BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - The ear-pounding noise at the metal piping plant that Roberto Salcedo runs might as well be a symphony to the more than 80 employee-owners here.
That is because business is booming as Argentina is about to get its sixth president in the past 18 months and the country creeps out of a five-year economic slump.
Salcedo and others at the plant believe they have found a solution to the nation's economic turmoil: worker-owned businesses.
In August 2000, the owners of the factory closed it and declared bankruptcy. After a court fight, a workers cooperative took over the business in January 2001. The workers have doubled production of their main product, copper pipes, and earn more than they did before.
Across Argentina, there are roughly 100 "cooperatives" where workers have taken over failed companies. This has kept more than 10,000 people working, according to estimates.
Analysts say the cooperative model is an example of how self-reliance has grown in Argentina as ordinary citizens have lost faith in the traditional political leadership. This could be a challenge for the country's new president, center-left Peronist Nestor Kirchner, whose inauguration is today.
Kirchner, 53, the former governor of an oil-rich Patagonian province, inherits a nation that is on the mend economically. The Argentine economy could grow by as much as 4 percent by the end of this year, although that would be only a small repair: Business activities contracted by 11 percent last year.
In the cooperative's first year of operation, Argentina's last elected president, Fernando de la Rua, was forced from office in December 2001 by riots provoked by the nation's economic crisis. Soon afterward, the country defaulted on most of its $141 billion public debt and sharply devalued its currency.
During that turmoil, the cooperative was in gear.
Winning control of the factory by using a legal loophole - the law of expropriation - workers had been granted two years to get it up and running as well as to pay for the building and the machines.
Salcedo, president of the Union and Force cooperative, remembered the early struggles.
"The first months were difficult," he said. "All of the people who stayed were workers, not management, so the other areas of the business, like sales and administration, were all new for us.
"But we learned, and we began to see the factory growing, and our salaries grew as well."
By first working for little or no money, the cooperative's workers were able to boost production to 24 hours a day, six days a week. Salaries rose from about $178 a month to $714 today. As a rule, everyone earns the same pay.
"This movement has shown that workers can participate in their own destiny, their own future. This movement was created autonomously without the government or other institutions. This is the way things will be in the future," said Luis A. Caro, a lawyer from a group that represents about 80 factories called the National Movement of Recuperated Factories.
"For us, the change that occurred in these factories is like a revolution," he said.
Some in Argentina's leadership believe the occupied factories are a way the nation can rebuild itself without much cost to the government.
Others see the factories as a sharp turn to the left for one of Latin America's most important democracies. They worry about issues such as private property rights and the demands of a reinvigorated electorate in the future.
The disenchantment of voters could spell problems for the new government.
Graciela Romer, a leading pollster and political analyst in Buenos Aires, said that the recent election produced "candidates that are garnering some of the lowest expectations in Argentine history."
Leftist parties, which have supported the street-blocking protests of unemployed workers and have balked at a decade of U.S.-style free-market reforms, were quick to embrace the concept of the workers cooperatives.
About 1 in 5 adults is out of work in the country.
The factory takeovers also have a mixed track record. Court cases are raging between workers and owners, with the Brukman textile factory in Buenos Aires being one example.
Dozens of employees who occupied and operated the facility after the owners shut it down in late 2001 are camped out at a square a half-block away. Police evicted the workers last month because the owners wanted the garment factory back.
Legal experts say the Brukman workers were evicted because they had not taken the steps to have the factory's ownership transferred to them.
Huddled on a recent day in a chilly rain and boiling a pot of soup, the garment workers took shifts camping out in tents near the facility and said they would not give up.
"We will fight because we have a right to work," said Alba Sotelo, 47. "We hope the new president will make things different, but we won't go. We belong here."
Patrice M. Jones is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.