Steel and call centre workers fight back in Greece

Submitted by Matthew on 11 July, 2012 - 2:42

On 3 July, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said she was in “no mood for negotiations” over Greece’s enforced cuts programme.

The ongoing strikes by Greek Steel and Phone Marketing workers show that Greek workers are in no mood for negotiations with national and international capitalism.

A general meeting of the Greek Steel workers, on 29 June, decided to invite the Federation of Metal Workers and all the Trade Union Centres of Attica [the region around Athens] to open out the struggle to the whole metal industry, with a 24-hour solidarity strike as the first step.

Dozens of workers’ associations and workers’ committees are present at the gates of Greek Steel these days, as a token of class solidarity.

Among them is the Workers Committee of the striking women of Phone Marketing. “Having as a beacon the heroic struggle of the steel workers, we continue. We won’t surrender, we won’t retreat”.

On Thursday 21 June, a few days after the formation of the new coalition government of New Democracy, Pasok, and the Democratic Left, scabs organised by Greek Steel owner John Manessis and escorted by the police broke into the Greek Steel occupation, citing as a pretext their “right to return to work”.

At the beginning of June, an Athens court had ruled that the Greek Steel workers’ strike in Aspropyrgos, which had been going on for eight months, was illegal.

The court claimed that no proper vote for strike action had taken place because the strike decision had been by open vote, not through ballot boxes. While the court hearing was still going on, the steel workers held a General Assembly and refuted the argument by a ballot-box vote to continue the strike, 204 to 42.

A few days later, an Athens court ruled that a strike by tour bus drivers, due to take place the following day, was illegal. The drivers were set to strike in opposition to brutal cuts in their pay and benefits demanded by their employers in negotiations over a new collective agreement.

The Greek Steel scabs were discreetly assisted by the police that were there to “protect social peace”. They broke the steel workers’ picket line, taking advantage of a sloppy moment.

They entered the factory and attacked and injured three strikers, who were hospitalised. The employers and the scabs opened all the factory doors, hoping that would be the end of the strike.

Hundreds of people rushed into the Greek Steel factory to support the strike and remained until late at night. The 40 scabs were isolated and had to leave the building, booed and heckled.

By the afternoon the Greek Steel trade unionists had re-occupied their factory. Although all the wings of capitalist power were used — court ruling, police, scabs, security guards, media outcry — it is not so easy to break a strike that has already established itself as a symbol for the working class.

Greek Steel is owned by John Manessis, and is one of three firms that control steel production in Greece. The strike began on 31 October, when workers at the Aspropyrgos plant, employing 400 people, rejected plans to sack 180, cut the work day from eight to five hours, and slash wages by 40 percent.

Greek Steel was the first major employer to utilize new employment legislation imposed as part of the EU/IMF austerity programme implemented by the 2009-2011 social-democratic Pasok government.

The legislation allows companies to dismiss five percent of their staff every month, instead of the previous limit of two percent. Since the strike began, the company has sacked 120 workers. The workers also rejected the employer’s proposal of reduction of their working hours to five hours a day alongside with 40% reductions to their wages: “we are not returning to a dangerous job that places at risk our lives for the pittance of 500 euros per month and without our 120 sacked work colleagues being reinstated”.

A meeting between the Greek Steel workers, Manessis, and the government ministers on 3 July was inconclusive. Following the tripartite meeting, representatives of the Steel workers met with Fotis Kouvelis, who had the audacity to make promises and pledged that he would call a government meeting in order to discuss the “social problem” in the steel industry.

The “democratic” and “left-wing” Kouvelis forgot to tell us that the biggest “social problem” at the moment is the capitalists themselves, whom he serves faithfully through his party participation in the coalition government.

On Thursday 5 July the steel workers voted unanimously to continue their strike. Their determination to carry on their struggle is the best answer to the newly-formed coalition government’s plans aiming to reshape Greek society so that the minimum wage (previously 751 euros) will be something more like the Czech Republic (301 euros a month), Estonia (290 euros), Romania (155 euros), or Bulgaria (148 euros). The government will also further decrease welfare-state provisions, cut dry pension funds and social benefits, further dismantle workers’ rights, and create special zones where capitalists can operate with lower or no taxes or legal restrictions.

Also in June, Manessis sacked a left-wing trade unionist at Greek Steel who is a member of the left-wing coalition Antarsya and union Health and Safety representative at the works.

The Phone Marketing workers have been on strike for 100 days so far (early July) against demands by their employers to reduced them to working one day a week and being paid less than €200 monthly!

A one-day week has been implemented in the ship industry.

At Phone Marketing the employers have “offered” a new package of four days’ work a week employment, 10% reductions in wages, a month’s delay in paying the wages, and replacement of collective agreements and by individual contracts. The employers promised that these would be temporary measures, and they would re-examine the workers’ terms and conditions in September.

The Phone Marketing workers responded by calling a general meeting in the middle of June and deciding on a continuation of their strike. The workers declared boldly that they would not return back to work unless their wages are reinstated to their previous level, all their jobs are guaranteed, and their collective agreements and unions are secure.

The trade unions of other telecommunication companies such as Wind and Vodafone, as well as the councils of Nea Ionia, Hrakleio and Kallithea and a number of neighbourhood community movements, have issued statements of solidarity for the Phone Marketing workers and have contributed to their strike fund.

It is the duty of the revolutionary left to speed up the processes by not only participating in and observing the struggles but organising and being in the vanguard of them. It is our duty to organize every small and big battle, and to win in our ranks the most militant sections of workers and youth.

Every workers’ victory is a step closer to the emergence of the working class as the decision-makers of history.

It’s time for politics. Time for anti-capitalist revolutionary working-class politics; from a revolutionary left which will not confine itself to being the left wing version of the existing political establishment and discredited and decaying parliament, but will instead reinvent politics, not as a technique to manipulate the masses but as a medium for self-liberation of the masses.

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