For nine days, 2,500 Metro workers in Athens had shut down the city subway system, which carries more than 1 million people daily. The strike was in response to government plans to cut their wages by some 25 percent on top of previous attacks.
The Civil Mobilization Act dates back to the 1967-74 military dictatorship in Greece. It was amended in 2007 to give the government the power to force strikers back to work in “peacetime emergencies.” It has been used three other times to break anti-austerity strikes over the past two years—against seamen, truckers and garbage collectors.
“The unionists decided to take the path of blind confrontation,” Transport Minister Kostis Hatzidakis told the media Jan. 24. “There’s nothing we can do but to requisition workers.”
“Since 2009 our average take-home pay has gone down by some 45 percent,” said one of several Metro workers at the control center of the Omonia station who spoke to the Militant Jan. 26. “By forcing us back to work they want to terrorize everyone into accepting whatever wages they decide for public workers.”
The workers asked that their names not be used for fear of company reprisal.
Over the past several years successive governments in Greece have imposed repeated rounds of cutbacks on public workers’ wages and pensions. The attacks are part of a series of austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank as preconditions for loans so the heavily indebted Greek government could maintain payments to government bondholders.
Household disposable income in Greece dropped 10.6 percent in the third-quarter of 2012 compared to the previous year, according to figures released by the government Jan. 25. Wages fell 11.3 percent and social benefits decreased 10.2 percent, while income taxes increased 17.7 percent. Official unemployment hit 26.8 percent earlier this month.
“We have a contract, it is signed, and it should be in force until April,” a second worker at Omonia station said. “Keeping a union contract was our central demand. We had made it clear to the government that we were willing to go back to work, as long as negotiations could start on a new contract.
“But the government just wants to tear up our collective agreement,” he said. “They are doing this to all public workers, one sector at a time.”
“As we got the ‘civil mobilization’ papers we had to go back to work or face trials and jail,” a third added. “It’s not just that we have to go back to work. We are prohibited from striking again, even for one day, around the same demand.”
After the government’s decree, hundreds of riot police stormed a train depot and broke up a sit-in by striking workers.
Two of the three parties in the governing coalition—New Democratic Party and PASOK, the Greek Socialist party—backed the decree. The smaller party in the coalition, the Democratic Left, along with the largest opposition party, Syriza, a radical social-democratic coalition, both opposed the conscription order.
Hours after the government’s move, unions representing all of Athens’ transit companies—buses, trolley, tram and urban rail—announced rolling 24-hour strikes over the next four days in solidarity.
Natasha Terlexis in Athens, Greece, contributed to this article.
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