I’ve been to the Donnelley Printing Factory twice in the past little while. The first time was to watch a workers soccer tournament and the second was to see series of film clips taken by workers and compiled together by my friend Carlos.
I don’t have too much to say about the soccer tournament other than the fact that it was entertaining and that there is something powerful about the fact that the control workers now exert over the Donnelley factory allowed them to host and run a soccer tournament in their off hours where 36 teams from 30 factories participated.
It was mainly at this second event that I got to meet some of the Donnelley workers. Before the film showing itself I had the privilege to be shown around the factory by one of the maintenance workers. He basically explained the whole process of printing to me, showed me the machines etc… It was fascinating to tour a worker-occupied factory, even if it was after hours. The best picture I took I think was of the offices where the managers and their staff used to work, lying empty.
A bit more about the factory itself then. Donnelley produces all sorts of printed materials, from magazines and newspapers, to notebooks for schools. Since the occupation they have changed their name to Mady Graf. They are currently in the process of trying to get a law passed to legalize their occupation. They have also engaged in an admirable venture of giving out notebooks to schools and children in working class neighborhoods who otherwise could not afford them. The last portion of the film clips included interviews with grateful students and parents who were thanking the workers for providing them with school materials they cannot afford.
However, to see this as just some sort of philanthropic gesture would be to entirely miss the point. Its objectives go far beyond that. It is explicitly an act of solidarity with the rest of the working class. The workers of Mady Graf sacrificed some of their income to give these away because they see themselves as members of the working class. Helping the working class out therefore is helping out themselves and their community. It is helping those who have the same economic and social position that they do and have the same economic and material interests. Helping the children of the working class and relieving a portion of the economic burden of schooling from their parents is helping themselves both in the literal sense, as some of these workers are parents, but also in the sense of helping out their community and their cause as the working class. Helping the children get a better education will allow the children to know more about their struggle and lead more rich and fulfilling lives. And if they end up occupying their own place of work their education will make it easier to deal with the difficulties of running it.
The notebook campaign also serves to show both the capabilities and advantages of worker’s ownership of the means of production. They want to show that they are an asset to the community for more than just the employment provided by the factory. They are also showing that it is possible for them to give this up for free. The worker occupied factory is functioning well enough not only to provide for the workers but also to provide certain elements to the community.
And finally producing this notebook is a means of getting out their message. They gave me one of these notebooks as a gift for precisely this reason. On the final page of the notebook there is an explanation of where this book comes from, why they are producing it and what their demands of the state are.
This was all fascinating, but what I personally was most interested in was learning how a worker-occupied factory operates. As a marxist I believe that all factories should be worker owned and run, and so understanding how it works and the challenges it faces is vital to me, especially because of my interest in economics. I did get ask about this and learn a bit about it. But our conversation was cut short by the beginning of the film, so there is still more that I would like to hear. This is what I have so far:
Mady Graf is, as one would expect, managed by the workers. Some workers in particular seem to be dealing with management tasks, like coordinating work schedules and obtaining supplies and orders from outside companies. I’m pretty sure many of these workers were prominent officials in the union before. I was introduced to one of these people briefly, he worked, and is still working, in the section of the factory where they put together the design for the printed materials on a sheet of metal for use in the printing machines. It is important I believe that even though he is part of managing, he still works at the factory. This means he does not lose touch with the interests of the workers, as he remains one.
I do not know how they are chosen, though I can only imagine they are elected. One of the great things about this sort of situation is that some form of democracy is the only type of system that makes sense. After all, they are all workers, the only way any of them can have any authority is to have it given to them by other workers. However, Mady Graf is even more democratic than that. People are elected for the day to day management tasks, but the big decisions about the directions the factory is taking are decided on by vote at workers’ assemblies. The decision for instance to forgo part of their salary in order to give out notebooks to working class children was made in this manner.
During my tour, the maintenance worker told me that machines had been braking down more since the beginning of the occupation since they were no longer running 24 hours a day during weekdays. Due to fewer orders since the beginning of the occupation Mady Graf has had less business and so the workers have ended their night shift. Whether workers are happy about this change because they no longer need to work late hours or unhappy because less work means less revenue I am not certain. Interestingly this does seem to protect them from the phenomenon of excessive self exploitation (in order to keep up with competition) that I have found in some of my studies of worker’s cooperatives that exist in a capitalist economic environment.
What I would still like to know more about are the specifics of managing the factory. How many workers are involved in administration? Do they get shorter work hours in order to work on it? If not when do they work on these tasks? How specifically are they chosen and how long do they remain in their positions? Are they immediately recallable? Are they paid more than other workers? How have they gone about obtaining orders from capitalist companies? Has their status as a worker occupied factory made this more difficult as I suspect it has?
I’d also like to know how their pay and hours have been affected by the occupation. I know hours have decreased, but by how much? Has total pay increased or decreased? Has pay per hour increased or decreased?
These may seem to be somewhat insignificant details when compared to some of what I have already mentioned. But one of the main things I took away from my time as an activist is that the devil really is in the details when it comes to organizing these sorts of things. Many of the answers to these questions will I believe be vital in determining how much of a success this is and how this factory might evolve in the future.
And finally I plan to try to learn if there are any other challenges being faced by Mady Graf due to its status as a worker occupied factory.
Although this is a post about Mady Graf I would like to briefly note another event in the working class struggle here that was also featured in the film clips. About 2 weeks ago there was another protest at the Panamericana in front of LEAR. The protest I went to was tame by comparison. Protesters were not only forced off the street, but chased down the hill next to the highway by cops firing rubber bullets liberally into the crowd. One of the workers I met at Mady Graf just a couple of days ago still had a broken shin and two sizable circular scabs where he was hit by rubber bullets. And he was far from the worst injured at this protest.