OPINION

Growing pains hit new labor market

Everyone knows that each action causes a reaction. When the government set out to radically transform Greece’s public utilities, or DEKO, it did not expect exemption from this natural and social law. The fierce reaction from the labor unions, whose strength lies mostly in this sector, was predictable. But it is merely rearguard skirmishes whose outcome is predetermined. It’s been some time since the most privileged workers, who have been protected by special measures, lost their reputation for being representatives of the common good. In the 1980s, the then Socialist prime minister Andreas Papandreou already had that in mind when he spoke of the privileged public sector employees. And that is what leading social democrats – including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who cut the umbilical cord to unions of the Labour Party – had in mind. Most opinion polls would tell you that. To be sure, the public acknowledges the positive contribution of the unions within the context of a democratic civil society. But it does not recognize the right of any privileged class to warrant its transformation into a closed caste. It does not recognize the vested interest of subordinating the social interests of the consumer-employee to the narrow, sectoral interest of specific professional sectors. And it does not recognize the demand of certain bureaucratic union leaders, who often use their office as a springboard to a political career, to impose their will on the democratically expressed will of the popular majority. In that context, the reactions of unionists to the government’s reform drive are the labor pains that inevitably come with the birth of a new, healthier labor market. Passing and implementing the new bill will rid the companies of the broader public sector of decades-old distortions and finally open crucial productive sectors to healthy competition. Virtually all developed democracies have come up with the same answer to grapple with the challenges of globalization. The goal has always been to provide better and cheaper services to the sum of society. The government bill is a first but significant step in that direction.