NEWS

In dying zone, anger and distrust prevail

In older, better times, the central gate of the Perama shipyards, at seven in the morning, would have a stream of blue-overalled workers pouring through, heading toward the cranes. Now the cranes stand rusty, ship repair takes place in Romania and Ukraine, and dockworkers haunt the canteens in the hope of landing a day job. The walls, which till Saturday were plastered in posters advertising candidate mayors, now display sober black-bordered papers giving notice of a memorial service for the five workers killed in an explosion on the tanker Sailor. In the canteen, the workers sip their coffee and smoke their cigarettes – many opting for the cheaper roll-ups. No one is in a hurry. There is no work today, either. I greet them. «Good morning, guys. I’m a reporter.» Had I announced myself as the arch-criminal Vangelis Rohamis, I would have got a better reception. Fifty-two-year-old Zois, who has managed to get precisely 12 social security stamps in the last three months, was not disposed to mince words. «What do you want here? We’re neither politicians nor November 17, nor artists for you to find out with whom we’re having an affair, which couple’s broken up, who’s got themselves knocked up…» And he added: «You’ve written us off, in any case. Only if someone’s smashed to bits falling off a ladder or burnt alive in a ship will you bring a television crew to get some nice pictures for your news bulletin. Like crows. Anyway, sit down.» The left-wingers I sit down. At the adjacent tables, some sports newspapers and a Rizospastis [Communist newspaper] pass from hand to hand. The Metalworkers Union, one of the most powerful with 7,000 members, has been a bastion of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) for years. The mayor of Perama, Patsilnakos, who was ousted in recent elections in favor of the conservative candidate from New Democracy (ND), had a background in the union. Perama was one of the 16 municipalities in the Second Electoral District of Athens and Piraeus which passed from PASOK and the left generally to the conservatives. This was the case with other working-class districts such as Peristeri, Aegaleo, Aghioi Anargyroi, Metamorphosis and Menidi (Acharnes). «All said and done, I was never a communist, but Patsilnakos was with us in all of our struggles,» Giorgos says. «What’s the good of that, though? Nothing came of it. Moreover, he may have looked after the shipyard zone, but he didn’t do anything that wonderful in Perama. When it comes down to it, if you’re a left-wing mayor, you can’t do much, because you’re out in the cold.» And he complained that the government gave money to its own mayors, though Perama was dying for lack of funds. Moreover, «Patsilnakos never appointed anyone to a post. You want to say jobs as favors is a bad thing? Well, why did we vote for him, if he couldn’t feed one of our own people?» «People didn’t vote for New Democracy, so much as vote against PASOK,» explained Thanassis Lagoudakis, a metalworker and municipal councilor for 20 years on the Communist ticket. «Especially in the second round, many left-wingers voted for a right-winger, despite the fact that our line was that people should turn in a blank ballot sheet or an invalid vote. There is a lot of feeling against PASOK. People tell you, they’ve been in power for 20 years and we’re going from bad to worse.» He pointed out that in the Perama dock zone, unemployment stood at 75-80 percent. «It’s a public secret that they’re going to close the shipyards, take out the careening docks and make Perama into a commercial harbor. That will be the death of us. That’s why they voted for a right-winger. To punish PASOK.» If ND were in power, he said, the same people might vote for the left-wing or PASOK candidate to punish ND. What of Karadzaferis, who scooped 14 percent of the vote, chiefly from the poor districts of Athens? How deep do the roots of racism go in an industrial area and sink of unemployment like Perama? «We don’t have racism yet, though a lot of workers complain about the Poles and Albanians working for low pay, without insurance, which drags everyone down,» said the vice president of the Metalworkers Union, Petros Mavridoglou. «Most foreigners are in the union and see us as being on their side when they bring us accusations of abuse or discrimination at their workplace,» he said. Odysseas, a 40-year-old Albanian who has lived in Greece for 10 years and whose Greek would be the envy of many Greeks, concurs. Eating his snack lunch with three Greek colleagues, behind the docks, he says: «I’ve never met with racism from my Greek co-workers. But I have met with racism from the State, which calls me to go down every so often to the police station, where I can spend