June 04, 2003
Brukman Workers Continue To Fight For Factory
By Marie Trigona
"What we are asking for is not undignified or illegal, we are
asking for something dignified--work, health, education and
housing," expresses Elisa one of the 55 workers at Brukman, a suit
factory in Buenos Aires occupied and self-managed by workers. On
April 18, 2003, 16 months after workers reoccupied Brukman, the
government sent hundreds of police to evict workers and an example
of struggle. Brukman workers now fight to get the factory back in a
continued campaign to defend their jobs and a movement for dignified
Brukman is just one of the 200 reoccupied factories and
businesses providing jobs to some 15,000 workers. While each of
these factories deal with different legal conditions, Brukman's
workers fight for state expropriation of the factory to maintain
production under worker self-organization/management. Thousands of
neighbors, students and activists from popular assemblies, the
unemployed workers movement, and occupied factories and businesses
continue to mobilize to defend Brukman.
Argentina's failed neoliberal economic recipe led to the closure
of thousands of factories and businesses, leaving 44% of the active
population either unemployed or underemployed. This model for
development (privatization, dependence on foreign capital, a dollar
pegged peso, and drastic cuts in social spending) facilitated an
incredible scale of corruption and unprecedented damaging affects on
society. In today's Argentina, 58% of the population is living below
the poverty line, salaries have fallen 30% while inflation stands at
Despite this failure, the government claims to change visions
while continuing to follow the International Monetary Fund's
Beyond continuing the same neoliberal politics, the government
has launched a repressive campaign against occupied factories in an
attempt to show a hard hand. Many suggest that the government's
objective is to debilitate the movements and create an atmosphere
seemingly void of dissent to restore the IMF's confidence in
Argentina. With owners abandoning factories and no new jobs in
Argentina , Brukman workers made the choice to reject this model and
defend rights to dignified work.
Workers occupied Brukman December 18, 2001. Brukman's owners
abandoned the factory without giving any notice or paying wages.
Since 1995 the company had decreased workers salaries and refused to
pay workers for months before the occupation. "That morning we met
with management to see if they could give us a portion of our back
salaries because they had only been giving us 5 and 10 pesos, then
the last Friday 2 pesos," explains Alba, worker at Brukman for12
years. She continues, "The owner told us that he had no money. Later
after waiting we went downstairs to find the big surprise that they
left the place empty, only empty offices." Most of the workers
didn't have enough money to return home, so they stayed and waited
for the foremen and owner to return. They never did.
"We have proven that workers are capable of running a factory
without an owner, without any bosses. The only thing they do is keep
the workers working with the lowest wages possible," urged Elisa,
After a month of occupation, workers sold the factory's inventory
with the goal of generating enough money to reinitiate production.
The workers began to organize in an open assembly and commissions to
deal with tasks such as accounting, media relations and security.
Shortly before the eviction the workers decided in an assembly to
hire five workers showing that production was viable.
Production was stopped April 18 after hundreds of police showed
up for a surprise eviction. "They sent 600 police to evict the 4
workers guarding the factory, this was illegal and irrational," says
Maria Zalamon, lawyer defending the factory. There was an immediate
response from supporters and neighbors, providing 24 hour guard next
to the police fences surrounding the factory.
Police operatives climaxed Monday, April 21 when police violently
repressed thousands of unarmed protesters after four women from
Brukman pushed over police fences and attempted to enter the
factory. "I was the one who pushed the police fences along with
three women. We were unarmed, we had nothing more than our bodies,"
declared Celia Martinez, worker from Brukman. Clouds of tear gas and
unrelenting sounds of shots ensued in immediate response from
hundreds of police in the front lines.
7,000 protesters immediately dispersed and retreated while they
were continually attacked with water hoses, tear gas, rubber and
lethal lead bullets, and attack dogs. Police pursued supporters as
far as 30 blocks away, beating and detaining people
indiscriminately. There was an atmosphere of absolute terror and
fear as protesters attempted to defend themselves against
"This looked like an operative during the military dictatorship.
