By Alexandros Kalyvis*

 

The labour trade union movement is an invaluable and irreplaceable weapon of workers in their fight to improve their socio-economic standing and secure a better life.

Every era had its own issues to resolve as conditionσ change and hence the terms of the struggle largely adapt as well.

In our country, the working class was subjected to a shocking and unprecedented attack in the bailout memorandum years as it lost gains that took decades to win.

The pandemic that broke out immediately thereafter is being exploited as both an opportunity and a pretext for demolishing any and all remaining labour rights.

The pandemic is destroying not only public health, labour relations, incomes or even consciences overwhelmed by fear, but it also being exploited as a means for capitalism to transcend its crisis and pass over to a new phase in which, through automatisation and robotics, the framework of production and distribution will be rapidly transformed.

This process further bolsters capitalist profits and will create even larger armies of underemployed and unemployed workers and poor people. The social distancing that has been rightly implemented in order to check the pandemic is being eyed by some as a permanent condition that can be used as yet another lever to fragment society and make it resign from efforts toward collective struggle.

The trade unionist movement in our country was dealt a severe blow and suffered a strategic defeat. Of course, battles were waged, mainly at the local union level and federations.

Confederations, on the other hand, with their decisions to hold general strikes, at first met some of the conditions needed to rally labour, but without any prospects.

The majority of the leadership gradually abandoned battles during the bailout memorandum period. They resigned themselves to neo-liberal choices, and became almost invisible during the pandemic.

Nobody views the situation through rose-coloured glasses or ignores the dual public health and economic crisis. However, it is exceptionally urgent to effect radical change at all levels of trade unionism in order for them to find their way and regain the trust of labour.

We need a trade unionist movement that is contemporary, class-based, massive, unifying, combative, autonomous, and characterised by procedures of direct democracy.

The first thing the trade unionist movement must do is to win over the generation of underemployed and unemployed workers and employees who today are not members of any union.

It must also rid itself of the albatrosses of the past and clean up the scourges of vote-tampering, bureaucracy, over-centralisation, and the lack of democratic procedures.

What is needed is prioritised actions on a full gamut of issues from the smallest to biggest.

The current challenge of confronting the siege being conducted by the government and employers must be linked to the top big picture-issues: Healthcare and the social state, a growth model that entails stable employment with a green dimension, a write-down of debt, checking the terms of digitalisation of the economy and taxing robots, and implementation of a four-day, 32-hour work week.

Unions must once again come to the forefront and win back their social role. They must come together and coordinate their struggles. They must persuade people that their existence is worthwhile.

Rethinking in the context of new realities, struggling to realise labour’s demands, and making the effort to bring about a rebirth of the trade unionist movement is the least we can do to honour in practice, and not as a museum artefact, Labour Day and all those who waged tough battles and even offered up their lives in defence of the working class.

*Alexandros Kalyvis is a former alternate president of the General Confederation of Greek Labour (GSEE)

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