| TREZZANO SUL NAVIGLIO, Italy, June 13
TREZZANO SUL NAVIGLIO, Italy, June 13 When
Italian car parts multinational Maflow imploded under the weight
of the financial crisis, workers at its nerve centre in Trezzano
sul Naviglio occupied the factory to protest against
mismanagement and seek redress.
Now, a core group of former workers has set up a cooperative
at the plant to recycle technological waste in a job creation
initiative that has captured the popular imagination.
"Since we started, we've been flooded with letters from
people who want to join us or do the same thing - create a
sustainable future for themselves and their families," ex Maflow
worker Michele Morini told Reuters.
Speaking across a table in a spartan room that was once
management headquarters and that now also serves as a canteen,
43-year old Morini said he hoped business at the newly-created
Ri-Maflow cooperative would grow quickly and create jobs for its
17 members and even the 300 Maflow workers that lost their jobs.
The initiative could also help raise the profile of a series
of worker-managed "rescue" companies springing up across Italy
from the ashes of failed firms, he said.
Since Ri-Maflow was founded in March, workers at an occupied
factory in Rome, once used to repair railway carriages, have set
up "Officine Zero" to do recycling work, while those at former
adhesive tape manufacturer Evotape in southern Italy have
created their own co-op to continue production.
Blighted by its longest recession since World War II, Italy
has seen its unemployment rate rise into double digits as
companies fold in the face of stagnating demand, rising costs
and a credit crunch.
Italy's employers association Confindustria estimates 40
companies close every day and Prime Minister Enrico Letta has
put job creation squarely at the forefront of his agenda,
pledging to cut youth unemployment to below 30 percent from
April's 40.5 percent.
"This is not just a crisis, it's a whole system that has
collapsed. We need to reassess the way of doing things," Morini
FROM BOOM TO BUST
Back in 2007, Maflow was a thriving company with 23
factories worldwide supplying specialised vehicle parts,
especially air conditioning, for leading automobile
The Trezzano factory, a 30,000 square metre plant in the
industrial hinterland behind Milan, was the jewel in the crown
employing 330 people to meet an order book boasting the Who's
Who of the car world.
"I was in the design division. Every day we had visits from
managers from the likes of Mercedes, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce,
Lamborghini - it felt like it would never end," Morini said.
But it did. In 2009 Maflow, under private equity management,
was declared insolvent under 140 million euros of debt in Italy,
and an estimated 300 million euros worldwide.
The company, which in its heyday took 80 percent of its
revenues from BMW, was eventually bought by Poland's
Boryszew but cohabitation lasted just 2 years.
"It was clear from the start the Poles did not want to
invest. Things drifted and in the end people were playing
ping-pong, cards and basketball in the factory," Morini said.
Trezzano's four warehouses are today mostly bare, stripped
of the plant that made Maflow tick. But they are slowly filling
up with old computers and electrical appliances as well as the
boxes and shelves needed to sort the recycled parts.
"The word is getting round. People have started dropping
things off and we've already had enquiries from businesses
interested in our work," said Massimo Lettieri, Ri-Maflow's
There is a long way to go. The cooperative still needs to
get through red tape to secure the permits to start business and
there's also a problem of rent. The property is owned by Italian
bank UniCredit and Lettieri said talks to reach an
agreement have stalled.
But the members, many retrained under regional authority
schemes, are confident the business has a future.
Under EU regulations member states must recoup at least 45
percent of electrical and electronic waste by end 2015. Brussels
estimates over 95 percent of the companies involved in the
recycling sector are small and medium companies.
"I spent a lot of time and money looking for a job but
there's nothing out there. Let's study how to create something
ourselves," Morini said.
(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Patrick Graham)