Egyptian fishworkers on strike in Nea Michaniona, Northern Greece.

the strike's lines  - rizospastis newspaper photo

The struggle of Egyptian immigrant fishworkers in northern Greece. Their strike is still on.

article appeared at clandestinenglish.

About 300 Egyptian workers at the fishing boats of Nea Michaniona (a village near Thessaloniki, Northern Greece) blockaded two days ago the small port of the village. Before that, from Chrismas on, they had been on one day strikes to protest against the severe decrease in ther income the previous months. They ended the blockade yesterday but go on with their strike. Egyptian immigrants are paid with shares of each catch’s profit. These shares have been seriously shrinking since some months. A worker who used to make a living and also support his family in Egypt in the recent months receives about 300-500 euros a month for working seven days a week on 24 hour shifts of very hard work (anyone who has spoken to these people knows how hard they work and under what circumstances).

The workers accuse the owners of vessels of exploiting the method of payment to present less earnings and shrink the workers’ money. What the employers want through this – beyond expanding their profit margin in the short term – is to force the Egyptian workers to leave and then bring other (immigrant, obviously) workers at lower wages. Egyptian workers have been coming to work in the fishing business since 25 years now and according to the terms of a bilateral agreement between Greece and Egypt. They demand that they are paid according to these terms.

The owners of trawlers disprove the allegations and justify reduced wages on the grounds of increased fuel prices and the low price of Greek fish due to imports.

According to Communist Party of Greece Newspaper Rizospastis what the Egyptian workers demand is to be paid the Christmas bonus, to have a share on VAT return, and be insured in the IKA social insurance fund, not in the OGA (ΟΓΑ) (which is mostly for self-employed farmers): they had been at IKA until 2004, when the PASOK government satisfied a demand of the ship-owners, who did not want to pay for their workers insurance.

Although the workers ceased the blockade, they go on with their strike. Again according to Rizospastis on Wednesday they also had the first elections of the Egyptian Association of Nea Michaniona Fishery Workers (which until yesterday operated on interim administration), despite the efforts by employers and employer controlled Union of Fishery workers to prevent such organization along class lines. This Union, whose administration is affiliated with the PASOK trade unions organisation PASKE (ΠΑΣΚΕ) has been since 2008 assigned with the calculation and validation of shares, and it is since then that the Egyptian workers’ wages have been waning.

Various organisations controlled by the Communist Party, and its trade union PAME, have been close to the Egyptian Workers’ struggle. According to Rizospastis the vessel bosses have been terrorising those (party members and trade unionists) who chose to stand by immigrants, and they attempt to break the strike by mobilizing repressive mechanisms. They said they will sail their vessels by recruiting members of their families in violation of any law. The Mayor of Michaniona Mr Mavromatis clearlt stood alongside the vessel owners.. Yesterday afternoon he appeared at the port and announced that he will go ahead to break the strike.

At the same time, by order of the chief of the Thesaaloniki Port Police Forces and the Port Authority of Thessaloniki, the workers who went to lodge a complaint against three ship owners who owed them money were subjected to tremendous bureaucratic obstacles. The police tried to prevent their lawyer from representing them, they demanded that the workers had a translator, although they speak Greek more than adequately, and kept looking for a Qu’ran for the complainants to swear. Police, riot police and special port police forces were all the time close to the mobilisation to intimidate and deter the workers.

Both in Greece (the PAME) and in Egypt trade unions have made protest rallies at their respective Labour Ministries.

Athens indymedia users report that the only road leading to the port was yesterday blockaded by about 100-150 Greeks who said they were waiting to stop the “communists” and along with the riot police there were alert to smash the strike (which at the time – Thursday noon possibly) was supported by the workers themselves and about fifty Communist Party members, who “did not really understood what was going on (some hundreds meters away from them)”. Many racist slogans were being sung, as well as Chryssi Avgi graffiti and leaflets were to be spotted in the area.

There is a meeting today at 19.00 the Polytechic school in Thessaloniki for people to coordinate solidarity actions.

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clandestinenglish
Jan 8 2010 09:27

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clandestinenglish
Jan 12 2010 11:27

Yesterday Jan 11 the trial of the case of 3 Aegyptian fishworkers against their bosses for not having received their wages was postponed (it will take place on Thursday). Meanwhile, there have been negotiations. The employers, in cooperation with the Mayor of Michaniona and the Egyptian Embassy, along with creating an atmosphere of threats and bigotry, proposed an outrageous text as a basis for the settlement for workers demands. This text not only failed to satisfy any of the demands, but also included clauses prohibiting union organisation for the Egyptian workers, demanding the dismissal of those “misbehaving” or those “being incosistent with their obligations”. It also included a blacklist of the “troublemakers”, which had been already sent to the Embassy (one can easily understand what kind of treatment these persons – those prominently active in the struggle – will receive if deported, actually, to Egypt). They also tried to fool the Egyptians providing this text in three languages (Greek, Arabic and English) with the condition that the English is to be considered the valid one in case the translations are found not exactly matching – while the Egyptians only understand the Arabic variant.

