Thursday, April 24, 2014

Self-Organization in Greece!

This is a most interesting story about self-organization and self-help in Thessaloniki: a company went bankrupt; all employees lost their jobs. Instead of whining about it, the workers decided to run the production on their own and they succeeded with it. The report is colored with romantic ideologies as to how companies will be run in the future but that is besides the point.

Unfortunately, the report does not explain how exactly this worked. Capitalism is called capitalism because one requires capital in order to acquire the material assets necessary for production --- buildings, machinery, equipment, raw materials and so forth. In this case, the workers apparently confiscated those assets but there is no explanation how they did this legally. Someone owned these assets before the confiscation: either the previous owner or the creditors or the bankruptcy court. Whoever owned those assets before, did they give them away to the workers without asking for compensation? If banks had liens on those assets for financing, did the banks simply release those liens? All the report makes reference to is that "the previous owner has not initiated any legal action". Apparently, there would be grounds for legal action.

The real positive aspect of this report is that it shows what self-organization and self-help can accomplish. These workers could just as well have remained inactive and spent their time on minimum income, lamenting in cafés about their misfortune. Instead, they accepted self-responsibility and acted accordingly. Perhaps outside the law, but still.

I, myself, am a great fan of co-operatives as a form of business organization. A co-operative is a group of members acting together to meet the common needs and aspirations of its members. Co-operatives are not about making profits for shareholders, but about creating value for their constituents. The members can be workers/employees but they can also include customers, suppliers and whomever. The more constituents of the enterprise are members of the co-operative, the better it will work.

The only thing is: to start off, a co-operative needs capital like anyone else in order to finance the expenses described above. Once the co-operative is up and running, it typically no longer needs capital from the outside. Since it doesn't pay out dividends, it can finance its expansion through retained profits. Put differently, the profits do not go to any shareholders but, instead, stay in the business in order to make the business grow. And it is ALL constituents who benefit from this growth.

Next time I am in Thessaloniki, I will try to find out how these people got their co-operative started.


  1. You are limited by the fact that you have to resort to english speaking articles...

    The situation is too complicated to write it down in brief time. Here is the blog of the workers. You may try to contact them if you wish:

    1. Having looked through the website, this all of a sudden has a taste of "proletarians of all countries, unite!"

    2. What did you expect it to be? They are still in legal battle over the ownership of the factory and there is a legal gap right now in the greek legislation, to cover properly their case. They do fundraising, they do produce some detergents, but it's way too complicated and early to make a blog post about it. Try again in 1 year from now, let's see if they will still be around.

    3. And a general advice: greek blogs are usually a bad source of greek news. I know of no greek blog that isn't presented an ideologically driven perspective of reality. They are useful, but the best thing to do in the complicated greek politics, is read news from both right and left newspapers. Then try to decrypt the objective truth the best you can. Several blogs do even worse, they simply copy-paste an article from another blog, never questioning its reliablity, but just because it has a catchy title.

  2. Greeks are not organized, self or otherwise.