Imagine one of the most busy street corners in downtown Buenos Aires. The corner where Congreso (the Parliament building) intersects with the road going to the Pink House (Government Building). Congreso occupies the entire side of one block, facing a long park. Now stand facing the fountain in the park with Congreso to your right. You are standing in front of the recuperated fast food restaurant Nac & Pop. If you were to turn around, the small storefront on this corner would seem fairly non descript, it is a fast food restaurant like so many others, grilling Choripan, hotdogs and hamburgers. On closer examination however one sees something else entirely … signs say: “Nac & Pop Sin Patron” and “Trabajador@s de Nac & Pop en Lucha” and other hand written posters addressing issues of the day, such as against police violence and xenophobia. In addition to the mural with paintings of famous celebrities an image of Che Guevara has been added.
There has been an increase in the recuperation of workplaces over the past few years – not coincidently dating around the time of the 2008 economic crisis, from many dozens of new recuperations in Latin America – Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in particular – to the now over a dozen in Europe. These are workplaces that range from huge factories, such as the tire producing plant outside Montevideo Uruguay, which is run by hundreds of workers, to a health clinic in Cordoba Argentina, a tea producer in France, a now organic cleaning products plant in Thessaloniki Greece (formerly chemical cleaners), and the ever increasing recuperation of restaurants in Buenos Aires. Recuperated workplaces are as they sound, places of work in which the workers, for various reasons, usually lack of pay and the possibility of closure, take over – take back – their work source. These are all workplaces run by assemblies, horizontally, without bosses, hierarchy and with equal pay remuneration. I have written a number of articles about this phenomenon as have many others. One thing that has not been written of very much however is what a recuperated workplace is like and who are the people doing this? What is the process and what is it like to enter such a place? With this piece I hope to begin to share a little of what a recuperation can and does look like. I have decided to use the example of one of the most recent take overs in Buenos Aires, that of Nac & Pop, a small restaurant that is part of a much larger chain of 18 other Nac & Pop fast food restaurants. I choose this in part because the workers are some of the least likely one would imagine to take over and run their workplace … and this is what also makes them typical of a recuperation.
Together with Dario Azzellini, we spoke with the young workers of Nac & Pop Sin Patron. We had heard that there were a few such places, including three others from this same fast food chain, and were fascinated to learn how they managed to take over and continue to run such a visible and well known restaurant. We spoke with Emanuel, as the other three young people also working that shift came over to listen and chime in on occasion. All four of them, as with the other dozen or so that work in this particular local, are under 30 and pretty alternative looking – meaning one has dreadlocks, another brightly colored died hair, many have piercings and black seems the color of choice. As they describe themselves, they are from the outskirts of the city, areas that are known both for their precarity of work and day to day violence. Some of them are migrants and all would never have imagined themselves getting involved in some sort of political organizing before this. To see some images and descriptions of their process and struggle one can go to their facebook page (of course): Trabajadores Nac&Pop en lucha.
“”Nac & Pop” is now called “Nac & Pop Sin Patron (Without a Boss)” because it is now five months that we, the workers, are managing and running it ourselves.
Around a year ago we began to notice a real change with the owners and management of Nac & Pop. We were not getting paid, they were making more and more excuses as to why they were not paying us, we worked in black, meaning without a contract of any social support. We then noticed that many people were having their shifts changed and were being moved around from one restaurant to another and we realized they must be closing some of the locals.
We knew we had to do something but did not know what. None of us had previous experience, not in unions or with organizing groups – we had no relationship to the union. We are all young and most are immigrants and mothers, and many have families. We were in difficult situations but had to do something, we just did not know how or have the tools … but then a few compañeros in one local suggested we could recuperate the workplaces … there were so many of us that were months without pay.
But we did it. There are now 2 locals of “Nac & Pop Sin Patron” in Buenos Aires.
It was not without big challenges. Even threats to our life. First it was two of the lenders related to the owners who came with guns and threatened two compañeros telling them they had to stop organizing. Then, another two came with two supervisors and locked compañeros in the basement here saying something like, “stop all this trouble – you are not making the revolution” or something like that, and that we would pay for what we were doing. They had a gun and left them locked in the basement until the police came, but by then they were already gone. It was at this time that we decided, we cannot just sit here with all this anger and them treatening us like this and our being thrown out on the street. So we first spoke to compañeros in the recuperated restaurant “Alé Alé” and then a number of groups that had come around us to support our fight. And we decided, ok, we are going to take this local of Nac & Pop. And we did, we occupied on the 22nd of September and have since been running it together and trying to get legal status under the cooperative law.
Most of what has changed is the climate at work. In the beginning it was very difficult because we had to decide everything, what steps to take, who had what responsibilities and how to share them, making the schedules, figuring out how to do assemblies since we did not have any tradition or experience with them and just winning space and respect for all was huge.
Really it was the assembly that was the tool that permitted us to find a way to work things out, to discuss things. Both good and bad things, because we had a lot of internal challenges, and it was the assembly that allowed us to move forward. Doing things like making an agenda, having specific proposals, and then arriving at some conclusions.
It has for sure been a struggle and is all the time, and as I said before, we started from zero, but what we have is a desire to go forward, the will and, so we do.
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