Using an expropriation law to ensure economic rights are protected

Workers in Argentina have tried to prevent job losses by refusing to stop working when their employers’ business­es go bankrupt. Jobs at nearly 200 fabricas recuperadas, or recuperated factories, have been saved by workers who use a little-known expropriation law to prevent removal of equipment by creditors and to seek receivership of the factories. The businesses range from ice cream factories and metal works to four-star hotels and shipyards.

Once hailed as an “economic miracle,” Argentina slipped into recession in the late 1990s, pushing many Argentin­eans into poverty. The factory occupation movement arose spontaneously in response to economic decline. The approach has followed a general pattern.

First, the business falls into bankruptcy or is abandoned. The workers take over the business and run it coopera­tively, preventing creditors from removing machinery while seeking a court order granting them the right to con­tinue the business in compensation for unpaid back wages. This order is granted under a law originally intended to allow local governments to seize property for public works projects. The workers must agree to pay the owners the fair value of the assets over an established period of time and can pay themselves only if they turn a profit.

More than 10,000 jobs have been saved as a result of this tactic and workers in several recuperated factories are on their way to owning the assets of the businesses they occupied.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

When businesses close and jobs disappear, individuals, families and communities risk falling into poverty. In Argentina’s recent economic downturn, many businesses have closed or gone bankrupt.

The use of the expropriation law to justify this occupation arose in desperation and yet has the potential to do more than simply keep the businesses open. It is a step toward preventing the poverty that could spread through vulnerable communities and toward raising the standard of living. It is an expression of the right to work and protect one’s livelihood, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.