“We don’t want eviction, we don’t want police repression, we want dignified work for the workers of Brukman and Zanon,” echoes throughout the streets of Buenos Aires as thousands mobilize to defend the worker occupied clothes factory, Brukman. For 16 months the workers of Brukman have maintained the factory without time-clocks, bosses or an owner. April 18, 2002 production was stopped after a judge ordered hundreds of police to evict the factory.
“They sent 600 police to evict the 4 workers guarding the factory, this was illegal and irrational,” says Maria Zalamon, lawyer defending the factory. Police continue to surround the vicinity, following Judge Rimoldi’s orders for police to stay until the factory is in the owner’s hands.
The factoryâ€™s owner Jacobo Brukman abandoned the factory in December without paying or informing workers. For years the owners of Brukman had decreased workersâ€™ salaries until finally they completely stopped paying workers. The 115 workers were left without enough money to return home, so they stayed and waited for the foremen and owner to return. They never did. Celia Martinez, a worker in her 40s describes the event: â€œDecember 18 we had strong conversations with the owners. Then no one was here at the factoryâ€”the owners were gone, and there was no one in the office. The offices were open. They did not tell us they were going to leave the factory. December 19, we were left with no other option.â€
Today in Argentina, over 200 re-occupied factories and cooperatives are functioning all over the country, sending the message that worker control is a viable alternative to alleviate 58% of the population living below the poverty line and 10 million jobless. The worker controlled factory Brukman has been a symbol for social movements–auto-determination, direct democracy and cooperation. Struggling for dignified work has come with great costs but great rewards, working under the constant threat of eviction has demanded more than a 40 hour work week. Since its re-occupation, workers take turns sharing the responsibility of night guard duty. The factory has also organized street festivals, film showings, and a convergence point for meeting of other re-cooperated factories.
55 workers, mostly women have been struggling to keep their jobs while proving that production under worker control is viable. The formal owner left the workers with the factory in debt, which the workers have paidâ€”electric bills and gas bills, along with buying new equipment. Brukman now may see a viable factory, which without the workers would have been liquidated under a devaluated peso.
This is the third attempted eviction, the workers with strong support from piqueteros, assemblies, social organizations and neighbors were able to reoccupy the factory. In this eviction movements responded immediately, many of us received the news only moments after police arrived at the door. Alternative media and community activists have built a strong network, apparent at the hundreds who immediately to Brukman under the rain in the middle of the night. Itâ€™s unknown if the police broke machines as they have in the past or confiscated materials. “There are 3,000 pants inside that we need to work on and deliver,” said Celia during a press conference, expressing the urgency of the factoryâ€™s re-occupation.
Argentina’s government has definite interest in demonstrating hard-line methods against protest to curb dissent with upcoming elections April 27. “The hand of the government hits hard. They ask for an end to social conflict, but they have provoked us militarizing our factory to take away our work,” maintained Elisa, Brukman worker. Buenos Aires Mayor, Anibal Ibarra has launched an eviction campaign in the past weeks, using police to force families out of occupied houses, workers from recuperated factories, and community assemblies from cultural centers.
The first eviction in this pre-election eviction campaign came a month ago and ended violently. Police brutally repressed 89 families residing in Padelai, an abandoned building occupied for 19 years that sits in historic San Telmo during an eviction ordered by the government. Residents and supporters were tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets and beaten. There were some 86 detained and 40 injured, among them minors and elderly. Less than a week ago, the social center Lezama Sur, home to the local assembly and activist media collective, Indymedia-Argentina was evicted and their equipment confiscated.
At Brukman thousands of supporters continue to defend the factory as negotiations between the national government, city government, human rights groups, lawyers representing the workers, Brukman’s workers, and Judge Rimoldi (a judge from Argentina’s military dictatorship). Lawyers and human rights groups are claiming that the judge is unwilling to negotiate. Workers are pushing hard for the removal of the hundreds of police equipped with tear gas, tanks, riot gear, motorcycle brigades, rubber bullets, and some with lethal lead bullets continually surrounding supporters.
Defense barricades and the number of supporters make it clear that the factory will not be lost without a fight. Reminded of the popular rebellion December 19 and 20, where people went out to confront the state in the midst of a state of siege, supporters in front of Brukman are willing to confront that repression again, ready to physically enter the factory and confront the hundreds of police guarding the factory. “You don’t have to negotiate with criminals, we have to re-cooperate the factory tomorrow, we have to defend our sources of work, we never negotiate,” expressed a worker from the cooperative of San Justo.
The fight to re cooperate Brukman continues, with supporters determined to enter the factory. Yesterday, workers of Brukman, Zanon, other occupied factories, women from the assembly movement, and thousands lined up behind them stood linked arm in arm, willing to knock down police barricades and push police to enter the door of the factory just 50 feet away. Today, piqueteros and state employee union has been convoked to aid in the action. Human rights organizations and internationals will be present as well.
The workers of Brukman wish for a peaceful resolution, but unwilling to lose the factory and hope that the factory has brought. This conflict has brought Argentina’s movements together in solidarity with a symbol of resistance, Brukman. This conflict is ongoing and unclear how it will end. The workers of Brukman are asking for support from all over the world. Today, the streets surrounding Brukman flood with supporters and echo the message, “the factory will belong to the workers or it will belong to no one.”