The Zanon ceramics factory, today known as the FaSinPat cooperative (Fábrica Sin Patrones – Factory without Bosses), was established in 1979 by Italian businessman Luigi Zanon. The factory was built on public land with money provided by creditors, including government loans that were never repaid. At the factory’s inauguration ceremony, Luigi Zanon congratulated the military government for “keeping Argentina safe for investment.”
These subsidies were maintained during the presidency of Carlos Menem and the governorship of Jorge Sobisch in Neuquén Province. Both politicians stood alongside the businessman when he opened the porcelain section of the factory in the 1990s–the most modern in all of Latin America at that time.
The Crisis of 2001
During the 1990s, the business counted on the complicity of the union and the Ministry of Labor to guarantee smooth operation. However, in the year 2000, the workers reclaimed the ceramics workers’ union and transformed it into a militant force, putting the brakes on the layoffs that Luigi Zanon at first believed he could carry out without resistance. The boss responded by presenting a “recurso preventivo de crisis” (crisis prevention proposal) to the national Ministry of Labor, a legal appeal that allows for the firing of more personnel than is legally permitted and for the alteration of collective agreements.
It was under these circumstances that the death of compañero Daniel Ferrás took place. Daniel died in the locker room of the factory, a factory which had no access to ambulance or any oxygen. This preventable tragedy sparked the explosion of the demands made by the workers. It was only after this event that the Ministry of Labor rejected Zanon’s legal appeal to adopt his “crisis prevention” measures.
By 2001, the boss made claims that the company was struggling to pay wages. Luigi Zanon began paying wages with increasing delays and often only in fragments. Amidst the economic crisis that was well under way, the employer stopped paying its service providers and suppliers. Faced with the threat of the factor’s immanent closure and in an attempt to save our jobs, on October 3, the workers decided to occupy the plant and stop the managers from entering. The legal system ruled on four separate occasions for the plant to be vacated so that the trustees could come in and take inventory of the remaining stock for creditors, but the workers resisted all such attempts.
In November 2001, Zanon officially announced its closure of the plant and the sacking of all 380 employees. It was not long after this that Judge Elizabeth Rivero de Taiana ruled that the company had carried out an employer lockout, giving as her reasoning the legal presentation that the workers of Zanon made against the employer. The judge also determined that 40 percent of the company’s stock was to be confiscated in order to pay the wages owed to the workers.
Workers’ Control, 2002
After the devaluation of the Argentine peso in January 2002, the factory was once again seen as viable, which prompted Luigi Zanon to attempt to reclaim ownership.
The reactivation plan put forward by Luigi Zanon proposed the use of only 10 percent of the plant’s capacity and the employment of only 62 operators. This proposal was rejected by the Zanon workers, who began to prepare their own reactivation of the plant, which was put back into operation in March of that year.
On April 8, 2003, the government made its last attempt to evict us from the factory, but with the help of the community and social, union, student and human rights organizations, we stopped it.
Since then, from the just over 100 workers that launched the process of workers’ self-management, we have come to be more than 460 with the new jobs that have been created, many of which went to members of unemployed workers’ organizations that supported our struggle.
The deterioration of the machinery through lack of renovation due to the government’s refusal to grant us credit has led to a fall in production at the factory. The situation we now face makes the purchase of new production lines absolutely imperative.
After 15years of workers’ self-management, the struggle of the Zanon continues.