During a recent broadcast on Athens 984 radio in which the rights and wrongs of the current wave of strikes were being discussed, the station received a large number of text messages from listeners complaining about the alleged indifference of bus and trolley bus drivers who ordered passengers to get out of the vehicles as soon as their strike was called on Thursday afternoon.
The reaction left the two radio producers, Takis Kambylis and Aris Tolios, wondering whether unionists have in fact realized that such extreme tactics are turning the public against their just or unjust struggle.
The answer is they haven’t, and they are not bothered about it. Political administrations and unions have traditionally treated public utilities, better known here as DEKOs, as fiefdoms under their influence and control. Ordinary people, or customers for that matter, were seen as a necessary evil or as an excuse to keep these utilities in place.
Governments and unions have rarely taken interest in their social role. This is evident in the unionists’ behavior during strikes, but not only then. It can also be seen in the fact that the metro workers’ union, for example, whose members have now been striking in protest at salary cuts imposed by the government, also went on strike in 2010 to maintain their privileges that eventually derailed the only profitable state sector company. I am referring here to the so-called struggle of metro employees against the firing of hundreds of short-term contract workers that were hired through political favors in 2009 – in a practice that made AMEL, the company that operates the metro, post losses for the first time in its history.
Union leader Antonis Stamatopoulos said earlier this week that he wanted public support because “this is the last chance to do away with the junta.” We should not get sidetracked here with silly allegations of a military dictatorship, but it is interesting to see how out of touch the unionists are. The people are cursing at them and they feel like they are standing on the gates of the Athens Polytechnic during the 1973 student uprising against the junta.
Sadly the labor movement drowned in the sea of petty unionism. It was dumped in there by people like Stamatopoulos. the people are fed up with the endless strikes, the cost-free struggle (in which workers take advantage of sick leaves and holidays), with pompous words about common struggles and separate benefits. This metro strike was the last straw. It will not only harm the unionists; it will also harm unionism per se. And that will, above all, be bad for the country.