|Last update on November 20, 2021|
|WHAT DISTINGUISHES OUR PARTY – The line
running from Marx to Lenin to the foundation
of the Third International and the birth
of the Communist Party of Italy in Leghorn
(Livorno) 1921, and from there to the struggle
of the Italian Communist Left
against the degeneration in Moscow
and to the rejection of popular fronts
and coalition of resistance groups
– The tough work of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and the party organ, in contact with the working class, outside the realm of personal politics and electoralist manoevrings
In 2009, taking advantage of Greece’s financial difficulties, in order to repay its debts and avoid default, the Chinese state-owned group Cosco obtained a 35-year concession from the government to manage two of the three terminals of the Port of Piraeus (Athens). The Port Authority, which is publicly owned, continued to ensure the operation and management of Terminal I.
In 2016, under the Syriza government, Cosco purchased 51% of the entire Piraeus Port Authority (PPA), for €280 million, thus taking over the port; in 2021, under the New Democracy government, it purchased another 16% of the PPA.
The Chinese government thus secured control of the port until 2052. Beijing is intent on further expansion and aims to build a fourth container terminal, even if the local authorities show a certain impatience with these increasingly invasive projects, such as the one for the construction of four luxury hotels within the port area.
The arrival of Chinese capital has led to a remarkable development of the port: in 2009 it handled less than 700,000 20-foot containers (TEU); in 2014 it handled 3.6 million, in 2019 4.9 million and in 2020 5.4 million.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Athens in 2019, along with Greek government head Mitsotakis, they celebrated the collaboration between the two states and declared that the project would lead to the creation of thousands of jobs; in fact, Cosco already employs 2,500 workers but plans to hire, both directly and subcontracted, another 3,000 each year for a total of about 10,000.
However, behind the official toasts, the harsh reality is that the new bosses have invested capital to increase the port’s activity, but not so much in the safety of the workers, aiming instead to increase their exploitation, often subjected to blackmail of precarious work or subcontracting to force them to accept extremely harsh working conditions.
A death foretold
On October 25, at Pier II, a 46-year-old dock worker was cut in two by the movement of a bridge crane. According to the Container Handling Workers’ Union (ENEDEP), the accident tragically demonstrated the shortcomings in safety precautions and a strike was immediately called.
The next day the workers, gathered in a
plenary meeting, called a new 24-hour strike, demanding a meeting
with the bosses of China Ocean Shipping Company. But, arriving at the
COSCO Offices, they found the gates closed. The fence did not stop
them. Shouting "enough with the blood of workers shed for the
profits of shipowners", "we have lost a fellow worker not
an animal", a gate was torn down and the dockers, increasingly
determined, gathered in the courtyard in front of the building until
they were received by representatives of the Company. The meeting,
however, served no purpose other than to put down on paper the simple
and more than legitimate demands of the workers:
- an increase in personnel: teams of six dockers instead of the current four;
- an end to 12-hour shifts and double shifts, i.e. two full shifts with only eight hours rest in a single day;
- the conversion of all fixed-term contracts into open-ended contracts;
- the creation of a workers’ health and safety monitoring body that includes the workers themselves.
After the meeting, reaffirming the complete success of the strike and the decision to continue the struggle until their demands are fully achieved, the union president added «It is our duty to continue the struggle. We warn the employer and the government that if they send repressive forces and touch a striking worker, they will see containers floating in the Gulf».
Recall that the Greek government only a few weeks ago passed a new law against trade unions and the right to strike ("Passes also in Greece, in the impotence of trade unions, a new serious attack on the working class").
Our struggle for all workers
On Thursday, on the fourth day of the strike, there was a large motorized march of the strikers that crossed all of Piraeus and reached Korai Square where hundreds of workers, including those of other categories, were already waiting. Again the president of the ENEDEP union spoke, saying that the death of their comrade was foreseeable given the complete lack of the most elementary safety measures in the port. He denounced how the bosses, shipowners, businessmen, and political authorities, who fight and compete with each other when it comes to sharing profits, in the face of this murder have all united to cover up the responsibility, in defense of their common interest, which is the exploitation of workers.
