A fascinating documentary of determination, Srđan Kovačević keeps a neutral gaze on his subjects as they battle through thick and thin to make an impossible task succeed.
In Croatia in 2005, a machine tools factory was occupied by its workers. Since then, they have operated collectively, becoming the only successful example of a worker occupation in post-socialist Europe. Today, as they seek a new model of collective ownership, the microcosmic world of the factory clashes with the forces of the globalised market economy. Having an increasingly brutal impact on wages and the organisation of the factory, causing rising disaffection among the workers.
Director Srđan Kovačević focused his documentary on two men within the factory, the leading spokesman for Dragutin Varga’s staff and hired director Bozo Dragoslavic. Together they try and right the company and make sure that they can keep their head above water financially. Kovačević’s camera never intrudes as they and the rest of the 200 plus strong factory go about their jobs. Yet dissention is evident amongst the staff, particularly with the original staff and the younger new hires.
Here we see the differing thoughts and ideas of these two generations in Croatia. The older employees who could save the factory and run it are proud of their achievements and want the factory to remain in the city for these new generations. However, due to the fluctuating nature of salary payments, the younger generation is less patient. They are not near retirement, and they do not have any shares in the company to profit from. So they go where the money speaks the loudest.
They do not have a loyalty to this factory and the staff as they are merely employees, who, yes, may get a say in the company’s running but have little connection to it otherwise. This is when discussions of shares are spoken about by the younger generation whose family worked there before them. Some want the shares, while most value money, they want the immediate gains, and even though the staff there or just retired trained them from novices to be competent metal workers, they merely see that as a stepping stone to go to a better paid private job, where the security of regular pay is key.
This frustrates the older staff, who feel betrayed. Their work to keep the building going, to keep a couple of hundred jobs in the community, feels wasted. They fear they are the last generation, and you feel for them. As an outsider, you understand both sides. As Kovačević remains neutral throughout, we see how despite the communication levels, there are struggles with the staff in communicating their thoughts to the higher-ups.
Regular all staff meetings are held, yet few make noises in those meetings other than to gripe, and usually, those moments feel lopsided against the board. Understandably so, however, as Factory to the Workers continues, you realise financial worries and generational differences are but the tip of the iceberg for the ITAS factory. This is when the turmoil within the factory takes a drastic turn in Factory to the Workers.
As Varga tries to keep the peace, he sees some financial irregularities and his suspicions grow. This further increases as more staff see the paperwork. In such a structure as the ITAS factory, staff can see much more than they could in normal situations. The pressure on Dragoslavic builds as staff implores him to find the proper contracts and negotiate better and make right of his continually broken promise of paying everyone on time and in full. At times only 30% of their meagre wages are paid as Dragoslavic has to continue the chase and navigate his way to financial security.
But what Varga finds in those documents raises many doubts. Perhaps this is when Kovačević neutrality falters, we suspect the worst of the director and what he has secretly been doing. But Kovačević never pushes for the truth. Instead, he lets it play out with little said, only reactions. The mystery will remain with the audience, which is okay but not as satisfying as we reach the film’s end. However, the staff’s opinions are felt with a chillingly awkward exchange between the director and his secretary.
Factory to the Workers succeeds in highlighting companies’ struggles trying to achieve in a world where only the big brands are built to. Applications for government help often go ignored, and in a Q & A, it is revealed by Kovačević that because the director at this present time does not have the right qualifications for the role, causing his application for subsidies to be declined. This utterly frustrating fact cements the fact that these hard-working men and women’s government should be applauding this factory for succeeding and surviving for as long as it has. Yet here they are practically hindering a homemade success.
This film doesn’t try to answer everything that it shows, and while this can be a welcoming change, Factory to the Workers would have been better by trying to find a stronger position to hang its flag on. Despite that, this documentary frustrates you in seeing how these older men will do everything they can to make something good for themselves, their families and the community, yet they are hindered at every turn. Does a business model like this work in modern times? It is difficult to judge. What we do know is that it can survive for far longer than we would think—a very solid film.
To catch more of our reviews throughout Sheff Doc Fest 2021, Have a look below:
Summer of Soul (…Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
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