Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fire the Boss and Get to Work!

Coordinators, facilitators, and leaders have a tendency to coordinate, facilitate and lead. Well, therein lies a problem. What do we do when we begin to depend on others to ensure that the difficult work of organizing society gets done? Well, do we depend on others? Please note that I'm playing around with self-evident, rhetorical ideas. That is because I'm curious about the quiet manner in which we slip into roles as we organize for a future where we hope to be more relevant. As a Wobbly, I was attracted to the Industrial Workers of the World because I hoped it would give me more power over my own life. In many ways it did, but it hasn't be given to me by the IWW. In the end, I realize I had to become more self-aware, take risks and I had to get the work done instead of waiting for others to do it for me.

My experience with leadership within grassroots organizations has shown me that a tendency in our society is to be "party" but rarely "participant." The "party" version usually comes in the form of donations. That is because members of grassroots groups often assume the work is going to get done by someone. That is because visible leaders, coordinators, and facilitators emerge to reassure us that someone out there is taking care of business. Perhaps a lack of powerful, identifiable leadership helps explain why the Industrial Workers of the World may seem disorganized. However, the IWW intentionally avoids a monolithic directorate...that is because it's up to us to educate ourselves, organize ourselves, and most importantly, to act for ourselves.

So what do we do to address the lack of historical agency prevalent in our society? Someone's got to bring the ideas forward, right? Or do we wait until people can no longer tolerate the way things are to spring forward with an alternative? It would seem to me that waiting would run a massive risk of inviting reactionary ideas to come to the aid of desperate people. But getting motivated, staying motivated despite constant setbacks and disillusionment, and taking a role doesn't have to be someone else's reality. Can't it be our reality too?

Of course, this doesn't mean acting in an individualistic, self-centered manner, but one that honors and respects one's own interest while appreciating that an injury to one is an injury to all. Therefore, collective harmony will more often than not result in individual harmony. How could it not when one appreciates the inter-dependent nature of life?

Another fear that often prevents us from acting, speaking out, etc. is the fear that we don't know what the best course of action is and we fear the judgments of others. The IWW is often dismissed as an irrelevant response to the problems we face, yet something draws us to it. But it is massively important that we move beyond an intuitive sense that the IWW is offering something unique, or something that sounds ideal, and actually study it. We should know what the IWW is trying to do. We should know what the historical basis for its plan is. And, we should agree that, while not perfect, this plan for organizing society is worth our best efforts and continued sacrifice.

Finally, we need to be reassured that the people with whom we are struggling--and taking risks--are people we know and can trust. So working on our personal relationships within our organization becomes tantamount to a genuine, cohesive and solidaritous struggle.

All of that said, we are brought back to the original point of this discussion: what about leaders? I do believe some people sometimes emerge as something we have termed "natural leaders." But why is this? Does this imply that the rest of us are "natural followers"? I'm curious about human history and our limited understanding of human nature. Is it natural for some to lead and others to follow? Or is this the result of thousands of years of human evolution based on the idea that hierarchy is natural? Is there a natural necessity for some to lead and some to follow? Can we imagine and reflect on this concept outside our intuitive reactions to this idea?

I'm not convinced that leadership is natural. And even if it were, is it desirable? Either way, the tasks at hand affect us all and I would think that one would relish the reality that their life is not pre-determined and that one has the opportunity to make their own history and shape their own life and construct their own knowledge. But developing such agency requires taking some risks and realizing that saying we need to work together to accomplish our hopes of a brighter future is much easier than actually picking up the tools and getting to work.

Edward Gibbon, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, once wrote "Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the Senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."

I believe one of our amazing unions most fundamental roles is to smash hierarchy! Perhaps even before we talk of tackling capitalism. Of course, we should work on both concomitantly. But I honestly believe capitalism is born from the historical role of domination that springs forth from hierarchy. We must look at our social relationships. We must look at our dominion over nonhuman nature. We must look at our social interactions. We must look at the ease with which we slip into roles that we rarely determine are necessary and ethical.

So let us begin a discussion of the need for each of us to accept our ontological vocation of becoming subjects not subjugated. Let us enjoy the fruits of mutual aid as we become agents in the shaping of our own lives and no longer be the slave objects of the powerful forces to whom we've relinquished our agency. In other words, pick up a machete and start clearing your own path.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008



I just figured out about how to get in here. So now that I am here, I guess I had better think of something intelligent to say.

So, we get so busy talking about how to save the world and going in so many different directions, as we all are, that it is easy to forget about our own real life battles. I just love the meetings and the energy. It has been a whole lot of fun so far, but I am wondering what the Heck I am doing here, and already I am chairing meetings. Whooooa horsseey. I am not so sure yet. First of all, I am the boss and the worker. My wage is being set by the market, which I am not sure about. I am a massage therapist. I am trying to figure out if there is a way for me to utilize this group. The truth is, as I see it, that there is a massage school in town that does massages for CHEAP! So I don't know if there is anything to do about it.

So, I am not sure I have a group to bring together.

I am not so sure if it is in my own best intrest to be putting tons of time and energy into a cause that I am not so sure that I am going to benefit from.

I am not saying I am bailing, but I need to make sure that I get the bills paid, and that I am networking where it will do me some good.

I know that this sounds awfully egocentric, but it is also realistic. After all, How can I save the world if I can't save myself?

I guess that this is part of the new direction and vision. Maybe I am not alone questioning, what the hell I am doing, all of the sudden identifying myself with this eclectic, strange, awesome group of people . Especially,if we don't have a teacher's union, or a electrician's union, or a carpenter's union to protect.
I feel like I am not really ready to jump totally into the fold with all four feet. I need more time to be able to be a part of the group with full integrity.

