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"Workers' Economy" Conference, Buenos Aires, July 19-21, 2007

"The Worker's Economy:
Self-Management and the Distribution of Wealth"
International Self-Management Conference

Buenos Aires, July 19-21, 2007

The University of Buenos Aires, Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, the Center for Global Justice and the Argentina Autonomista Project are excited to invite you to:


Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires

Dates: July 19–21, 2007


University of Buenos Aires

217 - 25 de Mayo Avenue

Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina


Please send a 250-word (max) abstract by May 15, 2007, or any other
correspondence to:
Correspondence in Spanish: fabierta@filo.uba.ar

Correspondence in English: UBA.selfmanagement@gmail.com

The current
debates surrounding self-management: A brief overview

Workers' struggles have reemerged with force in the last decade in
numerous forms — union-based struggles, self-managed workspaces, rural
movements, unemployed workers' movements.... These are responses to the
hegemony of neoliberal globalization imposing itself throughout the
world with absolutist pretensions after the debacle of so-called "real

At the same time, the old methods and strategies of
struggle — class-based parties and traditional unions, amongst
others — have by now shown themselves to be, at minimum, insufficient.

Old debates and ideological frameworks are now in crisis. The dominant
discourses used to describe the functioning of the capitalist world
system can no longer explain quickly enough (never mind predict) the
changes in this system that have been occurring over the past few
decades, while popular struggles have had to create new paths without
having a clear horizon in sight from which to map out a final destiny.
And the plethora of means ever available for capitalism to respond to
threats against it, as well as the sheer force and relentlessness of
its repressive power, amply overcomes the popular sectors' capacity for
change...with tragic consequences.

While the taking of State power has been the driving objective of
political forces for more than a century now, more recently there have
appeared compelling movements that, on occasion, have questioned such
objectives for revolutionary action. At minimum, these movements
distance their strategies and tactics from the aims of taking State
power, recognizing the difficulties of such a task. But, as evidenced
in various Latin American contexts, some popular movements with solid
historical roots have ended up allying themselves with national
governments swept into power via electoral triumph. And so, when they
least expected it, these movements found themselves at times
controlling key sectors of the State's administrative apparatus which,
in turn, needed to be profoundly transformed in order to be oriented
towards grassroots-based policies.Of particular importance for many of these grassroots groups are those
policies that relate to managing production and the (re)distribution of

Wavering between these situations and theoretic-ideological debates,
workers have been generating — through their actual practices — an
alternative course for steering life between inaction and resignation
on the one side and the fight for total political power on the other.

Subjected to the permanent crisis provoked by neoliberal capitalism, a
growing number of workers are playing an increasingly key role in the
re-creation and self-management of greater portions of the means of
production and the economy as an immediate outcome of their struggles
and resistances. And this despite being in the middle of a capitalist
ocean. In some countries, workers' take-over of government and their
increased control of the state apparatus (i.e., Venezuela, Bolivia)
have, sooner rather than later, positioned grassroots workers'
organizations and their methods of self-management as legitimate
vehicles for administrating the economy and as decisively important
forces for controlling the strategic economic means of society.

Recovered factories, diverse kinds of self-managed microenterprises,
rural cooperative settlements, new types of unionized workers'
movements, networks of fair trade and fair work, and numerous other
kinds of organizations and forms of struggle are part of this new
landscape. Sometimes they take on autonomous forms. In certain
situations they are fragmented. In other situations they form part of
powerful and popular political movements, larger social movements,
political parties, leftist fronts and coalitions, and even programs
that are at times stimulated by the State or, more directly, by a
government's actual public polices.

Regardless of the size and shape of these worker-contoured
social-political landmarks, this new alternative landscape puts back on
the table the question of the legitimate role of workers in the
management of a society's economy. The working class still does, after
all, make up the majority of the world's population. And workers still
depend on their own labour for their sustenance, be they engaged in
wage-labour, partaking of the cooperative management of their
collective labour, or living in more dire circumstances such as the
structurally unemployed, the overexploited, the marginalized, and the

A debate and discussion around these issues, therefore, is needed now
more than ever: While the processes and consequences of globalization
have been deeply and consistently questioned by numerous social and
international movements, the project of actually creating an
alternative that can supercede the merely declarative, or
intellectual-theoretic reflection, has not advanced much, at least in a
form that consistently takes into account both the theoretical and the
practical aspects of self-management. (This is not to ignore or lessen
the very real, efficacious, and practical outcomes realized in efforts
such as the World Social Forum.) Rather, what is increasingly and
definitely advancing are the myriad resistances to neoliberal capital
that have centred on self-management as a creative force for inventing
new experiences and new lives. However partial and nascent these
advances might or might not be, they can serve to fruitfully inform and
inspire the greater global analyses and debates that are looking for
alternatives to capitalist life.

The questions raised by self-management:

What we are proposing for this First International Gathering, however,
is not what might be interpreted, at first glance, as a debate on the
"social economy" (as fomented, for example, by the World Bank and NGOs
focused on "social containment"). Rather, we are proposing the reverse:
We would like to engage in discussions centred on the socialization of
the economy. Instead of waiting for the fulfillment of the promises set
in a far-off utopia grounded in a revolutionary conquest of political
power, workers from around the world are presently advancing projects
that are giving them back their lives and labour. However fragmentary
and limited these projects might currently be, they tend to be rooted
in actual practices and concrete experiences rather than in the
promissory and the abstract.

