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The Hard Road From Successful Strike To Successful Cooperative

Aparejos Electricos: from Strike to Cooperative We visited Aparejos Electricos on March 18, 2000, in a bustling northern suburb of the giant megalopolis of Mexico City. It is a machine shop that makes other machines. The twenty-eight members of the co-op have been working together for many years, first as a traditional capitalist firm and subsequently for the last four years as a co-op. When we arrived, the head of production, Luis Felipe Gomez, showed us around. We spent an hour touring the huge machine shop; as we walked around listening to Luis explain all the different machines, bit by bit we were joined by other members of the co-op. They joined in explaining details to us and also mentioned that as a co-op they had reduced production time for a hoist from seven weeks to just two weeks-a remarkable accomplishment which attests to the higher productivity of cooperative labor. We looked at the recently constructed squash court, and then proceeded to the office. There about ten of the co-op members and ourselves spent two hours discussing the history of Aparejos Electricos, the advantages and disadvantages of co-ops, specific problems such as regaining clients after a three-year long strike, the problem of having the confidence to run a business without a ˝manager,ţ and others. Though sheer necessity compelled them to become a co-op-they previously had no social change agenda to become one -they were proud of their success and derived fulfillment from being in control of their work life. Jesus Rojas, a labor lawyer and de facto manager of Aparejos Electricos, wrote the following description. [Note by Bob Stone and Betsy Bowman.]

Aparejos Electricos is a cooperative dedicated to the production of overhead hoists and cranes using technology developed by the American firm, P&H. The cooperative was launched at the end of July, 1996 as a result of a strike that had lasted more than three years. After the boss closed the shop, the government authorities awarded us the factory as a form of compensation for the violation of our labor rights. This fact left us with few alternatives, given the following circumstances:

  • we were extremely demoralized, skeptical, and above all, burdened with many debts as a consequence of the long strike;

  • the majority of the machines handed over to us had been in use for more than 25 years, and had no market value;

  • we also had to confront our leaders and union representatives1, who were only interested in benefitting themselves;

We decided to pursue two paths: we would sell the machinery, while at the same time continue to work with the existing raw materials, taking advantage of our 25 years of experience. But first we had to face the fact that nobody had any training in how to run a business. An additional, and severe, problem was that, since the factory had been closed for more than three years, we had lost the better part of our clients, who had naturally sought out other suppliers.

During this process we realized that the majority of our competitors were engineers who had worked at our firm. Once they had learned the business they quit and set up their own firms, offering the same product at a ridiculously low price. We also learned during this time that the bosses unite when they confront the workers, spreading the word-and unfortunately we═ve contributed our two cents here as well-that cooperatives are synonomous with internal conflicts, problems of tardiness, and a lack of professionalism, insecurity, poor quality, etc.

Because we could never sell the machinery, we were in a sense forced to develop the cooperative as the only economic alternative for our families, and if we wanted to stay in the market, we would first have to overcome the difficulties just described. This is the struggle we have begun. (To be continued....; Jesus Rojas and the Aparejos co-op can be reached at: Aparejos@data.net.mx )

1. All unions in Mexico (with a few exceptions) are so intertwined with Mexico═s ruling political party, the PRI, that they long ago ceased to represent the interests of the workers. On the contrary, the union leadership makes the union into the ideal instrument for applying the Mexican government═s policies which are designed by the IMF and which contravene the workers═ interests. Furthermore, the union bureaucracy itself, like the government bureaucracy in general, is a great source of graft and corruption.

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