Like I took years to gather the information I needed to decide whether or not we should go to war with Iraq. I feel like I am mainly there for because I feel like there are a lot of very worldly people who have a lot of first hand information. I feel like a new born baby, just opening my eyes for the first time to a whole new world.

You will have to be patient with me while I decide whether I want to wear Wobblie all over me all of the time, or even some times. I don't like the shirts. Saying I'm a wobblie feels exilerating and very odd at the same time.

Just a reality check.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Argentina's Recuperation Movement: The struggle to work without a boss continues

Apr 30, 2008 By Marie Trigona

Marie Trigona's ZSpace Page / ZSpace

Who wants to work for a boss? I'm guessing that most people would say no. Since the birth of capitalism, workers' movements have pondered the utopian dream of liberating the working class from exploitive bosses. Argentina has been home to a phenomenon called recuperated enterprises. When the owner decided to shut down a factory or business, workers decided to save their jobs and physically occupy their workplace. Overtime the worker takeovers caught on. Today more than 200 worker run businesses are up and running. In the very heart of Argentina's capital Buenos Aires, workers at a 20 story hotel are making this utopian dream a reality.

Walk into the BAUEN Hotel, and most guests are astounded by the 70's inspired d?r. The BAUEN hotel operates like any other hotel, but with one big difference. There is no boss or owner. Guests appreciate the hotel's convenient downtown location and cultural events. Locals also enjoy the BAUEN's newly renovated front caf?alled Utopia.

But things weren't always bustling at this starlit hotel. Mar?del Valle, a BAUEN worker recalls the workers' decision to occupy the abandoned hotel. "Sometimes, I ask myself why am I here? We were able to recuperate a 20 story hotel, 220 rooms, 7 salons, a theater-bit by bit. The first carpets we cleaned with scrub brushes on our hands and knees. A very small group of companeros."

In the midst of Argentina's worst economic crisis in December 2001, the hotel was ransacked and remaining workers were fired by the former owner Mercoteles. A group of 15 workers along with supporters took over the hotel on March 28, 2003.

Arminda Palacios is a seamstress who has worked at the hotel for over 20 years and was there when the workers who decided to cut off the locks on a side entrance into the hotel during the initial occupation. "Us workers and all of our supporters we entered the hotel through the entrance on Corrientes Ave. The workers' entrance was on Corrientes. We simply entered. There was a small lock. They cut the lock off and we walked in. We went to the reception area. When we saw there was electricity, we didn't think there was going to be electricity....we started to hug and cry."

The BAUEN Cooperative recently celebrated their 5 year anniversary of workers' self-management. But the celebrations were bittersweet. The BAUEN cooperative, like many of the recuperated enterprises, was forced to set up shop without any legal backing whatsoever.

After 5 years, the Cooperative still has no legal standing and faced a court ordered eviction notice last year. Manuel Benitez, a cooperative associate at the hotel says that despite legal support, the public still supports the workers rights to defend their jobs. "A judge has ruled that the hotel should be handed over the original owner Marcelo Iurcovich. With the eviction notice, they gave us 30 days. We did many actions with organizations. We're still here thanks to the organizations and demonstrations held in the street in front of the hotel. We've appealed the eviction notice, but the appeal has been delayed. Once the appeal decision comes, I don't know what is going to happen. We're here because of our support from the public."

When the eviction notice arrived in July, 2007 - thousands mobilized not only against the eviction, but for a long term legal solution for the hotel. 150 workers are currently employed at the BAUEN cooperative. "During my 20 years working at this company, I got to know the bosses well. For us negotiation has been a bad word, and much more right now. We don't have to negotiate with them! Because the BAUEN is ours, even if the bosses don't like it!" That was Arminda Palacios again, a 68-year old worker and cooperative advocate, at an assembly held shortly after the eviction notice was delivered.

The eviction notice came in response to a petition by the Mercoteles group, which the court recognizes as the legal owner of the property. Appearing in court in 2006, Marcoteles Director Samuel Kaliman was unable to provide the court with Mercoteles' address, board member names and other legal information.

The federal court has accepted a appeal on behalf of the BAUEN cooperative which has temporarily delayed the eviction order. According to Federico Tonarelli, Argentina's worker-occupied factories which provide jobs for more than 10,000 people need a definitive legal solution. "The recuperated enterprises don't have a definitive legal framework. A national expropriation law would not only provide workers with the legal right to the buildings, but a framework for all the recuperated enterprises."

Back at the hotel, the 150 BAUEN cooperative associates continue to reinvent social relations and reverse the logic of capitalism. Marcelo Duharte has worked at the BAUEN for over 20 years. He says that the workers are accomplishing what capitalists are not interested in doing, creating jobs. "Even though the recuperated enterprises are just a grain of sand, we're changing small things, not everything that we would like to. Slowly were incorporating a new concepts. Not just workers taking over property, but we're creating another economy and making our lives more dignified through work. If the state doesn't implement policies to create jobs, there are workers with their humility, transparency and honor implementing a new philosophy for work."

Despite market and legal challenges, the BAUEN cooperative continues to improve services and open its doors to other workers challenging the system. Human rights activists, unionists and community organizers regularly use the hotel's facilities for meetings and events. Argentina's worker occupied factory movement is rallying across the country for a national expropriation law in the face of eviction orders and legal uncertainty. At a massive rock concert held last year, thousands voted to resist against a forceful eviction of BAUEN and other occupied factories.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Buenos Aires. She can be reached at