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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

How to Seize the Means

In May of 2011, the seventy workers of Vio.Me stopped getting paid. Like many Greek capitalists, the long-absentee owner of this industrial chemical manufacturer faced financial ruin, and would soon file for bankruptcy. As such, the plant was abandoned. There would be no more jobs there, and the machines would soon be taken out and sold. For the people working in this plant, this was an especially frightening prospect. With unemployment skyrocketing and cuts to social services, pensions, and the like looming, these mostly middle-aged workers would be ejected into a bleak economy, and they knew it. Makis Anagnostou, a worker there, describes the conundrum they faced: “there was no chance of finding work outside . . . [but] abandoning our current situation and entering another was not possible.”

Rather than accept an impossible situation, the unionized workers chose to fight. After months of deliberation, the union came together, and 97 percent of the workers voted to occupy the factory. Like many sit-down strikes before it, the workers stayed inside the factory around the clock, preventing the machinery from being sold off. Their goal was to force the owner to deliver the 1.5 million euros owed in salaries and compensation.

Contracts and negotiations, however, weren’t forthcoming. The owner still either could not or would not deliver the workers’ stolen pay. The struggle had to take another form. In July of 2012, the striking workers declared a new intention: to restart production in the occupied factory, now under their control. There would be no more bosses; instead, the workers would collectively own and manage their workplace. Outreach to activists, trade unions, and the surrounding community began right away. Reopening would require redefining everything about their work, something they could only do with a broad base of support. After months of organizing and a massive benefit concert, they were finally ready to start business. On February 12, 2013, they formally reopened the factory and began production.

Read the rest at Commune


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