Striking dock workers from the Greek Federation for Port Employees (ΟΜΥΛΕ). Photos: Will Horner
Two phones sit on Anastasia Frantzeskaki’s desk as well as a mobile phone. Occasional confusion arises as to which is ringing at any one time and she switches quickly between one or the other and even at times holds both to her ears, pinned in place by hunched shoulders, as she types rapidly on the computer keyboard. Ms Frantzeskaki, a member of the Greek Federation for Port Employees and the Syriza government’s representative for maritime affairs, is currently a busy woman.
The workers at Athens’ Piraeus Port terminals 2 and 3, which since 2009 have been run privately by the Chinese state-owned company COSCO, have walked out over workplace safety. According to Frantzeskaki, COSCO is refusing to open the gates of the terminals to let in members of the striking trade union ΕΝΕΔΕΠ, which represents dock workers in the terminals it operates.
Frantzeskaki relates rushed messages between the striking workers and the Greek Ministry of Labour in order to persuade the Labour Minister to call COSCO and inform them that, legally, they are obliged to allow the striking workers access to the port. The messages are passed successfully and the gates to terminals 2 and 3 are opened, reluctantly.
COSCO has yet to recognise ΕΝΕΔΕΠ and Frantzeskaki says that its administration of the terminals has led to an increase in workplace accidents. There have been broken hands, severed fingers, one fatal accident and one near-fatal in which a young worker fell from an overcrowded crane cabin on to a cargo container several levels below.
‘They work 12 hours per day and they do not usually get their breaks,’ she adds. ‘They have to beg for their breaks and most of them avoid this because they will have a bad record later on.’
One year ago Frantzeskaki’s party Syriza won huge support amongst the Piraeus dock workers by pledging to halt the privatisation of the remaining port terminals, but she now has to deal with a new reality.
The Greek government’s decision in July to sign a third memorandum steam-rolled that election pledge. The creditors insisted on the privatisation of Greece’s largest port and last week COSCO was confirmed as the preferred investor to buy the Greek state’s remaining 67% share of the port for €368.5 million.
The dock workers feel betrayed by the government’s decision to renege on their promise and have held three strikes in one month. They fear job losses and poor working conditions if COSCO takes over the administration of the rest of the port.
Outside the Greek Ministry of Finance and above the chants of protesting dock workers, Christos Tzimovasilis, a worker from the port talks of the government’s decision with an anger that makes his voice shake as he speaks.
‘It’s the same things the old governments told us: Lies, lies, lies, lies! They don’t want to see us they don’t want to speak to us,’ he says. ‘Syriza told us that they will not sell the port. We had a lot of meetings with the minister and now after the third memorandum they have told us that “we can’t do anything.”‘
The situation is a far cry from the optimism that shot Syriza to power in January 2015. Then they were promising to end austerity, cancel the debt, and halt the selloff of the Greek state’s assets to foreign investors. But the dramatic clash with European creditors in July 2015 caused Syriza to abandon most of its programme in the face of the threat of expulsion from the Eurozone.
The party which once was the champion of Greece’s plentiful protesters now faces its own wave of strikes and demonstrations. Pensioners, dock workers, accountants, lawyers and notaries have all taken strike action and two general strikes have taken place in four months. After a brief hiatus, clouds of tear gas and smoking petrol bombs have returned to the streets of Athens.
In another on-going dispute, Greece’s farmers—another sector of Greek society which overwhelmingly backed Syriza in the elections—have been blocking motorways and border crossings with their tractors for over a month. Last month they heightened the pressure by arriving on mass in Athens, clashing with police and occupying the central Syntagma Square for the weekend.
Syriza’s inability to deliver on its promises is badly hurting its popularity. According to the latest opinion polls the party has dropped into second place with 23.2% support, three points behind the centre-right opposition.
The prospect of an early election, which would be the fifth general election in less than four years, has been put on the table by one cabinet minister, and the leader of the opposition has suggested that he would favour snap elections over a national unity government with Syriza.
But Prof. Michalis Spourdalakis, Dean of the University of Athens’s School of Economics and Political Science, and an executive of the Syriza affiliated Nicos Poulantzas Institute, dismisses the likelihood of early elections.
‘Syriza will be in a difficult position for the time being,’ he explains. ‘That’s the choice Syriza made and it will be difficult. But I do not predict that we are going to have elections. The government doesn’t want elections, just like the opposition doesn’t want elections.’
Instead Prof. Spourdalakis predicts the government will respond to the current challenges with a cabinet reshuffle: ‘They are going to bring some new people into the government to appease the right wing. There’s going to be a reshuffle as soon as we have the [IMF] evaluation.’
Will Horner is a freelance journalist currently living in Greece. Follow him on twitter at @willhorner
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram