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Occupy, Resist, Produce!

Leticia Gavernet and David Whyte | 07.02.2008 09:44 | Free Spaces | Workers' Movements | World

When its owners abandoned the Junin Clinic in 2002, its workers occupied and reopened this community health centre in Cordoba, Argentina. They have been fighting ever since to provide affordable health care for all. As their struggle with the state and the private owners of the clinic continues into its 6th year, they are now appealing for messages of solidarity from supporters around the world.

A message from Junin Co-op, a recovered health clinic in Argentina run by workers without bosses

Junin Clinic is a health care centre in Cordoba, Argentina, that was taken into workers control after it was abandoned by its private owners in 2002. When the owners left, they left the local community without a health service and owed workers 11 months wages. Against incredible odds, the workers at the clinic have led a 6 year battle against the state and the former owners of the clinic to keep the service open.

The Junin Clinic is part of the Argentinian ‘workers without bosses’ movement. This movement emerged following the economic collapse in Argentina in 2001, which led to a large number of workplaces being abandoned by their owners. In some cases, workers joined together, and, using a strategy that became known as ‘occupy, resist, produce!’, they took their workplaces back into their own hands. At one time there were 240 ‘recovered’ companies in Argentina. 170 of those recovered companies survive today, including manufacturing plants, media outlets and a hotel.

After the clinic was abandoned, the workers occupied the clinic to protect the building and medical equipment being taken by asset-stripping owners and with the help of local people managed to re-open the service after a month. They petitioned the Ministry of Labour to demand the payment of salaries owed to them, collected money on the streets and organized demonstrations and rallies together with other sectors of the community, student groups, social movements, human rights organizations, left wing parties and trade unions.

In contrast with the previous employers who had enriched themselves by illegally refusing to pay workers and suppliers, the clinic is dedicated to the community. Its priority is to the poor population of the city. Privately owned clinics in Argentina can cost nearly 100 pesos (£40) per month, per person. Because most public clinics have been closed, this means that basic health care is often denied to those who need it the most. The Junin Clinic makes a symbolic charge of 15 pesos (£2) per family group (using a broad concept of the family that includes people that live in the same house, student groups and gay couples) to maintain the structure of the clinic and a basic salary for them. Just as in each of Argentina’s recovered companies, and money collected by the Junin Clinic returns to the co-op. If possible, the surpluses are re-distributed to allow workers to live with dignity. The rest are re-invested in the co-op and in health services. In this way, a genuine equal distribution of income is achieved.

There are currently 25 workers in the co-op (20 women and 5 men), all of whom worked at the private clinic when it was in private ownership. All the members of the cooperative earn the same salary and use a system of job rotation where they continually learn new roles. All decisions about the management and organisation of the clinic are made in democratic assemblies. They are determined to keep the building under their control, and if they lose this right, to fight for it to pass to public ownership rather than fall into private hands again. They have experienced the brutality of neo-liberalism at first hand and the gross inequalities created by for-profit health care and will fight to resist the clinic returning to private hands.

When their struggle to keep the clinic open began, the workers decided to present a case to the criminal courts. They charged the owners with illegally stripping assets, irregularities in the sale of the building and fraud. Several doctors at the clinic supported their allegations. Frequent changes in the state prosecution team meant that the case was paralyzed for almost 2 years. In 2007 the case was put in the hands of the new prosecutor and the case against the owners for fraud is ongoing. The Junin co-op also claims legal protection because of a decision taken in the Argentinian Parliament. In 2007, 57 members of parliament voted to amend the law of expropriation to allow rights to workers occupying premises that have been abandoned by their owners. The reforms protected the co-op from eviction and gave it two years to buy the building, though this still needs to be confirmed by an order of the parliament. When this confirmation is received, the cost of the building will be set at 3 and a half million pesos (or £500,000). With this order, the co-op will be able to apply to the health authority for accreditation. If the co-op cannot raise the money, it may still be evicted because of a civil claim by a ‘ghost enterprise’ that cynically took advantage of the complex legal situation and bought the clinic’s building. Those “owners” have applied to the courts for eviction of the workers. The co-op is also fighting this case.

The Junin co-op continues to rely on the solidarity of local people to support their fight for the right of all people to health care regardless of their ability to pay. The co-op does not expect the state to provide the solution anymore because the state supports a neo-liberal economic system that allows the right to profit to win over the right to healthy living. They are requesting that everyone who reads this to pledge their support for the Junin Clinic and all of the recovered workplaces all over the world so that they can resist and present a realistic alternative to neo-liberalism.

February 2008

Until they receive confirmation of their right to buy the building, the Junin co-op is not appealing for money. But they are asking that you send a message of solidarity to them so that they know they have support of people all over the world. Please send your messages (individually or from organisations) to the following addresses:

The co-op welcomes any questions you have about their organisation and their struggle. There is also a DVD film about the Junin Clinic that they will send to you on request.

Leticia Gavernet and David Whyte
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