An interview with Makis Anagnostou, president of the Viomihaniki Metalleytiki’s workers’ union (VIO.ME), to the paper Nea Prooptiki
The struggle of VIO.ME is undoubtedly one of the most important labour struggles that have been taking place this period of time in Greece. The factory (Viomihaniki Metalleytiki) has been deserted by its owners and its workers –not paid since May 2011– deny to come to terms with the idea of unemployment and struggle for the transfer of production into their own hands, thus raising in essence the point of workers’ self management as a response to the closures and the layoffs of the bankrupt capitalist Greece.
The president of the workers’ union of VIO.ME, Makis Anagnostou spoke with the Nea Prooptiki:
-N.P. At what stage is your struggle today?
-M.A. Since the last interview we have given, there are many things that have changed. There have now been taken decisions that were not part of our struggle in the preceding period. Up until a certain point in time we kept following the path of lawfulness and nothing else, but we found out that this path is a too long one. For this reason, the assembly decided that another path is to be followed, a still legitimate one, but this time based on the logic that law is the worker’s right and not the law of the bourgeoisie.
–N.P. You remain unpaid since May 2011, while September was also the last month you were entitled to the welfare allowance that you were getting from the Organization for the Employment of the Labour Force. How do you survive under such conditions?
-M.A. We barely survive, if we can call it survival at all. The truth is that the Ministry showed some interest in certain cases facing extreme difficulty, but actually this help has the form of charity and does not offer solutions to the real problem; that of unemployment. It is work that we want and not charity.
-N.P. I would like you to tell us something about the peoples’ response to your struggle and the solidarity that you have been getting.
-M.A. There is help from all over Greece but also from abroad. Of course, those who support us are mostly poor people themselves. They are neither big publishers, nor big companies. They are ordinary folk people, workers, some working and probably most of them unemployed nowadays, who support us, however, from the very little they go by. Some bring us a pack of spaghetti, others a small bag of dried beans, or some others by giving us a 2 € financial assistance. But even this small help is very important to us as it offers us strength and courage to go on.
-N.P. There is a part of the “left” which has accused you that with your effort to take over the control of the factory you are trying to become yourselves small capitalists. How do you answer them?
-M.A. To them, we have answered already. When the labour movement is at our side, it is difficult for struggles like ours to depart from their goal. But when the movement takes a distance, then the workers (as workers) are trying to find ways to survive and there lies the danger of a bourgeois turn of the whole issue.
-N.P. In the recent strikes you chose a distinct stance in relation to not only the General Confederation of Greek Workers (ΓΣΕΕ) but also to the Agonistic Front of All Workers (Π.Α.ΜΕ.) and to the Coordinative organ of Primary Unions. What was it that led you to that decision?
-M.A. All these are decisions made by the general assembly. What I mean is that who we would stand next to was not proposed by the union’s administration –though, in essence, we do not function as an administration–, but there is always a concern about this issue; it is always discussed in the general assembly and it is the general assembly that reaches a decision. The general assembly takes this stance because of certain things noticed by it, which I would not like to criticize right now.
-N.P. You do not want to tell us what were the actual things noticed by the workers?
-M.A. When the union started functioning, we used to go to the Workers’ Centre. There we saw that their attitude was not what we had expected. In other words, and as only an example, in our participating in the discussion of strike movements, there were various persons telling us that we should appeal to our bosses to bring back their capital. We did not agree. We wanted a more class defined way and we went to the Agonistic Front of All Workers (Π.Α.ΜΕ.) In this case, however, we reached a point of being the only primary unit holding the banner together with the Π.Α.ΜΕ., and the Π.Α.ΜΕ. pretended not to see us because it did not agree with us on certain issues. It is true that the Π.Α.ΜΕ. has clearly a class character, but could someone say that we, as a primary union, we do not? The fact that we did not agree with the Π.Α.ΜΕ. on partial issues does not make us adversaries. So, to be sure, because we do not agree with them on everything and do not blindly follow their advice, the Π.Α.ΜΕ. attitude towards us is perhaps not the expected one by the general assembly and that is what led us to our decisions.
-N.P. Is this to say that you somehow found them against you?
