Google+ Studio 25: February 2013


Breaking the strike

Democracy, elections, freedom of speech, individual rights: pillars of a healthy, ideal society. Or, so it is in theory, where one can just a chose the perfect model of democracy, with the perfect model of elections, with the ideal model of a voter/individual. But what do you get when you translate all this in reality, when you remove the faulty premise that all is built around the perfect individual? What do you get when you intersect interest groups and elections? And what do you get when your individual rights are in conflict with the interests of a group?
We are in Cyprus, and the year is 2013. Let us say I am an immigrant worker (just a generic construction worker) somewhere in Paphos. I think I am legally working (though I am not sure – every time I ask my boss about my “asphalia” he goes crazy, calls me names and threatens me with dismissal, and I don’t have the guts to report it since the times are rough and I know I will end up surely being dismissed anyway). I never work only 8 hours/day (even though that was the initial agreement), and every time it rains I do not work and therefore do not get paid for that day. Let us say also that a certain interest group declares a strike in the name of all… construction workers. And slowly I start to get squeezed in a corner: I express solidarity and run the risk of starving my family, or break the strike (which, anyway, is a political game where I am just a pawn, serving somebody else’s interests).
“BUILDERS continued their island wide, indefinite strike yesterday with no apparent end in sight as trade unions SEK, PEO and DEOK have threatened that measures may escalate.
In a statement released yesterday, PEO gave its full support to the builders in their fight against their employers.
“For a long time, employers in the construction industry in Cyprus, citing the crisis and difficulties in the industry, have started an attack on the working class. They have systematically dismissed large numbers of workers and replaced them with cheap labor, increasing unemployment and the impoverishment of the families of thousands of workers,” the statement said.
The builders have organized demonstrations for today after the decision to continue their strike was made yesterday during meetings across Cyprus. They criticized their employers for taking advantage of cheap foreign workers, essentially taking the industry back ten years and destroying the trade union movement.
The central council of the Building Contractors' Association in Cyprus will meet today to consider a proposal from the Labor Ministry.”

Source: Cyprus Mail

Let us say that I decided to break the strike. It is my right to do so. It is everyone’s right to protest, as it is mine to pursue my interests. But it is almost impossible. I spoke with friends and acquaintances about it, and no one dares to break it. The amount of threats they received scared them enough to comply, while in some cases violence was used to stop people from working. I tried to search news about it online: nothing! I search the printed press: nothing! In Paphos, Paralimni, Larnaca I can personally count at least 6 events of this nature, with only one incident (in Paphos) being reported in an obscure “property news” website. What is the guardian of democracy – the press doing? Are they sleeping on the job? Yes, the news about the negotiations are interesting, and yes, the workers are entitled to protest, but how about individual rights? Is the syndicate becoming a mafia organization, building itself on intimidation?
Some might argue that there is no connection between syndicates and the threats, but I cannot see it any other way, not when for almost every attempt to break the strike there was a gang showing up at the working site with clubs and metal rods, ready to show they mean business.
We are talking about social dialog, but that is taking place only among government and those affiliated with a movement or syndicate, and that leaves out individuals whose dignity, rights and even physical integrity may be threatened in the process.
I do not defend immigrant workers (on the contrary, the fact that some accepted to work for illegally, for little money is part of the problem; in this way employers learned that abuses -towards the state and workers- are allowed, especially since the control entities are so weak and corruptible), nor the government or the strike, but I do want to point fingers at all groups. As long as you forget the discrete composition of society, you will just argue interests of one organization, and as long as you fail to show solidarity with your peers you cannot expect improvement in you work condition, and you fail to protect one’s right to disagree you cannot claim you have a healthy society, and inalienable rights for its participants. We cannot allow freedom to exist only in historical speeches, we need it to be part of our day to day life, and we need government to protect it, and syndicate to respect it.
Today, in modern Europe, we cannot afford to have such issues, while preaching others over democracy, while advocating pacifism and non violence. We cannot fix problems by creating others. We cannot forget about each one of us.