Drapetsona Fertilizer Company

In 1999, the government decided to close down the Drapetsona Fertilizer Company, putting 384 employees out of work. Retraining and reintegration programs failed and six years later, all that is left is unemployment, bitterness, chronic poverty, pending court cases, and disillusionment with politics and politicians. On November 1, the Supreme Court will hear the dismissed workers’ appeal against what they see as infringement of national and EU legislation obliging employers to negotiate before imposing mass dismissals. If the appeal fails, the plaintiffs will appeal to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Ilias Materis, 56, president of the workers’ association, confirms that none of his fellow workers «has a job like they had at Lipasmata.» Unemployment has hit them all, from technical college graduates (agriculturalists, chemists and engineers) to tradesmen (fitters, stokers, plumbers, and electricians). Even the company’s engineer is on benefits of 400 euros a month. And he once was responsible for the whole factory, whose steam generators produced seven megawatts an hour. What has happens to all those people? «Many fellow workers whose children had gained entry to colleges outside Athens were unable to send them away to study; others separated from their families; 10-15 died, and they were young people.» Yiannis Skoutzouris, 57, a plumber, remembers going to a factory to apply for a job. «I was 53. I showed them a sample of my work and because I’d had factory experience they said, ‘You’ll do,’ but the minute I told them my age and how many social insurance stamps I had, do you know what they said? ‘What can we do with you? You must be joking.’ When you keep knocking on doors and nothing happens, at some point you despair. You feel useless, as if you’ve been thrown on the garbage dump. «My wife has two chronic ailments and in the end, with all this, she had a stroke. We were living on 350 euros a month. I’d rather not talk about how we managed.» Maria Athanassiadou, 53, says: «For 28 years, I got up every day at 6 a.m. I knew I would take the 6.30 bus to be at work at 7.30 a.m. Then, when I lost my job at the age of 47, I used to get up every day at 6 and sit with a coffee until 11. I used to think and think and think. Would I be able to get another job? Would I be able to get a pension? Would it be enough? For three years my body hurt all over. I drove my husband and the doctors wild. I went gray overnight.» She recalls bitterly: «Once when I went to OAED they asked me to sign a form saying I really wanted to find work. Can you believe it? Unemployment is rampant. The municipality of Alimos is taking on 70 laborers – cleaners, at the cemetery, cleaning streets – and they’ve had 3,800 applications.»