Thursday, June 11, 2009

Charlie abandoned his factory: Arrufat chocolate without a boss

We all know the childhood tale of Charley and the Chocolate Factory best
emulated in the psychedelic inspired 1971 film. Charley a poor, well intentioned boy wins the Willy Wonka chocolate factory in a stroke of good fortune - every child's fantasy and utopia. But would what happen if Charley grew older and greedy against the advice of Willy Wonka? If he ran the chocolate factory into ruins, throwing out the workers and closing up shop? And what if the oompa loompas would take over the plant to demand their unpaid salaries and severance pay? What if they would decide to start up production without Charley, collectively running the plant and relating to other worker occupied factories? Well, this alternate version of the childhood story is becoming a reality for workers in Argentina.

In Argentina, Charley did abandon his factory. But in this case, Charley is Diana Arrufat, heiress to the Arrufat chocolate factory in Buenos Aires. She closed the factory's doors on January 5, 2009. The workers, who are not the imagined oompa
loompa refugees in the film, but real workers decided to occupy the plant. And now the workers are producing deliciously sweet delicacies without the supervision and exploitive practices of Charley.

Factory closure

On January 5, the workers got the news that they were fired. Diana Arrufat left a poster on the gate of the factory to inform the workers they no longer had jobs. The 50 workers still employed hadn't been paid their salaries for much of 2008. "They fired us without having to look at our faces. They abandoned us," says Alberto Cavrico a worker who has worked at the plant for more than 20 years. That they same day they to open the factory gate and remain inside the factory.

Within hours owner went to the police accusing the workers for "usurpation" and trespassing of the plant. Meanwhile, she has been unwilling to meet with the workers and labor ministry to discuss how to normalize the situation.

Arrufat, founded in 1931 had been a national leader in chocolate. The family run business was finally inherited by the original owner's granddaughter, Diana Arrufat in the late 90's. Since she took over the company, the factory took a turn for the worse. Workers describe how the owner would cut corners sacrificing product quality - using hydrogenated oil instead of cocoa butter and imitation cocoa instead of the real beans imported from Ecuador or Brazil. In its heyday, when the company produced high quality chocolate, it employed more than 300 workers. By 2008, the chocolate manufacturer only had 66 employees.

Throughout 2008, the owner was not paying workers their full salary, with the promise that they would be paid at a later date. The workers sent a report to the labor ministry in May 2008 that the owner owed them nearly 6 months in back salaries, was emptying out the plant and hadn't paid the workers' retirement funds for 10 years. By the end of 2008, on Christmas Day the owners gave the workers 50 pesos (less than 20 dollars) and then five days before firing them paid them 50 pesos again on New Year's.

Many of the workers had heard about factory occupations but never thought that they would face a factory closure. "I never thought that I'd have to sleep inside the factory on top of a machine to defend my job post," says Marta Laurino, a stead fast woman with over 30 years working at the plant. Concluding that the owners weren't coming back, at least to open up shop again - the workers decided in an assembly to continue to occupy the plant and form a cooperative.

Chocolate without a boss

Just 30 days after occupying the plant, the workers of Arrufat had already formed a cooperative and sought out the advice from other occupied factories operating since the 2001 financial crisis. They have successfully begun producing, although sporadically because the electricity in the plant has been turned off since Diana Arrufat ran up a $15,000 dollar debt with the privatized electric company Edesur. And the electric company won't turn the lights back on until the debt is paid.

Meanwhile, the workers have invented alternatives in order to produce. For Easter, the cooperative produced more than 10,000 chocolate Easter eggs. They got a loan of $5,000 dollars from the NGO La Base that provides low interest loans to occupied factories and worker cooperatives. They used this money to rent an industrial generator and buy raw materials - cocoa beans, cocoa butter, liquor and sugar needed to make high-quality chocolate. They decided to re-open the store front on the side of the factory. The day that they started producing the government health inspector came to the plant, the same inspector's office which hadn't visited the factory in probably 20 years according to the workers. The police also came because the workers opened the store front.

All of the eggs were sold out of the factory's store front before the end of the Easter season. The workers were able to pay back the loan within a week, sell the entire stock of Easter eggs and each take home around $1,000, no small feat after not getting a full salary for more than a year. With the remaining capital, rented a generator and bought more raw materials.

During much of the occupation before getting the loan and afterward, the workers were producing small quantities of chocolate by hand, unable to use the machinery because the electricity was shut off. A neighbor, a niece of Diana Arrufat, let the workers connect an electric line that way they would at least have lights and a refrigerator in the factory. And in a small space, with a domestic freezer, the workers began producing small batches of bonbons, chocolate bars and chocolate covered delicacies.

