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Labour Last Updated: Nov 3, 2021 - 11:27:53 AM

Croatian Documentary Depicts Fight for Survival of Worker-Owned Factory
By Matea Grgurinovic.BIRN,October 28, 202
Oct 29, 2021 - 11:30:52 AM

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A new film tells the story of a worker-led fight to save a Croatian tool factory, an experiment in ‘workers’ self-management’ that struggles with the forces of global capitalism.

In one of the first scenes of Srdjan Kovacevic’s new documentary, Dragutin Varga points to a photograph of his colleagues at the ITAS Prvomajska tool factory in the town of Ivanec in northern Croatia.

ITAS Prvomajska, which produces machine tools and employs around 125 workers, is unique among factories in Croatia in that those who work there own roughly half of the shares in the company, a model known as ‘workers’ self-management’ with roots in socialist Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was once a part.

The workers took over the factory in 2005. A decade later, Kovacevic began filming. Six years on, as ‘Factory to the Workers’ opened the 14th edition of Zagreb’s Subversive Film Festival on October 3, the workers are still fighting.

In the film, salaries are late or not paid in full; those who began the fight have died or retired; while the younger ones feel less of a personal connection and often leave for better-paid jobs elsewhere.

The film, he said, “manages to show, realistically, observationally, how people work and think as well as the complex problematic of a factory that is in the hands of the workers.”

Today, ITAS Prvomajska is clinging on, having recently reached a pre-bankruptcy settlement under which half its debt has been waived and the firm has five years to pay off the rest.

‘Where’s our salary?’

Kovacevic spent five years making the documentary – his first – while doing all the filming himself and visiting the factory every week.

The result is a poetic portrayal of the clash between the factory’s ownership model and the forces of global capitalism. It shows, too, the passage of time, the wait for machines to finish and salaries to arrive.

Kovacevic’s camera lingers on the faces of those fighting to save their factory, some of them falling, others leaving or, in the case of factory director Bozo Dragoslavic, voted out and departing in shame.

The camera returns time and again to the factory bulletin board with its notes and announcements, often concerning salary payments – 40 per cent this week, the rest next week, says one. Some workers leave replies – “WHERE’S OUR SALARY?”

Scenes from Srdjan Kovacevic’s documentary. Photo: Courtesy of the director.

“It was challenging working alone in the factory, because you have to make a series of decisions on your own,” said Kovacevic. But the way state funding for such projects work meant Kovacevic had to start filming, “and then applied for funds.”

“I learnt a lot,” he said.

“Longer forms, where you have an analytical approach and try to sketch out the complexity of things [at hand] are not so popular,” he said, compared to faster-paced films. “You always balance between dramaturgy, character development and topics you want to put out there. I wanted to show the older workers’ story.”

Fittingly, Kovacevic decided that those he was filming and those working on the film would get a share of the any profits the film might make, something Kovacevic called a ‘Solidarity Film Contract’.

“I thought that was fair since every film I worked on is structured in a way that you waive all your rights for a work fee,” he said. “You always see the series or films sold elsewhere and you don’t get anything as a film worker who worked on them. It seemed fair that in the first film I made myself things would be different.”

“You have to put your money where your mouth is,” he said.

“I’m not forcing anyone to participate, but I’m offering it as an option and talking to people. It would be great if this type of contract would open up something in the film world. Because film is – and this needs to be said – a joint, collective effort.”

Source:Ocnus.net 2021

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