Greek government outlaws power workers strike

On Saturday morning, the Greek government issued civil mobilisation orders to striking Public Power Corporation (PPC) workers, ordering them back to work by placing them under martial law. The order was issued after a ruling by the Athens Court of First Instance on Friday evening, which declared the strike illegal.

By Sunday evening, the power workers trade union, the GENOP-DEI, had accepted the move and ended the strike.

Moves to issues the orders were already underway late Friday, following the court decision, when Administrative Reform and e-governance Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis ordered that the National Printing Press should remain open throughout the weekend for “operational reasons” so that the orders could be printed after the decision was announced on Saturday.

The strike was in protest against government plans to create a so-called “small PPC” by selling off 30 percent of the PPC to private investors in exchange for a €1 billion loan tranche this July as part of Greece’s overall bailout program.

In a statement on Saturday morning, government spokesperson Sofia Voultepsi stated, “After the Greek Courts decided to declare the strike at the PPC illegal and an abuse of power and ordered its immediate end, given that the unions did not comply with this decision, the government has taken steps to issue civil mobilisation orders to workers and commandeer their services. In democracy the laws and court decisions have to be respected by everyone and the public interest is above everything.”

The reality is that it is the Greek government which is flagrantly in breach of the law. Under Greek law, issuing civil mobilisation orders is reserved to “secure the national defence in a time of war and to face emergencies”, while the Greek Constitution explicitly states that labour must not be coerced.

Since the first bailout package was signed with the European Union-led “troika” in 2010, successive governments have used the civil mobilisation law to break strikes. Last year, civil mobilisation orders were issued in May to break a nationwide strike by Greek teachers and prior to that in January to break a strike of Athens Metro workers.

Voultepsi acknowledged on Monday that the further breakup of the PPC was a demand made of the Greek government by the European Union.

Adonis Georgiadis, who was Greece’s Health Minister until a recent cabinet reshuffle, was particularly provocative in a radio interview he gave to Vima FM on Saturday saying: “If PPC workers refuse to collect their mobilisation orders, the law will be implemented and they will be sacked. I imagine that no-one wants to be sacked during these times.”

Meanwhile, in a Saturday morning television show, former President of PPC workers’ union GENOP-DEI Nikos Fotopoulos called on PPC workers to “tear up the mobilisation orders” saying that “without us not one cog turns, without us there is no electricity.” Fotopoulos resigned as President of GENOP-DEI in July last year, but remains in GENOP-DEI’s governing council.

While Fotopoulos’ comments were toothless bluster paying lip-service to the anger felt by PPC’s workers, the majority of GENOP-DEI’s bureaucrats swiftly moved to distance themselves from his comments. Most notably, Giorgos Adamidis who is head of the Spartakos Union, the biggest body within GENOP-DEI’s federal structure which mainly represents workers in power plants and lignite mines in Northern Greece, stated that “under no circumstances will I call upon workers to break the law”. Adamidis is an official of PASOK, the hugely discredited social democratic formation that carried out the first raft of savage austerity after coming to power in 2009.

One incident that spoke of workers’ hostility towards the trade union’s stance to the government’s civil mobilisation order was reported by www.newsit.grwhich stated that: “on Saturday afternoon, there was slight tension between trade unionists and PPC workers outside the gates of the Ayios Dimitrios power plant in Kozani with regard to the stance workers should take once they receive their mobilisation order papers.”

The union’s climb-down culminated on Sunday evening following a meeting by GENOP-DEI’s governing council to discuss the next steps following the breaking of the strike by the government. In a statement, governing council member Konstantinos Varsamis stated that the strike would officially end at midnight on Sunday and that “the struggle will continue through other forms of action”. He also called on workers to comply with their orders once they receive them stating: “they need to go where their individual mobilisation order papers prescribe.”

With the strike at an end, opposition to the PPC’s selloff has now been diverted to a parliamentary cul-de-sac, namely SYRIZA’s initiative of gaining the signatures of 120 MPs in order to force a referendum on the issue, as prescribed by the Greek Constitution. After a debate, it would then require a minimum of 180 votes for the referendum to take place.

So far, SYRIZA has gained the support of the right-nationalist Independent Greeks and previous governing coalition partner and SYRIZA splinter, the Democratic Left (DIMAR). DIMAR’s support for the SYRIZA referendum proposal has caused a rift in the party, with one of its MPs Spyros Lykoudis apparently rejecting it. He said on Twitter, “SYRIZA is proposing a referendum using the PPC as a pretext but mainly in order to create its own bloc of alliances for the elections in sight”.

Another DIMAR MP Grigoris Psarianos, who is also a committee member of the new (Potami) The River party, “has also expressed his decision to reject the proposal and has distanced himself from DIMAR”, reported To Vima.

For its part, the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has put forward its own referendum proposal. The KKE’s proposal purports to be to the left of SYRIZA’s and calls for a vote on the PPC privatisation and all the previous EU energy deregulation laws voted in by the Greek parliament since 2001. Given that without the KKE’s support, SYRIZA will be unable to gain the 120 signatures it needs, Tsipras has called for the KKE to submit its own proposal, but to include its signatures in the overall tally in order for a debate to take place.

For all the heated haggling surrounding SYRIZA’s initiative, its fundamental purpose is to provide an illusion of resistance until the parliamentary vote on the PPC selloff on Wednesday. In any event, even if a debate were to take place, the likelihood that parliament were to go ahead and ratify a referendum is minimal even on SYRIZA’s limited proposal of maintaining the status quo.

When former Prime Minister George Papandreou tried to submit a European Union austerity-attached loan plan to a referendum in November 2011, subsequent fears that his decision would provoke a military coup led him to then sack and replace the entire Chief of Staff of the country’s Armed Forces. Following the adverse reaction of world leaders and the international markets, Papandreou was then swiftly removed and replaced by Lucas Papademos, an unelected technocrat and former deputy head of the European Central Bank.