Greece: power workers and workers' power

In a sharply written statement, the Greek power workers union GENOP-DEI has announced that they will refuse to carry out orders from the employer to cut off electricity supply from customers who cannot pay the new emergency property tax. At the same time, in a symbolic measure, they cut off supply to the central building of the Health Ministry which owes the electricity company €3.8m.

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The new property tax was imposed in September as part of the austerity packaged introduced in order to comply with the terms of the EU-IMF bail-out. The tax, which varies from 0.5 to 16 euro per square meter is extremely regressive, putting a higher burden on working class families. Greece has a large percentage of home owners, about 70% of the population. The government expects to raise €2bn from the new tax. 

Knowing that this unpopular tax was going to be extremely difficult to collect, the government decided (breaking previous assurances to the contrary) that it was going to be raised through the electricity bills. Customers are not allowed to pay just the electricity part of the bill and if they do not pay they are threatened with being disconnected from electricity supply. 

There is already a massive non-payment campaign and according to some press reports, about half of the bills already sent to customers have not been paid. More than a dozen municipalities have agreed to provide legal assistance to non-payers, and the tax itself is being legally challenged. Some have compared this to the hated haratsi poll tax imposed during the Ottoman domination. 

The GENOP-DEI union of workers in the electricity company Public Power Corporation (PPC) has rejected the property tax and called on its members not to pay it, describing it as "barbaric and anti-social". Now they have gone further and announced that they will not allow electricity supply to be cut for non payment. "We will not allow it. We will stop, in any way we can, the cutting of power in the houses of the poor, the unemployed, the pensioner, the low-wage earner," said union president Nikos Fotopoulos. 

Nikos Fotopoulos added that his union is drawing up lists of the unemployed and low-income Greeks to protect them from the new tax. At the same time, on Wednesday, November 16, members of the union cut off electricity supply from the central building of the Health Ministry. They argue that state institutions have accumulated 141 million euro of debts with PPC, including €3.8m from the Health Ministry and that they should pay first. When asked why they were cutting power supply to that particular ministry, union leader Fotopoulos answer:  “It’s random, because they ask us to cut off the power to households randomly as well.” 


H ΓΕΝΟΠ ΔΕΗ έκοψε το ρεύμα στο υπουργείο Υγείας by Miss-Jessy-Lays
Members of GENOP-DEI cut off electricity from Health Ministry

The November 12 union statement (which you can read here in Greek) refusing to implement electricity cut off is very clear and makes an appeal for defence organisations to be set up in every working class neighborhood to resist disconnections:

"This is why we call on our members in any corner of the country where the employer (referring to DEH) disconnects power, to not disconnect power from the poor unemployed, the poor pensioners or workers. With their own initiative (or where there are already initiatives to respond to them) to suggest defence committees in every neighborhood so power won't be disconnected in the house of no poor or unemployed fellow man."

GENOP-DEI has also warned that any further attempt to privatise the electricity company will mean "war"

The decisions of the power workers' union are more significant if you think that up until very recently the leadership of GENOP-DEI was strongly allied to the leadership of PASOK. One year ago it stopped plans to privatise the electricity company PPC by threatening to shut down power from the whole country. This is a group of workers which, through struggle, has become aware of their own strength and power and are using it, not just to protect their rights and conditions, but taking action to protect the working class and the poor in general. They are using their industrial muscle in a political battle, showing a fine class instinct. 

This is one more example of the power of workers in a capitalist society, and particularly the power of power workers which can turn electricity supply on and off. "Not a wheel turns, not a light bulb shines, not a telephone rings, without the kind permission of the working class," in this case quite literally. With their actions, electricity workers have shown what is the way forward to solve the Greek crisis in favour of the working class: for the workers to take control of society and run in the benefit of the majority.