NEWS

Mountain of vested interests in trash collection

In the vested interests of municipal housekeeping, there are only two players – the mayor and the union. Garbage collection has always been the main source of kickbacks for mayors, who hire collectors who either have no special qualifications or else have very impressive ones. It is certain that within one or two months, they will move into an office. Every mayor wants the transaction kept quiet, with no fuss from the union. The union wants the same thing, for its own people. Apart from being the municipality’s main source of revenue, garbage collection is a business that more or less works on automatic pilot. Mayors have never managed to control the process, nor even learned how it is managed. There are no inspectors (any such idea would be opposed by the union) to judge efficiency or suggest other possible solutions. It is no coincidence that there has never been a survey of the comparative costs or effectiveness. As they can do nothing about it, mayors prefer to keep things as they are, leaving the job to the unions. Yet the mayors also have something to gain by not breaking any eggs. The threat of mountains of trash in the streets is their only weapon for putting pressure on the government. In Athens, these relationships are even more complex. Until 20 years ago, the union was every mayor’s personal election campaign team. Campaign pamphlets and ballot papers were distributed right under the union’s nose. Campaign booths were set up (and are still set up) by municipal workers, who even turn up at municipal council meetings as ordinary citizens in order to help the mayor promote his own agenda. Meanwhile, the union gets better working conditions, such as fewer work hours (in the provinces, rarely more than four hours a day) and more control over the collection process, the goose that lays the golden egg.