Socialist Worker

Migrant workers are fighting back against racism in Greece

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2412

Manolada workers outside the court in Patras

Manolada workers outside the court in Patras (Pic: Workers' Solidarity)


Up to 1,000 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Middle East fought back against racism in Greece with a six-day strike last week.

The workers are based in the town of Skala Lakonias in the conservative southern Peloponnese region. Five years ago a strike there led to the creation of the Union of Immigrant Workers. 

“The workers revolted against immigration raids,” explained Petros Constantinou, coordinator of the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (Keerfa). 

“Every Friday police raid the barns where they live. After working for a week, instead of getting paid they are put in prison camps.

“The mayor and the police also stop the workers going into town, to the barbers or to the beach to wash. They have accused him of physically attacking them.”

Now the workers have marched defiantly through the town and are taking the mayor to court.

Their revolt was inspired by another migrant workers’ struggle last year. Strawberry pickers in Manolada, western Greece, were shot at by bosses when they gathered to demand months of unpaid wages.

But with the help of Keerfa and the Union of Immigrant Workers they quickly organised demonstrations of thousands and forced the issue onto the political agenda.

Now the trial over the shootings is underway in the nearby city of Patras. It is a major courtroom drama that could last for months. Around 40 prosecution witnesses are up against the bosses’ expensive lawyers.

Bosses are accused of harassing and intimidating witnesses with threats of violence.

Unity

“It’s a big success to have the trial,” said Petros. “The immigrants didn’t just leave the country. They kept up the unity they built up in the struggle.

“There is mass support for the Manolada workers, and so we are pushing not just for justice in the trial but for the legalisation of all migrants.”

There are protests outside the court several times a week, which bring together dozens or even hundreds of people. They always include two coachloads from Manolada.

They have won backing from opposition politicians to workers fighting austerity.

Workers across Greece walked out in a public sector general strike on Wednesday of last week. 

Their unions were set to call another as Socialist Worker went to press. It was the 30th general strike day since 2009.

The Greek government is trying to cut 15 percent of the public sector workforce, to satisfy its creditors. But the government is too afraid to simply announce mass sackings. Instead it is trying to use bogus capability tests. 

But the results are effectively known in advance, and furious workers are collectively refusing to cooperate. As well as striking, they have made it impossible for the government to get the documents it needs

Among those leading the fightback have been the women who clean the ministry of finance. They held a joint press conference with the Manolada workers in Athens.

Panos Garganas, editor of Workers Solidarity newspaper, told last week’s Marxism festival in London, “This was an exciting development–women cleaners in support of migrant workers, mostly “illegal” people they never knew. 


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