The unions’ heavy hand

When the four-page announcement of the leadership of National Bank’s Employees’ Association was first circulated late on Friday, January 11, nobody could forecast that the blistering language contained therein presaged the end of the «marriage of the century» between the two largest Greek banks, the National Bank of Greece and Alpha Bank. As it turned out, that statement was just the first act in a war of words between unionists at the two banks, which ultimately contributed to the dismantling of the merger agreement, in which not only the two bosses, but also the government had staked a lot. When this announcement was made public, no one thought that phrases such as «corruptors of consciences, professional blackmailers, petty seekers of cushy jobs and officeholders» that were addressed to Alpha’s management also reflected the opinions of National Bank managers, even among those who had worked hard on the agreement, towards their Alpha counterparts. As happened in the case of Alpha’s acquisition of state bank Ionian, in 1998-99, the unionists played a preponderant, one could say overbearing, role. But this time, both banks’ unionists played the role of vociferous supporters of their respective bosses. They did more than that; they appropriated for themselves the role of the banks’ spokesmen, given the managers’ reluctance to publicly comment on the. The Alpha Bank employees’ reply, on January 13, was every bit as incendiary, insulting National’s employees’ union president Stavros Koukos and calling him a «marionette.» It was obvious from that point on, that the top management of both banks were fighting each other by proxy. The National unionists had every reason to insist that the initial agreement on the management of the merged bank be strictly adhered to. Not only had they enthusiastically endorsed the merger, with the approval of OTOE, the umbrella union of all bank employees, but according to evidence, they had exacted from National’s management that all future management positions in the new entity would be filled by a ratio of 6 to 4 (six former National managers for every four Alpha managers). Now that the merger has been canceled, there are a number of questions that need answering: Did the banks’ two unions, in taking a prime role in scuttling the merger, act as proxies for feuding managers? And are the interests of more than 25,000 people – the number of employees in both banks – identical with those of the top brass feuding for the choice assignments? Who will now accept responsibility for the deception of so many people, who thought that they would be part of a powerful group, able to compete on an equal footing abroad? Who will also take responsibility for the fact that certain issues – such as the merger of social security funds, whose solution would be facilitated by the merger – are now further from resolution than before?