The recovered factories of Argentina are famous world wide but not in all circles. During and after the 2001-2002 political economic meltdown Argentine businesses closed by the thousands and people were locked out of their bank accounts while dollars flowed like water out of the country. Workers took over the factories, occupied them and ultimately resumed production as co-operatives. For more information las fabricas recuperadas (the recovered factories) google it, watch The Take (though this film is not endorsed by the all of the co-operatives themselves) and/or read Chapter Six in Co-operatives in a Global Economy by Vieta and Ruggeri and John Baldridge’s dissertation.
Buenos Aires is the center of world in terms of worker takeovers. There’s a difference between “occupied” and “recovered” factories… It seems. An occupied factory is, just that: a factory (or restaurant or hotel) that is occupied by the workers, possibly functioning but in legal limbo. There are between 185 and 250 recovered self-managing businesses in Buenos Aires. But it’s a big city, you don’t just run into them wherever you go. Nonetheless, as we’re driving (very slowly thanks to a major traffic jam) into the city from the airport just after my arrival, my friend Lisandro points to a colorful metal doorway: “I think that is a cultural center of co-operative IMPA.” Indeed, it turns out to be just a few blocks from his house.
My contacts in Buenos Aires have very different perspectives on Buenos Aires and Argentine politics in general. One is a Yale scholar of Latin American literature and the other is an American diplomat at the USDA in Buenos Aires. One lives in the middle-class neighborhood called Almagro and the other lives in Recoleta, an affluent residential neighborhood that is also a tourist destination. I am lucky to have these two extremely generous friends who are sharing their homes, experiences and knowledge of the city while I’m here.
I’m looking forward to meeting people in the movement, recording some interviews and seeing the recovered businesses themselves. Communication here is far easier than it was in Italy because I speak the language. However, now six days into my visit, I’ve done a lot of reading and written several emails but nobody has written back. My friends tell me that people here don’t work on the weekends and Monday is a holiday so my best chance for interviewing people at this point is to stalk them in person. Of course in a strange town that requires navigating the bus and subway system or paying for expensive taxis but I’m determined to do it.