From another age

LABOUR: Under Tito's watchful eye, a post-Socialist dream of workers' ownership is put to the capitalist test.

More than 40 years after Tito’s death and decades since the dream of a socialist Yugoslavia finally died, everything and nothing has changed at the ITAS machine tool factory in the provincial Croatian town of Ivanec. A framed portrait of the old communist party boss and Yugoslav president, wearing his trademark spectacles, stares benevolently down over a grey hall full of green-painted lathes and heavy machinery, scuffed benches and workstations, with only pages torn from calendars or girlie mags to compete for his attention.

Factory to the Workers, a film by Srdjan Kovacevic
Factory to the Workers, a film by Srdjan Kovacevic

Anachronisms within anachronisms

The ITAS factory is a scene from another age; a post-war vision of functional workplaces for sturdy workers producing the machinery of proletarian progress. It is an anachronism within an anachronism: when Croatia’s post Yugoslav civil war drive to modernise pushed dodgy schemes for privatisation of state factories in the early ‘noughties’, the workers rebelled and literally kicked out the new management in 2005. Following a major standoff, demonstrations, a court cases, and hunger strike, they won control of the factory in 2007 and set up a workers’ council, management board, and elected managing director. It was, and remains, the only successful example of a workers’ takeover of a factory in post-Socialist Europe.

ITAS, established in the 1960s, was always an exemplar of Yugoslav socialism; once employing 900 workers, the factory was based on self-government, with a democratic system that allowed workers to decide on company policies. Srdjan Kovacevic’s film Factory to the Workers – produced by Fade In, a Croatian collective dedicated to making social issue documentaries – is character driven, allowing the workers to speak for themselves with barely any exposition or explanation, apart from the very basics of the background to how the workers took control of their destiny.

Tightly shot with barely a glimpse beyond the factory floor or technical management offices, greys (walls and floors), greens (lathes and machines), and blues (the worker’s overalls) dominate . . .

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Nick Holdsworthhttp://nickholdsworth.net/
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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