Trade Unions in Greece: Protest and Social Movements in the Context of Austerity Politics

The “Labor Relations in Context” research group of the Hans-Böckler Stiftung organized a conference in Düsseldorf on developments in European trade unions’ issues.

I presented there the following paper:

Title: “Trade Unions in Greece: Protest and Social Movements in the Context of Austerity Politics”.

Abstract: On the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek trade union system was already characterized by low density and weak links with other societal actors. The unsuccessful trade union response to the austerity policies imposed on the country in the period 2010-2013 reflected the extent of the institutional labor organizations’ weakness. This article provides some insights on the changes the workers’ movement is undergoing in this extremely challenging environment.

The focus is on three levels of analysis: First, the inability (or unwillingness) of the traditional union elites to propose structural reforms for the unions themselves, in the direction of enforcing their negotiating capacity in a post-social debate setting.  Second, the rank-and-file efforts – mainly through grassroots unions populated by precarious workers – to connect with the wider anti-austerity mobilization and introduce labor-related claims in the movements’ agenda. Third, the hybrid experiments developing in the local level, where workers, jobless and other actors joined forces to construct social solidarity structures for the suffering population.

Projects such as the community Workers’ Clubs, the self-organized hospitals and the horizontal cooperatives built by precarious workers and recently unemployed, are moving beyond both the traditional labor and the social movement unionism theories, in the sense that they constitute a de facto re-negotiation of what a unionization procedure is. The concluding point of this paper – the empirical data of which derive from an extensive research conducted during the last 6 years – is that scholarly investigation should take into account this renegotiation procedure, shifting its focus accordingly to include phenomena which are usually not considered relevant to labor research.