggle permanently with ourselves always trying to create alternatives.”
One hotly debated topic is how the MTD should relate to the government. Should the movement accept subsidies from the government? Carlos argued against accepting state aid. “If we accept state aid, all our power will quickly end. Unemployment is very affected by always receiving aid. It is important to break from this culture.”
The Fire the Boss! Tour was organized by Jenny Schockemoehl, Jon Everhart and Matt Feinstein. This is the third tour they have organized. Matt Feinstein stated that the goal of the tour was to facilitate US/Argentina worker solidarity and introduce the concept of democratic work to US workers. Matt stated that after hearing Elsa’s story, a hospital worker yelled out, “We should do that!”
Background information for this article is based on the Fire the Boss Tour website: www.echanlospatrones.org
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