ECONOMY

The big unions do not represent the majority of workers, just the elite

Labor unions represent those who hold jobs. They have no reason to speak on behalf of the unemployed; indeed, the two often have conflicting interests. Those with jobs aim at the highest possible pay raises, but not so high that employers would find it more profitable to hire jobless people instead. In reality, the ability of employed people to increase their income is mainly restricted by the cost taken on by enterprises to hire, dismiss and train them. However, firms, pressed by competition, are often forced to cut production, which leads to fewer jobs. And so unemployment persists, particularly the long-term type – affecting people for more than a year. And usually, the longer the period of unemployment, the less the chances of finding a job again. The European Union has for years now been thrashing out measures that promote employment, but none of these ever makes the headlines in Greece. The current labor upheaval is not about pay raises, nor even about preventing a fall in the number of existing jobs. The labor unions of the broader public sector, which are at odds with the government, have surpassed economic theory. The battle is not for securing higher incomes but for privileged pension rights that do not really concern the majority, not even the traditional «labor aristocracy.» It concerns the elite of this «aristocracy,» who are the driving force of the militant labor unions these days, like the Federation of Bank Employees’ Associations (OTOE) and the General Confederation of Greek Labor. At the same time, unemployment is not what it appears to be. According to the statistics, one in 10 citizens of working age is out of a job. The other side of reality is that a much greater number of immigrants hold jobs, which shows that there is no shortage of jobs in general but rather of jobs that citizens would prefer. Nevertheless, the jobless number remains high and society has learned to live with this. It may be the strong family ties or the extensive underground economy that blunt the impression given by official figures.