Greek cleaners' strike: “We are no longer scared!”

Submitted by cathy n on 30 June, 2014 - 1:10

On 30 June the Greek civil service union ADEDY began a series of protests which will culminate in a strike on 9 July.

The protests are against the public sector mobility scheme which has been in operation since September 2013. Under the scheme selected workers, predominantly the lowest paid, have their wages cuts by 25%, are put into a redeployment pool and are sacked if no alternative job is found. The scheme was a way for the tripartite government of PASOK-ND-DHMAR to immediately sack 4,000 civil servants, and a further 11,000 by the end of 2014.

595 cleaners at the Ministers of Finance and Administrative Reform were one of the first group of workers to be placed under the scheme. Their union (POE DOY) put up only token resistance, with a couple of work stoppages. But cleaners decided to strike and have been striking ever since.

For 10 months the entrance of the Ministry of Finance on the Karageorgi Serbia Street in Athens has been occupied by the cleaners. It has become a centre of struggle against Greek Memorandum politics, poverty and misery.

At that point, the government, with the full assistance of the bureaucratic trade unions and the reformist left in the labour movement, had already broken a teachers’ strike, had laid off 2,500 media workers by closing the state-owned ERT broadcaster, and had sacked thousands of school guards.

The targeting of the cleaners was not random. The government thought they were dealing with quiet, timid women who would not dare to react and who would accept their “black” future without question. Yet exactly ten months on, the heroic cleaners have not surrendered and continue their class struggle despite their huge financial problems and the violence of the riot police.

“Many of us were not politicised, this was our first demonstration and experience of class struggle. But I’m proud of my female counterparts. Because we became class fighters to assert the obvious, the right to work, the ability to envision a better life, “ says cleaners’ representative Evangelia Alexakis.

The cleaners have organised daily protests outside ministries, tax offices and spearheaded protests and occupations. With their witty slogans and unparalleled militancy they have created a political issue that the government has been unable to manage.

Meanwhile the struggle became a reference point for the entire working class, for all oppressed members of society, because in the tenacity and courage of the cleaners they saw their own cravings for a decisive struggle.

From the first day, there were dozens of resolutions of support from dozens of rank-and-file militant trade unions, associations, political organisations and collectives. Workers, unemployed, pensioners and youth visited the cleaners at their centre of struggle, giving them courage to continue.

“Let the government send riot police, let the government send us to hospital. We are like the Lernaia Hydra. For every two of us who are injured and send to hospitals, ten more cleaners will join the struggle. We are not scared anymore!”

The cleaners went to the courts for an injunction against the mobility scheme demanding a reversal of the government’s decision. Judge G Kyriakou accepted their request to get their jobs back.

On 15 May the Athens court ruled it illegal that 397 of 595 had been put under the scheme and ordered their immediate reinstatement. The courts said the jobs of cleaners were “manifestly necessary” and that the proposed replacement services of private subcontractors were contrary to the public interest. The decision was taken just one day before the end of the eight month time scale of the mobility scheme, just before the cleaners were going to be officially unemployed.

The government saw the decision as a fundamental attack and appealled to the Supreme Court. The government was admitting the political centrality of the cleaners’ struggle and of the judge’s decision. This is the ruling class democracy: a total disrespect and overturning of their own institutions if they do not comply with Troika policies, financial oligarchy and vulture capitalism.

On 12 June the Supreme Court reversed the court’s decision. The Court’s final decision will be delivered on 23 September. Until then the cleaners will remain sacked.

Immediately after the decision there was spontaneous militant protest outside the Treasury, with the sacked cleaners leading the protest and clashing with the riot police who tried to stop them. By exhibiting class solidarity, militancy and determination and going far beyond the timid response of their trade unions the fired cleaners defended the right to work and to life, they showed that the right to dignity comes before any government, any memoranda, any troika court. Our only law is the right of the worker.

On the same day the ND-PASOK government instructed the riot police to attack both the cleaners and 45 redundant steelworkers who were protesting outside the Ministry. Batons, chemicals and riot shields were used against the demonstrators when they attempted to make a symbolic blocking of the entrance of the building. Dozens were injured.

“The Supreme Court unfortunately entangled things. They have proven that justice is not neutral. The decision stated that the country is in immediate need and an emergency situation and that the country will be saved if 595 cleaners are sacked!” commented caustically Evangelia Alexakis.

“The government is trying to get power from the fear of citizens, workers. We are not afraid of them anymore. Let’s make it clear to them; we cleaners have overcome our fears. We have decided, we are going to enjoy a summer of struggles. Our home is now this street ‘Karageorgi Serbia’ (i.e. outside the Ministry of Finance). This street should be renamed as ‘Street of the Cleaners Struggle’. We will not go if we do not win!”

On Tuesday 17 June the cleaners held a protest rally outside the Byzantine Museum together with employees of the Ministry of Culture, to coincide with an informal meeting of EU officials.

Two days later the sacked cleaners symbolically blockaded the entrance to the offices of New Democracy. This followed a symbolic blockage of the offices of PASOK. After their meeting with a representative of ND the sacked cleaners made the following media statement: “Both PASOK and New Democracy [have] denounced the layoffs, recognised the rightness of our struggle and advocated our reinstatement. They told us that they cannot do anything about it as it is up to the government, not the parties that support the government. Our response to them is clear cut: we are cleaners, not idiots!”

Evangelia Alexakis has said the arguments by the government and their media acolytes that “cost savings can be achieved” if the services offered by the cleaners are to be subcontracted as fabricated and fake. “When at court our lawyer asked for evidence from the Finance Ministry... We do not believe that we are more costly than the sub-contractors and we believe that we can do a much better job.”

But she rushed to explain: “Not because our female colleagues in the private sector do not work hard. I am in solidarity with the private sector cleaners with their despicable working conditions and two euros per hours wages, of crazy schedules, no materials to clean and no recognition of the unions. Whoever dares to resist is in physical danger.”

An organisation to co-ordinate the struggle of workers in the mobility scheme has been created and is organising joint action.

What is needed is a militant movement of wholescale rupture and confrontation against the whole of the governmental agenda that will restart sectoral and general strikes, something the government is so scared of, to embolden and cement the hope and confidence of the working class people and popular strata.

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