5 Factories provides a penetrating look at the Bolivarian socio-economic project designed to challenge the dominant neo-liberal development model. Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, the Venezuelan government has implemented reforms to transform the nation into what Chavez and his supporters refer to as a form of democratic socialism. As a component of this economic transformation, the government has supported co-ownership initiatives in which workers' councils play a key role in company management. 5 Factories provides a unique perspective on the Bolivarian experiment, examining the successes and challenges of five companies rejecting traditional ideas of industrial management.
5 Factories takes the viewer inside factories producing aluminum, paper, cocoa, tomato sauce, and cotton. These factories, many of which had been driven into bankruptcy by their former owners, have been transformed into cooperative partnerships between the workers and the state in co-management arrangements. In many cases, the Chavez government nationalized the companies and provided the workers with loans to purchase them in this co-managent arrangement with the government. According to these agreements, the state will increasingly rescind control as the debt is repaid. State officials explain that, while the state is involved in the process, the goal is not to create a Soviet-style system, where the state owns the means of production. Such a system, it is pointed out, is not socialism at all, but rather state-capitalism, an altogether different project from that being created in Venezuela.
Internally, the companies' decision-making structures are characterized by a lack of hierarchy. Teams of managers are elected by the workers and, in all cases, the work is organized from the bottom-up rather than top-down by management. In one example, the Alcasa aluminum factory workers develop budgets and elect managers and departmental delegates who work together on production issues. We hear from numerous officials and regular workers who stress the importance of including workers and the rest of society in the current process of social transformation. An important component involves integrating the different economic sectors so that they work cooperatively, maximizing benefits to society. Officials point out how, in the past, the agricultural sector was oriented towards the more profitable export markets. The new paradigm, however, links the country's agricultural and productive sectors to create higher value-added products for local consumption.
One official discusses how the success of such a revolutionary project requires completely re-conceptualizing workers' roles and their relationship to their work and to society. Workers echo the goal of designing companies to serve the community, pointing out how they have created company dining halls and health clinics that are open to the poor children of the community. Officials concede, however, that many challenges lie ahead for the Bolivarian experiment. Carlos Lanz, director of the state-owned Alcasa factory, explains that perhaps the largest challenge is determining how to move towards democratic socialism within a capitalist framework. Noting that the capitalist structure rests on individual gain, a worker explains how the new system must be based on the belief that production should serve the needs of all members of society. 5 Factories serves as a valuable instructional tool for generating discussions on the viability of alternatives to the current neo-liberal orthodoxy, as well as the political and economic trends sweeping through Latin America.
"The movie is artfully shot and poses important questions about the position of labor in capitalist society." - San Francisco Chronicle "A rare glimpse at the development of a new labor movement in contemporary Venezuela. It puts to rest the idea of people simply following the dictate of a popular leader and instead demonstrates how workers are creatively pursuing new strategies and charting their own destiny." - Miguel Tinker Salas, Pomona College
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