Aspropyrgos, Attica: The ‘Greek Steelworks’ strike continues —closely flirted by authoritarian political forces

On Tuesday, December 13th, workers call for 24hour strike in the entire Thriassio Field (the biggest industrial area in Greece, located in western Attica, 25 kilometres northwest of Athens), in solidarity with the steelworkers’ struggle.

On Saturday, December 10th, a number of solidarity groups spent the day outside the factory gates of the Greek Steelworks (Helliniki Halivourgia) with the 400 strikers in a sign of solidarity with their struggle. The collective kitchen ‘EL CHEf’ of the Immigrant Hangout (Steki Metanaston, Exarchia) prepared food for the strikers and supporters while others performed a concert of rebetiko.

Saturday was the 42nd day of strike action by the workers of the factory. The strikers are calling for the cancellation of the plans to cut their working days from 8 to 5 hours, and the reinstatement of the dozens of fellow workers sacked so far (as mass layoff of 50 workers has already been announced). On a related video, one of the strikers explains that during the 30 years he’s been working for the Greek Steelworks in Aspropyrgos, there were 7 mortal injuries in his workplace, while throughout these years tens of other workers have been seriously injured (suffering severe burns, amputations, and so on) inside the steel mill of this hell factory.

Lines of communication between union reps and factory bosses remain open, but neither side is budging. The owner Manesis is threatening further redundancies if the strike continues. All strikers remain together and resolute in continuing the strike until their demands are met.

The strikers have received welcome and considerable support — in visits, financial donations and donations of food — from many different groups and individuals. In the face of this overwhelming support from many sectors of society, the strikers feel a responsibility to continue the strike on behalf of all who support them. The eyes of many across the country are on them, and the outcome of this struggle will be a test case for workers and capitalist bosses across the country. However, lack of support from within the industry has put pressure on their cause. The ‘sister’ factory in Volos is due to accept the work reduction plan, and union reps from that factory have failed to respond to calls from the men in the Steelworks.

When some of the strikers were asked whether, beyond returning to work under better conditions, they had any plans to appropriate the factory, they said they did not have any intention of this. Others felt it was totally impossible, here, to repeat what happened in Argentina; that the big industrialist owner of the factory makes part of a monopoly that includes not only production, but also the other main industries connected to the Steelworks (such as logistics and construction).

Whether we agree with this view or not, what remains challenging is keeping the strike in the hands of the workers themselves. The aims of their struggle are simple and specific to the factory. But they also feel the connection between their struggle and that of all local and migrant workers in Greece, against bosses, at a time when the economic crisis is used blatantly as a weapon against our lives. This connection — between the specific and wider struggle — has made it difficult to keep the strike ‘the possession’ of the workers themselves.

Although the workers make decisions among themselves through regular assemblies of all at the factory, several political groups have vied to stamp their political message on the strike and make it the banner of their sold-out political ideologies. This was evident during Saturday’s solidarity actions when a coach of delegates of the PAME (‘All Workers Militant Front’) arrived at the factory; shouting their slogans and waving their flags, one worker commented ‘we [strikers] started out as workers, but now the political parties have come’…

It must be clear that authoritarian forces such as the PAME and the KKE itself (‘Communist’ Party of Greece) have been strangling the strike from the very beginning, since there are many Stalinists among the strikers themselves too. An indicative text was circulated, quoting the words of Maria Deli who is described as a woman speaking on behalf of ‘the spouses of the Halivourgia’s workers,’ stating that they have been supported by the PAME since the beginning of their struggle. Her emotional speech appears also on Indymedia Athens (like this), but it was first published on the KKE’s main slandering daily Rizospastis, with the title: ‘November 25th, 2011: Speech given in yesterday’s gathering at Elefsina by Maria Deli, woman of a steelworker striker’. A small excerpt goes: ‘From the first moment, PAME and class unions are with us, the KKE is with us. From the first moment, this struggle was based on resolutions and decisions of trade unions, associations, federations, societies of women and youth, people’s committees, committees of unemployed, students, etc. From the first moment, a river of solidarity was expressed with the steel industry workers and their families; a river of solidarity that evolves slowly into a torrent and brings financial aid and food for our families. We bow to the greatness of the solidarity among the working class and our people. We bow to the international solidarity of all workers.’

Today, December 13th, at 20.00 (GMT+2), we’ll hear more about the situation there from strikers of the ‘Greek Steelworks’ in a recorded interview and on-air discussion (in Greek) on Athens free radio station 98 FM.

related updates (1, 2) and translation on occupied london