Production and Commons Workshop

Activists and social researchers from across Europe discussed concrete ways to overcome the capitalist organization of production through commoning and factory workers’ self-management.

Activists and social researchers from across Europe discussed concrete ways to overcome the capitalist organization of production through commoning and factory workers’ self-management.
The workshop was held in Rome on 11 and 12 March, as a second gathering concerning the thematic focus that transform! europe has put on the Commons. It was attended by more than 30 researchers, activists and workers, protagonists of different experiences of self-management from Greece, France, England, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Italy, the United States, and Argentina.
The meeting took place in the space of Officine Zero, a symbol of the workers’ struggle in defense of jobs. During the workshop, the first Commons eBook, with input from the meeting on Social Reappropriation we held in Paris was presented. It is now available for download on the transform! europe website.
This event was held on a theme apparently not directly connected to the system of the Commons-production, forms of self-management of factories, and in general the role of the social processes that produce the space for reappropriation of factories and their output that is thus defined as common goods.

What are we talking about?

The two-day meeting was divided into four sessions. In the first, entitled “What are we talking about?” we had interventions from Dario Azzellini (University of Linz, Austria), Gianni Rinaldini (Claudio Sabattini Foundation, Italy), Andres Ruggeri (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), Theo Karyotis (Solidarity Network Vio.Me, Greece), Yannis Barkas (Solidarity4All, Greece), Marina Sitrin (CUNY, USA) and Aloscia Castronovo (researcher and member of the Solidarity network of Officine Zero, Italy).
The first session was about describing – starting from the experience of factories under workers’ management – the link between work and common goods. Many struggles about commons involve production in the commodity field (i.e. energy, water) or in agriculture. In all these areas, what could be the criteria defining a common of production?
We began with the Argentinian experience, with the intervention of Andres Ruggeri (Universidad de Buenos Aires), who explained the phenomenon of “recuperated factories”, of which there now are more than 300 in Argentina. Ruggeri explained that these spaces are no longer dependent on the economic crisis, but constitute a form of alternative economy and are conceived as a cooperative production space, in which they are allowed to develop the defense of labor and social relations.
In Europe, only a handful of enterprises are “recuperated” in this sense (Greece: Vio.Me, Italy: RiMaflow and Officine Zero, France: La Fabrique du Sud and SCOP TI). Additionally, there are numerous companies that are going bankrupt, where employees are willing to restart as workers’ co-ops: even if this is more a buyout than a struggle, in a field where the best co-exists with the worst, this phenomenon shows the aspiration of workers to control resources in order to maintain their jobs.
Of course these experiences cannot establish a large-scale industrial model that goes beyond small-scale production, but they are able to represent a criticism of the existing model, unable, in our continent, to guarantee basic rights and jobs.
Big industries, part of a socialised productive process, and often organised through the state, are now subject to privatisation and alienation and then decommission. These experiences do not, therefore, only represent forms of active resistance of workers who defend their workplace, but they also allow the experience of new forms of production and interaction with the workspace and with other people in this space, often precarious workers and activists in various movements. Self-management provides an alternative and a different economic model that foreshadows a different relationship between people and a cooperative space based on respect for the environment and human relationships.

Recuperation is not a piece of cake

In the second session, entitled “Recuperation is not a piece of cake”, interventions were made by Benoit Borrits (Association pour l’Autogestion, France), Theodora Kotsaka (Nicos Poulantzas Institute, Greece), Nefeli Rea Tzanetakou (ENKLO), Ilektra Bethymouti (Work Medical Center Vio.Me, Greece), Nina Rajkovic (Organzation for Workers’ Initiative and Democratization, Croatia), Vida Knezevic and Marko Miletic (Kontekst Collective Machine, Serbia), Emin Eminagic (Radnicki Universitat, Bosnia), Jasmina Husanovic (Workers’ Univerity Tuzla) and Emina Busuladizic (DITA experience in Tuzla, Bosnia), and Aloscia Castronovo (Officine Zero, Italy).
It was discussed, how, in many cases, when employees take over a company, this happens in a harsh and economically hostile environment. Very often, the impulse to self-manage arises after a bankruptcy, sometimes as a reaction to the deliberate policy of a capitalist group to close down a factory. In this process, a disruption of activity and production could result in a loss of customers and/or internal expertise. This means the workers will have difficulties to recover lost markets and gain new customers. Furthermore, workers’ co-ops are not perceived positively by the banking system, which makes it hard for them to finance their business.

How to reinforce the building of Commons

In the third session, entitled “How to reinforce the building of Commons” there were interventions by Elisabetta Cangelosi (promoter of the Intergroup on the Commons in the European Parliament, Italy), Francine Mestrum (Global Social Justice, Belgium), Alan Tuckman (Workers’ Control, UK), Massimo de Angelis (Professor of economics at the University of East London, UK), Yannis Barkas (Solidarity4All, Greece), Elisa Gigliarelli (Officine Zero, Italy), and Orestis Varkarolis (Athens Worker Cooperatives Network, Greece).
During this session it was discussed how workers’ coops are neither a truly self-managed company nor is their output really a Commons. Rather, this way of organising is an intermediary form, which is rooted in private property even if it breaks some rules of capital: only co-op members can vote, not all workers. At the same time, as it has been emphasized by several authors, worker’s co-ops need to find a market to survive, making these companies look alike their capitalist competitors. For years, users’ co-operatives have been seen as a solution to this problem, but it seems they are not looking the transformation of these experieces, for example in Italy, where the cooperative movement, born in the early 900, has evolved not according to the initial purpose and often suffering by criminal infiltration and using the worst methods to workers of those forms usually used by the profit ones. More recently, co-operatives for different groupings (workers, users, investors …) have been set-up but it does not seem to be a solution either.

Towards an offensive Strategy!

The final session, entitled “Towards an offensive Strategy!” consisted of the speakers Chantal Delmas (Espaces Marx, France), Anna Curcio (University of Bologna, Italy), Birgit Daiber, Tomasone Federico (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Brussels office), Benoit Borrits (Association pour l’Autogestion, France), Alessandro Splendori (Officine Zero, Italy).
The interventions dealt with the question how, nowadays, workers’ takeovers of companies are always taking place from a defensive position: they happen to save jobs. However, these recuperations show that working without bosses and shareholders is not an utopia. In addition, worker’s co-ops are more resilient than other companies, and, on average have greater success. This presents an immediate possibility to bypass capitalism. Therefore, we should see these takeovers as a practical way to get rid of capitalist companies. But the question remains: how to move from a defensive mode to an offensive one to end capitalism?


In each session, the interventions inspired an open debate and, especially helpful for the future, strengthened relations between the different European experiences and deepened the commitment to share experiences and opinions on the purpose and value of the Commons and more specifically the world of work.
One of the main points that emerged from the debate of the two-day workshop is how these experiences can represent a broader of critique of an economic system that has put on workers the burden of globalised capitalist accumulation.
Another space that the Commons can strengthen is the fight against the fragmentation of the labour world, the fight for a social recomposition able to create a force capable of counteracting financial power. It also became more clear of the course of the workshop how the vertical management of goods through the direct participation of citizens can affect – and redefine – the role of the state and public services.
At the end of the workshop, a proposal was made to continue this dialogue with the representatives of the working world, starting with the unions. For this, the idea is to have the next Commons initiative in Brussels.
As in the previous seminar on Social Reappropriation, we will collect the contributions of individual interventions and will publish them in a second transform! Commons eBook.