The workers clearly rejected the text.

Steven.
Jan 12 2010 13:08

thanks for the update, please keep us informed!

clandestinenglish
Jan 13 2010 21:33

UPDATE JAN 13: the lawsuit the vessel owners lodged against the strike* will be brought to court tomorrow, Thursday, at 9.00. There is a call for a demonstration by the strikers and the CP controlled trade union PAME for tomorrow at 6.30, at Aristotelous sq. (Agalma Venizelou). People obviously from the anarchist / antiauthoritarian scene also call through Athens Indymedia (in Greek) for active support to the strike and the demonstration, since on Tuesday (when the case was at first to be judged) the presence of solidarity beyond CP supporters outside the courts was miniscule (a relevant call has been posted at the Thessaloniki University, and there will be a gathering for coordination after the demonstration at the Polytechnic school).

Rizospastis Newspaper reported that yesterday "some vessel owners "kicked the Egyptians out" of the trawlers where they stay at night according to the treaty,and in violation of the latter's terms manned their trawlers with scabs and sailed, ”.

* the previous update was inaccurate on that, the lawsuit is the one the bosses have lodged.

clandestinenglish
Jan 16 2010 19:33

UPDATE JAN 16: On Thursday, January 14, the case of the trawlers bosses against the strike was brought to court, and the strike was judged “illegal and abusive” (the period of the strike trialed was under the auspices of the Private Sector Employees Union - the strike was under that legal endorsement, until the fishworkers validated their own Union during the stike by union elections; this Union had been established three years ago but remained unofficial for not having undergone elections).

Despite this court decision, the fishworkers will go on with their struggle and their Union has decided repeated one-day stikes for the days to come.

On Thursday the protest march called by the fishworkers took place. It concluded at the Ministry located in Thessaloniki. PAME (CP’s Union) had a strong presence. Extra-parliamentary leftists and antiauthoritarians did participate but their numbers were lower than one would expect given the significance of the struggle.

After the demonstration an assembly was held at the Polytechnic University and earlier today a text was leafletted at the city’s fish market, and a poster was billed on the streets calling for an information event at the same place on next Wednesday.

source: athens indymedia (in Greek)
translated at clandestinenglish

clandestinenglish
Jan 19 2010 15:10

- Thessaloniki info event call
- source of the article below: athens indymedia article
- traslated at clandestinenglish
___________

The case of the employers against the strike of the fishworkers was brought anew to court yesterday.

The fishworkers are now on strike under a decision of their own Union. The bosses want the court to decide an injunction against the strike, which means that for each day of the strike the Union and the fishworkers should compensate the owners for the damages.

The arguments of the employers were:

a) notification of the strike was not sent to the pertinent body; they now said that the employers’ body to which the strike was officialy made known to (the Greek Shipowners Union for Middle Fisheries – ΠΕΠΜΑ – is a nationwide body of owners who only deals with … European policies! The exact reverse of what they had claimed on the first trial, namely that this body – ΠΕΠΜΑ – was the one that the fishworkers should sent the notice for the strike to and not to the local Union of ship owners, as the strikers had done when they first declared a strike. The bosses twist things the way it suits them of course.

b) Some of the strike’s requests, for instance the insurance fund under which they have to be covered for labor accidents and illnesses, is not the business of the ship-owners but of the pertinent government Ministry (of course it had been the ship owners who had lobbied at the Ministry and succeeded in making the unfavourable for the workers insurance fund tranfer).

c) Above all, the bosses claimed, it is the Union of Nea Mihaniona Fishworkers the one legally assigned to be present at the fish auctions, weight the catches and calculate the workers’ share; they also claimed that the Egyptians were never obstructed from exerting partly control to the processes. This shows the central role of that yellow union for the ship owners. What the ship owners try to avoid at any cost is to recognize the collective, autonomous body of the Egyptian workers, and thus lose control, while on n the other hand, the key demand of the Egyptians is just that, that through their Union they have control of the weighting processes and the calculation of shares, since they the yellow union is of course not to be trusted.

The strike does harm the ship-owners a lot: they lose millions.

The Egyptians are determined to continue. The bosses, on the other hand, are probably ready to replace them with the help of the Egyptian embassy. The most important battle will be done if scabs come, from Egypt or elsewhere. In that case, there will be blood, since the Egyptians are really steadfast to their struggle.

Whether we like it or not ΠΑΜΕ / the Communist Party is the only one with the power, the networks and the mechanism to support the battle in Mihaniona . Those of us who want to support the struggle and we are outside ΠΑΜΕ / the Communist Party we have to go and really see what we can do: see what small and practical things we can do, such as make the strike known in Thessaloniki, collect money etc.

