In this interview, two representatives of the recovered and self-managed factory in Thessaloniki share the story of their struggle for workers’ control.
For the latest Global Uprisings documentary on Vio.Me, click here.
Between 2001 and ’03, in crisis-stricken Argentina, more than 200 factories and other businesses were occupied by their workers and self-managed as worker-run cooperatives — a truly historical explosion of working-class resistance recounted, among others, in Benjamin Dangl’s book Dancing with Dynamite and depicted in Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’ documentary La Toma (The Take). Word of the occupied and worker-run factories travelled around the world and, more than ten years later, in another corner of the globe, yet another financial crisis opened the windows of imagination to a different world full of radical democratic possibilities.
Inspired by the Argentinian experience and after two years of being unpaid, the employees of Vio.Me in Thessaloniki — a company that produces high-quality building materials such as mortars, plasters, tile-adhesive paste, jointing materials, waterproof grouts, and so on — decided to occupy the factory in which they were working and continue production under worker self-management, on a direct democratic basis of total equality and without any bosses. Apart from Argentina, the workers at Vio.Me also drew inspiration from past historical experience in their own country, like the agricultural cooperatives that created so-called “free zones” within Ottoman rule.
Now, the workers of Vio.Me themselves are, on their own turn, trying to create a new sort of free zone: a “crack” in capitalism. In this particular crack, “the means of production pass into the hands of those producing the wealth” and decisions are taken horizontally and democratically. This is a crack in which the ultimate decision-making structure is the assembly and the salary is equal for all, at all levels. Officially, Vio.Me still has a vertical structure, with a president and vice-president, but that’s only for administrative reasons, because Greek law requires such a statute. “But if one of us calls the other ‘President’ or ‘Vice-President’,” the workers tell us, “we call them names!”
Without bosses? Without bosses! It’s “one man, one share,” we are told, “because the share means no more than the right to vote, and we say ‘no worker who is not a shareholder, and no shareholder who is not a worker’”. Ambitious, certainly, but it can be done, they say. Vio.Me is at the forefront of the global working class movement — and they know it. Yet it does not scare them. The government knows it too, and so far they’ve been trying to weaken them through divide-and-rule tactics, offering the workers jobs elsewhere. In order for the VioMe workers’ experiment to be successful and not to be crushed, they need us to stand by their side! And they explain how.
In today’s Greece, there’s no legal framework that would allow genuinely worker-run initiatives to operate. The workers of Vio.Me are asking for the solidarity of national and international civil society in order to force the Greek government to provide such a legal framework. Not only for Vio.Me, but for all the abandoned factories whose workers might want to decide to self-manage them. “Para todos todo, nada para nosotros” as the Zapatistas — another source of inspiration for the Vio.Me workers — would say. Pre-agreements of cooperation with whoever would be interested to cooperate with Vio.Me once its production is legalized are also more than welcome — from Greece or abroad: “That will help us influence them … because we will prove them that even within capitalism we can survive.”
I met Makis Anagnostou and Christos Manoukas — representatives of the VioMe workers’ assembly and the Viome Solidarity Initiative, respectively — in Florence, Italy, where they had come to talk about their experience, hosted by Collettivo Prezzemolo, as part of the Vio.Me solidarity caravan that brought them to Italy, where they spoke in Rome, Bologna, Milano, and Senigallia among other places. Here you will find a transcript of the interview, in which Makis and Christos talk about the stage at which the struggle of Vio.Me workers currently finds itself; the main source of inspiration for the workers; their relationship with the occupied factories in Argentina; and many other issues.
[M] Makis Anagnostou, Representative of the VioMe Workers’ Assembly
[CH] Christos Manoukas, Representative of the VioMe Solidarity Initiative
[–] Leonidas Oikonomakis, ROAR Magazine
– So, at what stage are you now?
[Μ] At this stage we are at the first step we had announced: we have selected the products to be auctioned, and on the 22nd [of May] we’ll have the first auction. Of course we have conducted our research for the new products we were talking about before, for the low-cost production. These are natural cleaning products and will be distributed through movement processes, as well as through the exchange economy.
In the third phase [our target] is to have our operating license to pass into linear production. Now in this phase a problem we have to overcome is — first of all — to start this network for the new products, to have political backing, to have political support from all over in order for the Greek state to be under pressure and to move on a bit faster at least, and we are looking for these things the companies create amongst themselves: the businesses that, in case we open up, we will be buying from.
These are not obligatory steps — you just take them in order to create, as capitalism calls it, a business plan to prove that this is a sustainable initiative, and to obtain the relevant licenses you need to operate. These are what we are mostly dealing with at the moment; things that are at a different frame from ours but at this stage they are necessary in order to persuade them that we can operate the factory.
– I’ve read in your texts, but I have also heard you in your speeches, referring to the Argentinian example, where there used to exist more than 200 occupied factories and businesses, some of which are still around, ranging from ceramics to hotels. How can it be possible that an example from a country at the other end of the world finds resonance in Greece — and also ten years later?
[Μ] Look, when we got the idea to start operating the factory ourselves, to do something as workers — knowing that there was no chance of finding work outside, that abandoning our current situation and entering another was not possible — we gathered in the assembly and said that the only thing we can do is to operate it ourselves. And immediately we thought of … not Argentina to be honest. We thought of other situations.
There used to exist in Greece a culture — a long time ago, of course, and now it has been deleted from history — of cooperatives operating under Ottoman Rule. There were many cooperatives that were not only going well, but that even had the opportunity to buy their freedom from the Turks. They would pay something extra, but they would live free, they would create free zones within the Ottoman Empire. We were impressed by this example. I was thinking that we are also under a condition of occupation and I was wondering whether we could also create something like that — a little island, let’s say.