Wave of unexpected factory occupations follows meltdown

Our most popular blog entry in these 3 years of publishing is the one on factory occupations in Argentina.

As reported here by Shawn Hattingh, the trend is now going global.

When the car parts manufacturer Visteon informed workers that the company would be shutting its doors, the workers decided to occupy the company’s plants. They were furious as they had only been given 6 minutes notice and a severance package that was paltry. For over a month, the workers occupied Visteon’s buildings despite the threat of arrest. In the end, even though they could not save their jobs, they won a severance package that was worth ten times the original offer. In the process, the Visteon workers regained the dignity that the management tried to strip them of. Similarly, when workers at Prisme Packaging in Dundee were told that the company was shutting its doors, they staged a 51-day sit-in. They had decided that they were not willing to lose their jobs and said that they wanted to re-open Prisme as a co-operative under self-management. For them, victory came when they managed to secure funding for their co-operative venture.

Similar stories of workplace occupations have also occurred in the Republic of Ireland. Earlier this year, workers at the Waterford Crystal factory were informed by the companies liquidators — Deloitte and Touch — that they no longer had jobs and that they would not even receive severance pay. The workers decided to defend their livelihoods by staging an occupation. In response Deloitte and Touch sent in a private security force to threaten and intimidate the workers. Eventually, however, 10 million Euros was made available for a severance fund and negotiations are now underway for some of the workers to keep their jobs.

Factory and workplace occupations have also been taking place in several countries on continental Europe. When the current crisis first struck, in late 2007, 300 workers at Frape Behr in Spain occupied their workplace to stop retrenchments. As part of this, community activists and supporters surrounded the building and protested in solidarity with the workers inside.

At the same time as this was occurring, workers in Serbia were occupying their factory, Shinvoz, to prevent it being privatized.

In France, workers under the threat of retrenchments have also charged into the offices of their bosses and held them until their demands have been met. For example, at FM Logistics 125 workers invaded a managers meeting and held the bosses hostage. The reason the workers did this was because the company had formulated a plan to retrench over 470 workers due to the current economic crisis. After only one day of ‘captivity,’ the managers of FM Logistics agreed to re-examine their retrenchment plans. Similar ‘bossnappings’ have also occurred at the French holdings of Sony, 3M, and Cattepillar. The majority of the French public have supported these ‘bossnappings.’ This support has meant that the French state has not been able to move against the workers involved.

Over the last few months, factory occupations have also been taking place in Turkey. Workers in Turkey have been hit extremely hard by the crisis with over 500,000 people losing their jobs since September 2008. In order to stem this, workers in a number of factories — such as MEHA textiles and Sinter Metal — embarked on workplace occupations. The Turkish state, however, has reacted harshly and used security forces to drive the workers out. Nonetheless, the workers then camped outside of the factories and their resistance has continued. Recently, the workers at Sinter held a celebration to mark their 100th day of resistance.

North America has also seen a string of workplace occupations. Due to the collapse of the auto industry in Canada, workers have occupied 4 different plants because they had been refused any compensation. Reportedly, the workers were occupying the plants in order to prevent machinery being removed by the liquidators. In fact, they were using this tactic in order to force the bosses and the liquidators to the negotiating table. Likewise, in the United States, there have also been a number of occupations. The most well know was the Republic Windows and Doors occupation. The occupation occurred because the workers at the plant were given just 3 days notice that it was to be shut. To add insult to injury, it turned out that Republic was closing because the Bank of America — which had received billions of dollars of public money in bailouts — refused to extend the company’s credit. Again the occupiers received massive public support. Subsequently, the workers won severance pay and the company has opened under new ownership — meaning some jobs, but certainly not all — have been saved.

With the current global economic crisis, Argentina has once again been taking the lead in occupations and turning occupied factors into worker self-managed institutions. Under the threat of downsizing and pay cuts, 10 factories have been occupied in Argentina since 2008. The workers have taken this action to stop the owners from declaring bankruptcy. Indeed, it has been a strategy of the Argentine business elite to use crises to declare insolvency, then fraudulently liquate assets and suddenly open the business under a new name a few months later. A number of the newly occupied factories have also received major support from the older self-managed factories.

Already, workers at least one of the 10 occupied factories — Arrufat Chocolate — have elected to take over the factory permanently and operate it on a democratic basis. They have already gone into production using generators and are turning Arrufat into a viable worker self-managed operation.”

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