The court decision about the strike is to be issued tomorrow; the strike continues, tomorrow there is the info event at Thessaloniki Polytechnic.

clandestinenglish
Jan 22 2010 16:32

UPDATE JAN 22

After the first court decision that deemed the strike unlawful last week, the second trial’s decision came yesterday and was also against the strike. The strikers go on with their struggle with 24 hour strike decisions.

Trawlers bosses also continue with their effort to bring other Egyptians as scabs. According to Rhizospastis newspaper, “agents” in Athens are into this, and a meeting took place in the trawler owners union offices in Nea Michaniona, between the bosses and an “agent” (referred as “smuggler” by the newspaper).

The Egyptians themselves estimate that they will probably in position to reach some agreement with their compatriots, should any of them be brought as scabs, since it is highly unlikely that the people allured would be aware of the situation.

“If they attemt to bring scabs, instead of 250 strikers they will have 400”. This is one of the things some of the strikers shared with the attendance of the successful Info Event of Wednesday at the Thessaloniki Polytechnic. About seventy people were there.

“The strikers talked in a way that both moved us and strenghtened our conviction that their fight is a fight for us all. With dignity and the mutual desire to go all the way with their struggle, they spoke warmly and directly. In other words, they “forced” everyone to stand beside them and try to put forward solidarity action on even more serious basis. Besides the ultimate goal, the victory of the strike, we can learn from them and get to know each other. We have to learn how to intervene (or even attempt to do so) on a sound basis, with a view to real links with the people in such struggles, and to the social and not simply the political. The strikers also talked about how they understandand solidarity and made clear two things: they want to avoid at any case extreme conflicts between forces supporting the strike, as well as any action that could endanger their physical presence at the village. Under current conditions these seem reasonable and understandable. In other words, if one believes that this is the time to resolve disputes with the Communist Party, there is clearly a problem…”.

(part of the report of an athens indymedia report linked below)

Further actions in Thessaloniki, decided at the event, were:

- mass leafleting at the Thessaloniki fishmarket on Saturday
- a solidarity march for Tuesday January 26
- a solidarity concert on Friday, January 29 at Kamara square.

sources

http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_id=1123276
http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_id=1123423
http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=231107432&blogId=526758768
personal communication

Steven.
Jan 22 2010 17:15

thanks for the continued updates.

Are the union still backing the strike? Or is it more of a wildcat strike now? What kind of legal action could be taken against the union if they continue?

clandestinenglish
Jan 25 2010 11:56

apologies for the delay in responding + i know the posts above are at points confusing. hope to make things clearer with this.

The Egyptian's own Union is the one doing the strike and the one condemned by the courts. Those two court decisions that deemed the strike "unlawfull and abusive" (I do not know the exact legal terms in english) mean in effect two things for the strikers:
- that they could be sacked for striking
- that no other union can lawfully strike in support of their strike
Typically it also gives the bosses the right to demand a compensation by the strikers for their losses, but as a custom this is not done (however, since it an immigrant strike, you never know). Note that most strikes (comrade lawyer told me circa 90% of them) in Greece are deemed "unlawfull and abusive".

The fact, however, that PAME / CP supports the strike gives it in effect much legitimation - and they still are the prime force and source of support for the strike.

Since in has emerged in Athens indymedia, with regard to the CP / PAME support it is worth noting, (as an EΣΕ - libertarian syndicalist union - member has posted) that they have supported in the past (2000) the trawlers bosses union as well, in their demand of that time for cheaper boat fuels. CP / PAME is diachronically in support of demands by "small-medium employers".

This trawlers bosses union's - lifelong - president Dimitrios Taoultzis is said to have made this statement lately about the Egyptians' strike: "i do not talk with... blacks. They should take their sacks and go".

clandestinenglish
Jan 26 2010 17:19

What happened today Jan 26 in the third trial of the fishworkers strike (the strike was brought anew to court).

source: http://asyntaxtostypos.wordpress.com/ post, published in athens indymedia.
translated at clandestinenglish

The judge of the Thessaloniki Court gave the fishworkers’ lawyers a deadline to produce by 12 tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan 2010) noon the necessary documents proving their claims against the trawlers bosses.

These documents, according to the legal defence of the fishworkers, prove a series of abuses committed by the trawlers owners, including:

- The illegal practice of inviting other fishworkers, essentially to work as scabs,

- The deception of some Egyptians who were misled to sign a labour agreement in Arabic and in Greek language, which was very different from the original English version [the valid one should disputed occur] which contained onerous labor terms*.