Without the workers in the factory there will be no negotiations,"
exclaimed Raul Godoy, worker from Zanon, a reoccupied ceramics
factory, denouncing the police actions. The night's events left 60
injured and 120 detained.
Miguel Bonasso, well known journalist was one of those detained.
Before news cameras Bonasso showed an empty red cartridge signaling
that the police had used live ammunition. The Center of Legal and
Social Studies (CELS), human rights organization, charged that this
use of force is illegal. This repression sends chilling reminders of
Argentina's dirty war in which 30,000 were disappeared.
"Right now the government is putting up a big fight with
factories that have adopted self-organization/management under
worker control. Brukman demonstrates that as the economic situation
gets better for the business sector and owners now ask for factories
back, the first thing the government that claims to be
anti-neoliberal does is return the factory to the owners and kick
out the workers," signals Claudio Katz, economist at the University
of Buenos Aires. The textile industry which could not compete under
the previous fixed exchange rate is starting to revive. The workers
paid thousands of pesos for the factory's past due utility bills and
bought new machines to maintain production. The owners, once ready
to abandon the factory, now see a profitable business--one that
would have been liquidated under a devaluated peso had the workers
not initiated production.
Brukman's owners, three brothers, ran three textile factories.
Despite collecting government subsidies they claim that two
factories went bankrupt, leaving unpaid workers and huge debts. The
owner's public debts accumulates to 3.8 million pesos, ($1.4 million
U.S. dollars)--1.8 million to Argentina Internal Revenue Service,
$243,000 U.S.dollars to Argentina's National Bank, and more than a
million pesos to the Buenos Aires City Government. The bookkeeping
for Brukman factory has been missing since 1997 the business hadn't
kept accounting books leaving traces of fishy claimed bankruptcies.
Since October 2000 the court has demanded Brukman's accounting
books, but the owners have not brought them. The owners were not
paying the workers' social security taxes, so the workers working at
the factory for more than a decade have no way to retire with social
In an economic context, the government's unwillingness to listen
to the workers' demands in the Brukman conflict is contradictory to
former policy. In the 90's, Argentina's largest state
industries--oil, telephones, aeronotics, water, electricity, and
trains were privatized.
Carlos Menem, ex-president 1989-1999 and neoliberal champion who
recently withdrew from the second round of presidential elections
directed this privatization process. Claudio Katz, describes
Argentina's privatization as a corrupt process, increasing national
debt and causing thousands of worker lay-offs. Instead of these
businesses being sold and paid for with cash, the government gave
over titles of public debts. Industry was given over to private
investors relying on government subsidies amounting to billions
instead of investing capital.
Since Brukman's occupation the workers have demanded that the
state expropriate the factory to the workers--government to absorb
the owners' state debts to buy the building, machinery and brand
name. The workers are also asking for a 150,000 peso government
subsidy in order to increase and diversify production. Under state
expropriation, workers propose that the government buy from the
factory sheets, smocks, and uniforms for the needs of public
hospitals, schools and institutions .
The national and city government has only made one offer to the
workers, technical assistance from the National Industrial and
Technical Institute if the workers form a microenterprise or
cooperative. This offer does not guarantee any means for the workers
to continue production. Essentially, it promises the workers what
they already have-the know how to run a factory.
While the government is trying to appear generous and willing to
negotiate, it uses brutal force in the continued eviction of the
workers. Nestor Kirchner, Argentina's new president promises to
continue with the politics of creating security--more police force
and zero tolerance for protesters. Increasingly, the government's
position is to use repression to debilitate the expressions of
social resistance that emerged from December 19 and 20, 2001.
While police continue to stand outside the factory, workers and
supporters continue fighting, setting up permanent camp outside the
factory and organizing cultural events. Weekly, workers have brought
sewing machines into the streets, producing sheets and clothes for
donation. All hope is being put towards the city legislature
deciding a law to expropriate of the factory's machines and
building. Sasetru, another worker operated factory, was evicted
after machines were legally expropriated to the workers, bringing
many doubts in the case of Brukman. Flor, another worker reflects
the urgency to recuperate the factory, "We are not going to leave
this struggle, because if we don't enter the factory we are