Will the Public Power Corporation’s syndicalists win or lose?
It is not quite clear where the idea for privatising 40% of the PPC came from. Was it the Ministry of Finance, the interested private parties, or the troika? [Translator's note: the word "troika" is widely used in Greek media these days, referring to the representatives of the IMF, the EU and the ECB overseeing their agreement with the government in the country]. Yet it is a fact that after this idea went public, an entire front of specific political and financial interests is being formed. This front clearly sees a clash with PPC’s powerful syndicalist union, GENOP-DEI, as pivotal in the contest over the ownership of PPC. The aim of this clash is to lead this union to a retreat and defeat, which would practically complete the permanent weakening of organised waged labour in Greece.
In order to have any chance of confronting this ambitious and dangerous plan for the world of labour, we must understand both the political plan of overturning all social balances (a plan incorporated in the IMF/EU/ECB Agreement) and the complete, by now, consonance of the government with it. In other words we must abandon the simplistic analysis which talks of a “full-on attack” and expects to see the rising up of the united “people”. Rather, we must expose the well-thought political machinery of the International Monetary Fund which after all comprises (following some swinging about in its early days in the country) the only strategic choice of political authority. The said strategy has been transformed from a suggestion of “foreign” organisations which would supposedly overturn promises and understandings of the governing party, into a coherent proposal that has now become the only way out for this political party itself (Trans – the social-democrats of PASOK).
Generally speaking, the strategic attack against waged labour is taking place in three phases. In the first phase we had the decrease of the wages of public sector employees which was based on the admittance that particularly in periods of crisis these employees are safer and have higher wages compared to the private sector – and so, the cuts could be presented as a measure of equational nature. In a second phase, which concerned the public sector, priority was given to measures which were not so much about attacking wages directly but rather, of mid-term or long-term consequences – such as challenging insurance rights and the further deregulation of labour agreements, a zig-zag which found SEV (the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises) in full agreement. From the nineties onward, SEV has developed and used a tactic which gives priority to the worsening of the balance in the workers’ expense, rather than end-on attacks.
The third front now concerns the so-called “guilds”, that is, the organised professions or categories of waged workers. What is hiding behind the IMF’s dogma-like insistence upon the abolition of these “closed professions” and the privatisation of public corporations is of course a strategy aiming at transferring to the private sector activities which are now dominated by professionals (whether scientists or not) with recognised, established rights or with strong trade unions. The line of thought here is simple and redistributive: should we transfer part of the compensation reserved by law or trade union power to businessmen of a given sector, then we create some lucrative business activity, along with the reduction of the income of the professionals or waged workers of that sector in question. There is absolutely no argument to convince that the competition that will emerge between professionals or corporations will lead to any reduction in prices. What will definitely happen, however, is that the fixing of the prices will now be out of any public control, entering instead the fields of cartels and informal negotiations with political authority.
The proved inability of syndicalist organisations to resist the dramatic redistribution of income in the public and private sectors has created adequate conditions for the attacks against the “closed professions” and public corporations to be presented as equational attempts: why shouldn’t an unavoidable (due to the crisis) generalised reduction of incomes reach out to these sectors too? In such concurrence, what was previously an advantage for these categories of professionals and waged workers (that is, the fact that they were those favoured by authority) now turns into a disadvantage. Even the same state or government members who previously administered the advantageous relationships with them have now turned into protagonists of the ideas and values of the troika. The change about to occur in this balance of social forces, with the questioning of the legality of the relationship between authority and these middle layers of professionals or waged workers is of a historical level and should by no means be underestimated by any of the interested parties or their representatives.
During the nineties, amidst the triumph of “modernisation”, the Greek model of the relationship between the state and social classes and groups was exposed in its fullest. The historical reproduction of a clientilist state was confirmed, a state managing advantageous relationships with business interests and with particular social interests alike. A balance was kept, continually refreshed, between formal and informal practices, which could never lead to a broad social contract but that would combine an overall business-oriented strategy with the social legitimation of the regime through its special relationships with middle-strata professional groups or groups of waged workers.
The vision upon which today’s [state] strategy is based is a vision aiming at the legitimation of the political regime through the relationship of the state and business interests alone. This vision can materialise thanks to practices of the state mechanism already functioning, yet it overturns a previous balance between private and public/social interests. It is heading in the direction of a Third World-model, that is, of cooperation between the state and the strongest business interests and policies aiming at the weakening of social resistances and organised social interventions. This new condition can only stay in balance with the entering of the country into a permanent social crisis. But this, too, is a type of a legitimation of a regime.
As the materialisation of this vision takes place each professional grouping finds itself standing (almost alone) against the government but also against the inertia of the rest of the society. We can learn some lessons from the lorry-drivers’ case. The force of this sector, its ability to bring the country to a standstill turned from a strength into a weakness since its mobilisation was presented as turning against a society living through conditions of serious financial and social crisis – and so the utilisation of the weapon of civil conscription was easy and efficient. It is not hard for one to imagine that [the syndicalists of] GENOP-DEI will find itself in a similar situation: able to paralyse the country but unable to overcome the environment of social inertia or/and disapproval as well as the determination of the troika and the government.
In order for a syndicalist or professional organisation to effectively resist this plan it must attempt alliances with society, overturning the tradition of a favourable relationship with the state and the each given government. It must first put a lot of effort in convincing that it truly defends public interest, by presenting proposals for one and each other sector and making a consistent effort to spread these proposals. Attempts must also be made to connect syndicalist or professional mobilisations with the mobilisation of other citizens or categories of workers, through common targets. Finally, true gestures of social contribution must be made, able to dispute the image of advantageous social groups fighting their own interests and needs alone. If these categories of professionals or waged workers do not manage to turn toward the creation of new social alliances and practices, to turn in other words toward society as a whole, they stand no chance of resisting the remorseless political machinery that has been set in motion._