Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Striking home


/ mayday / belated /

So here's the story of today's general strike in Greece (11/4): It's both farcical and dead serious:
The conservative government feeling established anough to actually venture some sort of political move, after a period of moderation, really, and disowning neoliberal extremism (I kid you not), decided to fall back in line: it started testing the waters with news of a suggested working hours "liberalization" and ways to increase labor flexibility. The idea is that by introducing a more flexible work schedule, reducing overtime pay and extending shopping hours there will be more "jobs" and greater efficiency all around. I note, that wages and salaries in Greece are the second lowest in the EU, (a fact that can be gleamed by the cost of labor in the country) labor laws are decent but often do not apply to most of the private sector anyway, the unions are in the hands of the socialists and are utterly compliant except when there is some political overhead to be made by their masters in the "Socialist" (and I use the quotes ironically) party, the prices are bizzarely high, making Greece one of the most expensive countries in the EU to live in - certainly the most expensive purchasing parity wise for the lower paid, most pensions are at or below the poverty line, and those Greeks who already work (there's a 10% unemployment and a relatively low percentage of the population working) are working the most hours in the EU. Things are marginally livable thanks to a tight social family network which provides support and aid. These measures would therefore deteriorate working conditions in an already horrid working environment (I note from personal experience, that a large part of the private sector didn't strike because they could neither aford the pay cut and/or were threatened with lay-offs).

Anyway, despite all this the government decided to open up a new and needless front against the unions by refusing to declare the transferred Mayday celebrations as an official day-off. The real Mayday fell on Easter Sunday (Orthodox calander) and therefore the celebrations were postponed for the 11th. This widely unpopular move provided a much needed boost to the unions at a much needed time, and made certain that today's demonstration was vastly more massive than it would have been otherwise (the fact that the Communist part of the unions staged a rally at a different location and time practically split the demonstration in two didn't help though - nice going guys). They're probably testing the waters for the real attack.

Meanwhile the most progressive thing this government tried to do, namely limit media ownership and ban media moguls from strongarming their way to public works projects (in a country with rampant corruption and bribery anyway) was shot down by the EU Comission, which obviously judged that the weak and rather inefficient controls this law introduced would be a bad precedent for the freedom of capital to do whatever it wants, revealing their true priorities and the importance they attach to transparancy and protecting democracy from Media overcentralization and corruption. The saddest spectacle in all of this was the Socialists' fury against this law which apparently was too upsetting to their owners backers, since the largest Media oligarchs in Greece are PASOK supporters...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

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varske said...

I agree that this was a particularly stupid way to begin any action on labour laws.

However, I disagree about the media law. The Commission objects because the law picks on one group of companies only (because they are the apparent problem in Greece) and so it is a form of discrimination. The real problem in Greece is that politicians are corrupt and can be influenced by companies with cash to spend and influence to peddle. If the politicians weren't corrupt, and public tenders were transparent and onjective, media companies wouldn't be picked on.

I can't see how having more shopping time in Greece will help much. Apart from the high prices you mention and the low wages, there aren't the big shopping malls where more jobs might be created. All the little family run shops are not going to stay open longer because it would get in the way of the Greek lifestyle: enjoying yourself at the weekend and holidays.

talos said...

varske: Actually the law is quite general, it's that it *really* hurts only one of the big boys: The Bobolas business group. But that's because he has a lot of money in both construction and the media.

"he real problem in Greece is that politicians are corrupt and can be influenced by companies with cash to spend and influence to peddle."

That's a bit of a chicken and egg problem, whether corrupt politicians invite bribes from dishonest businessmen or dishonest businessmen corrupt public officials with their money. And it's not only money. It;s political influence or threat of damage as well. When you see major newspapers and newschannels friendly to the government until recently, suddenly change their attitude and attack the government, you know that some major public contract is due. Not to mention of course that no one investigates big business scandals on Greek TV, because of the omerta between the principal bigshot owners.

As for the shopping hours: I would wager that already one can find more stuff 24/7 in Athens than in most Northern European cities.