Workers of the Mura Clothing Factory

Mura workers in the sewing workshop at Cvetič, circa 1952. Photo owned by Marija Drvarič, the first person from the left (with a headscarf, looking back). Photo archive of the Murska Sobota Pomurje Museum

For nearly half a century, the Mura clothing factory, which employed mostly women, was a synonym for hard work but good salaries, quality garments, and general progress in the Prekmurje region.

The Mura clothing factory was the result of a merger and nationalisation of the Cvetič (1925) and the Šiftar (1932) factories following World War II. The factory workers first sewed men’s underwear, then other men’s and women’s clothing. Mura eventually grew into an enormous factory with facilities in Murska Sobota, Ljutomer, Lendava, and Gornji Petrovci. “When I started working,” said social worker Šarika Ficko, “the first factory buses started operating from Ljutomer. In 1986, when I retired, there were 32 lines for workers from 504 villages.” In 1992, Mura employed 6,130 people, more than 80% of whom were women.

Like most of her co-workers, Marjetka (names used hereafter are fictional) started working in production at the age of 17. “We had to sew a specific number of items in eight hours,” she said. “Sewing shirts required several operations and phases. I spent most of my time sewing collars. We would help each other, but not all groups were like that.” She had a productivity rate to achieve. If she failed to do it, she would receive a lower salary.

Marjetka was a seamstress at the factory for 25 years: “We were proud to be working at Mura. For a time, it was famous for its high salaries. Mura’s clothes were of high quality. Mura was the epitome of progress in Prekmurje. We collected money and contributed our own labour to build Murska Sobota. And now it’s all falling apart. My mum, who used to work at Mura, would tell me how some older women could afford to go to the seaside for the first time in their lives because of Mura. They had their passports made to go visit a partner firm in Germany. The number of hiking trips my mother went on with the Mura hiking society!”

“Mura was our life,” said Tonija. “We spent more time at Mura than at home. It was difficult, we couldn’t be with our children because we had to work. We also worked afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as overtime and nightshifts. In between, we would go home to cook and do the laundry. That’s how committed we were to the company. It’s in your blood.”

“We were proud to be working at Mura. Mura was the epitome of progress in Prekmurje.”

After 2000 was when the mental and physical draining, fighting and humiliations started. Salaries were so low that one could barely make a living, while the pressure mounted. When the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the workers were exhausted. They were shocked nonetheless. It was impossible to imagine that Mura could ever go under. The bankruptcy left a deep scar on people’s bodies and minds, not only the workers, but also their families, children, the entire region. “Suddenly our work no longer meant anything, they treated us like we were worthless. They threw us out. We had to find new employment. But many of us were too old and no one would take us.” Marjetka was 42 when the company went belly-up.

The deft fingers of textile workers had lost their value on the global market saturated with cheap clothing. But Marjetka and Tonija are still hanging on, thanks to their golden hands. They make do on their own with the help of their families, while many of their former co-workers are unable to do so. Some of them were left without severance and back pays, cheated and with no financial support. In addition to structural unemployment, they suffered from occupational injuries and diseases, mostly spinal injuries, the carpal tunnel syndrome, even formaldehyde poisoning. Due to the lack of systemic regulation of occupational and occupation-related diseases in Slovenia, the workers are, to this day, forced to deal with the consequences of working at the factory alone.

They say that Mura produced high-quality products, built Murska Sobota, farms and homes in Prekmurje. But in fact, concrete people with names and surnames made contributions or built these with their own hands. The coats were designed by concrete fashion designers and model makers, sewed and ironed by concrete workers. The clothing factory was driven by their efforts – their work, know-how, and skills.

Murska Sobota Pomurje Museum

A showcase about the Mura factory is displayed at the museum. If you announce your visit to curator Jelka Pšajd, she can take you on a tour to tell you more about the factory workers. You can also watch a video about their work and browse through the museum’s catalogue Mura odprto (Mura Open, 2012), which is dedicated to the factory’s history and the creation of its brands. The museum is partly adapted to the deaf and hard of hearing but not to persons with reduced mobility.