up to five or six hours trying to get papers. We live constantly under the threat of deportation. I’ve got a wife and three kids, who can’t really write Albanian; how can I take them back? I’m in the union and I’m not a scab; I think it’s demeaning, I’d rather borrow. Others, however, can’t withstand the pressure…» Before he left, Odysseas insisted on paying for the beers. In the same group of people, Lefteris, 31, was born in Canada of Mytilenean parents who had fled the Civil War, but came to Perama as a young child. A great-grandfather of his, a member of the Greek resistance army, ELAS, took part in the battles that followed the end of the occupation in Athens. «Personally, I don’t give a red cent for parties and politicians. And many people my age think the same way. Here, in Perama, and in Mytilene, both in the town and the prefecture, the right came to power. Kokkinia voted left, Keratsini PASOK. And so? Aren’t they all, but all of them, having us on? [Costas] Karamanlis came to the shipyard zone, not to visit the workers at the union but to receive bouquets of flowers from the bosses.» Indifference and desperation He recalls that former Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis came down once in four years – when he came to support his own candidate. Other Communist politicians went over to PASOK. «I don’t care who wins the elections. Even if a junta came to power, again, I wouldn’t care. Me, I’ve only got my two hands. There’s no life any more in the zone. We’ve got very little work, and the bosses pick the crawlers. Me, I never became a crawler. I preferred to go to school and become a cook. I live in a house built illegally, on the mountain, without electricity, eating the worst kind of soup, but I made it.» It was a revenge vote, a punitive vote – for the government, parties, mayors, for all those who supposedly have a share in power. That, it seems, is the real message of the elections in the Athens Second Electoral District and the Piraeus Second Electoral District, where the overwhelming majority of municipalities – especially working-class districts – changed hands, in one direction or another. Among these was Peristeri, the fifth-largest municipality in the country. The bastion of the United Democratic Left (EDA) and of KKE for decades, it has been a PASOK-held municipality for the past 16 years. On October 20, it fell to ND for the first time – although the mayor, Pahatouridis, is a Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI) member and stood as an independent, everyone knew he was backed by ND party headquarters and that the majority of municipal councilors whom he chose were executives of ND’s Prefectural Committee. On Wednesday evening, we found ourselves in a cafe behind Kolokotroni Square in Anthoupolis. It is the largest and most working-class district of Peristeri, and tends to act as a municipal power broker. On October 20, it was Anthoupolis that gave the municipality to Pahatouridis, according to my four interlocutors, all of whom had voted for him and none of whom had voted right wing before. «They drove us to desperation, that’s why we didn’t vote for them, so as to shake them,» said Panayiotis, a Public Power Corporation technician and an old PASOK trade unionist. In the first round he voted for the KKE candidate; in the second, for the right-wing one. He explains: «They left us to our fate and Anthoupolis died; we’re like a deserted mountain village. Most houses should have been marked red or yellow after the last earthquake [September 1999], which turned our lives upside down. Garbage. They marked only 4,100 houses yellow, people lived for months and months in temporary shelters, some still live in trailers and only 980 people got loans. We have two squares; you don’t dare go there at night because they’re full of drug addicts and Albanians.» When his mother had to have an operation on the public health system (ESY), he alleges he paid 1 million drachmas (2,935 euros) to doctors under the table. «And once every four years, Vasso Papandreou comes round and shouts slogans. (…) Do they take us for such idiots? I happened to be at the Polytechnic in 1973, I don’t say this to say I’m someone (…) Simply, I sit and think that maybe it would be better to have a junta. At least with a junta you know your enemy, you fight it, you hope for something better if you overthrow it.» He added, «Now, with this hypocrisy, they’re all our enemies and you don’t know which one to go for first.» Descending from Anthoupolis to Ierotheo, I see the woods that hosted KKE festivals. A swift memory comes of Yiannis Ritsos reciting his poems before a sea of red flags, speaking of «a State of honest sweat, a State that supports us all on its back…» Those were other times… or were they?