OPINION

Whose strike is it anyway?

The late Xenophon Zolotas was a sweet-tempered person who always avoided confrontation, particularly with workers. His long career as Bank of Greece governor supports this claim. As prime minister, however, in the coalition government of 1989 Zolotas had to mobilize the municipal waste collectors to protect the residents of Attica against the threat of epidemics from the piling rubbish. I am not a law professor but I realize that no democratically elected government has the right to leave national property at the mercy of a small minority. Nor can the government turn a blind eye to the threat of financial disaster for the island economies or the risk to human lives from the lack of medication. It is not acceptable that a small faction can hold the entire population to ransom – and it is the duty of the government to protect the majority from harm. That is why all governments in the post-1974 era ordered a total of 17 civil mobilizations of striking sectors – including seamen, Olympic Airlines pilots and sanitation workers. So why is the pro-PASOK press slamming the purported authoritarian tactics of Costas Karamanlis? After all, didn’t the late Socialist premier Andreas Papandreou order 10 such mobilizations during his tenure? I still believe that governments could have avoided this measure of last resort if unions were more democratic and the decision to strike was taken by the majority of union members and not just the leadership. The ongoing public sector strike in Germany was decided only after 90 percent of the unionists gave the green light. In Greece, a strike is the call of the union leaders, who are often influenced by political or partisan criteria. Just look how many unionists now hold Parliament seats. The state sector with the powerful state monopolies has cultivated a model of union activity that has caused unions to fall into disrepute.