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The historical analysis of the development of trade-union activities in Greece indicates that 1974, with the fall of the military dictatorship and the establishment of parliamentary democracy, is a turning point.
After 1974 the Greek labour unions emerged more as a militant social labour movement. At the national level they have remained organised in a rather centralised manner in the sense that at the tertiary
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level GSEE is accepted as the sole representative of trade-union for employees under private-law contracts by all political factions. The same is observed with regard to civil servants and their tertiary-level national confederation (ADEDY). In the 1990s, Greek trade-unions became involved to an increasing degree in tripartite and bipartite national agreements. They now play a part in the slow transformation of labour relations through the signing of General National Collective Labour Agreements and national social pacts. These pacts could fuel a process of consenting mutual adaptations in the labour market, emphasising productivity and flexibility as well as security. All this notwithstanding, Greek industrial relations continue to demonstrate a "tenacious otherness" and "national variance" in juxtaposition to other European countries.
According to the ILO World Labour Report 1997-98, there is a group of countries in which labour unions did not manage to avoid or free themselves from the endemic afflictions of intertwining with the state, corruption, clientelistic relations, and inter-unionist conflicts; factors, that is, which lead to decay and marginalisation. Even though the unions of other southern European countries managed, following the fall of dictatorships and the return to democracy, to free themselves - to a greater or lesser extent - from such a system, Greek unions have not yet fully released themselves from state dependency. Their continuing participation, at least in part, in this group, does not indicate particularly promising prospects for the future.
Until 1974 a kind of state controlled and clientelistic unionism with several variations had developed in Greece. The lack of a robust labour movement had negative effects on economic and social growth. It contributed to the perpetuation of the activities of businesses which had no entrepreneurial sense of the sort encountered in other European countries, and to an analogously inefficient civil service and public utilities. The militant labour movement that emerged in the wake of the major political changeover of 1974, and witch was consolidated with the rise of the PASOK socialist party in power in 1981, has not yet managed to minimise the dependency of trade-union structures from the state and the governments in office. Although it moved towards becoming an autonomous social partner, part of the society of citizens, this move seems incomplete. . The reason is that three traditional relationships have not been radically transformed, namely, the ones between the state and labour unions, between political parties and labour unions, and between trade-union officers and activists and their rank and file.
The financial independence of unions from the state has not been attained and thus the links between trade-union officials and their memebers has remained weaker. The political parties- trade
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unions relationship has been organised on the basis of a traditional model, with the labour union political factions being merely the frontcovers of political parties. Hence, the relation between trade-union officials and workers has remained elliptical and as a rule unidimensional, with a direction from the political party in power to the workers. Trade-union factions of opposition political parties also operate as pressure groups.
Under these circumstances the active trade-unions and the militant labour force segments of the last two decades did not manage to evolve into an autonomous (in political and financial terms) national trade-union structure. The uneven development of Greek trade-unionism became a constant feature throughout this period, and has been consolidated. Trade-union density has been constantly decreasing since 1985, and the trade-unions, structure has remained widely fragmented. Under the present circumstances the tendency towards the reduction of union density will probably become further intensified. Three kinds of factor give rise to this estimation: structural ones (businesses of a smaller size, new forms of atypical employment, a more specialised labour force), cyclical ones (high unemployment, falling inflation rates), and institutional ones (fragmented structures weakening the ability to develop efficient services to trade-union members through social dialogue institutions and funds, the limited role of unions in the workplace, the decentralisation tendencies in private-sector collective bargaining under the umbrella of the General National Collective Labour Agreement).
An inversion of the negative trends in union density and bargaining power would presuppose radical changes. High trade-union density is observed within more or less efficient "social contract" systems. In Greece the main preconditions of such a system are still lacking. On the labour side representative structures are weakening, and on the employers side -organised interests are weak and fragmented too. What would be required would be autonomous and representative centralised labour and employer organisations capable of regulating labour market and industrial relations issues through bargaining with the government, and also capable of providing analogous services to their members.
Yet the tendency nowadays is towards the opposite direction. Four diverging subsystems in industrial relations seem established:
- big private companies
- public sector utilities -and ex-public sector utilities
- public administration and civil services
- small size companies.
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Furthermore, the collective bargaining system is to a large degree legal-administrative, and, for a significant portion of trade-unions, their representation and bargaining ability stems from the "dread" of mandatory arbitration (Law 1876/90). As is the case elsewhere (e.g. France) - even though we do not have a completely accurate estimate - the labour force is covered by CLAs to a high degree, due to the general validity of the National General CLA (EGSSE) and the extended validity of Sectoral-Industry and Occupational CLAs to cover non-members (another factor fueling a diminishing trade-union density - the so-called "free rider" problem).
In essence, apart from big private companies, the ones that enjoy a high bargaining capacity are the public utility state monopolies (most of them in the prosses of privatisation), which still belong to the
protected sector of the economy, not the open-competitive one. Lately, labour unions seem to be more in a defensive position vis-a-vis these readjustments, rather than having an effective say concerning national and local answers to global challenges. Nevertheless, GSEE is striving to participate in the discussion concerning the country's main economic and social issues, and wishes to maintain links with the Social Dialogue as it unfolds on a European level, through its participation in the ETUC.
Nowadays the question is whether the phenomenon that was observed since the early '90s as a transitional period towards bipartite and tripartite institutions and greater autonomy for labour unions will gain new momentum, or whether the ebbing of trade-union density and of unions' bargaining power, along with the privatisation of public sector utilities, will mark a new setback concerning the role played by labour unions in Greece. With regard to the outcome of this, information of trade-union and collective bargaining structures appear urgent for the integration of all sub-systems of industrial relations in trade-union structures and activities and the efficient participation in bargaining processes under EMU. In shaping the future of Greek trade-unions the role of the top-ranking professional organisations of industry (SEB), commerce (EESE), craftsmen and small manufacturers (GSEBEE), as well of the governments in office in the coming years will also be crucial.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Mai 2000