Worker self-management (sometimes called workers' control or autogestion) is a form of workplace decision-making in which the workers themselves agree on choices (for issues such as customer care, general production methods, scheduling, division of labour) instead of an owner or traditional supervisor telling workers what to do, how to do it and where to do it. Examples of such self-management include the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution, the Spanish Revolution, Titoist Yugoslavia, Algeria under Ahmed Ben Bella, the Nicaraguan Revolution, the fábricas recuperadas movement in Argentina, the LIP factory in France in the 1970s, the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation which is the Basque Country's largest corporation, AK Press in the United States, the Venezuelan Revolution, etc.
English-language discussions of this phenomenon may employ several different translations of the original Spanish expression other than recovered factory. For example, recuperated factory/business, reclaimed factory, and worker-run factory have been noted. The phenomenon is also known as "autogestion," which comes from the French word for self-management (applied to factories, popular education systems, and other uses). Worker self-management may coincide with employee ownership.
Workers' self-management is often the decision-making model used in co-operative economic arrangements such as worker cooperatives, workers' councils, Inclusive Democracy, participatory economics, and similar arrangements where the workplace operates without a boss. This model of decision making does not involve consulting all employees for every tiny issue in a time-consuming, inefficient and ineffective manner. Real-world examples show that only large-scale decisions are made by all employees during council meetings and small decisions are made by those implementing them while coordinating with the rest and following more general agreements.
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Autogestion was first theorized by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon during the first part of the 19th century. It then became a primary component of some trade union organizations, in particular revolutionary syndicalism which was introduced in late 19th century France and guild socialism in early 20th century Britain, although both movements collapsed in the early 1920s. French trade-union CFDT ("Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail") included worker self-management in its 1970 program, before later abandoning it. The philosophy of workers' self-management has been promoted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) since its founding in the United States in 1905.
Critics of workers' self-management from the left such as Gilles Dauvé and Jacques Camatte do not admonish the model as reactionary, but simply as not progressive in the context of developed capitalism. Such critics suggest that capitalism is more than a relationship of management. Rather, they suggest capitalism should be considered as a social totality which workers' self-management in and of itself only perpetuates and does not challenge - despite its seemingly radical content and activity. This theory is used to explain why self-management in Yugoslavia never advanced beyond the confines of the larger state monopoly economy, or why many modern worker-owned facilities tend to return to hiring managers and accountants after only a few years of operation.
Guild socialism is a political movement advocating workers' control of industry through the medium of trade-related guilds "in an implied contractual relationship with the public". It originated in the United Kingdom and was at its most influential in the first quarter of the 20th century. It was strongly associated with G. D. H. Cole and influenced by the ideas of William Morris.
"But by taking the land and the industrial plants under their own management they have taken the first and most important step on the road to Socialism. Above all, they (the Workers' and peasants self-management) have proved that the workers, even without the capitalists, are able to carry on production and to do it better than a lot of profit-hungry entrepreneurs.
In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, Titoist Yugoslavia advocated a socialist version of autogestion, in distinction from the Eastern Bloc countries, all of which practiced central planning and state ownership of industry. The economy of Yugoslavia was organized according to the theories of Tito and – more directly – Edvard Kardelj. Croatian scientist Branko Horvat also made a significant contribution to the theory of workers' self-management (radničko samoupravljanje) as practiced in Yugoslavia. With the exception of a recession in the mid-1960s, the country's economy prospered under Titoist Socialism. Unemployment was low, the education level of the work force steadily increased. The life expectancy (which was about 72 years) and living standards of Yugoslav citizens was nearly equal to the life expectancy and living standards of citizens of “western” capitalist countries such as Portugal. Due to Yugoslavia's neutrality and its leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslav companies exported to both Western and Eastern markets. Yugoslav companies carried out construction of numerous major infrastructural and industrial projects in Africa, Europe and Asia.
After May 68 in France, LIP factory, a clockwork factory based in Besançon, became self-managed starting in 1973 after the management's decision to liquidate it. The LIP experience was an emblematic social conflict of post-68 in France. CFDT (the CCT as it was referred to in Northern Spain), trade-unionist Charles Piaget led the strike in which workers claimed the means of production. The Unified Socialist Party (PSU), which included former Radical Pierre Mendès-France, was in favour of autogestion or self-management.
In the Basque Country of Spain, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation represents perhaps the longest lasting and most successful example of workers' self-management in the world. It was been touted by a diverse group of people, such as the Marxian economist Richard D. Wolff and the research monograph Capital and the Debt Trap as an example of how the economy can be organized on an alternative to the capitalist mode of production.
During the Great Depression, worker and utility cooperatives flourished to the point that more than half of US farmers belonged to a cooperative. In general worker cooperatives and cooperative banking institutions were formed across the country and became a thriving alternative for workers and customers. Now, due to the economic downturn and stagnation in the rustbelt, worker cooperatives such as the Evergreen Cooperatives have been formed in response, inspired by Mondragon.
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In October 2005 the first Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas ("Latin American Encounter of Recovered Companies") took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with representatives of 263 such companies from different countries living through similar economical and social situations. The meeting had, as its main outcome, the Compromiso de Caracas (Caracas' Commitment); a vindicating text of the movement.
The fábricas recuperadas movement (Argentina)
Argentina's fábricas recuperadas movement, which emerged in response to Argentine's 2001 economic crisis, is the current most significant workers' self-management phenomenon in the world. Workers took over control of the factories in which they had worked, commonly after bankruptcy, or after a factory occupation to circumvent a lockout.
