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81. Argentinean workers take destiny in own hands

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Coop Name: Cooperativa de Trabajo Unión Solidaria de Trabajadores (UST) N° of Employees: 8
City: Avellaneda N° of Members: 82
Country: Argentina Year of formation: 2003
About this coop:

Unión Solidaria de Trabajadores (Solidarity Gathering of Workers, or UST) became a worker cooperative in 2003 as the plant’s formerly state-contracted workers faced job flexibilization and dismissals. Formally, UST is involved in parks maintenance for the municipality of Avellaneda and the management of the large, state-run landfill located in the neighbourhoods Villa Domínico and Wilde. Since recuperating their plant and converting it into a worker cooperative, UST has adopted a strong social mission; it is involved in creating and supporting many other community-based cooperatives and initiatives, in the areas of sports, waste recycling, education, housing, media, banking, and health.

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UST is the story of how 34 workers turned the tables on Argentina’s largest multinational company. Techint may have been involved in more than 100 businesses around the world but the thorn in its side in the late 1990s was a business in its home patch, in a place called Villa Domínico, just south of Buenos Aires city. While strategies were nutted out in Buenos Aires’ boardrooms’ about how to get rid of its workers in this waste disposal business through retrenchment packages and early retirements, the reality was that the resulting bad publicity in Villa Domínico surrounding a waste disposal site had seen Techint decide to exit the business altogether. Not only did the workers it tried to dispose of revitalize the waste disposal business by creating a worker cooperative called UST, but they also succeeded in doing what Techint had been so reluctant to do and created an ecological green belt where the eyesore had previously been. In the process, they created new jobs while expanding their cooperative’’s business plans and starting many new community development projects. Meanwhile, in their new cooperative format the UST members stabilized its revenue through state contracts to manage waste. All of which saw UST able to push 25 per cent of its revenue back into projects like a high school, a community health clinic, a sports centre, a community bank, a waste recycling program and a multimedia centre -– themselves all cooperatives. ““We workers can take our destiny in our own hands”,” reads one of UST’’s promotional brochures. The softly-spoken UST leader Mario Barrios -– one of the original 34 UST members who now number 82 – sums up UST even more eloquently: ““For us it is satisfying to be able to say that we workers aren’’t only capable of managing ourselves, or administering our work, to have policies and procedures that are friendly to the environment, to do community work. That is, we aren’’t just thinking about making a profit.””

* Thank you to Euricse postdoctoral research fellow, Marcelo Vieta for assistance with this story.

* See UST in action at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJk08_SJCps

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: http://ica.coop/en/iycbook

Author of this story
Kate Askew
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