12 May 2016
In the midst of recession, the Argentinian textile manufacturer has celebrated its fifth year. It has achieved a lot in those five years and has kept jobs safe. Since Argentina recently opened its doors to imports the sector has been hit by a wide range of problems (a decrease in sales, rising prices etc.) and there has been a major lack of public policy support. But the manufacturer, together with other organisations, has demanded that support. And for now, the results have been positive.
Back in 2011, 28 workers from Textiles Zuco returned from their holidays to find the boss had left without giving them their bonuses, holiday pay, or fortnightly wages. But the women didn’t sit back and do nothing – they set about camping at the factory door. Two months later they still had no answers – so they went into the factory and got back to work.
Elsa Vega, president of the cooperative, said: “We broke into the building with the help of a locksmith and after five minutes the police had arrived. They wanted to remove us by force. We resisted. It went on for about three hours. We stayed there and had no idea what was going to happen until the Vice Governor stepped in”.
Right there and then they held a meeting on the street, where they chose who would lead the committee and came up with a name for their cooperative: Creciendo Juntas (Growing Together, in English) to represent the struggle they had fought and their choice to self-manage.
“At that time there were 28 of us women who’d found ourselves without a job and source of income. Just 17 of us formed the cooperative – some of the women went to work elsewhere” continued Vega. “It was difficult back then, but now we have stable jobs. We manufacture some 3,700 shirts per month. We’re still making garments on clients’ requests, but we also have our own brand – Erría-Eguía – which means Rioja, land of bread, in Basque.
Thanks to strong integration, the cooperative is going from strength to strength. It’s now part of the Red Textil Cooperativa (RTC) (Cooperative Textile Network, in English) a national body made up of another 70 cooperatives. Together they recently held an outdoor event calling for public policy.
“Although we now have work, the textile industry is facing difficult times. People are affected by the lack of work, the increase in the cost of services, decreases in the price of products, and the lack of public policy from the provincial government”, adds Vega. “When the government opened its doors to imports, it affected the whole industry, not just cooperatives. This is something we’re fighting for together with the RTC, working together to face up to the authorities”.
Thanks to the pressure put on the authorities there have been some victories. They are still manufacturing overalls (worn by children at public schools in Argentina), and are in discussions with the Ministry of Defence about continuing to manufacture covers for bulletproof vests. They have also discussed how public policy can move forward. The dialogue continues.