It’s been almost two years since the day the group of people currently working at ‘Pagaki’ on G. Olymbiou street in Koukaki started discussing the possibility of creating a kafeneion, a traditional Greek cafe, a space for encounters.
The idea began from the common need to try to answer the issue of ‘work’. Most of us were unemployed; some of us were engaged in precarious work in conditions hostile to any sense of dignity and creativity. So, we wanted to try out a different type of work; one based on collectivity, relations of respect, comradeship and solidarity between us.
Our desire for this experiment brought us together in late 2008. This was no accident. Our paths had converged systematically from diverse backgrounds. We were inspired from the diversity of initiatives springing up around the world in times of crisis: instead of surrendering to the defeat of poverty and despair, people attempt to provide collective solutions to the problem of daily survival. We also stepped on the experience gained by participating in ‘Sporos’, a cooperative of alternative and solidarity trade. We dare to put into practise a proposal for a different means of organising the process of production – a proposal still in the making, rendering it difficult to describe it in its entirety.
What we are striving towards through this kafeneio is a work collective. Since workers’ cooperative is a not a legally enshrined entity in Greece, the legal form we chose is the ‘urban cooperative’ [according to the law 1667/1986]– but a different sort of cooperative; one without shareholders and owners; a work space without employers and employees.
So, the kafeneio belongs to all those who are working in it at that time, participating in the collective. All members contributed to its creation according to their economic abilities, and yet have taken on equally risk and responsibility.
If profits emerge after wages have been paid, these are not distributed amongst us, but primarily contribute to a savings fund set up to pay off our internal borrowing, thus create the conditions for the cooperative to be typically independent from its creators. Subsequently, surplus will be used to support other collective initiatives with similar logic and prospects.
Our decision making body is the assembly of the workers. As our means for decision making we use a process which attempts to reach the highest degree of consensus between the members.
Our proposal is far from complete. It is not a proposal just for us, just an initiative to solve the individual problem of work we each face. We aspire that it will constitute an experience useful to many more than the current members of our collective. We place our action amongst the wider current of social change, the social movements globally that strive to touch all aspects of life, resisting the established norms, exploring and creating new ways of living.
Besides the work relations, we strive to fulfill our desires within this space, to the degree that this is possible. From this basis and to the extent that it is indeed possible, we prefer collaborating with small producers or communities of producers; we choose to serve and distribute the products of alternative and solidarity trade (coffee from the Zapatista cooperatives, sugar from the landless peasant movement in Brazil etc) maintaining prices within the kafeneio accessible to all. We have also chosen to encourage and support free music (Creative Commons, Public Domain and independent productions) because we dislike “intellectual property rights” which strangle the creativity in music and whose revenues never finds their way into the artists’ hands. Using this same criterion, we have also decided that our collective should run and work as a place to host information sharing events and discussions which detect the roads of self-organisation, self-management and direct action.
We know that all of this may seem few or piecemeal. Difficulties and contradictions are in front of us in every step we make. However, we want to search for collective over individual answers, and try them out in practise, using the experience of similar previous endeavours. We want to experience a daily life which will include work as an integral creative part of it, and not as a form of slavery, like a time within the day that one just wants to forget.
That's why we made the kafeneio. Our kafeneio, which is open from the morning till late in the evening. We serve coffee, herbal teas, juices, soft drinks, raki, ouzo, beers, drinks and all the necessary accompanying snacks. Above all, we offer a place to meet, to entertain and to create, to share questions, ideas and dreams. To share with you the ‘pagaki’.
Work Collective ‘Pagaki’: One year on…
It’s been just over a year since the work collective of ‘Pagaki’ started operating. We emerge from this experience laden with successes, mistakes, tentative inferences, evaluations, but most of all, the certainty that pathways for collective answers exist for that crucial element of individual and social life: work.
Acknowledging the limitations and compromises that such an initiative entails in today’s environment we tried during the year to bridge our vision for a just society to our collective practise, to bridge the struggle for survival to the struggle for social emancipation.