What conclusions and lessons can we take from these experiences, then?
What connections do these workers' struggles have with traditional
social and political struggles? How do they relate to, or interconnect
themselves within, the popular, grassroots-based governments that are
increasingly taking hold of power in Latin America? How do these
experiences of economic self-management survive in the hostile markets
of global capital? How can they generate a new business logic of
self-management within the framework of a suffocating system? Can they
survive without change to the actual economic system and without
transforming those very forms of organizations that they are attempting
to overcome? Are they isolated instances of resistance, consequences of
the very crisis of global capital, or do they show a path toward a new
way of organizing production within a more just social system? Can
workers already organized in unions once again come to pressure capital
and dispute capital's power-base, or should the struggle to overcome
capital now be engaged from within the actual spaces of production and
be about the actual self-management of production by workers? Will
these struggles actually be used and appropriated by capital to more
efficiently accumulate capital? These are just some of the questions
that we feel should be at the centre of the debate amongst workers,
intellectuals, and social and political organizations.

This is not just an academic debate, however. It is essentially a
political one that should be moved forward with the participation of
workers and their organizations. Proceeding in any other way would
render the debate an interesting intellectual exercise with little
practical consequence. But those who are thinking about these and other
issues related to social movements and alternatives to capital from
within an intellectual perspective should also of course, out of
necessity, participate in these debates. Also at the table should be
social and political leaders that encompass views from the perspective
of labour organizations and political processes that are disputing
State power and that, as in Venezuela or Bolivia, are carrying forward
policies that are fostering these experiences of self-management.

From the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires, we propose further strides towards this necessary debate. For five years now we have been working in conjunction with workers in Argentina's recovered factories and workspaces, attempting to support their processes, document their experiences, investigate their practices, and to better comprehend and reflect on the onsequences of their experiments.

From the Open Faculty Program (Programa Facultad Abierta) and the Interdisciplinary Program in Scientific and Technological Transference with Worker-Recovered Enterprises (Programa Interdisciplinario de Transferencia Científico Tecnológica con Empresas Recuperadas por sus Trabajadores) we have been developing with these workers projects that seek to extend technological capabilities, develop skills, build capacity, and strengthen the viability of these cooperative workplaces, investigating, on a broader level, the self-management of productive unities abandoned by their owners and recovered and reopened by workers. For us, and we hope for many others, the time has come to incorporate the conclusions stemming from these lessons and experiences — both from the perspective of workers and also academics — into the debate that is occupying the world more and more, a debate that is fundamentally about the direction of these struggles and the change needed in the system of social, political, and economic relations.

From this place we convene this First International Gathering to debate and discuss self-management and its possibilities and challenges...


July 19–21, 2007


University of Buenos Aires

217 - 25 de Mayo Avenue

Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina


The Open Faculty Program (Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University
of Buenos Aires)

Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
International Institute for
Selfmanagement, Frankfurt, Germany (www.iism.net
Autonomista Project (www.autonomista.org

Conference format:

Debate Roundtables: Debate and discussion roundtables based on central
themes, interspersed with panels to guide the discussion.

A final synopsis of each roundtable will be realized and made available
as conference proceedings.

Opening and closing plenary sessions will be held.

The debates and discussions will be filmed and recorded for archival
and educational purposes in order to make available materials and
resources for research purposes, consulting purposes, and for assisting
current and future self-management projects.

Thematic Roundtables: More specific roundtables and panels will be
convened focusing on particular themes of interest to participants.

Presentations: Presentations of documents and already completed or
ongoing work for discussion.

Those who forward their work to the gathering's organizers with enough
lead-time will have their work published in a CD before the conference
to be available at the conference. Please forward materials to include
in the CD by April 30, 2007 to: fabierta@filo.uba.ar

Preliminary conference schedule:

Thematic debates and project roundtables (first two days):

o The
capitalist economy today: Stages of global capitalism from the
perspective of popular movements.

o The self-managed economy:
Discussions concerning the experiences of self-management in the era of
global capitalism (recovered enterprises, rural cooperatives,
self-managed and solidarity microenterprises, cooperative movements,
alternative networks of exchange, fair trade and fair work initiatives,

o The challenges faced by popularly-based, grassroots-supported
governments regarding the social management of the economy and the

o A critical look at the cooperative movement. o New challenges faced
by union movements; unions; new types of workers' organizations and
collectives; co-management and participatory decision making. Plenary
sessions (last day)

o The (re)distribution of wealth: The social
economy or the socialization of the economy? Suggestions being offered
by workers' movements.

o The limits of self-management: The political
possibilities and challenges of a production regime under workers'

o Articulations, expressions, and experiences of the struggle
for self-management with regard to other political struggles and other
social movements.

Special roundtables:

o The environment and workers' self-management.

o Experiments in
self-management with regard to other social-political struggles and
social movements.

o Work from the perspective of gender.

o The role of
the university and intellectuals in workers' struggles.

The gathering is free for participants and audience members. We invite
donations for assisting the travel expenses of workers from outside of
the Buenos Aires area. For U.S. tax-deductible donations, checks in
U.S. dollars should be made payable to:

Research Associates Foundation,
Workers' Economy Conference in the memo, and sent to:
9902 Crystal
Court, Suite 107, BC-2323,
Laredo, TX 78045.

Donations can also be made
on-line at globaljusticecenter.org. Please again note Workers'
Economy Conference.