What lies at the end of the neoliberal rainbow? Resourcefulness, determination, creativity, and hope, if Argentina’s experience is any indication. In the last ten years, 205 worker co-ops (RFs) have taken over bankrupt businesses and tried to nurse them back to life. Nine in ten have survived. The model is certainly viable. But is it a “success”?
RF membership remains steady, despite the pain of management. Pride, commitment, and productivity compensate for the errors made by amateur managers. Credit and working capital are major challenges, since RFs are in fact custodians of assets expropriated by the state. The Working World/La Base makes available small amounts of credit at very low rates. Other co-ops can also extend credit in cash or in kind.
The litmus test for RFs was the financial crisis of 2009. Instead of firing staff in order to balance the books, RFs reduced wages across the board. Such decisions are antithetical to the selfish instincts of society - including many workers. To withstand this pressure, once again, solidarity is key. In Argentina’s many labour movements, RFs find an arena in which to explain their difficulties and learn from the experiences of those who have survived.
In sum, the RFs are not just viable, they enjoy a competitive advantage over private companies in an economy like Argentina’s. The workers have the courage of desperation. They have realized that options tend to multiply, the less we have to lose, and the more we dare.