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Labor Struggles in the Shipbuilding Industry of Piraeus Manos Spyridakis DOI: 10.5876/9781607326311.c006 Greek Unions: A Brief Introduction Trade unions as organized entities for concerted workers’ action have numerous and varied descriptions and definitions, including as labor market parties or as “social partners” (Hyman 2001). The latter seems to offer an operational definition conceptualizing them as voluntary organizations that sprang out of civil society’s need for representation, protection, negotiation, and advancement of its members’ interests. Hence unions can be seen as combative organizations, bargaining associations, or even as mere economic agencies satisfying “economistic” claims, as Lenin would put it. However, this equates them to any organization that seeks to meet its members’ interests, employers included, and assumes that the so-called civil society is a peaceful and harmonious assemblage of stakeholders whose existence is based on legally and rationally defined motives. No doubt, unions as forms of collective action to achieve shared goals (Durrenberger and Reichart 2010) should be seen within specific contexts 162 Manos Spyridakis such as national traditions, historical periods, their relation with the state, political parties and their ability to intervene in the labor market, their organizational culture, and concentration. They should also be seen from the point of view of their rank and file, their representatives, or outsiders. On the basis of this combination, unions in the European context can be described by certain characteristics that consolidated after World War II: (1) they are representative organizations speaking for and claiming several social rights on behalf of their members preserving a relative autonomy, in Poulantzas’s terms, in relation to them; (2) they are legally recognized by employers and public opinion, undertaking at the same time several responsibilities ; (3) they are structurally embedded in an institutionalized form of class struggle; (4) they serve as intermediaries between state and society, politics and economy, labor and capital; and (5) they are massive organizations with specific bureaucratic structures (Paleologos 2006:76). Although these characteristics are not a normative straitjacket concerning either their form or institutional role, in general terms their main task is to organize workers in ways that challenge the power inequality between labor and capital in support of their interests. It is exactly because these interests are not the same for workers and for capital that the union movement cannot be identified as any other voluntary association. After all, as Durrenberger puts it, this relationship is necessarily adversarial (Durrenberger 2007:75). Unions appeared relatively late in the history of the Greek labor movement compared with other more industrialized countries. This is mainly due to the late development of capitalism and the serious lag in the reception of both Enlightenment and Socialist ideas, which began to spread toward the end of nineteenth century (Kouzis 2007). The legalization of unionized struggle during the first decade of the twentieth century was inextricably linked with the state’s intense interventionism. This took the form of brute involvement in the internal affairs of unions and the establishment of panoptical regulations concerning their legal status. In addition, their financial situation was and still is partly dependent on state subsidies, calling into question their ideological and political independence (Mavrogordatos 2015:272). Briefly, up until 1983, the state imposed a dependent and subservient syndicalism that caused the legalized political factions within unions to act as the “transmission belts,” in Leninist terms, for existing political parties’ policies. In addition, the state, either directly or indirectly, served employers’ interests by allowing 163 Labor Struggles in the Shipbuilding Industry of Piraeus their organizations to operate under very loose regulations (Mavrogordatos 2015:272). After 1983, the union movement entered a new era of democratic life and autonomous decision-making, mainly due to the rise of the Socialist Party to power. After a short crisis from 1985 to 1986, unions were able to restore their organizational unity by 1989. Since then, the autonomy of unions and the right of political parties to be represented in them has been a given (Kouzis 2007:36). In essence, the union movement in Greece has gained its original emancipatory autonomy over the last twenty years. This, however, is not without problems, summarized in two dimensions: the first is related to the intense and divisive internal fight resulting from a fierce conflict between political fractions; the second is related to state corporatism in the form of political interaction between the state and union leadership attempting “to resolve distributional conflicts and the employment-inflation dilemma” (Upchurch, Taylor, and Mathers 2009:10). The rights and...


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