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The strike in Aspropyrgos is spreading to other sectors as well

24 July 2012 / 16:07:50  GRReporter
2468 reads

Victoria Mindova

The strike of the employees in Greek Steelworks SA is continuing, despite the government's attempts to put the factory in Aspropyrgos in order. "The reason for our nine-month strike is that we were required to accept reductions in wages and hours - a five-hour working day and a five-day week for a period of four months. We asked the management to guarantee that if we accept these changes, they would apply them for four months only and then we would get the old-time and wage levels back. It didn't happen and the active strike began on 31 October last year", stated exclusively for GRReporter Nikos Harokopos. He is the Deputy Chairman of the plant's trade union organization and he spoke to us during the protest procession of Greek Steelworks SA employees that took place this week.

The management of the plant signalled, as early as at the beginning of last year, that the factory suffers financial difficulties due to the collapse of the internal market and the decrease in exports. After the workers didn't accept the reduced working time, the management cut staff. "120 people were made redundant. Let them hire again at least half of the employees and we will be able to hold negotiations to resolve the situation", explains the trade unionist. The decision to continue the strike was taken on Saturday at a joint meeting of trade unionists, despite the insistence of the government and some of the plant workers for the factory to return to normal functioning.

Currently, about 70 people have returned to work in the plant, but an equal number are continuing with the protests. Strikers enjoy the broad support of many far-left organizations and factions, and they are determined that their demands stand firm. They insist on the return to their previous level of payment, before the cuts, demanding that normal working hours not be reduced, and that at least half of the employees discharged in 2011 be hired again.

When questioned whether he is worried that the plant may close permanently, if they continue the strike, the trade unionist answered firmly: "No". According to him, if the management really believed that they could not continue to maintain the enterprise, it would already have been closed. "They announced closure, didn't they? Then why didn't they close it? The management does not intend to close the plant in Aspropyrgos. This was a way to pressure people to quit the strike. The effect was only partial, though. We will not give up. The strike will continue until the workers themselves decide on its end. "

Unionists are seriously annoyed by the government's decision to send as a permanent presence in the plant's region police forces for riot control. They have to ensure that the protesters will not block the entrance of the plant again for their colleagues, who want to return to work. "These employees, who have returned to work despite our upright struggle, are mainly administrative and managerial staff. A lady who appeared on the evening news and complained that we won't let her work in the factory, is employed in the lunch shop of the plant. Another one is a cleaner. We, the real workers in the factory, will continue with the protest, because we think that we are right."

Protests in Aspropyrgos became a central topic of the news from Greece, because they are the first real clash of Antonis Samaras' tripartite government with the trade union force in the country, which, during the last three years, has resisted reforms the most. The economic platform of the government is built on a series of privatizations of enterprises in key sectors. The opposition party SYRIZA and trade unions are firmly against privatization. The way the government of Samaras deals with the crisis situation in Aspropyrgos will make it clear whether it will be able to cope with the ambitious privatization programme, which is expected to become a catalyst for Greece's economic recovery.

The Greek Steelworks SA employees' protest has been constant during the past nine months. There is a constant blockade at the entrance to the factory and work was suspended until last week, when the prosecutor's decision was issued. It declared the strike illegal and unlawful and some of the staff returned to their jobs. However, there is not enough staff for the plant to begin operating normally. Minister of Employment Yiannis Vroutsis invited unionists and the plant's management to a tripartite meeting, at which to reach a compromise. It will be held on Friday afternoon, but it is not yet clear whether it will yield any results.

And while the struggle over who will prevail in Aspropyrgos continues, the Union of Civil Servants ADEDY has also risen up. On Tuesday, it announced a four-hour labour strike and a protest procession. State officials are determined that they will not accept the decrease in the one-off payment at retirement by about 23% and said that they are ready to start an active strike. The Federation of Bank Employees is also rearing its head, and on Tuesday demanded a meeting with Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, in order to present their requirements on how the restructuring processes of the local financial system should be conducted. Bank officials demand that the ministry ensure that it will keep the number of jobs in the sector and that state-owned banks in Greece (Agricultural Bank of Greece - ATE Bank and TT Hellenic Postbank) will not be privatized.

Tags: Strikes Aspropyrgos Greek Steelworks SA
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