International Workers’ Day: Christos Tsadaris

Christos Tsadaris, Greece
Christos Tsadaris, Greece

Christos Tsadaris has recently concluded his studies as a physicist, and is currently unemployed, searching for a job. He has been active in social movements of the youth in Greece and is a member of ATTACK, a youth collective against modern slavery, flexibility in work and unemployment. He is a member of the anti-capitalist coalition ANTARSYA.

“Regarding labour rights and specifically the collective contract agreements in Greece, the numbers are really shocking. In 2008 there were 161 sectoral and inter-professional collective agreement contracts, which could cover almost all workers in the private sector. Today only 18 contract agreements are active, while it is estimated that less than 15% of the workers occupied in the private sector is being covered by those contracts. The remaining 85% is covered either by operational agreements or by individual contracts. Altogether, sectoral collective agreement contracts have been replaced by business or individual contracts.”

LeftEast: May Day was once a symbolic day of struggle for the labour movement and then an official state holiday. How is it commemorated in Greece?

ANTARSYA protest over austerity

Christos Tsadaris: Here are some dates-milestones:

In 1936, the tobacco workers of Thessaloniki rose up. The events started in February, with workers occupying a factory, after management rejected workers’ demands, and were followed by tobacco workers in other factories showing their solidarity. Police and army forces were used against them. No central demonstration was organized, only small ones with speakers in several places of the city. In one demonstration in the corner of Egnatias and Venizelou streets, policemen shot and killed eight workers.

In Kaisariani, a district of Athens, in May 1st, 1944, May Day coincided with the cowardly execution of 200 communists by German occupation forces. Thus, Kaisariani does not simply celebrate May Day like the rest of the free and democratic world. This is also a day of honor and historic memory.

May Day was established as an obligatory holiday in 1968 by the Junta regime in an effort to repress and weaken the labour movement of the period and to restrict the Left from propagating another strike against the military dictatorship. Since then, this remains another political stake for trade unions and the Left: May Day being a strike (and not simply a holiday) in the working class’s consciousness. Its meaning is always up to date, since the demands for and eight hour work day, holidays on Sunday and wage increases, remain until today unrealized

LE: The post-1989 transformation led to changes in the role of the unions in society in large parts of South East Europe. Could you tell us a bit about what it was like before and what it is like now? Was the collapse of communism referenced in Greece? In particular, how would you say that these dynamics have impacted on the left in your country, considering that traditionally Trade Unions have acted as the backbone of left mass movements?

C.T.: Political life in Greece in 1989 was marked by the Communist Party’s compromise and its participation in an all-party government. This led to a rearrangement of the political map, which, against the background of the height of the traditional Left’s crisis in Greece and in front of the collapse of (non)existent socialism in the East, signaled an effort of a new type, to revive the leftist and communist movement in our country.

Nevertheless, an integration process of the labor and union movement into mainstream policies, had started several years earlier, when the mouthpiece of the center-Left and of social-democracy more broadly, PASOK (the Socialist Party), eroded and transmuted official trade union activism under the thumb of government politics. This situation continues to prevail until today, in one or the other way, in the sense that the unions never choose to actually defend workers’ interests, but are most often led to compromises and submission to the dominant bourgeois block.

What is crucial today is the overall objective of class reconstruction and the development of a mass, political labor movement, aiming to an overthrow of the current neoliberal attack, a counterattack of struggles, unraveling the memorandum of capitalist barbarism and reactionary reforms, gaining victories for the workers, in connection to the struggle for the objectives of the anti-capitalist program.

LE: Many commentators feel that globalisation has had an important effect on worker organisation (race to the bottom and threat of outsourcing, the rise of services, precarity, anti-labour legislation, etc). What are some challenges you have noticed and how have unions responded to these?

C.T.: Major developments have been taking place around the whole world over the last few years because of the economic crisis. Worldwide, but especially in the EU and the Eurozone, the governments have made efforts to restore the capitalists’ profit rate through the implementation of austerity policies and budget cuts obliging the workers, the unemployed and the youth to sacrifice working rights and to pay for a crisis that they did not cause. In this new setting, a New Keynesian solution is actually not possible. On the contrary, the attacks from capital, the governments, and all supranational mechanisms (IMF, ECB etc), take advantage of the capitalist crisis to pass a sweeping capitalist restructuring.

Regarding labour rights and specifically the collective contract agreements in Greece, the numbers are really shocking. In 2008 there were 161 sectoral and inter-professional collective agreement contracts, which could cover almost all workers in the private sector. Today only 18 contract agreements are active, while it is estimated that less than 15% of the workers occupied in the private sector is being covered by those contracts. The remaining 85% is covered either by operational agreements or by individual contracts. Altogether, sectoral collective agreement contracts have been replaced by business or individual contracts.

