Number of declining industries is growing

In May 2003, German-based underwear manufacturer Schiesser’s Greek subsidiary decided to close its plant and transfer production to China. The decision took about 500 female staff, unions and the government by surprise. The reasons for the closure, as explained by Lothar Brucher, a company board member, in an interview with Kathimerini, anticipated the closure of hundreds of small and medium-size enterprises since then. «A monthly salary in Greece represents the salaries of 12, perhaps more, workers in China. We are planning to withdraw from the expensive countries. We are producers and no matter how capitalistic it may sound to you, we produce when we have sales and with the sales we must make profits. You cannot shut your eyes to reality,» he said. Nevertheless, the government, political parties, labor unions and society continued doing precisely that. They limited themselves to exorcising the «Chinese syndrome» and to subsidizing firms that had exhausted their life cycle. Today, in view of the new wave of bankruptcies affecting hundreds of firms – not only the clothing sector – it is clear that what happened two years ago with Schiesser was the beginning of the end of large swathes of industry that have not managed to modernize, that remain bound by high labor costs and that neglected to attempt an export push. They remained dependent either on the short-term benefits of state supports to employment or relied excessively on banks. And others suffered managers who frittered away their firms’ capital on a luxurious lifestyle. The decline has affected Keranis tobacco industry, underwear maker Sex Form, textile firms Naoussa Spinning Mills, Fanco and Preveza Spinning Mills, IT group Pouliadis, retailer Radio Korassidis, DANE Sea Lines, gym chain Dynamic Life, about 90 percent of construction companies and hundreds of dyers. Their common denominators are lack of liquidity, delays in staff payments and layoffs. Tripartite meetings to tackle such problems are held almost daily at the Labor Ministry. The Manpower Organization (OAED) is preparing support schemes for various categories of workers facing the specter of unemployment, and ministers are holding private meetings with businessmen. As the textile industry’s productive base seems to be making a fast exit from Europe, in Greece the estimated 5,000 small and mid-sized firms that have shut in the last five years prove that a new phase of restructuring is taking place in the Greek economy. Its pace seems to be adapting to what little help the country’s welfare state can provide to workers whose skills are limited to those required by the traditional branches of manufacturing industry. The changes under way are also apparent elsewhere, in areas that once seemed impervious to periodic crises, as the mass media. Radio stations, for instance, are running into problems with the model of «news production» which was established in the early 1990s. Evidence of an impending restructuring in TV companies is also accumulating.