Viome: A Workers’ Experiment With Global Appeal

May 28th, 2013

Published on Reports from the Edge of Borderline Democracy, by Augustine Zenakos, May 23, 2013.

“No worker who is not a shareholder, no shareholder who is not a worker,” say the workers of VIOME (Industrial Mineral), a factory in northern Greece. Their plan to take over the factory and to manage it themselves has generated waves of encouragement and support throughout the world. In this report for UNFOLLOW magazine, Christos Avramidis and Antonis Galanopoulos investigate the background to current events, and ask what the future might hold for these workers and their plan, what the reaction of the Greek government is likely to be, and whether workers’ self-management is feasible in a capitalist context.   

“You can’t? We can!”

This is how the workers of VIOME (short for Viomichaniki Metalleutiki, Industrial Mineral) reacted to the decision by the management to close down yet another factory in the Prefecture of Thessaloniki.

VIOME, a factory that makes chemical products for the construction sector, was established in 1982. It is a subsidiary company of Philkeram-Johnson S.A., owned by the Philippou family. Although in 2006 VIOME was still ranked among the 20 most successful businesses of northern Greece, 2008 marks the emergence of the first problems, due to the crisis in the construction sector, as well as bad decisions by the management.

In 2011, the Philippou family submitted a debtor’s petition for Philkeram. The consequences did not take long to appear within VIOME. In July 2011, the management violated the agreed timetable for the payout of the accrued sums. This was the first indication that the owners were abandoning the factory.

The workers reacted with repeated 48-hour strikes, and on 12 September began work retention. The idea of self-management was already being discussed in the first workers’ general assemblies. When it was submitted to a vote, it got 97%.

As soon as Philkeram went bankrupt, the entirety of its assets, including the shares and the real estate of VIOME, passed to the trustee for liquidation. At the tripartite meeting that was held at the Ministry of Labor in November 2011, in the presence of Deputy Minister Yiannis Koutsoukos, vice-president of the group Ms Philippou, made it clear that she did not intend to operate the factory again … //

… A NEW WAY OF OPERATION: … //

… THE ARGENTINIAN EXPERIENCE: … //

… SOLIDARITY, POLITICAL SUPPORT AND FINANCIAL AID: … //

… GOVERNMENT FLIRTING WITH SELF-MANAGEMENT? … //

… SELF-MANAGEMENT WITHIN CAPITALISM?

The effort of VIOME workers has been criticized both from the Right and the Left. The most important question is how we can conceive of workers’ self-management that needs the help of the Government and the EU. If this help is eventually given, it is probable that the workers, in order to maintain their factory open, will confront a series of dilemmas. They might overcome some dilemmas with legal maneuvers, while other ones they might not.

So dynamic is the situation, that we cannot anticipate the outcome, as the workers do not appear to be selling out their vision so cheaply. And, of course, the European Union plan for a “social economy” in conditions of exploitation will not be so easy to achieve, either. The workers who have sought contact with VIOME, in order to follow its example, would also agree to this. The question of what sort of dilemmas the Government will pose and how pressing they will be depends in the final analysis on the spread of the example of VIOME, as well as on constant solidarity.

The danger of workers becoming, within the bounds of the system, new “collective” property-owners, loyal to the conditions of the market, will always be lurking. Most similar undertakings in the past did not achieve precisely all that they had set as their objectives. This, however, does not entail the invalidation of possibility, but only its weakness to be fulfilled in the given social and economic limitations. Yet, are these limitations so insurmountable today? Maybe not.
(full long text with comments, pictures and a video).

Links:

Vio.Me: occupy, resist, produce – solidarity to the strugle of the workers of the Vio.Me. factory in Thessaloniki, Greece, for self-management, with a video, which is also on YouTube: greek spoken, 28,58 min, uploaded by DiakoptesAthens, Feb 10, 2013;

Tamarod to nowhere, on Al-Ahram sweekly online, by Amira Howeidy, May 22, 20113: Politics abhors a vacuum. But the Rebellion signature campaign that seeks to topple Morsi offers no viable alternatives …;

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