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We decided there aren’t men who are better, or more entitled than others. We understood that having a General Assembly is better than an Administrative Board to make decisions. Being aware of this, we start again with another philosophy and another method of production.
These are Makis Anagnoustou’s first words, once we get in the Vio.Me. (Viomihaniki Metalleytiki), a factory in Thessaloniki, in Greece, which produced construction material for the Greek industrial giant Filkeram-Johnson.
Makis is the President of the Base Union, but be careful in calling him a leader or a unionist: “Here there aren’t task divisions and there aren’t shopwalkers, we’re all workers and all unionists”, he explains with a rather bothered look.
Once we get in the factory, past the videosecurity, from which the workers watch if Golden Dawn (Nazi Party) or the police come, we see huge grounds and stockhauses, full of unused material from the previous production process.
Every morning they start the workday with a factory Assembly, among hot Greek coffee and analises on the current global financial crisis, they check the email addresses and plan the workday. The Assembly is called every day with long discussions on every single detail of the production of the factory. Then the workday starts, and as a background to the production of biological soap there are loads of unused construction material, as to remember where the bet of these workers came from.
Vio. Me. worked quite good until 2011, when the crisis brought Filkeram-Johnson to abandon the factory completely, leaving behind its 70 workers without wage and a 2 million euros debt. But the workers have no intention of losing their job, and with an internal referendum the 98% of them votes for the transformation in a cooperative firm, deciding to resume activity but completely changing production. From construction material they suddenly start to produce biological soap and detergent, made with olive oil.
“In the beginning, the Greek crisis hit hard mostly on construction firms. Filkeram-Johnson understood this and decided to leave us by ourselves. We decided to make something that is always necessary for man, soaps and detergents, managing in this way to cut costs with respect to the previous firm management” Dimitri, a worker of the collective, explains smiling, while he keeps bottling the just-made detergents.
Now they work boiling in huge pots what will become soaps and detergents, then they let them dry and they cut them by hand. They save on materials, on electricity, on wages – since now they are shared equally among all the workers.
After loans and pension advances to start the firm, the bet of the Vio. Me. starts, by creating a solidarity net between Thessaloniki, Pisa in Italy and its occupied paint factory, Argentina, Egypt, Denmark, and Germany. Workers of different countries, with experiences similar to the one of Vio. Me., start to help the Greek workers to sell their soaps all over the world.
“We didn’t receive any answer from the government or from the official unions, but we had the support of the Base Collectives. It was them who started the solidarity chain, which has made our fight known everywhere.”
The gate closes behind us, after a cheerful goodbye from the workers, with the recommendation to bring their story also in Italy and in the world, and to help the brave Greek workers who decided to challenge the global financial crisis with olive oil soap.