Garbage strikes: A powerful weapon

Greeks produce about 3 million tons of garbage a year, 5,000 tons a day in Attica alone. There are currently 45 waste management plants (XYTA) that cannot be converted into sites approved by the European Union and which release about 800 tons of hazardous toxic gas into the atmosphere annually. Half of the garbage that ends up in landfill sites is organic matter and 40 percent is packaging material (which should normally be recycled). According to official statistics, 300,000 tons of electronic waste (containing toxic materials) end up in landfill sites along with 40,000 tons of plastic. It has been estimated that the pollution of ground water (from the substances in landfill sites) extends over a radius of about 10 kilometers from each site. This situation can only be changed by legislation providing for compulsory recycling to reduce the volume of waste. After all, recycling is not a recent discovery, but has been long delayed in Greece because of the money to be made out of garbage. One has only to recall the case of Nikos Papadimas, who in his 16 years as mayor of Ano Liosia, was found to be responsible for 10 million euros changing hands unofficially, not to mention poor management. After an administrative audit, 53.7 million euros were found to be missing from the Ano Liosia coffers and a further -5.5 million from neighboring Fyli. Violations of the law were also discovered within the municipality involving irregular subsidies (amounting to 8.2 million euros), while another audit uncovered double payments that created a further deficit of 7,256,000 euros. And that is only the tip of an iceberg that has crushed any attempt to resolve the country’s waste problem, quite apart from the waste of public funds. The leading players in the «game» at the Ano Liosia landfill number no more than 300, most of them economic immigrants and Roma – some of them armed – according to workers at the site. It is they who organize the collection trucks’ schedules to suit themselves and who spread the garbage out over the site, all the while looking for objects of value. The trouble is that as they show drivers where to empty their trucks, they create delays that result in a doubling of the time required to unload the 2,000 truckloads a day (since Attica produces about 5,000 tons a day). Workers at the site are demanding the appointment of a guard, but the police have not responded. Meanwhile, garbage collectors have never been short of a reason to stage long strikes in recent years, whether to demand permanent tenure, to have their work classified as hazardous to the health or over the unification of their social security funds (provided for in the new social security reform bill) and have used their strongest weapon – their ability to create filthy cities. There are two federations. POP-OTA, with 25,000 workers on open-ended contracts in the municipality of Athens and 10 percent of the other municipalities in Attica, most of them affiliated with the ruling New Democracy party, and POE-OTA, with 75,000 workers with permanent tenure in the other municipalities and chiefly pro-PASOK. None of the unionists has ever run for Parliament apart from a former head of POE-OTA, Nontas Lambrakakis who unsuccessfully ran for the Aitoloacarnania seat. In 1989 the Ano Liosia landfill closed for 10 days over a demand for permanent tenure for contract workers. The effects of that strike paled, however, before those caused by the strike a year later for 14 days, with the participation of both federations. It ended when the government issued a civil mobilization order, in effect requisitioning the workers’ services. In 1992, the federations once again took to the streets over a proposed new law, striking for 32 days. It ended when the bill was passed by Parliament. After a few years of labor peace, the garbage once again mounted in the city streets in 2003 when workers demanded that their occupation be included in the professions hazardous to health. The strike ended 10 days later without any result. In 2006, POE-OTA once again pressed the latter demand with a nine-day strike that ended with a promise by the Interior Minister to satisfy their requests.

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