Production has helped the workers transform their subjectivity, seeing that they have more power to fight against the owner, judges, private companies and police constantly throwing monkey wrenches at their dreams. "The worker occupied factories insisted that we get back to work giving us the advice that we won't gain anything by sitting around. They're right producing without a boss does change your outlook and ability to believe in yourself," said Marta Laurino.

Now the cooperative hopes that they can gain enough momentum in the market to continue production with regularity. But they are fighting an eviction notice, criminal charges and bureaucratic offices preventing them from accessing a tax number for their cooperative, which they consequentially need to get an account with the electric company. Looking at the business model other worker recuperated enterprises have established, the workers at Arrufat make all their decisions collectively in a weekly assembly. All workers are paid the same wage. And they want to continue to reinvent social relations inside the plant.

New wave of occupations

Arrufat isn't the only factory that has been occupied since the global recession crept up. Since late 2008 there have been several new factory takeovers in Argentina. For example, the owners of Indugraf printing press shut down operations in a similar manner to Arrufat in November 2008. The printing house workers in Buenos Aires occupied their plant on December 5, the same week that workers in Chicago decided to occupy the Republic and Windows Doors Plant - to demand severance pay and benefits after being abruptly fired. Currently, they are fighting to form a cooperative and start up production without a boss. Other occupations include Disco de Oro, a plant producing the pastry dough to make empanadas, a meat filled pastry common in Argentina. Febatex, a textile plant producing thread and Lidercar, a meat packing plant are two more examples of recent worker occupations. These workers have had to collectively fight violent eviction threats and are still struggling to start up production as worker cooperatives.

Many workers from the newly occupied factories say that their bosses saw the crisis as the perfect opportunity to clear their debts by closing up shop, fraudulently liquidate assets, fire workers and later re-start production under a new firm. This was the case in Arrufat, and seems to be a global trend with many companies hoping for a bailout plan to re-open shop.

All of these newly formed cooperatives have said that they were influenced and inspired by the previous experiences of worker self-management in the nation. "The other worker occupied factories bring us hope that we can win this fight," says Mirta Solis, a long time chocolatier. Essentially, the worker run BAUEN Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, has become the landing place or you could say launch pad for many of these factory takeovers. Workers, who decided to take over their plant, come to the BAUEN Hotel occupied since 2003 to get legal advice and political support.

FACTA or the Federation of Worker Self-managed Cooperatives has played an important role in supporting the cooperatives. FACTA, founded in 2007, is made up of more than 70 worker self-managed coops, many worker occupied others worker owned inspired by the recuperated enterprise phenomenon. FACTA's objective is to group cooperatives together so they can collectively negotiate institutional, political, legal and market challenges together; the idea being that 70 cooperative united can better negotiate with state representatives, institutional offices and other businesses. FACTA also brings identity. For Adrian Cerrano, from Arrufat FACTA's work has helped the new occupied factories to organize legally and as cooperatives. "We were occupying not knowing what to do and workers from the BAUEN, which forms part of FACTA and provided a lot of support. We decided to ask FACTA's lawyer to represent us legally."

Utopia tale

Arrufat is not yet a utopia, but at least workers are fulfilling the dream of fighting for their rights. "I worked at this factory for 25 years. I lost part of my body inside this factory because I lost my hand while working in this plant. This is what makes me make the sacrifices and work towards forming the cooperative and produce." They are setting an example for workers all around the world that through direct action and occupations they can prevent companies from using the crisis as an excuse to further exploit workers and make unnecessary cut-backs in hopes of getting a bailout plan. The government should support these experiences of worker-self-management, provide them with the same benefits and subsidies that capitalist business receive.

And if Charley, or any other boss, wants to leave his or her factory, let them! But the workers have the right to continue their work with dignity. "Maybe one day our story will be included in a chapter on the working class history that a group of workers occupy a plant and begin producing," said Adrian after lamenting the loss of his hand in the factory under capitalist supervision. And the occupied factories in Argentina are doing just that; writing a new chapter in working class history sending the message that workers can do what capitalists aren't interested in doing creating jobs and dignity for workers.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Argentina. She is currently writing a book on Worker Self-Management in Latin America forthcoming by AK Press. She can be reached at



tony said...

A Story To Inspire!direct action and occupations is the perfect answer & way Forward.
It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

SecondComingOfBast said...

This is what usually happens when there's no moderating influence to balance businesses legitimate interests and need for profit. They too often when successful become too powerful, and detrimental to the competitive drive that makes capitalism flourish.

