12 May 2016
Cooperative Puerto Sauce is a business which has been brought back from the brink. The textile business is a major employer in the small Uruguayan town of Juan Lacaze in the Colonia region. It recently took out a loan from the Development Fund Fondos, a state-run entity in Uruguay created to assist with manufacturing projects managed by the workers themselves. The factory will receive an initial sum of 600,000 dollars and the remainder, more than a million, will be handed over when the factory achieves the stages and goals set out by the project.
Made up of 100 workers, the members of Textil Puerto Sauce brought the business back to life in 2014 to begin production. The factory produces card cloth, scarves, thread, and blankets. Now producing some 29,000 metres of fabric per month, they hope to reach 35,000 metres in order for production to reach sustainable levels. “Our main goal is to work together to remedy the weaknesses we have. We have faith that the textile industry can be profitable”, says Johnny Solahegui, president of the cooperative. “We’re not just looking for a business we can retire from, we want a business we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. To give them the certainty of having work, even if there are only 100 jobs now”, he adds.
The town’s history
Juan Lacaze has just 14,000 inhabitants. Historically the town has always had a strong industrial element, mainly thanks to its two large factories: FANAPEL (1898) and Campomar (1906), paper and textile manufacturers respectively. The two factories were major employers for the people living in the community.
In 1993 more than one thousand people were left without jobs when the Campomar factory closed down. But the following year, thanks to the Corporación Nacional para el Desarrollo (National Corporation for Development, in English) it reopened and was renamed Agolan. Twenty years later, at the same time as FANAPEL was also facing difficulties with the loss of one hundred jobs, Agolan went bankrupt and suddenly closed down.
After this new closure, the textile syndicate put forward a proposal to restructure the business as a cooperative and bring the factory back. For over a year the textile workers in Lacaze survived on meagre and ever-reducing salaries. After a never-ending number of negotiations backwards and forwards between Juan Lacaze and Montevideo, and the textile managers and different public authorities – some of them heated – the cooperative began to take shape. The Lacaze workers had one goal in mind: to take back the work that they and their ancestors had developed throughout the history of the town, make it a viable business once again, and be able to pass on the business to future generations.
Mariana Castro, leader of the cooperative, sees Textil Puerto Sauce’s main goal as giving employment to the people. But she also sees the challenges posed by going for the option of self-management. “In Juan Lacaze we face barriers. We’re a manufacturing town, what we know about is how to turn up to work, work an 8 hour day as before, with the boss in charge… But now we have to change our mind set, make concerted efforts to take on challenges seriously. If not we may as well not have worked for a year and a half for next to nothing”.
For Castro the project presents an opportunity to pass on a real legacy to the people of Juan Lacaze. “We are textiles. I worked at Campomar for ten years, and it closed down out of the blue. A little more than a year later Agolan opened, but in 2013 it too closed down suddenly. It was a major blow. So a group of us workers, together with the Agolan syndicate, decided we’d look into forming a cooperative. The town is built around the factory. What we’re trying to do is make sure it stays alive and that the factory can go back to the way it was all those years ago.”