Nobody shows up for Greek tourism union’s strike announcement


In an age of rolling strikes by Greece’s many unions, its a full-time job just coordinating strike calendars. Even then it sometimes breaks down.

On Thursday, the country’s generally docile tourism workers’ union planned to officially announce strike plans for later this month — their first in ages. But somebody there overlooked the fact that Greece’s journalists union was striking on the same day, in a move likely to generate an empty press haul for the tourism union’s big moment. When nobody showed up, the news conference was canceled and rescheduled for Friday.

The tourism union, which goes by the acronym Poeeyte, is planning a four-hour work stoppage on June 16 and a one-day strike on June 30.

Greece’s giant labor movement has long pursued a strategy — to borrow Chairman Mao’s immortal phrase — of letting a hundred flowers bloom. That means, apart from the two main umbrella unions, within private sector GSEE and public sector ADEDY lurk scores of other second-tier and third-tier unions who pursue, sometimes very vigorously, their own agendas with or without official sanction from their bigger brethren.

Most Greeks are used to that. Long before the crisis, not a week would go by in Greece where somebody, somewhere wasn’t striking, be it pharmacists, fishermen or finance ministry employees.

That could be a problem now. The tourism industry is a case in point. With its white-washed villages and sunny Mediterranean islands, Greece is one of the world’s Top 20 tourism destinations, drawing some 13 million tourists a year. Tourism is also a major money spinner, accounting for about 15% of gross domestic product and roughly one in five jobs.

But the industry has already been hit by the months of negative publicity, protests and riots surrounding Greece’s protracted fiscal crisis. Greek hoteliers say that tourist arrivals will shrink by 10% this year — after an already weak 2009 — and revenue is expected to slump 15% from last year. Others in the industry echo those figures.

Worse, tourism has been hit by a series of high-profile wildcat strikes by Greece’s various and sundry unions. Apart from the Poeeyte walkouts later this month, seamen have already staged two protests on the Athens docks, their most recent this past Monday, aimed at disrupting cruise ship arrivals and departures. On Wednesday, dozens of angry fishermen temporarily blockaded Greek ports, also affecting cruise ship and ferry operations. Although their demands were different — the dock workers are unhappy about changes in cabotage laws and the fishermen about trawling restrictions — their effect was the same. Already at least one foreign cruise operator — Thomson — has said it is giving up on Greece for the summer and others are expected to follow.

Beyond tourism, there is also a bigger issue at stake here. Buried in the fine print of Greece’s €110 billion loan agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund is a clause committing the Greek government to work toward a national consensus with the unions and opposition political parties to support the reform and austerity plan.

Such a national consensus is needed — and other countries have done so in the past. Australia famously worked out a deal with its unions in the 1980s that allowed for tough reforms and deregulation that helped lift the economy and float the Australian dollar. German governments also managed a modicum of harmony with the unions in the hard years after reunification. And now Spain is also inching toward a national consensus with workers as the country buckles down for more austerity.

But in Greece, where even the unions can’t agree when to strike, a national consensus looks a long way off.