Greek Hospital Workers & Dockers 24-Hour Strike

Greek hospital workers at their rally in Athens last Friday. Their banners denounce both ‘old’ and ‘new’ austerity. The hospital workers depict Greek Prime Minister Tsipras as ‘butchering’ their jobs
Greek hospital workers at their rally in Athens last Friday. Their banners denounce both ‘old’ and ‘new’ austerity. The hospital workers depict Greek Prime Minister Tsipras as ‘butchering’ their jobs

GREEK hospital workers and dockers went on a 24-hour national strike last Thursday against the government’s plans of wage cuts, ‘flexible’ labour contracts and the privatisation of the port of Thessaloniki in northern Greece.

Public hospitals’ doctors are to go on a one-day national strike this Wednesday against the mass sackings planned by the Tsipras government for this year of over 1,000 so-called ‘auxiliary’ doctors.

Hospital workers staged a rally outside the Health Ministry in Athens while dockers demonstrated at the Athens Stock Exchange. Successive Greek governments, on diktats from the European Union and IMF creditors, have viciously attacked hospitals and the National Health Service.

Whole hospitals and wards have been closed, thousands of staff, nurse and doctors sacked, and over 50% of wage cuts since the imposition of the Austerity Accords in 2010. All the Greek ports have been put up for sale and last year the Piraeus port, the biggest in the whole eastern Mediterranean, was sold to COSCO a Chinese state shipping company.

The leaders of the health workers’ federation POEDIN and of the dockers federation OMYLE, have been organising marches and one-day strikes (but limited to 4-hour stoppages in the capital Athens) but have refused to unify and strengthen the struggle.

They are opposed to building up a front with the other public sector trades federation and to the call for an indefinite political general strike to bring down the parliamentary junta of Prime Minister Tsipras and to smash the Austerity Accords.

But the trades unions’ bureaucracy is finding it increasingly difficult to contain the anger of the working class. At several rallies workers have forced bureaucrats to shut up and go away.

• Police on Friday were seeking the perpetrators behind several acts of vandalism in and around central Athens that targeted banks, cars, a Syriza office and a publishing house. Assailants on Friday afternoon broke the door of the publishing house Eleftheros Kosmos in Kolonaki before damaging a diplomatic vehicle that had been parked nearby.

In the morning, arsonists targeted a branch of Piraeus Bank on Alexandras Avenue with a gas canister bomb, causing damage but no injuries. Separately, assailants used sledgehammers to vandalise the facade of a Hellenic Post branch in Tavros and a nearby local Syriza office.

It was unclear whether any of the attacks were related.

Meanwhile, stepping up their conflict with the Syriza-led government over its plans to expand a state refugees reception facility on their island, local authorities on Chios have appealed to the Council of State (CoS), the country’s highest administrative court, in a bid to block the project.

In its appeal, the Municipality of Chios has described the government’s plans to expand the Vial facility as ‘unconstitutional and illegal,’ claiming the absence of feasibility and environmental impact studies among other objections.

In recent weeks, residents of Chios have been blocking access to the site to avert the transfer of prefabricated housing which authorities say is necessary for refugees currently sleeping in tents. Around 1,600 refugees live at the state-run camp, twice its capacity, and scores sleep in tents due to a lack of space.

Although the local authorities oppose the expansion of the site, they vehemently object to apparent attempts by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (GD) to exploit frustration with the situation.

The municipal council of Chios on Friday said that members of GD will be treated as ‘personae non gratae’. The council convened to vote on its stance toward the party ahead of an event Golden Dawn has planned on Wednesday to present its ‘solution’ to the refugee crisis.

‘The presence of the neo-Nazi organisation is a huge provocation to the island’s democratic principles and the Municipality of Chios will not just let it pass,’ the council said in its announcement on Friday.

‘Golden Dawn members, who are under indictment, are unwelcome on Chios,’ it said. ‘Chios is an island that has fought for national resistance and for democracy, and it sternly and categorically disapproves of the presence of Nazi descendants,’ the statement said.

