Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

What Would a World Without Bosses Be Like?

Way back in 2003, I visited a factory in the dusty steppes of Patagonia in Argentina. The Zanon Factory produces ceramic tiles.

Nathaniel Flakin

December 6, 2016
Facebook Twitter Share

This article was originally published in Exberliner on November 30, 2016.

In many ways, it’s just a normal factory: huge furnaces, conveyor belts, robotic arms… to be honest, I don’t have the faintest idea how tiles are produced, but it all looked extremely complicated. But Zanon was missing one thing that almost every other factory in the world has: An owner. A boss.

The fábrica sin patrón (factory without boss) made such an impression on me that I’m still thinking about it. This Saturday evening, I’ll be speaking together with an Argentinian political scientist at a public meeting in Berlin about Zanon. A number of workers and trade unionists from Berlin companies like the Botanical Garden and the BVG will also be there.

Zanon is an example that is just as relevant in Berlin as it is in Argentina. Virtually all human labor, for hundreds of years, has taken place under the command of bosses. And bosses are – I’m thinking how to express this while any number of my own bosses might be reading – not universally loved.

Where do bosses come from? And do we really need them?

Sure, some bosses have worked hard to build up a company. Others though, not so much. What characterizes the big bosses – the capo di tutti capi, so to speak – is that they own the means of production, i.e. the factories, the infrastructure, the machines, the tools. And more often than not, they are in that position because they inherited wealth. Just look at the list of the richest people in Germany and see how got their positions from fathers and grandfathers.

Can society work a different way? A question asked a thousand times, but I’ll ask it again. Let’s look at Zanon.

During the economic crisis of 2001 in Argentina, the boss, Luigi Zanon, wanted to close the plant and throw his 300 employees out on the street. But the workers weren’t having it. They went on strike and occupied the facility. They needed money to survive, so they began selling stock from the warehouse. And as if by accident, they had a revolutionary idea: Why not produce ceramic tiles themselves?

All the workers were there: manual workers, security guards, engineers, even the cooks from the lunchroom. The only thing that was missing was the boss. And what did he do, anyway? In early 2002, the workers started the machines and quickly realized a factory without workers can’t run (See The Simpsons.) But a factory without bosses can work just fine.

Fast forward 15 years. The factory – which Luigi Zanon wanted to shut down – is still producing tiles. The workers make living wages, and they’ve increased the number of jobs to 500. Profits, instead of going into the pockets of a boss, have been used to provide tiles to homes and schools in the community. And all decisions are made democratically, in assemblies of all workers. People in administrative jobs are elected – so the closest thing to a “boss” is a coordinator who makes the same wage as everyone else and is subject to recall.

And yes, there are endless problems trying to run an anti-capitalist factory in a capitalist world. But, under the rules of capitalism, all these men and women would be unemployed, and that would’ve been a bigger problem for them all. Many of the workers are socialists and are fighting for a world in which all the factories are under democratic control of working people.

The Zanon workers are the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. That’s why I’ll be speaking about my experiences with them on Saturday. Because Zanon is an example that society can be run in a fundamentally different way.


The workers of Zanon are facing extreme economic hardship and have recently launched an international solidarity campaign to keep the factory working. Please, donate to their solidarity fund by clicking below:

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.


Ideas & Debates

Left Voice Magazine for April 2024 — Labor Notes Edition!

In this issue, we delve into the state and future of the labor movement today. We take a look at the prospects for Palestinian liberation through the lens of Leon Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, and discuss the way that Amazon has created new conditions of exploitation and how workers across the world are fighting back.

Left Voice

April 20, 2024

The Movement for Palestine Needs Independent, Working-Class Politics

As the brutal genocide of Palestinians continues with the help of the Biden administration, there is maneuver underway to co-opt the movement for Palestine. We need to have a democratic and independent movement that relies on the power of the working class, the student movement, and mobilizations in the streets.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

April 7, 2024

Self Organization and the Mexican Student Strike 

Left Voice member speaks about the massive 1999 Mexican student strike and the role of assemblies.

Jimena Vergara

March 30, 2024

The Convulsive Interregnum of the International Situation

The capitalist world is in a "permacrisis" — a prolonged period of instability which may lead to catastrophic events. The ongoing struggles for hegemony could lead to open military conflicts.

Claudia Cinatti

March 22, 2024


A group of Columbia University faculty dressed in regalia hold signs that say "end student suspensions now"

Faculty, Staff, and Students Must Unite Against Repression of the Palestine Movement

As Gaza solidarity encampments spread across the United States, faculty and staff are mobilizing in solidarity with their students against repression. We must build on that example and build a strong campaign for our right to protest.

Olivia Wood

April 23, 2024
A mash-up of Macron over a palestinian flag and articles detailing the rising repression

Against the Criminalization of Opinion and in Defense of Our Right to Support Palestine: We Must Stand Up!

In France, the repression of Palestine supporters is escalating. A conference by La France Insoumise (LFI) has been banned; a union leader has been arrested and charged for speaking out for Palestine; court cases have increased against those who “condone terrorism”; and the state has stepped up its “anti-terrorism” efforts. In the face of all this, we must stand together.

Nathan Deas

April 23, 2024
SEIU Local 500 marching for Palestine in Washington DC. (Photo: Purple Up for Palestine)

Dispatches from Labor Notes: Labor Activists are Uniting for Palestine. Democrats Want to Divide Them

On the first day of the Labor Notes conference, conference attendees held a pro-Palestine rally that was repressed by the local police. As attendees were arrested outside, Chicago Mayor — and Top Chicago Cop — Brandon Johnson spoke inside.

Left Voice

April 20, 2024
A tent encampment at Columbia University decorated with two signs that say "Liberated Zone" and "Gaza Solidarity Encampment"

Dispatches from Labor Notes 2024: Solidarity with Columbia Students Against Repression

The Labor Notes Conference this year takes place right after over 100 students were arrested at Columbia for protesting for Palestine. We must use this conference to build a strong campaign against the repression which will impact us all if it is allowed to stand.

Olivia Wood

April 20, 2024