How being laid off paid off for Italian car workers

 

In the face of a seemingly never-ending recession, a group of Italian workers is attempting to reassume control of its own destiny by occupying the factory that laid them off – in order to start their own business.

The Maflow car component plant, in Trezzano sul Naviglio, on the outskirts of Milan, crashed with €300m debts in 2009, shedding all but 80 of its 320 staff. Within two years it had closed down for good.

But now more than 20 of those laid off are using the 30,000 sq m plant for a nascent recycling business, called Ri-Maflow. It recycles or repairs electronic equipment already on the scrapheap.

Any good news on the employment front can’t come soon enough. The dreadful state of the Italian economy has been underlined by the latest official figures. The results showed the fourth monthly drop in a row, and the ninth successive 12-month drop in retail sales, the worst statistics since the Second World War.

Austerity measures and tax increases are squeezing the budgets of many Italians, and unemployment, particularly among young people, is soaring.

The owner of the reclaimed premises, Virum, a subsidiary of banking giant Unicredit, has allowed the cooperative the rent-free use of the site.

But the workers said they saw their appropriation of the premises more as an entitlement. One of the new cooperative members, Luigi Malabarba, said: “It’s social compensation; the property of those who are entitled to it – who have created the wealth.”

The workers are not averse to a bit of Marxist rhetoric but deny they are running a communist cooperative.

Another worker, Michele, 43, told La Repubblica newspaper: “I’ve never frequented revolutionary circles. I’ve always been easygoing and played by the rules. The only revolutionary thing here is the desire to take back control of our future.”

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