On Saturday, the Union sent a message to the crews of the ships anchored in the port waiting to be unloaded: "The striking port workers turn to you. Six days ago, one of our comrades was killed in a work accident. This happened because of the lack of safety measures. We are on strike for our right to work, for safety measures and for a collective agreement. Your solidarity is our most important ally in our struggle. Ours is a struggle for all workers."
The union, after several meetings with the Company and government representatives, decided to resume work on Monday, November 1, but maintained its mobilization and declared a 48-hour strike for Friday, November 5 and Saturday, November 6.
COSCO is forced to come to terms
At this point, in the evening of Thursday, Cosco, faced with the firmness and determination of the workers, changed its ind and came to an agreement: in a letter to the union it declared itself willing to accept the increase from 4 to 5 of workers on the loading and unloading groups, the abolition of double shifts, the establishment of a joint committee for health and safety with the participation of technicians and doctors, workers’ representatives and a European certification body.
Cosco’s acceptance of a significant portion of the union’s demands, after its initial total closure, allowed union leaders to cry victory. The 48-hour strike already called has been withdrawn. The mobilization continues to force Cosco to adhere to the national labor contract and transform temporary contracts into full-time contracts.
It is interesting that these workers, who belong to a trade union and not to a company union, a union that is therefore more prone to express corporative positions, have instead conducted the struggle in an exemplary manner on a class level, without giving in to nationalist or racist temptations, like some self-styled extreme left wing party that had called for the "expulsion of the Chinese" and the nationalization of the port!
The head of the ENEDEP union reiterated in his speech in front of hundreds of striking workers that the bosses are all taking the same approach towards the workers, and are all united in the defense of their profits. The workers must do the same, always seeking maximum unity in their struggles for the defense of their living and working conditions, opposing the conciliation policy of the leadership of their unions with the State and the bosses.
This strike had a partially positive outcome not only because of the determination of the workers, exasperated by particularly harsh conditions, but also because they are located at a strategic point for the functioning of the apparatus of capitalism and the bosses evaluated that it was less costly to give in to part of their demands rather than risk seeing port closures at Christmas time.
Workers do not always fight under these conditions and often do not receive the solidarity of other companies and other categories, which is essential to ensure a successful outcome of the battle. This coordination, this search for unity in the struggle is the task of the confederal union. That is why it is so important for workers to be able to equip themselves with union organizations devoted to the defense of their class interests.
Even port workers, despite their crucial role in the capitalist system of production, are increasingly competing with workers in other ports, both national and from neighboring countries. For this reason, even for this category, it is urgent and necessary to weave an international union network, to unite them between different ports and countries, and prevent them from being divided by capitalist competition for the sole benefit of corporate profits.
FFor this reason, neither should dockers fall into the trap of opportunism, which locks them into a national vision of their problems, deluding them into thinking that they can find protection from exploitation under the umbrella of the bourgeois state, invoking the defense of "national ports", perhaps through nationalization. This is a bankrupt path, an economic nationalism that paves the way for political nationalism, and it is a path that goes in the opposite direction to that of international workers’ unity.
A fourth dock
After the strike, however, Cosco went on the offensive immediately trying to create rumors of a crisis in the port: "The numbers of October are indicative - writes the website Capital.gr - according to Cosco, terminals II and III only moved a total of 364.4 thousand containers, compared to 407.2 thousand containers in October last year, a decrease of 10.5%. But this decline is due to the six-day strike! "When 11,000-12,000 moves are made on a daily basis, even one day of inactivity creates serious problems," they observe.
Cosco’s complaints have a specific purpose: it intends to return to ask for the concession to build a fourth terminal, not caring about the protests of the population of the area already suffering from heavy problems of pollution, noise, traffic, etc. What is important for the bosses is that the new terminal will increase the capacity of Piraeus by more than 11 million containers per year, with related profits!