End of an era for Croatia, as a much-loved pencil factory closes. Story and photo credit: Lupiga.com
Zagreb Pencil Factory (TOZ) Penkala is now history. All of its employees have been fired. We have spent the last day with them. They were leaving the factory premises with bags in their hands. Many of these people have spent their entire careers in TOZ. They are convinced that the company was pushed into bankruptcy because of 60,000 square meters of its premises in Kustošija in Zagreb. For seven years, there have been plans for a residential and business complex to be built on that location, together with eight hundred apartments and a skyscraper which will dominate the surrounding area. The workers told us that the plans for the project are posted on the wall in the office of the general manager. The following is what we have seen and heard at the Zagreb Pencil Factory on its last day.
We find several workers in front of one of the factory buildings. Beside them there is a pack of beer, as well as cakes, juices, and wine on the table. A little bit earlier they even had a barbecue. This is their last day and they wanted to properly say good-bye to each other. All 40-odd workers received their notices of termination on July 16, the day when TOZ was pushed into bankruptcy due to 1,2 million kuna. They did not know about the bankruptcy. Two weeks earlier, the management told them at the meeting that it will not happen. They have learnt about the bankruptcy for a receptionist.
We have witnessed touching scenes of co-workers saying good-bye to each other. On this photo, on the left is Ivica Šotonji with a colleague. He has been employed in TOZ since 1973 and has the longest uninterrupted career in TOZ, exactly 42 and a half years. In just six months, he would fulfil the conditions to earn a full pension.
The union is left with a little money in the bank. Trade union representative Danijela Padavić brings a list which members of the union sign. This will be the last money they will ever earn in this factory. Tomorrow, the majority will go to the unemployment office, where they will be classified as job-seekers with low-probability of finding a job. Employers look for younger employees, and these people have already spent a good deal of their lives at the Zagreb Pencil Factory.
The workers invite us to tour the deserted factory buildings. Pens and pencils everywhere. The machines are old, but entirely in working order. If you were to bring in workers and place them next to the machines, a river of pencils would start flowing. But, who needs production in this country? Is it not better to throw these machines into scrap metal, send the workers to the dustbin as well, and then replace the factory with flats and offices? In Croatia, it is not unusual to slaughter a whole cow for just one steak.
The last shift is about to finish. While four or five people clean up the makeshift table in front of the factory building, some workers have decided to once again walk through the facilities and say good-bye. They do not want their faces photographed because they are distrustful towards reporters. They shame us with their question: “Why haven’t you come here earlier?”
That is it, the last shift ever is over. Several workers will remain employed with a minimum wage and through another company. They will finish the ongoing jobs. Workers have told us about the upcoming meeting of creditors of the company, including banks – Zagrebačka Banka, OTP Banka and Partner Banka. The meeting is to take place on September 16, but nobody expects anything to come out of it. True, creditors could decide to continue with the production, but when has a bank ever helped a worker? TOZ workers are under no illusions, it is clear to them that the banks are absolutely not interested in the resumption of production of pencils. So they leave without hope they will ever return.
One man has remained alone in the factory. He introduces himself as Zagi, but won’t say his full name. He first grumbles, but then quickly opens and shows his kindness. “I am the last step. When I’m gone – that is it”, he says. We ask him what was his job, and he answers: “I am a mechanic. For all these years, I have maintained all the machines you can see here.”
Zagi takes us from a machine to a machine and shows us how they work. You can see that he knows intimately each machine. This machine used to put erasers on the top of pencils. It is old, but it would have been able to continue working for years. Whenever Zagi remembers that the factory will no longer need a mechanic, he grumbles and starts to curse. At the same time, he also changes the way he behaves towards us. We do not blame him, not the least. We cannot stop asking ourselves the question: “Why haven’t we come here earlier?”
It is over, the mechanic says at one point and starts to put out the lights. Let’s go. We are leaving the factory and taking the last photo. Hundreds and thousands of TOZ’s pencils, the very last TOZ’s production series which will help someone learn how to write. It’s over, another factory is closed. Zagi was the last step. Soon the workers from another company will come “to sort out the goods”, and then the demolition and construction of apartments and offices can begin.