- The fact that “employers unilaterally delegated to “representatives” of a “union of Michaniona fishworkers” (a union which excludes the overwhelming majority of Egyptian) to calculate the “share”, with no control whatsoever exerted by the workers themselves; thus, the trawlers bosses were in position of paying the fishworkers as little as they wished ” testified today on court by the defence witness Secretary of Thessaloniki Trade Unions Sotiris Zarianopoulos.

- The fact that the trawlers owners refused to provide the fishworkers with copies of their individual employment contracts, which are necessary for them in order to renew their residence permits, with a view to have them deported and replace them with other, cheaper fishworkers.

For these allegations, a witness for the prosecution said that the she either did not know of those facts or denied them, rousing a storm of protests by tens of strikers who were present in the court room and watched the process. Amid strong protests over allegations and arguments of the trawlers owners’ lawyer (who argued inter alia that “foreign workers shouldn’t be allowed to come here and establish unions at will …”), the procedure was halted until tomorrow for the strikers’ lawyer to produce the required documents.

The trial was attended by the CP MP Sophia Kalantidou (who had submitted interpellations to the parliament on the issue), the Secretary of Thessaloniki Trade Unions Center Sotiris Zarianopoulos (PAME), the Deputy Secretary of the Thessaloniki Trade Unions Center , Despina Charalambides (Aftonomi Paremvasi –Radical Left Coalition), the President of the Thessaloniki Builders Union Vassilis Revas (PAME) (last Monday a press conference by the fishworkers and S. Zarianopoulos took place at the offices of the Trade Union of Thessaloniki) and several leftist and independent supporters of the struggle including the Soliodarity Assembly with the Fishworkers’ Strike.

In a gesture of support to the strikers who have found themselves in the recent months in a deplorable financial situation, student unions, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and leftist organizations and the Solidarity Assembly called for today Tuesday at 6 pm a solidarity rally. On Friday Jan 29 the Assembly organizes a Concert at 9 pm at the University “to support the Egyptian fishworkers in Mihaniona”.

* The unacceptable “lost in translation” Greek text of ’agreement’ which misled five (of a total 130) of Michaniona Egyptian fishworkers included the following condition in paragraph 6: “The Egyptian fishworkers should not be involved in any Greek political party or body related to labour obligations and rights “!

clandestinenglish
Feb 4 2010 17:10

“Our struggle is a struggle for dignity” – update on the fishworkers’s strike

info from athens indymedia articles and http://asyntaxtostypos.wordpress.com

Yesterday Wednesday Feb 3, the Egyptian fishworkers’s strike was brought for the fourth time to court. The trial’s outcome for the first time was positive. The court decided for the first time that the strike is not “illegal and abusive”.

Unsurprisingly this was the first time the court examined the case’s essence, unlike the three previous courts when the strike was declared “illegal and abusive” on various technical legalistic “irregularities” (for example on the pretext of notification of the strike to the “wrong recipient” or “at a wrong time”, etc.).

In this trial as well, two witnesses were examined, one from the shipowners side, the chairman of the cooperative of the ship owners D. Ntaoultzis, and a witness for the defence of fishworkers, the Secretary of the Trade Union Center of Thessaloniki, Zarianopoulos.

At the beginning of the process in front of dozens of fishworkers, people in solidarity and ship owners , the judge asked police officers to come forward and stay in front of the judges.

The issues addressed included the non delivery of necessary documents by the ship owners to the workers for the latter to be able to renew their residence permits, which is a very urgent thing. Fishworkers defence also referred to the fishworkers uninsured status in case of work accidents and the assignment of the [yellow] workers union – which does not include the mass of Egyptians – with the calculation of shares.

The ship owners representative admitted indirectly that he had taken action to have scabs sent to Michaniona (in cooperation with the labour representative of the Egyptian embassy). The issue of the document proposed by the ship owners as a settlement of demands [see previous posts/updates] targetting active strikers and prohibiting political or syndicalist activity to Egyptians was also discussed. The ship owners representative argued that the process of calculating the shares is accessible and transparent to the fishworkers, who refuted this by saying that at the crucial time of the calculation they are still on board. He also said that he does not think it is necessary that Egyptians are represented at the process and that “it would be good if Greeks had those jobs to combat unemployment”- prejudice towards foreign workers was obvious at all times. The ship owners lawyer warned the strikers that they “should be careful, because things will be wild from now on!”. He also said that the strikers are misguided by CP / PAME trade union, which supports them to gain their votes in view of the granting of voting rights to immigrants with the new immigration bill.

The strikers said after the trial’s first day “our struggle is a struggle for dignity”. Dignity will be the criterion of their decisions for further action.

Despite the good news with the court’s decisions, the strikers are in a very difficult situation in terms of money. Today there is a meeting of the Solidarity Assembly at the Thessaloniki Antiracist Initiative’s place [ermou & venizelou str.] for practical solidarity coordination.

http://clandestinenglish.wordpress.com/