-M.A. We can’t say we found them against us, but we certainly did not find them to our side. This is the bad thing. And I must say that in many events that took place to our support in different cities, there were many individual members of the Π.Α.ΜΕ that expressed a positive opinion about our struggle and about our way of raising our points!
-N.P. In October there took place a large solidarity caravan that started from Thessaloniki and through Larissa and Volos was finally completed in Athens. How would you characterize this experience?
-M.A. I will tell you what my colleagues said rather than characterizing it myself. Many colleagues who –up to that point in time– were skeptical and did not know if they wanted to join the caravan or not, after the completion of the caravan event clearly stated that if it was to take place again, starting even the next day, they would join again.
-N.P. Have you had any kind of reaction during this whole period by the owners of the factory?
-M.A. Up until this present moment, they keep a passive attitude. We are sure, however, that they are making some movements in order to re-enter the game. What will play an important role in such a case will be our own determination and how powerful we are.
-N.P. Some would make the observation that in the recent period there has been some ebb in the struggle of VIO.ME. What do you have in mind to do in the coming days in order to rekindle your struggle?
-M.A. I wouldn’t say ebb. Of course there has been a certain slackening during the holidays, but sometimes when you are to start a footrace you must first spurt in order to manage to give more thrust. This is what we think is happening because many things will be running in the near future. It is the meeting at the Ministry, some more general meetings in Athens focusing on how we can trade some products, we have a court of sessions against our ex-employers on the Jan. 24, and after all this, something new starts on Feb. 8 in order to give birth to something else. The beginning will be the concert we are preparing for the day I mentioned, with the participation of well known artists such as Thanassis Papakonstantinou, Charoulis, the Chainides and others. And on Jan. 11 there will be a development in order for the operation of the factory to start.
-N.P. What exactly do you have in mind to do during these 3 specific days?
-M.A. There will take place a reverse caravan. This time, that is, it is not us that travel to other cities but we invite people from other cities to come to Thessaloniki and support a new effort that starts on Feb. 8. We do not know when exactly we will have the pick of this effort, but as we said it starts on Feb. 8, with a protest march and a concert, and the rest will take place at the factory. The exact way of how we are going to go on in the factory is something that we will announce in the near future.
-N.P. Will this be also determined by the meetings you are going to have in Athens? That is, if your discussions with the Ministry end successfully, is there a case to operate the factory yourselves?
-M.A. This is what we are trying to do, with a very specific manner. Now, if some things change in the course of the effort and the Ministry actually gives some solution, it will be good. We threw the ball to the Ministry and said that the way in which the factory will work is now the ministry’s responsibility. Either with the legal, or, rather, with the “according to the letter of law” way or with what we are saying, that law is the worker’s right and we can rightfully take the factory in our own hands.
-N.P. If you do get the factory in your hands and operate it, how do you believe you will manage to keep it alive and healthy under the pressure of the economic crisis? Do you have some plan about it?
-M.A. Yes, there is a plan. There is a big difference between what we contend and what there exist out there. We maintain that even in this diminished and decayed market, an opening, on our part, to different types of stores and commercial shops and to other countries will give us the potential to keep the factory in the present phase that we are going through difficult times. To hold out, that is, and then to work in another way.
-N.P. The struggle of VIO.ME has been characterized by many as a pioneering one, for the Greek reality at least, as it shows the way that should be also followed by other factories that are in the same position. Has there been until now any response by workers of other factories who experience the same situation?
-M.A. I wouldn’t say pioneering. Our demand has for ever been the primordial demand of working people. What the working person, and more so the industrial worker, looked forward to was to take the means of production in their hands in order to be able to produce for themselves. This issue is one we put to all working people, but the bourgeois class does for years and years now is to keep the working class into hypnosis so that it cannot be able to think in this way. For this reason, it directs the struggles to more “quiescent” and bourgeois preferred solutions. I have to repeat it; we took the examples of the past and we believe that with the setup we have planned and the charter that we will draw we will become able to keep a very good level of cooperativity, because all this is essentially going to become a workers’ cooperative that will go beyond the bourgeois type of solutions.