Workers’ self-management only solution: interview with spokesperson for Vio.me occupation

Posted: March 5, 2013 by Admin in At the coalface, capitalist crisis, Class Matters, Economics, Europe, Events, Greece, Internationalism, Occupying workplaces, Poverty & Inequality, Unemployment, Workers history, Workers' rights

We were recently able to interview Makis Anagnostou, the workers’ union spokesperson at the Vio.me factory in Thessaloniki.  The factory is currently under occupation and being run by the workers themselves.  Particular thanks are due to Teo of the Solidarity Initiative in Thessaloniki for organising the interview, translating into Greek and back into English.  At the time Teo was working on four different interviews, which makes his assistance doubly-appreciated and also shows the level of interest in this occupation.

The audio file for the interview is here: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/3243534/3Philip.mp3.

Philip Ferguson: In New Zealand, we get the impression that the economic crisis is very intense, but there’s not a lot of coverage of it.  Could you tell us about how the crisis has impacted on people, especially workers, in Greece?

Makis Anagnostou: In the economic sense great parts of the Greek society and particularly the workers are pushed towards impoverishment. According to official statistics more than 40% below the poverty line, these are only official statistics and we think the numbers are higher than that since many people are too proud to ask for help or to get registered in some institution. But apart from being affected economically people are very much affected morally and they are obliged to stay within their home and not get out and to try to change things or make the situation known to the rest of the people. So this is the worst part of the crisis – that society is not really reacting to the crisis. Of course, there are some encouraging initiatives coming from the social movements and we hope that these become extended and we are always trying for the best.

PF: We understand that the owner of Vio.me simply stopped paying you and stopped running the factory.  Could you tell us about the sequence of events and the impact on the workers in the factory?

MA: Vio.me was a part of a group of companies that had financial difficulties. They belonged to the same owners and the trade unions always wanted the three companies to become independent from each other, but the owners for sentimental reasons or their own reasons, we don’t know what they are, they insisted on keeping the three companies together. The parent company had financial difficulties and while the two other companies were profitable, they had no problems, the downfall of the parent company dragged them along. The consequences for the workers were enormous. For a long time the workers and their families were enormous. For a long time they were deprived of the most basic things like food and they were pushed to a situation of extreme impoverishment up to the point that great psychological problems were generated to the workers as wetland this was probably the turning point when we as the union realized there are some people among us who have great psychological problems and might even come to the extreme of taking their own lives we realized that we cannot sit around demanding our wages we must do something more radical about it. That was when we took the decision to take production into our own hands. And that was when we announced this decision to the rest of society.

So a huge solidarity wave was generated after this announcement which gave us all the encouragement and gave us the moral and political support that allowed us to proceed to self-management.

PF: How did the decision to occupy come about?  What made you choose to occupy and continue production rather than some other course of action?

MA: There is no other course of action. The only alternative we have to self-management is unemployment and isolation. And we don’t want unemployment and we don’t want isolation and that was why we decided to proceed to self-management. Of course this is not something that came out of the blue, this has a history and this goes back to when the factory shut down and we had our general assemblies and started communicating with each other and doing a synthesis of all the opinions that were expressed in the Assemblies. So we were holding assemblies every day for a long time and we were taking more and more mature decisions through the Assemblies. This is where the idea of self-management first came about and after a while we realized that the vast majority of the workers agreed with this decision. This is how we found the courage to shout our by now very well-known motto: If you cannot do it, we can!

PF: How do you go about running the factory under workers’ control?

MA: In the organization part: all the decisions are taken by the general assembly of the workers. From the decisions like which sort of raw materials we will buy up to the type of products we will produce. All powers belong to the general assembly, there is no one who is above the general assembly and some people that have elected positions within the trade union are simply delegates of the assembly they are spokespersons and they don’t have any authority. Of course there are some problems along this way. It’s a slow process because you cannot go from one day to the next to a situation of just receiving and firing out orders to having full responsibility for all your actions. This is a problem that takes some time. We also have other practical problems. We lack raw materials and we also lack energy, for example now we only have electricity and we don’t have gas connected in our factory.

PF: How have you found markets for what you produce?

MA: Not only we have found a market, but right now there are several clients that are waiting for us to able to produce and be able to sell, however there are several obstacles for example we lack a few raw materials that are essential for starting the production currently just putting into auction the products that were already in the company’s stock which we have legally through legal battles we have confiscated. It is a long process but it is a necessary one because first we have to empty all the warehouses and we also have to liquidate to turn all this stock, product, into money which is going to allow us to come into production. So it is a slow but necessary process right we are going through right now.

PF: We’re aware that there have been huge demonstrations and a number of general strikes, but the austerity measures continue.  Has there been any wider motion towards worker occupations and the formation of an alternative economic model at the level of local factories, other workplaces and communities?  In other words, forms of dual power.

