PPC unions vow to defy government's back-to-work orders

Exacerbating a standoff between the government and striking employees of the Public Power Corporation (PPC), Greece’s electricity monopoly, worker unions on Saturday vowed to defy a civil mobilization decree issued by authorities.

The coalition resorted to the measure, usually reserved for national emergencies, after unions flouted a court decision Friday that found their strike, which has caused brief power outages across Greece, “illegal and abusive.”

“Without us, the cogs will not turn. Without us, there is no electrical power,” former GENOP union chief Nikos Fotopoulos said on Saturday, urging PPC employees to “tear up” the back-to-work orders.

Earlier, the government indicated it had no intention of backing down either. “Since day one, the government’s intention was and remains to protect the public interest,” government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi said. “In a democracy, the law and court rulings must be respected by everyone.”

Analysts said Saturday’s developments gave both sides an opportunity to save face, as uncompromising unionists could claim to have only finally succumbed to the civil mobilization decree, while the government was able to make a display of determination while reducing the danger of a nationwide blackout.

Backed by SYRIZA, workers have battled troika-mandated plans to break up PPC and sell about 30 percent of the firm to a private competitor by 2015, saying that this will result in job losses and higher prices.

“The government has once again chosen the path of authoritarianism,” SYRIZA said in a statement on Saturday, repeating its proposal for a popular vote on the issue.

Analysts have interpreted the referendum proposal as an attempt by SYRIZA to weigh the possibility of political alliances that could trigger a snap poll at next year’s presidential election.

The Communist Party (KKE) has snubbed the call which gained support from Independent Greeks, Democratic Left and five independent MPs. Still, it remains an elusive target as SYRIZA needs to gather the support of 120 out of 300 deputies so that Parliament can discuss the idea.