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The workers’ alternative for Hanjin

04:03 AM December 18, 2019

The sudden collapse of the giant Hanjin shipbuilding facility has precipitated a mad scramble for solutions to the crisis. While government scours for new investors and banks await to retrieve their $412 million in uncollateralized loans, the plight of the 30,000 displaced Hanjin workers has been all but neglected (See “Prioritize Hanjin workers’ rights,” Opinion, 5/1/19).

There is, however, an alternative solution that puts the workers at the center of the equation — that of workers’ control, also known as “workers’ recuperation.”

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Workers’ control of failed companies has become a widespread phenomenon in the wake of the global economic meltdown of 2007-2008. Professor Andrés Ruggeri of the University of Buenos Aires has monitored and analyzed company takeovers by thousands of workers in several countries over the past years. Argentina leads with 360 worker-recuperated companies involving 15,000 workers; Brazil had 78 worker-recuperated companies with 12,000 workers; Uruguay had 24 companies, while Venezuela tallied several dozen companies. Other countries with similar takeovers are the US, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Italy, France, Greece, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia.

Workers’ control is exercised through democratic management via workers’ councils and assemblies. Collective administration and horizontal relations, rather than hierarchical modes, prevail. Workers are emancipated from alienation and authoritarian control, while the wasteful and anarchic process of capitalist production is reversed. Social relations, labor processes and even the products would change.

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An entirely new and alternative value system is created which “may not even correspond to (the) strict entrepreneurial logic” of profit maximization. Political, social and cultural activities are also undertaken. Ruggeri writes that “if a recuperated company engages only in economic activities, no matter how radical its internal processes, it would not have a transformative potential.” Recuperated workplaces also rely “on the support of local communities and solidarity networks with other worker-controlled enterprises.”

Ruggeri notes that worker-recuperated companies “have proven to be more lasting and more sustainable than common capitalist companies.” In Argentina, “only six worker-recuperated companies had shut down by 2013 with 63 new worker-recuperated companies being created.” The phenomenon has given rise to a global solidarity movement, with biennial continental and global conferences taking place since 2007.

The Hanjin collapse provides a unique opportunity for our country and people, particularly the displaced and highly skilled shipbuilding workers. For Leody de Guzman, Chair of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), the ideal scenario is a government takeover of Hanjin and for workers’ control of its operations in order to “prevent massive job displacement,” and to jumpstart “the industrialization of the local economy.” A government takeover, however, should only be a transition phase to clean up the corporate mess and resolve all financial issues. Eventually, the facility should be turned over to the workers.

Possibilities abound for replacing Hanjin’s flawed model of industrial development and its dependence on a capricious export market (See “The Hanjin ‘model’ of development,” Opinion, 6/1/19). The facility can be retrofitted to meet local needs for interisland merchant and passenger ships, modern fishing boats, riverboats, lake crafts, double-hulled catamarans, ferries, tourist watercraft, houseboats, flatboats, racing boats, sail boats and even Navy ships.

Our people, after all, have been renowned for shipbuilding since ancient times. The balangays ruled Southeast and East Asian maritime travel and trade, while the larger karakoas were efficient outrigger warships. The galleons that plied the 14,320-kilometer Manila-Acapulco trade route for 250 years (1565-1815) were further testaments to our people’s shipbuilding skills. De Guzman is convinced that “workers could do a better job at administering (the Hanjin) plant operations.” It is time to consider workers’ control as a viable antidote for bankrupt private businesses and for imagining a new peoples’ economy—one that caters to the needs of workers and communities rather than corporate greed.

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Eduardo C. Tadem, PhD, is convenor of the University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies’ Program on Alternative Development (UP CIDS AltDev), and retired professor of Asian Studies, UP Diliman.

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TAGS: Commentary, Eduardo C. Tadem, failed companies, Hanjin, workers' control
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