27 March 2009: International meeting


27 March 2009: International meeting at the Occupation of the Rectorate of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki for the Abolition of the new slave-labour of subcontracting companies

An assembly of students, anarchists, workers and unemployed people occupied the administration building of the University of Thessaloniki on Monday the 16th of March 2009. The occupation aims to draw pubic attention towards the new slave-trade business of worker-subletting companies operating in the public sector (hospitals, public transport, universities) and controlling several thousand cleaners, janitors and secretaries. This new slave-trade, whose primary victims are the refugees and the poorest workers, is the most extreme aspect of precarity and flexibility in the labour market today. This situation was made clear to all when a wave of resistance flooded the country in solidarity with Konstandina Kuneva, a Bulgarian immigrant cleaner and combative trade-unionist at the Cleaners’ and Janitors’ Union of Attica, after she was attacked with acid in her face by the subcontractors she had been brave enough to challenge in order to demand minimum rights of workers. Konstandina Kuneva is a symbol of struggle and has inspired a new movement of unmediated trade-unionism and solidarity, against precarity and the exploitation of workers. The central demand of the occupation is for the rectorate of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and the ministry of education to throw out the subletting-subcontracting companies and hire all workers directly under new permanent contracts, guaranteeing decent wages and working conditions.
The first week of the occupation was a lively week of discussions, direct actions and a demo, all focussing on flexible and precarious working conditions, on grassroots trade-unionism and on the need for common struggle of Greeks and immigrants. There has been an ongoing effort to keep in contact with the people working for subletting companies (about 700 at this University). This has not always been easy. Part of the problem of rent company terrorism is that workers’ unions are often controlled by the employers, and at the moment the fact that certain workers have chosen to speak up is already a great step forward.
On the 27th of March, at the occupied rectorate’s offices at the University of Thessaloniki, Greek, Bulgarian, Slovenian and Polish people exchanged their views and experiences in struggles in their countries. People from three different Bulgarian groups, who had jointly organized a picket at the Greek embassy on womens’ day in solidarity with Konstandina Kuneva told us of the problems of struggles against humiliating working conditions of workers in Bulgaria, often in Italian- and Greek- owned companies ( the foreign direct investment so strongly desired and promoted by the Bulgarian state), as well as in companies in Greece, where there are now over 20.000 Bulgarian workers. An ongoing problem in Bulgaria is the dangerous appeal of neonazis, as seen for instance in their participation at anti-NATO or environmental struggles.
In Poland, after the total decline of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, when former Marxists turned prophets of neoliberalism and the Communist Party sought to hold on to power through undercover alliances, certain things are looking up again in the movement against the expoitation of workers. A Polish comrade talked of the anarchosyndicalist trade-union, the Workers’ Initiative, gathering momentum since 2003 not only among anti-authoritarians but also among workers disappointed with corrupt and bureaucratic official syndicates. The new grassroots unionism is spreading in many towns and different sectors, private and state-owned companies, hospitals, retail stores, and notably the post office, where a combative campaign by postmen to defend a colleague who had been sacked, lead to a series of small but important victories.
A comrade from Slovenia informed us about an autonomous initiative in Ljubliana which started one and a half years ago with the aim of raising public awareness about and fighting on the side of Bosnian migrant workers, who work mostly in the construction sector under terrible living conditions, no social security and very little money. After setting up a squat, where these workers could meet and socialize beyond the workplace (which is often where they slept after a 12+ hour-workday), the initiative encouraged them to discuss their rights as workers and collectively organize their demands. Migrants now have their own programme on the Radio Student station, a 40-year-old independent radio station that played an important role in the alternative and autonomous milieu during the 1980s. Despite threats from employers and criticism from the official trade-unions, as well as a few recuperating moves (that claimed, for example, some improvement in the workers’ sleeping arrangement as a victory of the official union rather than of the workers themselves), the initiative behind the Invisible Workers of the World (IWW!) is still alive and strong.