On Strike for Over 200 Days
For International Solidarity with Greek Steel Workers! The following article is reprinted from Workers Hammer No. 219 (Summer 2012).
Workers at the Greek steel plant Elliniki Halyvourgia have been on strike for nearly eight months. Since October last year, they have been fighting against an attack by their employer, Nikos Manesis, who is attempting a drastic cut in wages. He has also fired over 100 workers under new anti-union laws introduced as part of the conditions of the EU/IMF [European Union/International Monetary Fund] loans. The steel workers are part of the small but strategic Greek proletariat. According to Guardian journalist Jon Henley, this steel factory made iron rods and girders that helped build the Athens Metro, the Olympic stadium and the bridge linking the Peloponnese to mainland Greece (guardian.co.uk, 14 June). It is in the vital interests of all workers in Europe to stand in internationalist solidarity with these courageous workers in their class battle. A victory for the steel workers would be a blow to the Greek capitalists and the imperialist EU and IMF.
The strike was declared illegal by the courts on 5 June, but the strikers remain solid. A team of comrades visited the pickets on 9 June. We reprint below an edited version of their report.
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Yesterday afternoon we visited the picket line at the Halyvourgia Steel Factory in Aspropyrgos, a seaside town outside Athens. The strike there has been the subject of a great deal of press coverage and is something of an epicentre for class struggle in Greece and around Europe. Comrades had made an earlier trip to the picket lines and the most recent issue of Le Bolchévik, newspaper of our French section, has a statement of solidarity with the strike. The surrounding town is, in a word, desolate. The small town centre was empty.
The workers were picketing outside the factory gates. There are PAME slogans, signs, and banners along the highway, on the gates, and across nearby overpasses. PAME is a formation within the trade-union movement that is in political solidarity with the Greek Communist Party, the KKE. A sign in German from the metalworkers union proclaims solidarity with the strike, saying “Your fight is our fight.” Ominously, there is also one instance of fascist Golden Dawn graffiti near the plant. There are security agents patrolling the property. Ten or so workers were stationed inside the main gates, blocking the entrance to the factory. They were reading Rizospastis, the KKE’s daily newspaper. All of the workers were men, and their ages ranged from 30s-60s. We were told that during the week, there are many more workers on the picket line, including women.
We introduced ourselves as Trotskyists from the ICL who were visiting to show our support for the strike. The workers were very friendly. Union officials at the plant allowed us to distribute our article “Banks Starve Greek Working People” [WV No. 1002, 11 May]. We also left copies of our statement calling for critical support to the KKE in the election. We showed them Workers Vanguard (published by the Spartacist League/U.S.) with a recent article on the Hamilton, Ontario, steel lockout (WV No. 976, 18 March). One union official we spoke to is a 30-year veteran of the plant who is responsible for distributing the weekly strike pay. A striker read the title of our article—“Greek Trotskyists Say: Vote KKE! No Vote to Syriza!” (reprinted on page 7)—in a sarcastic tone. Another worker asked us to read the letter in Le Bolchévik. The workers nodded their agreement during the sections on international solidarity, but stopped paying attention once we got to a quote from Trotsky.
Background to the Strike
There are some 380 workers at the steel plant who have been on strike for 224 days as of today. The trade union called the strike and PAME stepped in. The plant is owned by the Greek capitalist Nikos Manesis, who owns a similar plant in Volos. The strike began last autumn after Manesis demanded five-hour workdays and a 40 per cent cut in wages. He claimed that the factory was in financial trouble, and that this would be a stop-gap measure. According to the strikers, the union counter-offered to maintain an eight-hour day and take a temporary 40 per cent pay cut, to be repaid when the plant became profitable again. But Manesis rejected this and announced that he would fire the legal maximum of 5 per cent of the workforce every month if the union didn’t accept. The workers went on strike, and Manesis has fired over 100 workers so far. In mid-January, when the union met with the Greek labour minister, Manesis fired five workers when the meeting was announced, another five when they entered the ministry building, and another five when the meeting was postponed. Another striker told us that one of their main demands is for all the fired workers to be rehired. Meanwhile, workers in the Volos plant were forced to accept the company’s offer, causing tension between the two groups of workers.
We were also told that earlier this year, a number of workers at Aspropyrgos signed a statement, prepared by the company’s lawyers, stating that they wanted to return to work. This was used as the basis for a law suit against the union. However the union was able to convince the majority of the workers to take back their statements. These workers said they didn’t know their statement would be used in court, and signed a counter-statement declaring they supported the strike. The strikers told us they receive weekly financial support from their union, plus food and clothing for their kids from supporters. Six workers don’t take the money because they don’t want to ask, and there are a number of others who have been cut off for refusing to take back their anti-strike statements. A number of workers are chosen each month to monitor the steel furnace to keep it from exploding. These workers are paid, but are not considered scabs by the workers and are supported by the union. PAME and the KKE provide food and other material help to the strikers and their families. Last Christmas, a PAME official delivered one lamb to the family of every striking worker.
The State Is Not Neutral
There have been several attacks on the strike by scabs, but so far the union has repulsed all of them. The union official told us that a number of scabs went to the police chief for protection, but he told them that if he protected them he would also have to protect the striking workers if they asked. Of course, the state is far from neutral in this protracted and popular struggle. The union and three individual workers are facing a law suit, for not carrying out the strike vote in accordance with the law. A few days ago the courts declared the strike illegal and this led to another attack by scabs. For defending their picket line, some workers have been charged with assault and are awaiting trial.
But the strikers remain defiant and the militancy of this strike has really galvanised popular opinion in a time of horrific austerity. The union official told us a number of stories about solidarity, both from within Greece and around the world. He showed us pictures drawn by schoolchildren who supported the strike. A mainstream Italian news network has filmed at the plant and there have been a number of solidarity visits. A wealthy Greek woman has periodically delivered carloads of groceries and donated 600 euro [$746].
We highlighted the need to oppose nationalism and defend the rights of minorities, including national minorities, in Greece. We inquired about reports that Golden Dawn had visited the pickets and were told that several Golden Dawn supporters showed up anonymously with boxes of food and supplies; one of them took the microphone and quickly announced that Golden Dawn supported the strike. Not surprisingly, some workers were upset by this and complained about it to the union officials.
The workers understand that this strike is very important in Greece and internationally. They recognise that they have become a model for other struggles, and they do not want to cave in, despite the extreme hardship of such a long strike. A worker told us that there is no way he can go back to work without victory, after over 200 days on the picket line. He said, “If I go back to work now, how will I be able to look at my children?” Despite this commitment, conditions are very difficult. Now that the state has declared the strike illegal there will be more pressure and more attacks by scabs and the police. It is vital to approach unions internationally now for letters of solidarity. As we left the plant, I told the union official that the ICL sends its greetings and wishes the workers victory in their struggle. Tears came to his eyes and he embraced me.
• The address for solidarity letters is:
17th Km NEOAK
Asproprygos 19300, Greece
Fax number: 011-30-210-557-8360
• Donations in support of the steel strikers should be sent to:
National Bank of Greece
IBAN: GR 40 0110 2000 0000 2006 2330 152
BIC/Swift Code: ETHNGRAA
Account holder: Dimitris Liakos