Two years later: MadyGraf Under Workers Management
On August 12, 2014 workers took control of the RR Donnelly factory in Argentina, which had abruptly closed the day before and left 200 people jobless. Marco Pollo, a leader in the struggle, tells the story of the factory takeover and how the workers are celebrating the second anniversary of workers’ management at the factory.
August 24, 2016
The morning of the factory’s closure, they thought it was the end — all the workers would be left without jobs. 24 hours later the workers had taken their fate into their own hands.
On the morning of August 11, at the front gates of the printing company R.R.Donnelly, a small sign was posted that notified employees the factory had filed for bankruptcy and would shut down after 22 years.
The only option the company provided to the workers was a customer service line. Instead, workers called for an assembly. They voted to wait one day and then enter the factory. On Tuesday, August 12, the management was still nowhere to be seen, so the workers asked for the keys from the guards. In a few hours, they had restarted production, which was possible thanks to technical support from college students that unlocked the machinery. They did not stop until the first truck filled with printed magazines left the building amidst cheers from workers.
Throughout the last two years in which the factory now known as MadyGraf (named in homage to one of the workers’ daughters, Mady) has been operating under workers’ management, the workers have faced a number of problems, but they also have found a great deal of satisfaction in their work. They continue fighting for the expropriation of the factory and against the government’s efforts to take 10% of the company’s profit. At the same time, the workers have organized and created a women’s committee that includes female workers along with the partners of male workers. They have built a daycare of learning and play for the kids. They have donated notebooks to the neighboring schools and forged strong bonds of solidarity with workers’ struggles elsewhere in the city.
Customers have reported that the quality of the products has increased since the factory started producing without bosses. Furthermore, in a country suffering through an economic recession, the workers have maintained all 200 jobs at the factory. Although the minimum salary guaranteed by MadyGraf remains lower than the cost of living, the workers have a stable job and do not have any bosses getting rich off of their labor.
MadyGraf also hosted a concert to benefit the Left and Workers’ Front electoral coalition in March. They also organized a music festival called “Rock Sin Yuta” ( Rock without Cops) that took place on August 20th. A show that brought together well over a thousand people with no police presence. This model was also used at another worker run factory, Zannon.
Marco Pollo is one of the first people you’ll see if you visit the factory. He is from Mar del Plata though he is currently living in Bella Vista with his partner and works at the front desk of the plant. The following is our interview with him.
How do you feel looking back in time and remembering that morning when you decided to enter the factory?
Well, I must start with a short tangent. One week before the takeover of the factory, I was involved in an accident. My house caught fire and I was in a medically-induced coma for a few weeks. After I woke up, I heard about the taking of the factory, the strength of my fellow workers. I heard about the uncertainty of the situation—those days when everything could fall apart.
We didn’t have more than a handful of magazines to produce for a single customer. We didn’t get our money because the bankruptcy judge, Gerardo Santicchia was withholding our checks. Our partners, wives, relatives, and friends gathered a solidarity fund to support our struggle. The fact the company shut down the factory leaving us with nothing but a sign with an 0800 number to notify us was absolutely outrageous. They were leaving 400 families in the streets.
The decision to enter the factory and take control of it was taken by an assembly of workers at the front gate of the building. The workers had a strong fear of the consequences of taking over the factory. However, as one worker said, there is no courage without fear.
What is the situation in the factory today, particularly regarding productivity and the human aspects of the factory?
In regard to the productivity, we were able to maintain 200 working positions in a country immersed in economic recession. In many other factories, many people are being laid off or are working fewer hours. Therefore, maintaining these positions is an accomplishment in itself.
Of course, this accomplishment comes hand in hand with difficulties. The printing market has fallen and the competition against large corporations in the field is unbalanced. Large companies have financial backing, benefits from the state and the possibility to access credit and imported paper supplies. Nevertheless, we started growing and printing more titles and leaflets than before. Even though our salary is lower than a living wage, we have achieved relatively stable working positions. We handle the machinery very well but our major capital is human. We have workers who are committed to production and have many years of experience. All decisions are made in assembly- both political decisions and production related decisions. We are learning how to deal with our differences without harming our necessary unity, the unity we need to keep on fighting.
Even though you have differences with the Movimiento de Fabricas Recuperadas , you fought together against the hikes in water, light and power bills, also known as the tarifazo. Is that correct?
The rise in utility prices hit us harder than other workers because we have to pay the bills not only in our homes, but also in the cooperative. We were paying AR$50,000 in electricity before the price hikes. Afterwards, we received a bill for AR$270,000. That’s AR$1,000 less for each worker in the factory each month. We also have to pay the rising bills at home. We protested against this political measure alongside other workers from different factories under workers’ administration and finally the court ruled in our favor and the price hikes were suspended.