In this case, they go from 300 employees making high quality chocolates to just under ninety poorly paid workers using inferior products as a means of cutting expenses just so the owners can rake in as much money as possible.

It goes beyond workers rights, it also involves cheating the public by providing an inferior product, probably at a much higher price than it is really worth, and touches on fair competition aspects as well. It wouldn't surprise me to learn they were using some chemical additive to heighten the addictive power of their chocolate.

Anonymous said...

Oh, please, PT. You can't be serious. No one ever "profitted" by cheating the public with an inferior product. A man who cheats another in a business transaction soon finds himself out of business. It's a one-shot trick that looses a man a customer for life.

Business' must follow business cycles and markets. High quality chocolate one day, mm's the next. 300 employee's during economic good times, 90 during recession/ depressions.

Demonizing capitalists, calling them greedy, etc. is counter-productive. China got it right. The '3 represents' and NOT labor uber alles.... THAT's the smart way to go.

SecondComingOfBast said...

FJ, I was taking the article at face value, and assuming the company has something of a monopoly on the chocolate making business in the region. Monopolies tend not to care as much as businesses with legitimate competition. They don't have to, or assume as much.

Evidently, if the article is right, they do use inferior ingredients in their products. This could be a means of broadening their customer base and offering products at an affordable price, I don't know.

They might well have a division that makes a superior quality chocolate at a higher price. We're only getting one side of the story here.

Still, you can't deny the predilection for blood lust against the competition that exists within the business world. That's fine to a point, but there needs to be a moderating influence, and sometimes unfortunately that has to be government. Who else can or will moderate it? I wish it didn't have to be that way, but that's the world we live in. I don't for one second condone the workers taking over the property and expropriating it, which is what this seems to be leading to.

Sometimes businesses have to be reined in and moderated for their own good, and more importantly for the good of an industry in general.

Can you imagine what it would have been like here if there had only been Ford, with a monopoly on the auto industry, with no Chrysler or GM as a competitive, and thus a moderating, influence?

Before long, there would be no other option, the government would have had to step in a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Government's create monopolies, not private enterprises.

ps - (after all, governments ARE monopolies, it's all they know)

Anonymous said...

好秘书 我爱皮肤 中国公文网be government. Who else can or will moderate it? I wish it didn't have to be that way, but that's the world we live in. I don't for one second condone the workers taking over

Nevin said...

Ren, Every time I want to make a meaningful comment, it's cluttered with loud mouth, right wing demagogues..... It feels cluttered...

I know, I will get a huge backlash for what I said.... but it doesn't take away from the truth!

Frank Partisan said...

Tony: Even Chicago had an occupation.

Pagan: The change in price and quality of the product, could have been tolerated by the workers, if they were receiving benefits and pay on schedule.

Capitalism can't be regulated. It's based on an unregulated economy. You can't regulate what you don't own.

Nevin: It used to be much worse. In the early days of this blog, there was exciting debate, that spread to other blogs. People are tiring.

My blog introduced me to people all over the world.

Anonymous: Should bosses have all the power?

FJ: There are millions of Chinese, who receive none of the benefits of the new wealth.

China's rapid industrialization took place, because of the foundation was set up, by however deformed, a socialist system. With capitalist industrial development comes a real working class, not a peasant/intellectual to eventually lead society.

Anonymous said...

FJ: There are millions of Chinese, who receive none of the benefits of the new wealth.

That still beats the hell out of having NO Chinese people with ANY wealth, which was the situation before the Chinese went capitalist.

The glass is always half empty w/you. Why is that?

Anonymous said...

Ren, Every time I want to make a meaningful comment, it's cluttered with loud mouth, right wing demagogues..... It feels cluttered...

Did I fart in your church? Sorry.

I'm not preventing you from making any comments, meaningful or otherwise. If your looking for uncritical acceptance of your comments, then perhaps NOT making them IS the better course... for you.

I thought that the Left supposedly LOVED critical theory, but I guess that only applies to the "other guy's" ideas.

Ducky's here said...

Government's create monopolies, not private enterprises.


Laiseez-faire, last man standing economics creates monopoly.

Read up on the Robber Barons, Farmer. Happened right here in good old capitalist America and we had to deal with it. Then came St. Ronnie Raygun and the bad old days.

Anonymous said...

LOL! And who granted the monopolies to the Robber Barons, mr. ducky?

And who grants "corporate charters" and thereby allows immortals to compete with mere mortals? Who grants and protects patents in the name of a wholly imaginary concept known as "intellectual property."

