VIOME: A WORKERS’ EXPERIMENT WITH GLOBAL APPEAL

“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 poster. Caption reads: "You can't, we can!" (image via http://biom-metal.blogspot.gr)

VIOME poster. Caption reads: “You can’t? We can!” (image via http://biom-metal.blogspot.gr)

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%.

“No worker who is not a shareholder, no shareholder who is not a worker,” say the workers of VIOME

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.

“From that moment on,” says VIOME Union Chairman Makis Anagnostou, “we brought out our own banner, and with the basic slogan ‘Not another 70 unemployed workers – Direct re-operation’, we went on demonstrations and strikes”.

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