Egyptian fishworkers on strike
In Nea Michaniona, Northern Greece
The struggle of Egyptian immigrant fishworkers in northern Greece. Their strike is still on.
About 300 Egyptian workers at the fishing boats of Nea Michaniona (a village near Thessaloniki, Northern Greece) blockaded two days ago the small port of the village. Before that, from Chrismas on, they had been on one day strikes to protest against the severe decrease in ther income the previous months.
They ended the blockade yesterday but go on with their strike. Egyptian immigrants are paid with shares of each catch’s profit. These shares have been seriously shrinking since some months. A worker who used to make a living and also support his family in Egypt in the recent months receives about 300-500 euros a month for working seven days a week on 24 hour shifts of very hard work (anyone who has spoken to these people knows how hard they work and under what circumstances).
The workers accuse the owners of vessels of exploiting the method of payment to present less earnings and shrink the workers’ money. What the employers want through this – beyond expanding their profit margin in the short term – is to force the Egyptian workers to leave and then bring other (immigrant, obviously) workers at lower wages. Egyptian workers have been coming to work in the fishing business since 25 years now and according to the terms of a bilateral agreement between Greece and Egypt. They demand that they are paid according to these terms.
The owners of trawlers disprove the allegations and justify reduced wages on the grounds of increased fuel prices and the low price of Greek fish due to imports. According to Communist Party of Greece Newspaper Rizospastis what the Egyptian workers demand is to be paid the Christmas bonus, to have a share on VAT return, and be insured in the IKA social insurance fund, not in the OGA (ΟΓΑ) (which is mostly for self-employed farmers): they had been at IKA until 2004, when the PASOK government satisfied a demand of the ship-owners, who did not want to pay for their workers insurance.
Although the workers ceased the blockade, they go on with their strike. Again according to Rizospastis on Wednesday they also had the first elections of the Egyptian Association of Nea Michaniona Fishery Workers (which until yesterday operated on interim administration), despite the efforts by employers and employer controlled Union of Fishery workers to prevent such organization along class lines. This Union, whose administration is affiliated with the PASOK trade unions organisation PASKE (ΠΑΣΚΕ) has been since 2008 assigned with the calculation and validation of shares, and it is since then that the Egyptian workers’ wages have been waning.
Various organisations controlled by the Communist Party, and its trade union PAME, have been close to the Egyptian Workers’ struggle. According to Rizospastis the vessel bosses have been terrorising those (party members and trade unionists) who chose to stand by immigrants, and they attempt to break the strike by mobilizing repressive mechanisms. They said they will sail their vessels by recruiting members of their families in violation of any law. The Mayor of Michaniona Mr Mavromatis clearlt stood alongside the vessel owners.
Yesterday afternoon he appeared at the port and announced that he will go ahead to break the strike. At the same time, by order of the chief of the Thesaaloniki Port Police Forces and the Port Authority of Thessaloniki, the workers who went to lodge a complaint against three ship owners who owed them money were subjected to tremendous bureaucratic obstacles.
The police tried to prevent their lawyer from representing them, they demanded that the workers had a translator, although they speak Greek more than adequately, and kept looking for a Qu’ran for the complainants to swear. Police, riot police and special port police forces were all the time close to the mobilisation to intimidate and deter the workers. Both in Greece (the PAME) and in Egypt trade unions have made protest rallies at their respective Labour Ministries.
Athens indymedia users report that the only road leading to the port was yesterday blockaded by about 100-150 Greeks who said they were waiting to stop the “communists” and along with the riot police there were alert to smash the strike (which at the time – Thursday noon possibly) was supported by the workers themselves and about fifty Communist Party members, who “did not really understood what was going on (some hundreds meters away from them)”. Many racist slogans were being sung, as well as Chryssi Avgi graffiti and leaflets were to be spotted in the area.
There is a meeting today at 19.00 the Polytechic school in Thessaloniki for people to coordinate solidarity actions.