Oliver Ressler: Occupy, Resist, Produce
A 3-channel video installation by Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler
97 min. (combined)
2014 – 2015
The economic crisis that began in 2007-8 led to layoffs on a massive scale, leaving thousands of newly unemployed workers with little hope of another job. Their response put workers’ control back on the agenda in Europe. For many years beforehand, factories had been occupied and recuperated almost exclusively in Latin America.
In most cases an occupation is not a deliberate step towards workers' control but a means of workers' struggle against the closure of a production site or company or the relocation of production to another country. The struggles often fall apart without any concrete results. “Occupy, Resist, Produce” focuses on the rare, better organized cases where the purpose of the struggle is to bring production under workers’ control. The workers do more than protest, they take the initiative and become protagonists, building horizontal social relations on the production sites and adopting mechanisms of direct democracy and collective decision-making. The recuperated workplaces often reinvent themselves, building links with local communities and social movements.
The 3-channel video installation “Occupy, Resist, Produce” consists of three films on occupied factories in Milan, Rome and Thessaloniki. In these cases the workers did find ways to organize labor under their own control. Each film is based on discussion with the workers. The workers' assemblies – always the main decision-making bodies – were recorded. It is fundamental to recognize the differences between the situations, contexts and practices of the three worker-controlled companies, but it is also important to understand workers’ control or recuperation of workplaces as a socio-political action rather than a merely economic procedure.
Maflow, a multinational car parts producer based in Milan, closed its production facilities in 2009, with proprietor Italian Lifestyle Partners facing bankruptcy fraud charges. The workers began a struggle to reopen the plant under workers’ control. In 2013 they occupied the plant, and since that day 20 workers have participated full-time in the project, completely reinventing themselves and the factory, which they renamed RiMaflow. Applying the concept of an “open factory”, the workers started recycling computers and electronic household devices, opened a bar and cafeteria, and organized a flea market and cultural activities with the local community. They also built alliances with local organic agricultural producers, creating a group for solidarity shopping.
Officine Zero, formerly RSI (Rail Service Italia), once specialized in maintenance and repair of sleeping cars. When Italian railroads stopped running night trains in December 2011, RSI closed. Some 20 workers from a workforce of almost 60 refused to accept the closure, and in February 2012 they occupied their workplace. In 2013 Officine Zero was officially founded as an eco-social factory. Officine Zero literally means “Zero Workshops”: “zero bosses, zero exploitation, zero pollution”, as their new slogan puts it. In half a dozen workshops for carpentry, padding, metalwork and general repairs, the workers at Officine Zero focus mainly on the repair and recycling of domestic appliances, computers and furniture. The collective project aims to transform the former sleeping car repair shop into an industrial reuse and recycling center.
Vio.Me. in Thessaloniki used to produce industrial glue, insulant and various other chemically derived construction materials. In 2010 the workers were sent on unpaid leave every 4-6 weeks. After the owner stopped paying wages at all, in July 2011 the workers decided to occupy the plant and take their future into their own hands. In February 2013 Vio.Me. began producing organic cleaning products and organic soap. Vio.Me. formed a cooperative in order to operate legally. However, Vio.Me. does not operate as a traditional cooperative. The workers do not consider the company their property but a common good that should serve the community. Vio.Me. has “solidarity supporters” paying a monthly fee in advance and getting Vio.Me. products in exchange. The solidarity assembly also supports the workers' mobilizations.
For the future it is planned to produce further films on occupied factories and to expand the video installation as the workers' struggles continue.