National, Alpha deal will also affect employee unions; mergers ahead

The announced merger of the National Bank of Greece and Alpha Bank, Greece’s two largest banks, is already having an impact on bank unions. The more militant unions of the (formerly) state-owned partner, in this case the National Bank, have different approaches to relations with management than Alpha’s ostensibly more cooperative unionists. This was much in evidence during the Alpha-Ionian merger of 1999, when Ionian firebrands had threatened to scupper the merger process, often using heavy-handed tactics against management: Ionian’s last executive Haris Stamatopoulos still vividly recalls the day when he was forced to flee a crowd of enraged Ionian unionists with his trousers torn to shreds. On the other hand, unionists at privately owned Alpha have been far tamer, especially since an unsuccessful strike in the mid-1980s. Alpha’s employees have elected a splinter group of independent unionists, most of them former conservatives who advocate closer cooperation with management. Hostilities already under way The unionists close to conservative New Democracy have begun attacking the employees’ union leadership in an apparent attempt to undermine their standing among employees. The dispute is seen as only the beginning in a protracted clash that will also involve National Bank employees as soon as the merger takes place. Another factor in the conflict is the call yesterday by OTOE, the federation of bank employees, for unions representing different categories of personnel within banks to merge by June 30, 2002. At present, there are five unions in Alpha and National Bank. The battle for influence in the (merged) union is expected to be fierce. Unionists close to political parties are hostile to the independent unionists; last year, they had tried to prevent them from being represented at the council of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE).

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