Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yannis R.-Concerning the Greek Steelworks

Originally published in Greek: Lenin Reloaded, 21 July 2012

Yannis R.-Concerning the Greek Steelworks
Translated by Effie A.

The 24-hour repeated strikes at the factory of Greek Steelworks (Halyvourgia) began on 1 November 2011, when the employer asked the workers to accept either the layoffs of 180 workers or a five-hour workday and a 40% pay cut (the workers could not easily complement their income by working elsewhere for 3 hours per day). Meanwhile, production was on the rise:

-2009: 194,600 tonnes

- 2010: 231,000 tonnes, with the foundry closed down for two months because a worker had died in a work accident

- 2011 (until October): 266,000 tonnes

The company owns a second factory in Volos where the measures for reduced working hours and wages were accepted, but were not implemented as the entire production was transferred to the Volos plant after the strike in Aspropyrgos.

On 3 February 2012, the company obtained a license to construct a big private port next to the steel plant in Aspropyrgos, indicating there were plans to increase production [Source]

The strike and the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME)
It was never denied that the union leader, Giorgos Sifonios, is a member of PAME. However, his co-worker and striker Haris Manolis, also an active member of the Union, is a supporter of ANTARSYA. The strike has been given support by different ideological and political currents. Besides, information coming from the workers indicates that until recently when the strike started, PAME was poorly represented at the Union. In any event, the strike has been decided by the Union, which has the support of PAME but is not controlled by PAME.

The Union’s decisions
The Union’s decisions to initiate and continue the strike have been made by the Union’s General Assembly that can be attended by all the workers of Greek Steelworks. Actually, after the strike was declared ‘illegal’ by the court, a new vote was carried out with 204 workers voting for and 42 against the strike. This means that after 9 exhausting months, the vast majority of the workers voted to continue the strike [Source].

Material and financial support for the strike
Obviously, the strikers of Halyvourgia and their families have been given material and financial support during the strike. They would not be able to survive otherwise, as the majority has no other source of income beyond their wages which were not particularly high in the past to allow for significant savings.

Many people have shown solidarity with the strikers by supporting them financially (by depositing funds to the Union’s bank account) or by offering food supplies, etc. In addition to PAME, many other unions, associations and people’s assemblies have collected money and foodstuffs or organized concerts or other events to support the strikers. Anyone can support the strike without involving PAME or any other trade union.

The legal status of the strike
On 5 June 2012, seven months after it started, the strike was declared illegal by the Magistrate of the Court of First Instance in Athens, because the decision to begin the strike on 31 October 2012 was not made by a secret ballot and the company had not received a 24-hour notice. This reasoning concerning the voting procedure quickly proved to be irrelevant, as the continuation of the strike was confirmed by a new vote carried out by secret ballot (the Union’s by-laws make provisions for a show of hands or a secret ballot), with 204 voting for and 42 against the strike. After the Riot Police broke into the factory on 19 July 2012, the Union held another meeting on 21.7.2012 and decided to continue the strike by 164 votes to 5. [Source]

Negotiations and the ‘intransigence’ of the strikers
The workers’ initial demand was that the company should re-employ all those who had been laid off previously and secure their standard working hours and wages. Under a decision made on 6.6.2012, the Union submitted certain propositions for settling the conflict (immediate re-employment of 40 out of 120 redundant workers and a written commitment to employ the remaining workers in due time without hiring new employees) and reopening the plant [Source]. In the mean time, some workers have already found another job or have retired and therefore the number of employees has decreased. The Union asked the Minister of Labour, Mr. G. Vroutsis, to intervene in an effort to conclude a deal. As a response, the company threatened to close down the plant, the riot police broke into the factory and several strikers were arrested. Immediately after the attack by the riot police, the company withdrew their threats proving them to be just that -threats.

Other information
Information about the workers’ wages can be found in an interview (link) given by the Union leader Giorgos Sifonios. For example, his wage after 33 years of work under 4-day rolling shifts and night shifts amounts to 1,450E. New employees make 42E per hour, i.e. about 1,000E per month. A newly employed worker working at the departments operating five days per week (basically all those who are not directly employed in the production line) earn no more than 900E per month.