As for factories under workers’ management, most appeared shortly after the 2001 crisis and they are the proof that working without bosses can be done. Yet, it is also true that business is ruthless and imposes a perverse mechanism of self-exploitation. We have a debate with the Movimiento de Fabricas Recuperadas, because we believe that the state should expropriate factories without compensation to the bosses and put all factories under workers’ administration. However, this debate does not prevent us from working together as we did when we protested against the utility fee hikes.
Furthermore, we want the state to privilege recovered factories and we want to put this on the national agenda. Let me give you an example. We can produce books, manuals, notebooks and everything required for the education of our people. The state consumes more than 70% of printed paper in the country. It would be a political decision to distribute such production among the thirty cooperative printing factories that exist today.
How are you planning to resurrect the expropriation project?
The expropriation project has been submitted once again by the FIT representatives in Congress and it is now in committee to be debated. We want to thank them for these efforts and for all the support we received from them. They also gave part of their salaries as representatives to the solidarity fund [when workers first took over the factory]. We also want to thank Myriam Bregman for presenting legislation in Congress against the hikes in utility prices.
Again, there is a political decision, the previous project (to expropriate the factory) was unanimously voted by the legislature in the Province of Buenos Aires. However, the Senate refused to address this project for more than a year and it ended up expiring. This means we had to start over.
Even if we manage to get our project passed in the Senate, it is likely that the governor, Maria Eugenia Vidal, will end up vetoing the bill, since she has vetoed the expropriation of other factories in the province. This is an extremely anti-democratic practice because one person can trump the votes of hundreds of representatives with the excuse that there is no money in the provincial state’s coffers to expropriate the companies.
We deem it unfair that the state wants to compensate people who emptied the company and then filed for bankruptcy. In our case it was people who filed for a made up bankruptcy committing fraud in the process. The so-called “justification” the government speaks about is actually a way to take money from the people and hand it over to powerful businessmen. Ever since they took control of the government they have reduced taxes on powerful landowners and industries such as mining and oil extraction. They have done so by means of presidential decrees and they hike utility prices in the same way.
Have you managed to extend bonds with society and other organizations?
We knew from day one that we wouldn’t survive this fight without the solidarity of the community. In 2015, we printed 20 thousand notebooks that we delivered to every school in the area. The students and teachers were enthusiastic to receive these supplies.
In this factory, we try to show solidarity to other workers and society in general. For example, we organized many cars to take mattresses, clothes and food to the neighborhood Las Tunas during the flooding of 2014. We went on strike in support for the liberation of the oil workers of Las Heras who were wrongfully sentenced to life imprisonment (Translator’s note: This occurred before the factory was recovered by workers).
When Donelley started making the preparations to fire us, we joined our fellow workers at Lear (Translator’s note: Lear is a nearby factory that fought against worker firings) and together we stood as one and said“No more families on the street”.
I believe that everything we have done in solidarity for others comes back to us when different people and organizations show their support for us at Madygraf.
Did you see Zanon as an example in the struggle?
( Translator’s note: Zanon’ is a factory in the southern city of Neuquén which has been under workers control since 2001)
There are similarities in some ways. We defended our jobs, like they did. We didn’t ask for this to happen but we did what we had to do to preserve our jobs. The other option was to call the 0800 number the company gave us, wait for the indemnification that would be paid out in installments and start looking for a new job.
Zanon workers who visited us showed their support and shared their experiences with us. They told us that when they were able to, they added dozens of unemployed people who had fought side by side with them against the police who tried to evict them from the factory. In our case, we added our wives and people we met who also fought at our side to work at the factory and to organize a playground so our children could have a nice place to stay while we are working.
Zanon, now called FaSinPat (Fabrica Sin Patrones), donated ceramic floor to schools and hospitals and we did the same by donating notebooks. The message was the same; we are showing that these factories belong to the people and help the community.
What are planning to do for this second anniversary?
We are celebrating our second anniversary and we decided to show society the effort we have made and the path we walked- demanding expropriation and for our jobs. We are going to have a festival at the factory on August 20th. There will be a music festival featuring Resistencia, Todopoderoso, Popular Marcial, La chicharra, Roca de humo, La Delta Smokin Trans Band, Los reyes de la costa and Monoblock. We will have activities for children from 11 am on with theatre and games, an inexpensive buffet, art exhibits and images and short videos that tell the story of our struggle.
We are going to show that the huge support that our factory has by bringing together thousands of young people at a show that also demonstrates that we take care of each other and don’t need the police . That’s why it’s called called it Rock sin yuta (Rock without Cops).
Translated by: Emmanuel Urrea
This article was originally published in author’s website Ojos Vendados