Bank unionists, striking against their employers’ unprecedented refusal to negotiate a sectoral labor agreement yesterday, found an ally in new Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis. Following a meeting with the executives of the Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE), Tsitouridis said bankers should abandon their inflexible stance and start talks with OTOE on a sectoral agreement. «There is no place for extreme positions in such complex matters… We will continue our effort to reach an agreement and we ask all parties to negotiate,» Tsitouridis said. He called OTOE «a shield for tens of thousands of Greek employees and pensioners» that protects «the sacred right to employment.» «These are especially difficult and sensitive times… We must accommodate the need to retain our social and value model with the need to protect competition and survive competition,» Tsitouridis added. OTOE’s position was also supported by opposition leader George Papandreou, who visited the offices of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE). Papandreou accused the government of secretly backing the bankers. «The struggle will be long and victorious… The Karamanlis government attacks employees’ fundamental right to engage in collective bargaining.» GSEE President Christos Polyzogopoulos, also a prominent member of Papandreou’s PASOK party, compared OTOE to the UK’s National Union of Miners whose year-long strike in 1984-85 was the turning point in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s efforts to weaken the unions’ influence. «The same effort, with the same goals, is being made in our country, using the bankers this time,» he said. OTOE officials were saying the strike was «even more successful» than the one on February 6, OTOE President Dimitris Tsoukalas announced. He did not provide any figures and neither did the bankers. There were several tense moments when strikers tried to prevent non-striking colleagues from working, notably at an Alpha Bank branch in central Athens and at ATEbank’s headquarters. The labor crisis erupted on February 1, when the country’s biggest banks (National, Alpha, EFG Eurobank, Emporiki, ATEbank and Piraeus) announced their refusal to negotiate a sectoral contract and stated their preference for enterprise-specific contracts. By the end of that day, 55 of the 62 banks operating in Greece had endorsed their view. Thanks to a 1990 law passed by an all-party government, the Hellenic Banks’ Association is not considered an employers’ union and is not obliged to negotiate a sectoral contract if at least 30 percent of its members do not agree.