Sunday, July 22, 2012

Greek Steel Workers Strike: 264 days of struggle

Greek steel workers by YORGOS KARAHALIS / Reuters
Greek Steel Workers Strike: 264 days of struggle
By Nicolas Mottas
OpEd News
A working class hero is something to be.
An ongoing revolution is taking place during the last nine months in crisis-stricken Greece. I'm not referring to the known scenes of indignant citizens marching outside the Parliament. I'm referring to a less known, but much more significant, story. It's a heroic struggle that is taking place outside the steel plant of the "Hellenic Halyvourgia" (Greek Coal/Steel industry) at Aspropyrgos, a suburb of Athens. The story is a characteristic example of class struggle within the context of the severe capitalist crisis which dominates the country since 2009.

For 264 consecutive days, the workers of the private-owned industrial colossus "Hellenic Halyvourgia" remain on strike, thus trying to defend their obvious rights with all the means they got in their hands. It could be the story of any worker, in any part of the world. Last Tuesday, a mass rally in support of the steel workers took place in central Athens -- the message was more than clear: the struggle of the strikers will continue until victory!

From his side, in a profound effort to terrorize the workers, N.Manesis (the owner of "Hellenic Halyvourgia") has publicly threatened that the Aspropyrgos steel plant will be soon closed if the strike continues. The whole story started last October: The administration of the industry -- the largest of steel production in Greece -- decided to reduce the working hours and cut the salaries in an effort to counterbalance the losses generated by the economic crisis. On October 2011, taking advantage of the anti-labor laws passed under the EU-IMF bailout agreement, the employer announced drastic cuts in wages, the layoffs of 36 workers and his plan to fire 180 from a total of around 400 working men and women. The action provoked a strong response from the Union -- supported by the All Workers Militant Front (PAME) -- which decided the first 24-hours long strikes.

Answering the hypocritical arguments of the industry's administration, the president of the steel workers Union Giorgos Sifonios presented data according to which: the production of iron at the steel plant had been increased from 194,600 tones in 2009 to 231,000 in 2010 and even before the end of 2011 it had already reached 266,000 tones (Rizospastis, 2.11.2011). It therefore became absolutely clear that the motives behind the layoffs and the cuts is the maximization of the owner's profit -- the very essence of the capitalist system's function.

Since then, the steel workers continue their strike under especially difficult circumstances. While the government "washes its hands" calling for a "commonly accepted" solution, a propagandistic mechanism has tried to throw mud on this heroic struggle. I copy from a recent announcement issued by PAME, the working coordination center affiliated with the Greek Communist Party:

"The last press releases coming from part of the Media and people working for Manesis slander the trade union and the steelworkers' struggle and are by no means random. They are parts of the plan to terrorise with threats and blackmails, to break the steelworkers' proud struggle, and show "green light" to the employers in total. In this game of impressions one loyal ally of Manesis is the governmental and employers' trade unionism. They never lose the chance to attack the trade union, for the tactics it has been following, and to advice it to submit. On Thurdsay Mr Panagopoulos (president of General Confederation of Greek Workers), making statements in one of the state TV channels, supported the position that "mo matter what salaries and working relations, as long as jobs aren't lost". Right now the capital has got one and only goal. They want to crush the price of labour power, under the conditions of crisis, so all these can be used as "fertilizers" in order to achieve recuperation. The struggles the workers not to become slaves, is called "blackmail" and "the cause of shutting down the factories". On the other hand wages of 400 euros and crushing the workers' lives is considered healthy entrepreneurship and necessary realism".

All these months, the leadership and members of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) have been by the side of the steel workers and their families. Talking to the media, the KKE Secretary-General Aleka Papariga brought the issue of the strike at the center of the political interest. During her last visit to the plant earlier this month, Papariga called the political parties to support the demands of the workers, contrary to the threats of the employer. And indeed, there is no middle situation on that case -- you can be either with the workers or with the industrialist. Any other stance can be described only as a hypocritical speculation or pure opportunism.

For 264 days the Greek steel workers try to protect their vested rights contrary to a mechanism of terrorism. On June, the Athens First Instance Court declared the strike as 'illegal' following a decision by the judge who argued that the strike, started on 31 October 2011, was decided without holding a... secret ballot. The strike was therefore 'unlawful', according to the class-oriented standards of Greek Justice. As a consequence, a secret ballot was held by the workers union on the 28 th of May which showed 204 votes for and only 42 votes against.

However, the mechanisms of manipulation and anti-labor terrorism continue to blame the striking workers for closing down the steel plant. But the truth is that the workers striking activity has absolutely nothing to do with the closing of the industries -- it is the competition character of the capitalist, free market economy and the neoliberal policies which have put lockers to many Greek industries and factories.

For example, a number of industries in Greece have either cancelled their function or moved their plants to neighboring countries: United Textile (Lanaras), Diamond Hellas, Ideal Standard, the shipyards at Skaramangas port, Katselis Thessaloniki, Foco, Mines at Kassandra, Viosol and many others. The Thessaloniki Industry Chamber has provided data according to which 627 small and large enterprises have shut down during 2012.

Who should be blamed for closing down all these private industries? The workers or the industrialists? The struggles of the working people or the governmental policies?

A common struggle.
The nine-months long struggle of the steel workers at "Hellenic Halyvourgia" is a struggle of the whole working class in Greece. It's a common struggle. And it gives a message to the working people around Europe, but also to the rest of world, wherever the rights of the workers are threatened by the laws and practices of capitalist oppression. Messages of solidarity, from Spain to Mexico and from France to Cyprus have been issued in support of the Greek workers who demand a better future, for them and for their children.

The 264 days of strike at the steel plant of Aspropyrgos, a few miles outside Athens, is an example of a solid, heroic resistance. The workers are determined to continue their struggle until victory -- for that they have contributed with specific proposals (Collective Contracts for everyone, reinstatement of the fired workers, humane conditions of work ) including the cancellation of the layoffs decided by the employer. The vindication of this hard and proud struggle will definitely be a victory for every worker in any corner of the world.

[UPDATE] - July 20, 2012:

The above article was written on Thursday, 19th of July. On the early morning of Friday, Riot Police forces, under the instructions of the coalition government, attempted to break the heroic strike of the steel workers, thus arresting the strikers picket line, who have been on strike for 9 months. Very quickly and after the mobilisation of PAME, hundreds of workers gathered at the gates of HALIVOURGIA to support the strikers steel workers. The solidarity mobilisation was still in progress on Friday afternoon.

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