Citing Dignity, Greek Workers Take Over Factory : Parallels The factory in northern Greece once produced glue for ceramic tiles. But when the country's economy collapsed and workers lost their jobs, they took it over to make environmentally friendly laundry products. Workers do everything from accounting to driving. Their effort is a hit with left-wing groups, but it's not showing up in workers' paychecks.
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Citing Dignity, Greek Workers Take Over Factory

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Citing Dignity, Greek Workers Take Over Factory

Citing Dignity, Greek Workers Take Over Factory

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Now, let's turn our focus to the manufacturing sector in Greece. It has been devastated by the country's financial crisis. Manufacturing has lost 30 percent of its jobs over the last three years.

But Joanna Kakissis visited one plant in the country's north, an industrial heartland, where workers have taken matters into their own hands.


JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: In a cavernous factory on the outskirts of the northern city of Thessaloniki, eight middle-aged men are filling bottles with a vinegar-based fabric softener that's scented with fresh lavender.

This assembly line used to produce glue for ceramic tiles. But the collapse of the construction industry killed demand for building materials.

The employees here figure people will always need to wash their clothes and worker Dimitris Mokas says his firm's new line of laundry products are a good deal.

DIMITRIS MOKAS: You don't want to go to the supermarket and take soap for clothes and pay 20 euros. I will give you with three euros.


KAKISSIS: The firm is called VIO.ME, a subsidiary of Philkeram Johnson, a Greek company that once exported its ceramic tiles to 29 countries. The parent company declared bankruptcy in 2011. The 70 employees of VIO.ME stopped getting paychecks the same year. But they still came to work and continued making glue and tile-cleaning products. For a time, they also received unemployment checks, Mokas says.

MOKAS: Unemployment benefits finished last September. We said, what can we do now? Stay only here and be guards here? We have to eat, we have to do something. Because we want to have work.

KAKISSIS: Finding a job is daunting right now. More than 27 percent of Greeks are out of work, and northern Greece is especially hard-hit. That's why half of the VIO.ME staff decided to occupy the bankrupt factory and re-vamp it to turn out environmentally-friendly detergent and fabric softener. The workers start their shifts at 7 A.M. and they do everything, Mokas says.

MOKAS: I was driving a forklift and now I'm in accounts, a worker, a supplier, driver, anything you want.

KAKISSIS: Including a manager. For the past five months, Mokas and his fellow workers have also been overseeing the plant.

A Thessaloniki court has appointed a liquidation lawyer, Giorgos Vanaroudis, to administrate the bankruptcy of the parent company, Philkeram Johnson.

Vanaroudis says he isn't authorized to speak on tape but he told NPR that the VIO.ME workers - like other potential buyers - don't want to pay for shares in a company that's at least $5 million in debt. He says the court is now considering whether to appoint administrators who will allow the workers to remain on the property, or kick them out.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: The VIO.ME workers have been inspired by a precedent in southern Argentina. A little over a decade ago, when the Zanon ceramic tile factory closed there, its staff took over the plant.

As the Argentine workers explain in this documentary, they now operate and own that plant. Its new name is Fabrica Sin Patrones, which means Factory Without Bosses.

Like the Argentines, the Greek workers of VIO.ME are getting moral support - and some financial aid - from labor activists and leftist organizations.

What they're not getting is credit from any of the undercapitalized Greek banks, says Athanassios Savakis, president of the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece.

ATHANASSIOS SAVAKIS: The problem is liquidity, in fact. The extrovert companies, the ones with high levels of exports, have faced this in a positive way.

KAKISSIS: Those companies make money selling their products abroad, whereas the factory workers are stuck selling their detergent in a depressed local market.


KAKISSIS: Yet, the workers still put in eight-hour shifts every day. They line up in a hot, airless office for a day's salary - just 10 euros, or $13.


KAKISSIS: Dimitris Nikolaidis, a trained electrician, picks up his money and walks to his aging car.

DIMITRIS NIKOLAIDIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: It's really hard to live on this salary, he says. The truth is you can't live on it. It's just enough money to pay for me to get here and keep working.

Outside the factory, the Greek economy is broken. And here, at least these men are working. They say they have found dignity, if not money, in that work.

GREENE: For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.

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