Ten years after the workers took over the ITAS Prvomajska machine tool factory in Ivanec in Croatian Zagorje, documentary filmmaker Srđan Kovačević went there. And Kovačević continued to come to Ivanec for the next five and a half years, and in the end he filmed an exceptional observational documentary about the only factory in post-socialist Europe that functions according to some kind of self-management system. And although the title of the film and the opening frame in which the photograph of Comrade Tito has faded suggests that “Workers’ Factories” could be a documentary that nostalgically evokes the former system, it is a film in which Kovačević seems to be trying to ask the question whether such a system of worker shareholding can even function. .
The workers took control of ITAS in 2005 after the management practically destroyed the factory. It was obviously another in a series of conversions and privatizations in the Croatian way, only with a lag of about ten years, and at the beginning of the 2000s the owners apparently planned to liquidate the factory and sell the land, as was done in all parts of the country after all. However, the ITAS workers did not really agree with that and simply occupied the factory in 2005 and did not want to leave until a solution was found for unpaid wages and work. In the end, they managed to turn the claims into an ownership share in the factory, and since then the workers themselves have managed the factory, whose facility really looks like a relic of some bygone era.
This film follows the attempt of this factory to survive in a capitalist system that is not very favorable to similar experiments where the owner of the plant is not some tycoon. And we see that the situation is not at all simple. Wages are still late, workers are unhappy, and the initial enthusiasm that may have existed when the workers themselves took control has now waned. And for a period of five years, Kovačević constantly returned to Ivanec and followed what was happening with ITAS, and in the end we realize that this film does not offer an overly optimistic picture and ends at the end of 2019 when the company is in serious trouble and the question is whether it will whether to survive.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to watch this impressive documentary at the Bjelovar documentary film festival DOKUarta, where the main protagonist of the film, who is also the current executive director of the company Dragutin Varga, was a guest alongside the author. In the conversation after the screening, it was possible to find out that ITAS is doing quite well today, and Varga perhaps best described the situation that when they got rid of those who stole, the situation got better. This film offers a lot to ponder and think about the current political-economic system and raises the question of whether we got rid of everything from the former system lightly, both what was bad and what might have been good. While we constantly listen to mantras about today’s system in which one system of governance prevails, we see that the dominant economic narrative can also be questioned and that there is an alternative to this creepy tycoonization.