The women of Brukman

In 2004, Big Noise Films released Tales of the Fourth World War based on footage taken from all around the world over a period of several years. The film spoke to a growing global movement to combat global capitalism’s exploitative ethos and return development back to the hands of the people. It was a powerful film but lacked a balanced representation of women’s efforts, including the women who started the Take Back movement in Argentina. (In fairness, I talked to Rowley about this when the film showed here, and he told me much of their footage had been taken or destroyed during a siege when they were filming – a shorter version of this story was also told before the film aired – and that much of Soohen’s footage was lost. He also graciously offered to come to my class on globalization the next day and speak about the film and the missing footage despite having an extremely packed schedule.)

In 2004 Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis released The Take. The film follows the struggle of Argentinians to reclaim their work, their economy, and their lives after the devistating impact of global capitalism and corporate greed that shutdown the nations largest global factories and emptied its largest banks in the dead of night. The film stands as a powerful reminder of what truly motivates global capitalism and how ordinary people cannot only exist but thrive with a people centered, communal run, version of development that stands decidedly counter to neo-liberalism. Unfortunately, the film only gives a few minutes to the women who started the movement choosing instead to focus on the struggle through the lens of a male worker and his family.

Isaac Isitan’s documentary, The Women of Brukman, corrects the narrative by finally focusing on the female factory workers that started the Take Back movement in Argentina. In 2001, the mostly female Brukman factory workers arrived to work and found that the Brukman’s had left in the middle of the night with the rest. They had paid no one before leaving, nor had they had time to take the equipment out of the factory, a story that would become all too familiar in Argentina. The workers, worked anyway. As they began to take over the factory completely, they discovered documents proving the Brukman’s had evaded taxes, underpaid workers, and exploited trade agreements; all common practices under global capitalism.

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The women factory workers made two subsequent decisions that would become the standard pattern of the Take Back movement: 1. to govern by consensus and 2. to split the profit evenly. By showing the rest of the garment district that they could not only run a collective enterprise but do so successfully even in the face of the economic collapse, they started a movement. 20,000 workers formed cooperatives over the next several years involving over 200 abandoned companies.

When Argentina started to bounce back, company owners, empowered by the return of Fujimori, started to demand their companies and their profits back. All though the back dues owed the government and the workers more than paid for the factory itself, the Brukman’s were among those entitled factory owners. Moreover, the attempted return to neo-liberalism made everyone in power agree that the women of Brukman needed to be made an example of for the rest of the movement. In 2002 and then again in 2003 the factory was locked, the entrance barricaded, and police in riot gear held the women at bay. In 2003, the police took a decidedly violent turn, turning hoses on protesters and shooting some of the workers. The women simply set up their sewing machines on the street and began working. For 8 months they continued to work in the street in what they called “resistance square” proving that not only could workers control the factory collective, they could thwart the factory owner’s and capitalist ideology by taking back control of their labor. It was a powerful message and a powerful image. The women got the factory back.

The Women of Brinkman documents this powerful struggle known to many who study these movements but seldom discussed outside of it. The film does assume that you know the history of Argentina’s collapse, so you may want to watch it after you’ve seen The Take or read some basic articles on the history. If you want a piece that expands the discussion beyond Argentina, but sadly fails to use a gender analysis, there is a fairly basic one in the Dispatches from Latin America anthology put out by Southend Press.

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