Workers from a bankrupt Greek factory are refusing to join the swelling ranks of the unemployed, who now make up 28 per cent of the population.
Employees at Vio.Me, a former construction materials factory, took control of their workplace in late 2011. Inspired by the self-managed factories movement that flourished in crisis-hit Argentina back in 2001, their action followed a prolonged industrial dispute after the owner withheld wages and filed for bankruptcy.
‘All decisions are taken by a weekly general assembly,’ explains Makis Anagnostou, Vio.Me union chair and worker. ‘That means everything from the division of labour to distribution of wages, and the direction of our political struggle.’
Greek industrial production recorded its steepest decline in 16 months last July. But bolstered by community support, workers reopened the factory and re-started production in February 2013.
Denied legal recognition, Vio.Me cannot yet trade commercially. Distribution is instead confined to non-official solidarity channels, which ensures a small yet sufficient income to support the workers and their families.
But they are not out of the woods yet. Along with legal uncertainty, debts accrued by the former owner may result in electricity supplies being cut off, jeopardizing production.
Community activist Theodoros K warns that there are rumours that the state wants to sell off the assets of the bankrupt parent company, paving the way for an eviction of Vio.Me.
In an industrial estate of boarded-up factories, Anagnostou sits amid machinery with his peers and speaks of their commitment to defending livelihoods and transforming social and workplace relations. ‘You’re on the edge of a cliff,’ he says. ‘You either have to jump to the other side or you fall down. This is a process of personal revolution.’ n