Government deploys slipshod suspension of worker cooperatives

The presidential spokesman announced a blanket suspension later contested by the Human Capital Ministry. Thousands have had their commercial activities temporarily frozen

“It felt like they threw a bucket of cold water on us,” said Karina Godoy, of the worker cooperative La Nirva dedicated to making alfajores — the country’s most famous treat. After fighting to recover the company for years, she thought she and her colleagues would lose their jobs again.

She was not alone — worker cooperatives around the country panicked after Presidential Spokesman Manuel Adorni announced a series of measures on Wednesday, including the claim that the government would suspend all those created between 2020 and 2022.

“Another political black box is eliminated,” Adorni said. 

However, the Human Capital Ministry later rectified the information in a press release. The government would not suspend all the cooperatives created between those years, just the 5,794 that had failed to present balance sheets. It would also audit the 4,355 cooperatives created in 2023.  La Nirva alfajor factory was not among the suspended cooperatives, and Godoy and the rest of its workers sighed in relief when they read the complete list, which circulated among the cooperative workers over Wednesday.

Worker cooperatives are companies owned and self-managed by their workers, meaning their members democratically participate in decision-making. According to official figures, there are more than 23,000 workers’ cooperatives in Argentina. The cooperative movement in the country took off during the late 1990s, during an employment crisis, with the growth of “recovered companies” — companies whose owners emptied and were later taken back by their workers. In later years, the number of cooperatives created from scratch grew significantly.

“They use a bureaucratic, I would say an almost routine and normal process, of requesting the cooperatives to regularize their documentation to generate an anticooperative political event,” said Alexandre Roig, the former head of the National Institute of Associativism and Social Economy, the government organism that regulates cooperatives.

The 5,794 cooperatives that have been suspended can only carry out commercial activities once they present the due documentation. If they fail to do so in 30 days, the government can take away their licenses. Noelia Viola, from the Giramundo cooperative TV channel, one of the suspended cooperatives, said that they were about to pay salaries when they found out. She explained that Giramundo was behind in presenting documentation after the website to do so changed its platform.

Adorni also questioned the number of cooperatives, saying that they “went in recent years from 9,970 to 23,836,” and called them a “political black box” that was supported by Argentines. Roig contested the assumption, saying that his administration streamlined the procedure to set up a cooperative, which now takes two months instead of two years.

The presidential spokesman also said that some cooperatives “do not have the slightest certification of legality.” “22% repeat associates, 20% e-mail and 9% home address,” he added. Roig explained that some cooperatives share offices or warehouses and that most workers in Argentina have more than one job.

Adorni also criticized that 300 cooperatives worked with the Potenciar Trabajo subsidy program, even though the goal of the program was to strengthen productive projects and most cooperatives do not receive money from the government. “It is a fallacy to say that we support ourselves with the people’s money, we support ourselves with our work,” Viola said.

Eduardo “Vasco” Murúa, from the Recovered Companies Movement, considered that the government was making a mistake: with fewer workers in formal jobs, the state would receive less taxes. He also said that the government could be going after cooperatives since some of them are related to social movements.

“They are firing workers from the state and the private sector, and now they are messing with cooperatives,” Murúa said. “This does not make sense even from the craziest ideology, not even from anarcho-capitalism.”


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