Ongoing developments at the Greek National Theater are essentially nothing more than a reflection of the state of the broader state sector. The state-run organization’s artistic director, Stathis Livathinos, decided not to renew the fixed-term contracts of three employees who, furthermore, stand accused of “inappropriate behavior.” As soon as his decision was announced, the union representing workers there hit back, calling strikes, threatening to cancel scheduled performances at the open-air Theater of Epidaurus, holding a sit-down protest outside the theater and threatening go-slow action. They utilized every weapon in the arsenal of over-the-top unionism.
For his part, the artistic director, with the support of the board of directors, is trying his best to explain his decision without backing down to the unions, even though he does not appear to have the backing of his political superiors, who told him that he had best “not go ahead with the non-renewal of the contracts.”
Is he at a stalemate? Not necessarily. When Nikos Kourkoulos faced a similar situation a few years ago, he simply hired staff from outside the company, especially for the Epidaurus performances. In finding a solution and setting an example, he came under fire from all sides.
Livathinos is paying for a mistake he made a few months ago by publicly reporting that of the 6 million euros the National Theater receives in state funding, 5.5 percent would go to “inelastic expenses” such as payroll for 260 workers (technical and administrative staff) and 100 actors. It was seen as an act of betrayal from the theater’s ranks.
The Greek state is trapped in a time capsule, convinced that nothing will change in the realm of business as usual. As the scythe of unemployment continues to raze the private sector, in the public sector workers continue to go on strike over the non-renewal of contracts for workers who also face disciplinary action. Here are workers who have banded together, who cover their colleagues’ backs so they can continue to share the tatters of a bankrupt country and enjoy special privileges – privileges they had outright, not that were somehow earned because of the crisis. And, of course, they have political cover and backing. The person who doesn’t have this backing is the person trying to bring some order to the chaos, not sweeping change, just a semblance of order by which a worker will not be rewarded for “inappropriate behavior.”
How can Greece take that much-needed step forward when the country’s reflexes remain constantly frozen in the previous step? When unionism has become tantamount to self-interest and the factor of justice has been removed from the quest for what’s right?