Storm in the harbor

Public debate over social conflicts is frequently being hijacked by the ulterior motives of the rival sides. The seamen’s strike was no exception. The unions clashed with the government – whose role is barely affected by the identity of the ruling party. Conservatives and Socialists tend to tailor their arguments according to whether they are in government or opposition. No one openly questions the right to strike, which is, after all, protected by the constitution. This right, however, is constrained by the government, which must also consider the damage to the country’s economy and social life. The truth is that strikes aim at disrupting social life in order to force the state into a solution. This is why governments must exhaust all room for negotiation. Negotiations don’t always bridge the chasm, and the crisis escalates. These, however, are rare cases where trouble is ephemeral. But conflict always has a wider effect. Unionists must consider the reactions of those who suffer the consequences as well as potential political isolation. In the shipping strike, the Merchant Marine Ministry did not exhaust all room for dialogue. It allowed the standoff to escalate into a crisis, thus playing into the hands of the Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation (PNO) faction that sought conflict. The argument that the mobilization was no more than revolutionary exercise by the Communist Party (KKE) is incomplete. The «red» unionists would not have succeeded in imposing their line if the sector was not already in turmoil. In this case the government resorted to civil mobilization. This was effectively an acknowledgment of failure, and now it will have to bear most of the political cost. New Democracy’s ties with KKE and Syanspismos were damaged ahead of the local elections while civil mobilization helped PNO to find a way out of the situation.

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