- By Nagia Nikolaou
From the meeting at the Unite the Union Policy Conference titled ‘Resisting Austerity in Europe’
The Greek working class has been hard hit by the economic crisis the last 3 years and this situation will continue with the new government coalition of pro-bailout parties New Democracy, PASOK and DIMAR. The austerity packages have reduced the wages of public servants and the pensions from 30% to 60%, have increased the VAT 4% even in the basic goods, have made cuts in health system and public education and for the first time by law the minimum wage of collective labor agreement decreased by 20%-586€ (and 30% – 510€ for young workers under 25) including the unemployment benefit. The pension funds are ready to collapse due to the unemployment, the reduction of employers’ social contributions and the haircut of Greek government bonds (10 billion € were lost from pension funds). We can say that Greece is in a humanitarian crisis as well as official unemployment rate is 22.6%, (unofficially is estimated at 30%), everyday we have at least 1 suicide and the number of homeless people reached 45.000, every day the condition becomes more and more difficult.
EKA has the pleasure to participate in USI. It’s really a very interesting initiative and I believe it’s a good start for the role that trade unions have to play in this hard economic condition all over the Europe. The last decades, trade unions defending, exclusively, the rights of their employees. They acted only as corporation. Nowadays, the things have to be changed. In Greece for example and due to the particularities of the Greek economy (a lot of small sized businesses), the majority of workers, Greek and especially foreigners are out of unions. The unemployed people that will reach the 30%, are out of unions. Also young people believe that Trade Unions in Greece are a part of the system and not next to them. This pathogenesis of the trade unions must be confronted. The pressure to the working class will be harder and harder and the most extreme example is the working class in Greece, followed by Spanish, Italians, Irish and English.
So we have to make 3 very important steps.
The first one is to change the role of trade unions. The unions must unite the whole working class and not only their members. These unions have to include young and unemployed people. The trade unions need to gain the trust and embrace especially, young and unemployed. I would like to mention some points to be given special emphasis especially on countries with deep economic crisis
The social security system is ready to collapse all over the Europe. We have to make solidarity networks in order to support people that suffer. We have already decided to open a social clinic inside the building of EKA, with the participation of doctors that want to help people without social security. For example the labor centre of Salonica has already a very successful social clinic with volunteers’ doctors and dentist that works everyday. Also steel workers are in strike for 235 days and a lot of unions, not only from Greece, have collected money and basic goods for them in order to support their struggle.
So, the trade unions have to fight, among other, for a social security system for all, without exclusions, alongside its own structures for Solidarity.
The trade unions have to fight racism and fascism. Immigrant workers are part of the working class, so trade unions have to support them. In Greece neo-Nazis party Golden Dawn has won 7% in this election and I’m sure that it will be used as the helping hand of the government policy. Fascist gangs have already organized terrorist attacks against immigrants and I’m sure they will also organize attacks against working struggles. EKA has a very successful net for immigrant workers that help them with state documents and their rights. EKA also supports antiracist and antifascist movements and demonstrations.
Banking System and public sector
The agenda of Unite the Union is very interesting. One of the basic demands of the union movement is the democratic control of the banks and financial institutions. Working class is paying the huge debt of the banks that transferred to the public debt and this is the basic reason of internal devaluation. From 2008 all governments keep giving billions of Euros to the Greek banks in order to escape the collapse. The last 3 years have been funded 106 billion euro (in guarantees, bonds and cash). With the second package only the 4 biggest private Greek banks will receive 48 billion euros for refinancing and not the 2 public banks Greek Postal Bank and Greek Agricultural Bank. And this is a scandal because these 2 public banks are the healthiest in the Greek banking system. If not refinanced these banks will lose their licenses.
Also unions must defend the basic public infrastructures (water, electricity, public transportation etc).
Trade unions have to support the existed consumer movements or to create new ones. In Greece, these movements don’t play a consistently significant role in order to control prices, in contrast with west and north Europe countries that have very strong consumer movements. Last year there were some movements from citizens against tolls & tickets in public transport. The prices of the basic consumer goods are very high, higher than in other European countries. Greece has the lowest salaries in Euro Zone and the highest prices.
Labour Centres all over Greece have made the first step, which is the training, in order to create Consumer Committees all over Greece through Labour Centres.
The second step, especially for Greece and European economies with hard austerity packages as Portugal. Ireland, Spain and Italy is to resist not separately but united against the austerity policies and the dissolution of social cohesion. The struggle is no longer trade but political. We have to fight for an independent, strong, trade union action against the neo-liberal policies. The main issue for the Greek workers, during the current period, is the fight against Memorandum and Troika’s policy.
The third step is the international solidarity. Especially the last years that working class has been hardly hit by the economic crisis. Greece, which is the weakest link in Euro zone, is the first victim of the violent austerity. Solidarity among the people of Europe is a resistance to austerity and to the imminent collapse of the welfare state throughout Europe. For this purpose, Trade unions in Europe have to create a strong common front. USI project is a very important step in this direction. The leaders of European Union are united against people in Europe. We have a duty to unite working class all over Europe.
Representative of EKA
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