Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

When Workers Went on Strike to Defend a Trans Colleague—and Ended Up Occupying Their Factory

Should the left fight for workers’ demands? Or for the rights of trans people? Workerism or wokeism? These struggles are often presented as mutually exclusive. But a factory from Argentina shows that when workers fight for equal rights for everyone, they are fighting for their own interests.

Nathaniel Flakin

June 22, 2019
Facebook Twitter Share

The Donnelley factory north of Buenos Aires is Argentina’s biggest printing plant, producing high-gloss magazines for international clients. But it no longer belongs to the Chicago-based Donnelley corporation. On August 12, 2014, the factory’s workers took it over, and since then they have continued production under their own management, transformed the old factory into a cooperative called Madygraf.

The occupation came in response to management’s plans to fire 123 of the plant’s 400 workers. But this was possible only as the result of a long process of organizing within the workforce.

One important step in that process was the fight to defend the rights of a trans colleague. The bosses had a sexist policy of hiring only men to work the printing presses. One worker was a trans woman, and she had gotten the job only by wearing men’s clothes—a sign of the economic desperation that forces trans people to choose between making enough to survive and being able to express their identity. When she came to work in her normal clothes for the first time, the bosses objected. They tried to prevent her from using the women’s bathroom (which was reserved for white-collar workers), and they forced her to change with the men.

The workers’ council sprang into action, arguing against anti-LGBTI prejudices in an assembly which voted to support their colleague’s right to express her gender identity. Donnelley had no changing rooms or bathrooms for women, so the workers’ council demanded that these be constructed. They also demanded that the trans worker be allowed to use the women’s bathroom.

How was this possible? Why did this mostly male workforce, in a country famed for its machismo, take up the banner of trans rights? This had to do with the formation of a women’s committee in the factory in 2011, as Cinzia Aruzza vividly describes. But the women’s commission itself was the product of earlier political work.

As the socialist feminist Andrea D’Atri pointed out during her speaking tour in Europe,

The example of the Madygraf workers has been the subject of countless academic papers. But most of these papers can’t explain how the factory occupation happened. The simple truth is that this struggle was led by Trotskyists.

A Trotskyist party, the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), had been working in Donnelley for many years. They built up an anti-bureaucratic, class struggle tendency in the workforce that won a majority on the workers’ council. They defended the principles of class independence, workers’ democracy and feminism. Thanks to years of discussions with Trotskyists, many Donnelley workers understood that to defend their interests, they needed to fight every kind of oppression.

With the victory against their bosses on the issue of trans rights, the workers gained confidence in their own strength and understood the need to act collectively.

Fighting against trans prejudice strengthened the unity of the workforce and prepared them for the fight against the mass layoffs. It does not divide the working class to fight the special oppression that some workers suffer. Quite the opposite: Oppression divides the working class, and the struggle against oppression unites it.

Debates on the socialist left today often make it sound as if the left must choose between defending the interests of workers or fighting for the rights of people who suffer trans oppression. Either/or. But this is not the case. It is when workers are on the forefront of every struggle against oppression that they can effectively close ranks against the bosses—real unity can only be attained on the basis of equal rights.

The Madygraf workers now enjoy an eight-hour workday, higher wages and lasting job security. Many housewives who were active on the women’s commission have now joined the workforce, as the Madygraf assembly decided, ending the previous owners’ sexist hiring policy. The factory now offers free childcare. The women’s commission is now at the forefront of Argentina’s movement for abortion rights.

Above all, the Madygraf workers now control their workplace in democratic assemblies. They can rotate to different jobs around the factory and learn new skills. This does not mean the situation is perfect. Running a cooperative in a capitalist market is always difficult, but more so given Argentina’s economic crisis and runaway inflation.

This is why the workers demand expropriation under workers’ control. The state should take over the responsibility of financing the factory. At the moment, cultural activities like festivals are needed to keep the cooperative afloat.

All this was possible only because a largely male workforce understood the importance of defending a trans colleague.

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. He is on the autism spectrum.

Instagram

Gender & Sexuality

Abortion rights activists wearing green bandana fill the streets.

Ireland and Argentina Won Abortion Rights through Struggle. Protecting Our Rights Here Won’t Be Any Different

Abortion rights are under threat in the United States. As the abortion movements in Ireland and Argentina have shown, the right to free, safe, and legal abortions can only be won through combative action and mass mobilization in the streets.

Emma Lee

December 11, 2021

A TERF-Far Right Alliance Has Launched a New Transphobic Onslaught

In view of the increasing number of reactionary articles in the press and other public statements of that ilk, this article proposes a short guide to survival in transphobic territory — with a focus on Britain, the United States, and France.

Julian Vile

December 7, 2021

“Abortion Pills Forever” Misses the Point

As nine unelected judges are poised to effectively overturn Roe v. Wade, some feminists' rallying cry is "abortion pills forever." But that slogan isn’t a call to fight, it’s a call to surrender.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

December 6, 2021

The IMF Is a Weapon Against Women — They Have the Power to Fight Against It

The International Monetary Fund, based in Washington, has a very particular gender perspective. The adjustment plans it negotiates with the governments of debtor countries fall on the backs of working people, and it is women from the poorest households who are most affected. These effects are universal across the globe. This article uses Argentina to make the case.

Andrea D'Atri

November 30, 2021

MOST RECENT

Is America Back? Biden and Imperialist Decline

In 2021, President Biden inherited a regime that was deeply unstable, both within and without. Now, a year later, many of those challenges remain a thorn in his side as he attempts to reestablish the United States’ global supremacy.

Sou Mi

January 20, 2022

The Fight for Socialism After a Year of Malarkey

Despite the progressive promises, Biden has shown in his first year of office that he's a neoliberal enemy of working class and oppressed people. We shouldn’t put faith in capitalist politicians — the way forward in the fight for socialism is now and has always been in the movements of working class and oppressed people and in our ability to turn anger into organization against this capitalist system.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

January 20, 2022

Mine Workers in Peru Protest Over Covid-19 Infections

Faced with the inaction of the Ministry of Labor, mine workers in Peru staged a massive protest on Tuesday demanding that Anglo American mining company cover quarantine expenses for those infected with Covid-19 caused in the mining camps.

The Democrats Aren’t Bad at Politics. Their Politics Are Bad

The Biden administration has accomplished little of its “transformative” agenda in its first year. But it has been very effective when it comes to furthering the Democrats’ capitalist and imperialist interests.

Otto Fors

January 19, 2022