When street protests defeat their purpose

The problem with the unchecked street protests which so often block traffic in Athens – more than 900 protest rallies were held in the capital in the 18-month period ending June 30 – is a leftover of the post-1974 political mind-set. As with political posters and graffiti, public demonstrations are a form of expression that was banned by the seven-year military dictatorship only to come back into vogue in the years of democracy. As a result, any association or union with an ostensibly rightful demand deems that they should close down the city center in order to communicate their anger to the people. Over time street protests have acquired tradition status. They have become a taboo issue – and this is partly justified as the right to protest is non-negotiable and protected by law – but as with any tradition, people avoid discussing how demonstrators should march, the cost of the protest and, most importantly, the effectiveness of public protest. In terms of union practices, public protests no longer seem to advance the cause for which they are organized. Quite the opposite in fact. The protesters do not win public sympathy for their cause but instead fuel public anger. And, yet, traditional union tactics insist on employing this failed practice to the expense even of the workers’ very demands. They resort to cheap tricks to exaggerate the size of the crowd as if their fellow citizens (whose support they are trying to enlist) are too foolish to see their meager numbers. The police also insist on their anachronistic mentality. As with every bureaucracy, the Greek police do not seek to maximize effectiveness but rather to shake off responsibility. So instead of closing down and opening a street as the protesters go by (which takes a good degree of flexibility), the police think they are doing enough by closing off the center an hour before and an hour after the demonstration…

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