The strike at Halyvourgia has had minimum, if any, coverage in the Mass Media. The first report by a mainstream TV channel was that of NET on the 21st day of the strike. Usually the Mass Media remember the strike only to broadcast the company’s threats to close down the factory or to excoriate the Communist Party (KKE) for collaborating with the far-right Golden Dawn party (see below).

The Golden Dawn and the strike
The Golden Dawn’s first known involvement with the strike took place on 19.12.2011 (approximately 50 days after the strike began) when their local organization in Volos issued a statement (link) against the strike, indisputably taking the side of the employer. Then a number of Golden Dawn members led by Ilias Kassidiaris visited the plant of Aspropyrgos on 17.2.2012 (after three and a half months of strike) and released a video in which I. Kassidiaris claimed that they had always supported the strikers but couldn’t visit them due to their work engagements.

Mrs. Eleni Katavati who has made several appearances on TV and radio stations (mainly SKAI TV) as the leader of the Struggle Committee at Halyvourgia, is actually one of the minority workers who oppose the strike. She has often claimed to represent the majority of the workers wanting to return to their posts, but this has not been corroborated by the actual decisions made by the workers at their meetings.

Recently a cargo of residues from the steel-making process shipped from the plant of Halyvourgia at Velestino to Sardinia, Italy, was found with radioactive levels exceeding those detected in cargos originating from Fukushima, Japan after the nuclear accident (source). This was not covered by the Mass Media. One would expect the story to appear at least on the environment friendly SKAI News.

After the intervention of the riot police, some workers got into the factory. However, as pointed out in the address (link) to the General Assembly of the Union on 21.7.2012 (held immediately after the operation of the riot police), the workers employed in the production line are still on strike and therefore the plant cannot possibly operate.

Yannis R.-Concerning the Greek Steelworks
Translated by: Ijon Tichy

With the following we would like to clarify some important points related to the strike at Greek Steelworks. Unfortunately there is wide disinformation on the topic of the strike, which is caused mainly by the one sided coverage of this event from the media, and which finds a fertile ground on the blind disgust that a significant part of people feel towards PAME (All Workers Militant Front) and KKE (Communist Party of Greece).

1. Demands of the Union
The 24-hour repeated strikes in the factory of Greek Steelworks in Aspropyrgos started on 1/11/2011 when the employer asked from the employees to choose between 180 lay-offs and 5-hour 5-days work with 40% reduced earnings (which the employees wouldn't be able to counterbalance from somewhere else in their "free" 3 hours). In the meantime, the production was increased:

-2009: 194.600 tones
-2010: 231.000 tones with the foundry closed for two months because of lethal corking accident
-2011 (until October): 266.000 tones

The company has a second factory at Volos where the measures for reduced hours and earnings were accepted, but weren't applied because, due to the strike at Aspropyrgos, the factory at Volos has undertaken the whole production.

Meanwhile on February 3rd, 2012, the company received a permission for the construction of a large private port in front of the steel mill, showing signs for plans on increasing production.

2. Relations between the Union, the strike and PAME
It is indeed true that the president of the Union, Yiorgios Sifonios, is a member of PAME. Correspondingly, his colleague Haris Manolis who is participating in the strike and is an active member of the Union is sympathetic to ANTARSYA. Moreover the strike has been supported by many different, ideologically and politically, areas. Besides, information from the workers reveals that until recently, before the start of the strike, PAME didn't have a strong representation in the Union. In any case, the strike is decided by the Union, which is clearly supported by PAME, but it is not controlled by it.

3. Decisions of the Union
The decisions of the Union for the declaration and the continuation of the strike are taken by the General Assemblies of the Union in which all workers of the Steelworks have the right of participation. Actually, after the declaration of the strike as illegal, there was a new vote with the result of 204 votes in favor of the strike and 42 against. So after a struggle of 9 months, the vast majority of the workers voted in favor of the strike. After the intervention of the police forces in the strike on 19/7/2012, the Union with a new assembly on 21/7/2012 decided with 164 votes in favor and 5 votes against to continue the strike.

4. Material and economic support of the strike
The steelworkers who are on strike and their families are obviously supported materially and economically during the strike. Most of them wouldn't be able to survive otherwise since it makes sense that generally they don't have other incomes apart from their salaries, moreover they weren't paid particularly well in the period before the strike so they don't have much in savings.

