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Workers’ struggles in the private sector in Greece

category greece / turkey / cyprus | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis author Friday January 06, 2012 19:55author by Kostas Svolis Report this post to the editors

Just before 2012

400 workers in the steel factory of Aspropyrgos (near Athens), Halyvourgiki Inc. v Citigroup Global Markets Limited, are in their 60th day of striking, as their struggle is becoming almost emblematic for the working class of the country. Many solidarity actions, as well as events that aim at the economic and political support of the strike are taking place every week in neighborhoods and cities.

400 workers in the steel factory of Aspropyrgos (near Athens), Halyvourgiki Inc. v Citigroup Global Markets Limited, are in their 60th day of striking, as their struggle is becoming almost emblematic for the working class of the country. Many solidarity actions, as well as events that aim at the economic and political support of the strike are taking place every week in neighborhoods and cities. Representatives from the popular assemblies of neighborhoods, grassroots worker’s unions, non-parliamentary parties of the left, anarchist collectives and social centers, as well as students and pensioners walk through the factory’s gates everyday to express their support and show their solidarity either by economic sums that are added to the striker’s autonomously organised fund or by donating food and other basic products that the strikers need.

The 400 workers refused to accept the bosses’ intimidation who imposed a change in their contracts so that they would work 5 hours per day with a 40% wage cut. After the refusal, the company sacked 50 workers. Then all the workers went on a permanent strike till their demands are satisfied and their co-workers are back at work. Even though the worker’s union is controlled by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) this has not posed a barrier to a growing movement of solidarity from different parts of the radical political scene in Greece.

The steel workers struggle is of course not the only one taking place today at the workplace. In the contrary, during the last year we are witnessing a new phase of numerous, confrontational and hard class struggles in Greece. This is taking place as people have been totally disillusioned after the failure of the rare and spread out 1 or 2-day general strikes that took place during 2010 and 2011 (they were called by the big unions of the private and public sector). The general strikes didn’t pose a threat to the greek state and the bosses so they just went ahead with the austerity measures. These measures cancelled workers rights and are leading to a great devaluation of work.

Therefore, due to this disillusionment, we are now witnessing that struggles have started developing at a smaller scale: that of the restructuring of work relations, in the workplace. These struggles are mostly related to companies that either closed down their business claiming they could not survive (essentially they just experienced reduced profits) or to businesses that have stopped paying their employees for the same reason. Even though these struggles are not taking the spectacular form of demonstrations or clashes in the streets, and even though they constitute (for the time being) a defensive response to the attack of the capitalist class, they still are very important for the struggling working classes that live in greece. Because these struggles are articulating that the crisis is not one related to the “nation” (national crisis), but rather to social class. The antagonism or competition does not exist between the greek nation and some “foreign profiteers” (IMF, EU and the debt capital), but between the working class and the local, national and international capital. It is the greek capital that is trying to hold on to its profits and pass on the burdens of its debt to the people.

The main subjects of the struggles have been the service sector workers. However, more recently is has also been the industry sector workers, even though Greece is (wrongly) said to be a country that “produces nothing”. While it is true that agricultural and industrial production has been significantly reduced, the greek capital was transferred to the Balkans during the 90s’, where the multinational proletariats were brutally exploited and lots of capital was accumulated. At the same time, the exploitation of immigrant farm workers increased exponentially in industrial-scale agriculture in greece. During the 2000s the national capital invested in the services sector and the construction industry (eg.olympic games in 2004 and big public works) created a big part of today’s debt, and exploited migrants in a cannibalistic way at the construction sites.

Other industrial workers struggles

One hundred steel workers of “KONTI” in Volos city guarded the factory’s gate for 60 days (to prevent the company from having access to the production), demanding that the factory is reopened and their 6 sacked co-workers are given back their jobs.

Also, same tactics are being followed for 20 days now by 35 workers on alluminium factrory of Peristeri in Athens who are have been unpaid for one year. In response, the bosses sued 38 workers and unionists and declared “we are first closing your houses and then ours”.

The struggles in the two big milk production industries (AGNO and MEVGAL) have been victorious. The workers of AGNO clashed with the police outside the factory and achieved the re-employment of four (out of 8) workers that had been sacked due to their involvement in the actions. Also, the drivers of the lorries transferring the milk refused to pick it up showing their solidarity to the factory workers. The 11th October strike in the MEVGAL factory in Larissa was sparked by the bosses’ decision to sack 1 union representative and 17 workers and at the same time reduce their salary. The workplace union was very insisting and organized a 800-strong event at the factory’s gates. The company backed down on all its decisions in fear of loosing profits as the milk was going out of date.

Also, there have been clashes between 330 workers of the pharmaceutical company of Gerolmatos in Athens on the 30 November, because the bosses tried to take away big amounts of produce from the factory’s storage place. The company is still trying to impose a 1 day work per week plan and has not paid the workers for months.

The workers at the Mass Media sector

Due to the economic recession, the profits of the Mass Media companies have being reduced considerably, as there has been a significant cut of spending for advertising. So, the mass media bosses who have made a lot of money, not just from advertising, but also from money given to them for bribing purposes (political parties etc.), are not willing to accept earning less profits and are trying to pass on this ‘burden’ to the workers.

The employees of ELEFTHEROTYPIA (3rd biggest newspaper) are on strike since the 22nd of December. They have not been paid since August, so numerous 48hr strikes took place before December. The bosses are claiming that they cannot pay the employees because they cannot get out a bank loan. However, the last loan was spent on paying shares to shareholders and not paying the employees wages.

The 620 employees of ALTER TV Channel have been unpaid for 5 to 10 months and have gone on strike 3 times in the last year. Since the 10th of November 470 employees stopped the channel’s programme and have replaced it with a card instead, which informs the viewers of their bosses choices. They are also guarding their workplace day and night, making sure its closed and demanding their wages. The text in the channel’s programme also informs viewers about struggles in other workplaces!

Employees in the services sector

The employees of Vodafone won an important struggle. Doing a 3day strike in Thessaloniki and one day strike in Athens they managed to prevent the plans of their bosses to change their 8 hour contracts to 5 hour ones, with the analogous reduction in wages.

The multistore NOTOS COM tried to change all employees contracts from 5day to 4day contracts and reduce their wages by 20%, as well as cut down the employer’s national insurance contributions. The workplace unions reacted with a 24hour strike on the 1st of December, in which all employees participated. They guarded their workplaces in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki and made the company back down, as the bosses were afraid of strikes during the Christmas shopping season.

The hotel Porto Karas in Chalkidiki (famous tourist destination in northern Greece) owes its 800 employees 3.000.000 euros (3 wages in total), even though the company increased its profit by 5% profit last year. Since the 2nd of December the mass assembly of the employees reacted by organizing a rolling 48hour strike until the 30th of December.

Precarious workers and the unemployed

During October and November the temporary employees of the Hellenic Statistical Authority carried out a population census, but were not paid for it. In Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras and Lesvos they organised demonstrations and squatted (just Thessaloniki) the HSA. They were asking for their payment, since the state refused to pay them for 6months. The census employees were mostly unemployed people that usually do temping jobs, but through autonomous organising they achieved to receive their payments.

Kostas Svolis



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