When the VIO.ME factory was abandoned by its bosses in May 2011, during a period of intense austerity measures implemented by the Greek government, it was not alone. Thousands of Greek businesses buckled under the weight of the economic recession, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without employment, dignity or hope. The closing of the factory, which produced building and construction materials and was located on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, was in many senses unremarkable. The pattern of bosses cutting their losses and workers scrambling to pick up the pieces of their shattered livelihoods is a familiar one.
Subsequent events have been well-documented, however, as forty of the horizontally organised workers occupied the factory, with their objective to prevent the valuable assets being stripped down before they were paid their outstanding wages. Over a year of negotiations followed, with the workers in dialogue with various trade unions and the Ministry of Labour, but no acceptable progress was made. In July 2012 the workers ultimately resolved to continue production on their own terms, free from the bureaucracy of the management, with the rallying slogan “If you can’t do it – we can”.It would take many months for that promise to be realised, but in February of the following year, under direct democratic worker control, production started again. Each worker had an equal share in the company, and all decisions on the organisation and functioning of the workplace were taken by a general assembly. To earn their living, the workers produced locally sourced and environmentally friendly cleaning products, selling them through social networks or in markets, without mediators. The path to this point proved difficult, as the workers repeatedly had to deal with their former employers and the authorities, had no access to loans and battled to find their place in a recessive market. But their struggle inspired worldwide solidarity, with concerts, demonstrations and actions dedicated to the struggle of the VIO.ME workers as they attempted to achieve legitimate status. One of the many political groups that vocally supported the VIO.ME workers was SYRIZA, who were in opposition to the government at the time, a party that purported to be formed from a coalition of the radical left and who promised the people of Greece an alternative to the years of austerity they had faced. Future prime-minister Alexis Tsipras called for an immediate solution to the issue of the operation of the factory.
SYRIZA: deceit, hypocrisy, betrayal
That level of commitment waned significantly with SYRIZA’s rise to power. A recent call for support from the workers of VIO.ME notes that “the determination they demonstrated in opposition was replaced by timidity, and by proposals that we make compromises in a different framework than what we had previously agreed upon”.
Eventually, SYRIZA abandoned the workers of VIO.ME completely to the Greek judicial system. The workers remark that this is “the same judicial system that, despite having condemned the former owner of VIO.ME, Christina Philippou, to dozens of months in prison, allows her to walk free, supposedly to do community service at a municipality where she has strong connections”. The workers of VIO.ME are sceptical that such a judicial system has in its heart their best interests. Indeed, a group of judges have gone as far as to suggest that the workers have “no legitimate right” to their outstanding wages from 2011. The courts ordered that the land the factory is located on is to be auctioned off on Thursday, 26th November. The land, which consists of fourteen plots, will be sold to satisfy the creditors of VIO.ME’s parent company, Philkeram. The VIO.ME workers note that some of these plots of land were “directly or indirectly donated by the Greek government to former owner Phillipou in recognition of the ‘social contribution’ of job creation”. The auction will proceed despite the independent consultants DeLoitte concluding that there was capacity for normal operation at the VIO.ME factory, and despite the fact that the VIO.ME factory takes up just on seventh of the land up for auction. The workers will be evicted when this day comes. The VIOME workers’ call for support concludes:“We, the workers of VIOME, invite all of you, who have been standing beside us during all this time of struggle, to be present on Thursday November 26 in the auction of the land, to abort their plan to evict us from the VIOME factory. A space that we have, for two years now, managed to turn into a place of work and a place of freedom.We invite you to stand beside us, to support every effort of the workers to make the forces of production autonomous from the capitalist class, a class which anyway has delocalised all production abroad.We invite you to support the operation of the factory, since we, the workers, have declared that we are not leaving, that our lives are now linked to this factory.We invite you to stand beside us, so we can affirm all together that a solution exists beyond the advices of the “experts”: this time around, the solution lies with those who are directly involved in the struggle, not with the luminaries.In solidarity, the general assembly of the workers at VIOME”