The support of the steelworkers who are on strike comes the solidarity of the people, which arrives to them through the economic support of the bank account of the Union, by providing food etc. Moreover other unions and peoples' assemblies act in solidarity by collecting money and food for the support of the strikers, as PAME does. In addition events are organized like parties and concerts for this cause. In any case, anyone can support the strike without getting involved with PAME or any other union.

5. Legal status of the strike
On 5/6/2012 the strike that started on 31/10/2011 was declared illegal by the Single Member Court Of The First Instance of Athens with the rationale that the decision for the start of the strike on 31/10/2011 was taken without a secret vote and without notifying the company 24 hours earlier. This formal argument was annulled immediately by a new vote of the Union, which this time took place with a ballot box (the charter of the Union allows voting with the rise of the hand or with a ballot box) and confirmed the continuation of the strike with 204 votes in favor and 42 against. After the intervention of the police forces in the strike on 19/7/2012, the Union with a new assembly on 21/7/2012 decided with 164 votes in favor and 5 votes against to continue the strike.

6. Negotiations and "intransigence" of the strikers
The initial demand of the workers was to rehire their colleagues -- the ones that were fired -- and not to apply the reductions of hours and salaries. WIth a decision on 6/6/2012 the Union submitted written proposals for the settlement of the differences (immediate rehiring of 40 fired workers -- out of 120 -- and a written statement that the rest will be rehired in a reasonable time period without hiring new workers) and the setting back in motion of the factory. The Union asked from the under-secretary of Labor Y. Vroutsis to intervene in order to close the deal. The answer was the threat of the company to close the factory, the invasion and the occupation of the factory by police forces and the arrest of some strikers. After the intervention of the police forces the company took back the threat of closing the factory, proving that this claim was just a threat.

7. Additional facts
Concerning the earnings of the workers at Greek Steelworks, informations are given in an interview of the president of the Union, Yiorgos Sifonios. For example, Sifonions himself with 33 years of experience, rolling shifts of four days, three weekends and night shifts receives 1450 euros. The newly hired workers receive 42 euros per day, which translates to a salary of 1000 euros. In departments that operate between Monday and Friday (probably those who don't work directly in the steel production) a married newly hired worker receives a salary of less than 900 euros.

The strike at Greek Steelworks has a very limited, almost nonexistent coverage from the media. The first report in the mainstream media was made by NET on the 21st day of the strike. Usually the media remember to report to the public the threats of the company about closing the factory and to denounce the "collaboration" between KKE - Golden Dawn (see below).

8. Relation of the Golden Dawn to the strike
The first known contact between the Golden Dawn and the strike was made on 19/12/2011 (approximately 50 days after the start of the strike) with an announcement of the branch of the Golden Dawn at Volos in which they side clearly with the employer and against the strike. After this, a group of members of the Golden Dawn led by Ilias Kassidiaris visited the factory at Aspropyrgos on 17/2/2012 (3 and a half months after the beginning of the strike) and released a video where Kassidiaris claims that they were on the side of the strikers since the first moment but they couldn't visit them because they were busy.

Miss Eleni Katavati who shows up on TV and radio stations (mostly SKAI) as the president of the Action Committee in Greek Steelworks belongs to the minority of the Union against the strike. She claims that she represents the majority of the workers who want to go back to work, but this hasn't been verified in the General Assemblies.

Recently on a cargo with waste from steel processing, that left from the factory of the Greek Steelworks in Velestino with Sardenia as its final destination, the levels of radioactivity that were detected were higher than the ones that were detected on cargos that from left Fukushima after the nuclear accident! This issue wasn't reported by the media. Someone would expect that especially the ecologically sensitive SKAI would spend some time on it.

After the intervention of the police forces, some workers entered in the factory being escorted by the police. As it is mentioned in the motion of the General Assembly of the Union on 21/7/2012 (immediately after the intervention of the police forces) the workers who work on the production are still on strike so the factory is practically not operating.

Having read the above it is up to everyone to check the given information and cross check them with other sources. It is also up to her/him to consider who are the ones who distort or cover facts about the strike and why they do that.

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