MA: There have been proposals in other factories of course there are huge differences among all the factories. We stay in touch with all our colleagues in factories that are in similar situations with ours and we always try to promote this sort of plan, this sort of decision. However, things within the factory, within the industrial sector things are lagging behind a bit. Very important proposals  for self-management within society, within the communities, where there are proposals for alternative forms for commerce for moneyless exchange ,as well as other forms of alternatives economies like the movement for cutting out the middle man and the money-less exchange where they exchange products  for services without the mediation of money of course we would like see all these projects and initiatives extended wide inside the society and also among factories. We also think that this moneyless exchange can be extended to the factories as well. We could have up to 15% of our activity in moneyless exchange among factories. That could be for example food or shoes or clothes – products that are necessary for the workers – but of course we would also have to do traditional commerce since we live under capitalism at some point we can overcome capitalism and do a different kind of commerce.

PF: The neo-fascist Golden Dawn seems, from afar, to have been making a play for support in working class and poor areas.  How much of a problem are they for workers?  What are the best ways of dealing with their attempts to let the system off the hook by scapegoating people like migrant workers?

MA: We don’t say what the best way is.  We are not a political organization and we cannot do a theoretical analysis; we are a workers’ union and we can tell you how we are dealing with it. We made a decision of the general assembly that we are going to exclude completely the Golden Dawn from our struggle and we don’t want anything to do with them, even if they bring us food and they show us solidarity or they bring us money. What we are saying also is that the best thing for bourgeois society to do would be to support this fascist Golden Dawn because this would be the end of both the bourgeois society and the Golden Dawn. Of course we should realize that the immigrants are workers just like us and there should be no discrimination against the immigrants. Actually there are many immigrant workers within our trade union and we think if all people realized there are no difference between the workers of different countries then Golden Dawn will have no reason to exist. We have said before that Golden Dawn are just trying to overcome their own ugliness that is why the try to present immigrants as ugly to the rest of society.

PF: What attitude did the workers at Vio.me have towards the last elections?  Have parties like Syriza been supportive of the occupation and running of Vio.me under workers’ control?

MA: Before the factory shut down there were voters of the whole political spectrum within the factory from right-wing to extra-parliamentary left or even anarchists. After the factory shut down in the last elections what happened was that the two major political parties, the socialist and the right wing party, were excluded by the workers, so the most right-wing party we have in the factory is Syriza. As for Syriza, only recently they have declared their support for our struggle and they have declared that they are going to do whatever they can to convince the government to allow us to operate as a workers’ cooperative and even bring in a law on self-management in the Greek parliament. Of course, only recently have they made up their minds to support our struggle. We have asked them several times in the past, so we have no guarantee that they are going to keep on supporting our struggle in the future. In a sense, they are unstable and unpredictable and, anyway, we don’t want to get connected to just one political party. Our aim is to make a wide social alliance in favour of this struggle and we want our solidarity movement to be multilateral and diverse and not just being connected to one political party.

PF: How do you see the prospects for the working class in Greece in the immediate future? 

MA: We are certain that there will be strong reactions in the future because we know that there will be more wage and pension cuts and there will be stronger taxation from the government so we expect to see workers’ reaction however we don’t know to which direction their reaction will be. Of course, ourselves, we believe in a different world, so we have much more radical ideas about things and we are going to push the situation towards a different direction but we don’t know if we have enough strength to make it a reality.

PF: How can workers in other countries best support what you are doing at Vio.me?

MA: People keep asking us this question. I think that the best way to support the Vio.me right now is to put pressure on the political system not only in Greece but also abroad in order to leave the workers alone and not put obstacles in their decision to self-management. So what you have to do is apply pressure, not only the workers organizations but also the social organizations, the cultural organizations, everyone who is in favour of self-management should make a broad front that is going to apply pressure to the political system in order to take the obstacles away from the self-organization of the workers and of society in Greece, but also abroad. There is also of course a part of the moral and political support to Vio.me as well and I think that we should also always stand behind other peoples struggles and co-sign their declarations and documents. We know for example that we need one million signatures at a European level in order for a law proposal to be discussed by the European Commission so this is another way to put self-management on the public agenda. As for direct material support and support to the Vio.me struggle right now we welcome anyone who wants to send us a solidarity message through our website vio.me.org. Also, we have an international fundraising campaign for immediate economic needs of our factory and of our struggle.

Earlier coverage on Redline of the occupation: the background is here; the story of the first day of running the factory under workers’ control and management is here.

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  1. […] and a range of our other workers’ and union stories, like the factory occupation in Thessaloniki, regularly get picked up by Resistance! Philly, which is a network of union, political and […]

  2. […] in New Zealand operate, see here.  Our interview with a Vio.me workers’ spokesperson is here.  Background articles are here and here.  A video on the occupation is […]