Fábricas recuperadas means "reclaimed/recovered factories." The Spanish verb recuperar means not only "to get back", "to take back" or "to reclaim" but also "to put back into good condition". Although initially referring to industrial facilities, the term may also apply to businesses other than factories (e.g. Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires).
Throughout the 1990s in Argentina's southern province of Neuquén, drastic economic and political events occurred where the citizens ultimately rose up. Although the first shift occurred in a single factory, bosses were progressively fired throughout the province so that by 2005 the workers of the province controlled most of the factories.
The movement emerged as a response to Argentine's 2001 economic crisis, and about 200 Argentine companies were "recovered" by their workers and turned into co-operatives. Prominent examples include the Brukman factory, the Hotel Bauen and FaSinPat (formerly known as Zanon). As of 2005, about 15,000 Argentine workers run recovered factories.
The phenomenon of fabricas recuperadas ("recovered factories") is not new in Argentina. Rather, such social movements were completely dismantled during the so-called "Dirty War" in the 1970s. Thus, during Héctor Cámpora's first months of government (May–July 1973), a rather moderate and left-wing Peronist, approximately 600 social conflicts, strikes and factory occupations had taken place.
Many recovered factories are run co-operatively and all workers receive the same wage. Important management decisions are taken democratically by an assembly of all workers, rather than by professional managers.
The proliferation of these "recoveries" has led to the formation of a recovered factory movement, which has ties to a diverse political network including socialists, Peronists, anarchists and communists. Organizationally, this includes two major federations of recovered factories, the larger Movimiento Nacional de Empresas Recuperadas (or National Movement of Recuperated Businesses, or MNER) on the left and the smaller National Movement of Recuperated Factories (MNFR) on the right. Some labor unions, unemployed protestors (known as piqueteros), traditional worker cooperatives and a range of political groups have also provided support for these take-overs. In March 2003, with the help of the MNER, former employees of the luxury Hotel Bauen occupied the building and took control of it.
One of the highest difficulties such a movement faces is its relation towards the classic economic system, as most classically managed firms refused,[verification needed] for various reasons (among which ideological hostility to the very principle of autogestion) to work and deal with recovered factories. Thus, isolated recovered factories find it easier to work together in building an alternative, more democratic economic system and thus manage to reach a critical size and power which enables it to negotiate with the ordinary capitalistic firms.
- Guido Galafassi, Paula Lenguita, Robinson Salazar Perez (2004) Nuevas Practicas Politicas Insumisas En Argentina pp.222, 238
- Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (1866-1876). 'Oeuvres Complètes', volume 17. Paris: Lacroix. pp. 188–9.
- "Guild Socialism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 31 May. 2012
- Dolgoff, S. (1974), The Anarchist Collectives: Workers' Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, ISBN 978-0-914156-03-1
- Liotta, P.H. "Paradigm Lost :Yugoslav Self-Management and the Economics of Disaster". Retrieved 18 August 2010.
- "Yugoslavia: Introduction of Socialist Self-Management". Country Data. December 1990. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
- LIP, l'imagination au pouvoir, article by Serge Halimi in Le Monde diplomatique, 20 March 2007 (French)
- Richard D. Wolff (June 24, 2012). "Yes, there is an alternative to capitalism: Mondragon shows the way." The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
- Hugo Moreno, Le désastre argentin. Péronisme, politique et violence sociale (1930-2001), Editions Syllepses, Paris, 2005, p.109 (French)
- Movimiento Nacional de Fabricas Recuperadas
- Marie Trigona, Recuperated Enterprises in Argentina - Reversing the Logic of Capitalism, Znet, March 27, 2006 (English)
- Pagina12: Nueva Ley de Quiebras (April 2011), Fábricas recuperadas y también legales (June 2nd 2011)
- CFK promulgó la reforma de la Ley de Quiebras in Página/12, June 29th 2011
- Bolloten, Burnett (1991). The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina. ISBN 0-8078-1906-9.
- For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, PM Press, by John Curl, 2009, ISBN 978-1-60486-072-6
- An Anarchist FAQ, Vol. 2, (2012, AK Press), see section: I.3.2 What is workers' self-management? 
- Anarcho-syndicalism, Rudolf Rocker (1938), AK Press Oakland/Edinburgh. ISBN 978-1-902593-928.
- Living Utopia (Original, 1997: Vivir la utopía El anarquismo en Espana) is a documentary film by Juan Gamero. It consists of 30 interviews with activists of the Spanish Revolution 1936-39 and one of the biggest examples of Workers' and peasants self-management during the following Social revolution.
- Argentinian workers preparing to defend control of factory, April 26, 2005
- THE NEW RESISTANCE IN ARGENTINA, by Yeidy Rosa
- Self-management and Requirements for Social Property: Lessons from Yugoslavia by Diane Flaherty
- Worker self-management in historical perspective by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer
- Yugoslavia's Self-Management by Daniel Jakopovich
- Movimiento Nacional de Fabricas Recuperadas (National Movement of Recovered Factories, Spanish only)
- The Worker-Recovered Enterprises in Argentina: The Political and Socioeconomic Challenges of Self-Management Andrés Ruggeri, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Official site for El Cambio Silencioso, book on recovered factories by Esteban Magnani (Spanish and English mostly)
- The Social Innovations of Autogestión in Argentina’s Worker-Recuperated Enterprises: Cooperatively Reorganizing Productive Life in Hard Times (Labor Studies Journal, 2010) by Marcelo Vieta
- Selbsthilfe von Erwerbslosen in Krisenzeiten. Die empresas recuperadas in Argentinien, by Kristina Hille
- Democracy at Work A social movement for a new economy founded by economist Richard D. Wolff
- The End of Illth: In search of an economy that won’t kill us. Harper's Magazine, October 4, 2013.