W/O government grants of and protection of monopolies and "intellectual property", capital could never accumulate sufficiently to create monopolies.

Frank Partisan said...

I will be unable to respond this weekend. Keep the comments coming.

FJ: Part of the job of the state, is to protect capitalism. It even protects capitalism from its excesses. It can play the role of breaking and building monopolies. In this period, Reaganism and liberalism like monopoly.

China is experiencing its first major capitalist crisis. The bigger story, is with an actual proletariat, there is less chance of a historical accident like Maoism to take hold. Maoism wasn't based on the proletariat.

The Chinese state, with its wealth, is taking away the safety net, like free healthcare.

Ducky: Both government and free enterprise create monopoly. Again the state at times protects capitalists from excess.

Nevin: Marie's post is quite good. We'll keep to it.

Anonymous said...

In this period, Reaganism and liberalism like monopoly.


jams o donnell said...

Fiar play to the workers. I hp[e they can make go of the business. They seem to have more interest than the previous owner

Larry Gambone said...

"And who grants "corporate charters" and thereby allows immortals to compete with mere mortals? Who grants and protects patents in the name of a wholly imaginary concept known as "intellectual property." "

FJ, for once we agree on something

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Nevin is right FJ and has been for some time. Take a look at every thread and see the damage that has been wrought and the people put off from contributing.

The Sentinel said...


Unlike FJ, you are completely off topic.

"the damage that has been wrought"

From free speech?!

"and the people put off from contributing."

By opposing opinions?! Bless those delicate flowers!

And you have enormous front even thinking you are in a position to condemn anyone making a rational and reasoned comment when your online conduct is in the gutter and includes such gems at these:

"Don't talk about your dead mom that way you subhuman c***"

"I'm sorry to hear your dad raped you."

"would you like me to rape you?"

And that is just one example of your online interactions. At least three others with identities on that blog were also clearly shocked at your level of depravity and asked you to stop and told you that you had ruined the blog, including the blog owner in a post, but you just carried on with your disgusting filth anyway.

So how would you the rate "the damage that has been wrought" with your disgraceful online conduct and the number of "the people put off from contributing" by it?

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...


My comment was in relation to what Nevin said, that seems on-topic enough.

As for the links you utilise, out of context may I add, they prove nothing.

You do not show what happened at the blog in questio, you do not show the torrent of abuse myself and the blog writer in question M@ were subjected to.

You just pick the elements out that suit your argument, which is what you do with pretty much everything.

I am free, as others are to share my feelings via the comments here, inspired by what Nevin wrote.

Simple as that.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

To repeat a comment I left here some time ago:


I don't comment here anymore...because of the people that frequent here.

I think that's a shame.

The atmosphere here is not good at all and the argument that to delete means getting rid of 'evidence' doesn't wash.

Oh well."

The Sentinel said...

I really do not understand how " Don't talk about your dead mom that way you subhuman c*** " could ever by taken out of context really - and I dont think any normal person could, in fact.

Or "I'm sorry to hear your dad raped you."

Or "would you like me to rape you?"

(And by the way I am the one covering this filth up with asterix's)

And like I said, this was just one example of your gutter behaviour and language.

After I very unfortunately became associated with you online, I received an enormous barrage of comments from many different ID's - as you well know - all focused on some pretty virulent hatred of you. In fact, it was far too much decency wise - not to mention far too legally precarious - to allow and so I was forced for the first time ever to delete comments and suspend comments temporally altogether. Pretty amazing stuff really.

And in fact, someone just sent me a link with your latest filthy online abuse campagin:

"Normal Bloke, your language, style and content make a wonderful snap shot of the subhuman c***s that make up the BNP."

And so on, to the point where even the blog owner Duncan (who, though I have found to be not fan of rational free speech does seem to have a high tolerance for foul abuse) obviously feels it has crossed the line and tells you:

"Let’s give it a rest shall we"

Yet another blog where you have been behind "the damage that has been wrought" and "the people put off from contributing"

Frank Partisan said...

Daniel: The discussion was under control.

Nevin was wrong for her attack, at a time when nothing was happening to merit an attack. The discussion was under control. You came and resurrected the diversion, and tried to bring the discussion to Nevin's blog.

I don't delete, because I don't want to feed the right's sense of victimhood. It would mean endless free speech diversions.

Sentinel: You weren't attacked. You should have stayed out of the conversation.

Jams: I agree.

FJ: Both liberals and conservatives have been lax on issues of corporate monopoly. You might find token examples here and there. Both sides feed from the same trough.