And so, we have created a collective and a space, which although far from the fantasy of some ideological purity, contain within them the relations we seek for a different society, which we do not want to remain utopian: an autonomous society of solidarity and comradeship, without experts-aristocrats, bosses, wage slavery, without profits for the few and exploitation for the many. For these large issues regarding human emancipation and social justice, we try to give our small answers.
Our journey this year has not been easy; the choice of collective work is no simple matter. The desire to work without a boss is by itself not enough. The functioning of a work collective is not simply an alternative form of livelihood, but on the contrary, it is a form of struggle which demands great political commitment and collective responsibility; which strives to create, here and now, the terms for a different organisation of production.
The relations of trust, solidarity and mutual support during the difficult times we have lived throughout the year constitute the most valuable heritage of our experience. Without the absence of frictions, disagreements and mistakes due to high demands, our different temperaments, and our inexperience, the result of this collective quest for a joint pace is the feeling of collective strength, something so hard to come by in the social situation that prevails today.
Being a relatively closed group with precise procedures for admitting and expelling members from the collective was a catalytic factor in attaining these relations. Work at Pagaki isn’t opportunistic – individuals aren’t hired to cover immediate needs. Instead, all workers are equal members of the group, regardless of whether they contributed to the original capital that created the kafeneio. Besides, the kafeneio belongs to the cooperative and not to its current members, and this condition is formally enshrined in our constitution too.
When we sought to broaden our collective, choosing new members constituted one of our toughest decisions. We did not seek someone solely suitable for the job, but a comrade for our common path. Today the collective has eleven members, with one original member having departed, and four new members having joined.
All the decisions which involve the Pagaki, whether they are practical or political in nature, are taken in our fortnightly meeting by all of us with the highest degree of consensus after extensive discussion.
All work is rewarded on the basis of a predetermined hourly wage, depending on the hours each of us works, and not by dividing up the profits at the end of the month, since our group’s basic constitutional and political principle is that the surplus, if one exists will be used to support collective projects based on similar principles.
Concerning the matters of work as such, we have no delusions about its transformation into a playful process, especially in a demanding sector such as food and beverage. However, continuously trying to create the conditions and take the decisions that make work at Pagaki as friendly as possible for all of us, is a permanent objective of the group.
Our work at Pagaki, like in any other place of work, has its procedural side. Beyond this though, we are interested in its social dimension, meaning, in the creation of an especially accessible-affordable place for meeting and entertainment.
Furthermore, we aspire towards a balance that guarantees the lowest possible prices without compromising the quality of our primary products or their process of production whilst simultaneously ensuring our decent pay and working conditions.
The financial standing after our first year in operation is at first sight encouraging. From the very first months we began receiving our hourly pay, covering running costs and simultaneously managing to repay a large part of the original capital we put into creating the kafeneio. Furthermore, from the original three shifts a day during the first few months, we have now increased this to five shifts a day.
Obviously the Pagaki does not constitute the sole solution to the issue of work. It is however functional and, as its first year has proven, it is a viable model, which we would like to promote. We desire it to constitute a useful example and to partake in the network of mutually supportive projects.
We don’t believe we are, nor do we aspire to be an island of freedom amongst widespread barbarity. We want to withstand this barbarity through our political choice of a work collective and we know our resistance will be meaningful if – and because – there are currently solidarity networks and a plurality of creations being developed to try and negate and overturn the conditions of paralysis, submission and exploitation that the current system imposes on all aspects of our everyday life.
An important aspect of these diverse social movements that are developing is grassroots labour unionism which is organising in horizontal and direct democratic ways combative struggles against exploitation. In this framework, and although our work conditions differ, we support the actions of the self-organized union in our sector and we participate in the general strikes.
A year is a short time, but based on the experience we got through this cooperative we want to share with you our conviction that these sorts of projects are not only possible, but that we have ability – if we have the patience, the perseverance and we do not run out in indictments – to create our own collective answers. And that collective action and creation are able to reinstate the confidence and joy that we so desperately need. The only thing we need is to dare to experiment collectively, learning from the historical experience of other such endeavours.
One year on and more than ever, in affection and anticipation, we would like to share the Pagaki with you.
October 2011. Worker’s collective Pagaki