Chios is host to one of five official refugee reception and processing centres in the Aegean, and has been on the front line of the refugee crisis since its start.

• Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled on Saturday that Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont cannot lead the region’s parliament from abroad. This came after the Spanish government turned to the courts last Friday to try to stop Puigdemont from returning to power despite facing arrest.

Reacting to the Rajoy government’s appeal to the Constitutional Court, Puigdemont tweeted, ‘(Spain is) isolated physically, legally and democratically. They are panicking in the face of the will of the people.’

Catalonia’s regional parliament is scheduled to debate and vote on Tuesday whether to reinstate Puigdemont, who faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia from Spain as soon as he comes back.

But Spain’s right wing central government on Friday filed a legal challenge with the Constitutional Court against Puigdemont’s bid to return to power, on the grounds that as a fugitive of justice, he cannot be elected.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said after announcing the appeal: ‘A person who is wanted in national territory for such serious crimes cannot try to be sworn in as head of the Catalan government without having faced up to his responsibilities with the law.

‘The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in.’

The newly elected speaker of the Catalan parliament, Roger Torrent, said Puigdemont remains the sole candidate to head the new Catalan government although a final decision will be taken once the court makes it ruling.

How Puigdemont can return to power remains a mystery as he needs to be physically present in the regional parliament to be sworn in, and Spanish authorities have vowed he will be arrested as soon as he returns to Spain.

He has said he could be sworn in remotely from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes. Puigdemont has also said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest.

The government turned to the court even though the Council of State, its top consultative body which advises on serious issues, advised against the move late last Thursday, saying a ‘preventative challenge’ was banned by the constitution. But Saenz de Santamaria said that while the government respects the body’s ‘legal criteria’, its opinion ‘is not binding for the government’.

• IndustriALL affiliates FIOM-CGIL, FIM-CISL and UILM-UIL organised a rally and one-hour strike across the Lombardy region of Italy last week to attract public attention to the problem of poor health and safety at work.

The action followed four recent tragic fatalities at Lamina spa in Rho, Milan and Elettronica LG in Rovato, Brescia. ‘Basta Morti sul lavoro!’ (Enough: no more deaths at work!) was the main message of the trade unions holding a mass rally in Milan, in response to recent preventable industrial fatalities that occurred due to the poor health and safety working conditions.

In a joint release FIOM-CGIL, FIM-CISL and UILM-UIL unions said: ‘Anguish, dismay and anger are the feelings that we live in these hours and this pushes us to raise, even more, the level of commitment against this shame.

‘Too often accidents at work are not the consequence of a bad luck but a lack of compliance by companies with procedures and safety rules. Too often these dramas show the inadequacy of the prevention systems and measures necessary to ensure the safety and security of workers.

‘Too often working conditions are being put in second place underestimating the necessity of prevention. Too often training and interventions to raise awareness of the topic and securing of workplaces are held back by cost, and no investment is done in people and their future.’

On 17th January three workers, Marco Santamaria (42), Giuseppe Setzu (48), and Arrigo Barbieri (57) died from gas intoxication (nitrogen) inside an underground furnace at the Lamina spa steel plant in Rho, Milan.

Another deadly accident happened with a young 19-year-old worker Luca Lecci, who was caught in a lathe at Elettronica LG, in Rovato, Brescia, and died on 19th January, the very day the unions announced the action against insufficient health and safety conditions.

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary, addressed condolences to all three affiliates and families of the perished workers. Sanches said: ‘IndustriALL Global Union fully supports the joint actions FIOM-CGIL, FIM-CISL, and UILM are undertaking to call attention to the unacceptably large number of workplace preventable accidents and fatalities in the metal sector, and demand employers respect fundamental workers’ rights, including compliance with stringent health and safety standards.

‘We expect that the root causes of the accidents will be fully investigated, the findings made public, and that remediation measures will be adopted immediately.’