Lessons in self-management from Argentina’s worker co-ops

How an economic crisis spawned a new generation of workplace democracy

Workers’ Self-Management in Argentina – Contesting Neo-Liberalism by Occupying Companies, Creating Cooperatives, and Recuperating Autogestión, Marcelo Vieta, (Brill Academic Publishers, 2019, £163)

Two decades ago Argentina was in the grip of a financial crisis – its Great Depression, which provoked, in response, a wave of worker recuperated enterprises.

This chapter in the history of workplace democracy is the subject of a new book, which is part of the Historical Materialism series from Brill Academic Publishers

Author Marcelo Vieta examines the movement’s history, challenges and social innovations while analysing the theory of self-management (autogestión).

The crisis, triggered in 1998 and lasting until the second quarter of 2002, caused unprecedented levels of business bankruptcies and unemployment rates.

This, in turn, led to an increase in worker takeovers and buyouts. These takeovers – which included conversions to worker co-ops –continued in the years which followed the crisis, although they came at a slower rate than during the 2001-2004 period. Since then, a total of 400 companies across Argentina have been taken over and converted to co-operatives by almost 16,000 workers.

Mr Vieta takes the view that class is still relevant – and tells a story of working-class struggle. He has been researching the topic since 2005, is assistant professor of workplace and organisational learning and the social economy at the University of Toronto. His work focuses on critical theory, workers’ control and self-management, and on the social economy and social movements in Italy, Canada, Argentina, and Latin America.

His research for the book saw him conduct interviews with employee-owners, examining the dynamics of self-managed labour processes that emerged in their new worker co-operatives. 

He portrays Argentina’s worker recuperated enterprises as alternative business models that help to build community-centred economies. 

The conversion, he says, has not only promoted democratic ownership but also inspired change in local communities with newly converted co-ops becoming deeply intertwined with the wellbeing of their surrounding neighbourhoods.