Fabrica Sin Patron
= argentinian coop, FaSinPat
GREIG DE PEUTER NICK DYER-WITHEFORD TUE, 01/11/11
"For a contemporary example of such a system, one could cite FaSinPat, an abbreviation of Fábrica Sin Patrón, which translates as “factory without bosses.” FaSinPat is a 400-member, worker-owned and -controlled ceramic tile plant in Argentina. The context of its emergence was the collapse of the country’s economy in 2001-2002, when the contradictions of Argentina’s neoliberal restructuring exploded. During a lockout, workers self-organized against their notoriously anti-labour employer, subverted their compliant union bureaucracy, took the decision to illegally enter the factory, restarted production independently, and adopted the assembly as a political model for democratic decision-making in the workplace. After a protracted battle in the courts, the tile workers were granted the right to operate as a cooperative.
Assumption of the legal form of the coop made FaSinPat recognizable in the eye of the state, thus providing some shelter to this enclave of self-management within a national context in which job creation was a matter of survival. Here we note that the “key need” to which the worker cooperative is said to respond is that for “viable and meaningful employment for its members.” What is more, however, is the broader set of principles associated with worker cooperativism, including those of “self-help, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.” FaSinPat has been described as a factory put “at the service of the community.” To take just one example, cooperators have directed portions of their surplus toward the funding of the construction of a local health clinic. Through acts of solidarity such as this, FaSinPat supports the needs of its surrounding neighbourhood, the residents of which initially aided workers in the reclamation of the plant from its former owner. FaSinPat has justifiably become an icon of the autonomous power of associated labour in the wider currents of self-management in Argentina today.
“Democracy” was for the Rochdale Pioneers “the fundamental principle of cooperation,” and “the principle most sharply differentiating cooperatives from capitalist business.” Its strongest expression is when the division of worker and owner is eradicated, where the worker cooperative is comprised not of employer and employees, but rather of a membership of worker-owners who collectively own the assets of the coop. In addition to collective ownership, the worker coop is distinguished as a “democratically controlled” organization; this is reflected, at the most basic level, in a commitment to equity, namely, one person, one vote--as opposed to one’s capacity to make, and influence, decisions being proportionate to one’s quantity of property. According to the Canadian Worker Coop Federation: “Through the democratic governance of the coop, all members have equal opportunity to affect the way the business is run and to offer input on the decisions affecting their everyday work lives.”
If cooperative workplace democracy extends the opportunity to the people who work in a coop to govern its operation, how this plays out in practice of course varies widely. Worker coop members generally elect a board of directors drawn from the membership of the coop itself--unlike in a conventional capitalist firm where employees have no say in the appointment of directors. Further to this, a coop might devolve decision-making power in various ways. For example, at the 400-member FaSinPat, there are thirty “work units,” each one electing a committee representative who represents the department at coop wide weekly assemblies attended by all workers, although workers collectively “vote to approve or reject the departments’ proposals.”Assemblies address not only production issues, but also “joint campaigns with other community groups.” At Mondragón Corporación Cooperativa (MCC)--the famously successful inter-cooperative group in the Basque Country with more than 150 coops and 85,000 workers--each individual coop in the group has its own Governing Council, and each coop elects delegates who in turn attend an annual meta-MCC Governing Council assembly. Budget allocations, compensation policies, and expansion plans are among the topics conceivably up for collective voting." (http://www.workerscontrol.net/authors/commons-and-cooperatives)