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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Greece: the assault on labour

Edited by Andrew Brady for USi

The labour movement in Europe faces its most important battle arguably since its creation.  It’s not sensationalist to make such a statement. There is a global assault on organised labour. The epicentre of an economic agenda that is getting rolled-out on the  continent of Europe is Greece.
For some this agenda is abundantly clear but for the vast majority, its underlying ideology remains obscured. The reason being is that there has been a deliberate and orchestrated ‘fog of war’ perpetuated by politicians, multi-national firms and media outlets.

Greek citizens have been branded amongst other things ‘lazy’, ‘corrupt’, and ‘inefficient’ by their own politicians and business people. I spoke with many trade unionists and people removed from the ‘Movement’ in cafes and restaurants who believed or perhaps had believed these myths due to their constant recycling.
The greatest victory the opponents of organised labour and progressives have pulled off so far is the ability to convince working people it was ‘their fault’ and not the reckless financialization and deregulation of the world economy. People believed that they had to take their ‘share of the pain’; would have to take ‘pay cuts to reduce the debt’ and workers would have to become ‘more flexible’. In essence, they accepted that they were partly to blame.
These issues and lines of spin sound very familiar but to many Greeks they seemed isolated to them because the country has been caricatured internally and externally as some pariah country on the periphery of the continent of Europe.
When I met workers in meeting after meeting they were interested and fascinated to hear what were the issues facing our Movement in the UK and Ireland. I reamed off the litany of issues: deregulation, privatisation, pay cuts, proposed reform of labour law, pension reductions and the raising of the retirement age. In response, people looked at each other and seemed genuinely surprised at times. And, then they would verbalise the reality ‘it’s the same over there as here’.
There comes a desensitising process where the previous issues become just a list of words. But the impact of the implementation of these policies in Greece is devastating. Trade unionists feel that their country is a guinea-pig or a test-bed for what people are prepared to accept as part of austerity. It could be described as the limits-test. Elsewhere I have written about thesocial costs and listen to our podcasts for more detailed information.
People should be under no illusions. A systematic dismantling of the fabric of a society is well under-way. As part of the bail-out conditions and ‘reforms’ organised labour, in particular, is on the receiving end of an all-out assault.
There is:
  • A move towards individualised contracts of employment as part of the bail-out conditions. If new agreements are not reached then contracts will be stripped back to minimum levels which are being eroded or will be in ‘amended’  to individual contracts;
  • Re-classifications of workers to be termed as self-employed in order to pay higher rates of VAT;
  • dismantling of collective and company-wide bargaining frameworks;
  • New legislation extended the probationary period for new jobs recruits to one year. Previously it was 2 months;
  • Hundreds of thousands of lay-offs; and
  • Up to 40 per cent monthly pay-cuts and minimum wage rate cuts of up to 32 percent for young people.
There are a series of articles on USi by Greek trade unionists who give greater eloquence and justice to the issues faced by the people of Greece and I encourage you to read them in our views section.
Trade unionists and progressives realise that this is not Greece’s fight alone. We cannot succumb to classic divide and conquer tactics by elites, establishments and global capital based on national territories. But this will be a fight on many fronts and by many ways and means.
The resources at the disposal of our opponents are mighty and there is no point in denying this. Yet, something profound is happening in Greece and on the Continent of Europe. The consciousness of people has been stirred. The peoples of Europe are now taking a stand against austerity and its malign consequences – and we must intensify our solidarity. For solidarity is the greatest weapon we have at our disposal.

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