Moreover, through the signing of 1.540 operational contracts, huge cuts have been made to workers’ income during the last five years (ranging from 10% to 50% in many cases). Concerning salaries, again the situation is tragic. One in three workers in the private sector receives 300 Euros as a net wage (almost 440 gross wage) working in very flexible forms of work (part-time jobs, job rotation etc), while more and more employees in the private sector, approximately 500,000 people, have to accept this new model of flexible and precarious labour conditions. This situation applies particularly to the youth. Precarious labour is a particular feature of the working careers of young people, which tends to become a catholic feature, leading also to social exclusion. This situation has also created a new generation of workers, which is often called in Greece the generation of ‘300 Euro’. Within this new flexible situation, the traditional trade unions do not want and also cannot organize workers’ resistance by providing a victorious perspective. The GSEE (General Workers’ Confederation of Greece) cooperates with the Association of Greek Industries and also promotes the new slavery short term programs of the EU. Therefore, we need a new labour movement which will stand against this bankrupt and sold out syndicalism and which will fight for the right for permanent and stable jobs with decent salaries.

Workers have to organize themselves in order to defend their rights against modern slavery, against the savage attack of the forces of capital and the governments. Therefore, bottom up initiatives are needed in order to express all those people working under flexible and precarious conditions.

The solution lies in the base unions and specifically on those base unions which concern themselves with the area of precarity. Furthermore, the labour movement should also deal with the issue of unemployment in a way which will unite the class, expressing also the section that has been thrown out of production. In this effort creating new unions in workplaces where no collective action takes place is extremely essential.

LE: The states of Eastern and South Eastern Europe are both sending and receiving countries for migrant labor. What campaigns have been made in Greece on migrant work either in reference to workers in diaspora, or to new migrant workers?

C.T.: The situation in Greece during the last five years has also affected and changed the situation regarding immigration. We have to deal with a more complicated situation that has made Greece a country which not only receives but also “produces” immigrants. It is characteristic that the flow of people coming to Europe (and by extension to our country) has increased significantly during the last months. This reality is of course not neutral, but should be approached as a direct consequence of the situation in the countries of origin, especially of the situation in the Middle East. About 43,500 people came to Greece across the sea in 2014, while another 19,488 immigrants came within the first quarter of 2015. 60% of those people come from Syria, while a significant number of refugees come from Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Iraq.

Actually it is the European policies that are really problematic. Apart from the direct connection of the European countries with the conduction of wars in the countries of origin, the problem lies in European immigration policies: in the Schengen and the Dublin Agreement, as well as in the creation of FRONTEX (which is often accused of criminal violations of human rights), in the creation of concentration camps and in the murderous policies imposed at the borders of the EU countries. It is a clear political choice the fact that budgets of billions are spent for surveillance, repression and border closures, and not of course for the reception and the social care of the refugees. At the same time immigrants are being blamed for the high unemployment rates and also for the high crime levels. A great percentage of Greek society and of the unemployed youth accuses immigrants for the insufferable reality, attributing to them all ongoing social problems. This discourse is being reproduced by the rhetoric of the media and the far -right, especially by the previous governments (ND and PASOK) and of course by the neo-Nazi gang of Golden Dawn. In these terms, defending immigrants is a central aspect of the anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movement in Greece.

At the same time, the increased unemployment rates, and the modern reality of precarity and uncertainty has created a youth migration wave of young people who cannot find permanent work with decent conditions in Greece. A large percentage of young people who decide to leave Greece are well educated and scientists, who, frustrated by unemployment and underemployment, immigrate to other countries for further training or in order to find better working conditions. This situation is a real hemorrhage for the youth of our country

LE: Female work – and especially care work – has been one of the main “exports” of Eastern and South Eastern European countries. At the same time, women who have stayed in the region have often been hired as domestic or unskilled workers by outsourced factories. Have the unions in your country addressed these issues, and has gender been a topic of their work?

C.T.: At this point we must be honest and proceed to a self-criticism, since unfortunately women’s issues are not in the top priority of trade unions and labor federations. However, there have been some important class struggles or solidarity movements for women who have entered into harsh battles with their employees, the governments and parastatal mechanisms. Without any hesitation, the attack against Konstantina Kouneva (currently MEP in the European Parliament with SYRIZA), an attack with vitriol in 2008 by employee’s thugs during a strike battle with her union in cleaning services, brought women’s issues back violently to the forefront. Kouneva was a woman, a migrant, a unionist, and, as can be easily be understood, solidarity with her struggle has had a significant symbolism and importance. Recently, another heroic strike by the women who worked as cleaners in the Finance Ministry, who were suddenly laid off (495 cleaners), brought back in actuality issues of women’s labor. Finally, the most recent example is the reversal of the dismissal of a pregnant woman in a shoe enterprise (MIGATO). In this battle, reflexes of the labor world were healthy, and the battle by unions, collectives and initiatives was given in determination and until the final victory.