On behalf of PAME and the Regional Trade Union Centre of Amaliadas we thank UNIONE SINDACALE DI BASE for your invitation to participate in this important meeting.
I am the President of the Regional Trade Union Centre of Amaliadas a city in western Peloponnese, close to the town of Manolada, which became known round the world when two years ago employer’s henchmen attacked with guns against migrant workers from Bangladesh who worked on the strawberry plantations and injured many of them. The “crime” of the migrant workers, was that they asked to be paid for their work! Just recently the Court on the case took a decision that was an official start for the acquittal of employers’ attacks (physically, verbally, psychologically) against workers and even a basis of res judicata. This incident is not an exception, in fact it is quite instructive on how immigration is utilised by capitalism against the workers’ movement.
The position of the EU and the governments of the EU Member States on migration is neither random, nor has substantive differences if the government is liberal, social democratic or even bears the sign of the “left”, but is directly related to the policy of the capital to increase its profitability by reducing the price of labour power.
It is characteristic that the EU states that needs 20 million immigrants to address the demographic problem and to meet the objectives of the Lisbon strategy that is the strategy of capital. So on the one hand, they attract migrants in various ways to meet domestic shortages of labour while on the other by using migrant workers they have greater ability to push even more low the price of labour. For example on the 2000s the manufacturers of the Olympic Projects in Greece demanded the massive importation of foreign workers to work for 53-60 hours weekly with very low wages. 80% of the 150,000 workers in the Athens Olympic projects were migrants!
But today, in conditions of the capitalist crisis, capital and its political parties focus their propaganda on the issue of immigration, associating it with the issues of security and crime rate. In this way they want to distract, to redirect the anger and indignation over poverty and unemployment created by capitalism, to painless channels for the system. They put obstacles to the reception of immigrants; they leave them at the mercy of traffickers and their networks of crime and corruption. At the same time they reinforce racism and target the victims of their own policy as national danger. By doing so they give leverage into the hands of racist, nationalist organizations, such as the criminal, Nazi organization “Golden Dawn”. Their goal is to divide workers, to exploit immigrants as cheap labour, which will also push down the price of labour power and at the same time will strike the workers’ movement. Even the slogan “all different – all equal”, a slogan borrowed from the propaganda of the EU downgrades and vulgarizes the deeply class problem of immigration as a problem of “respect for diversity”. It hides the fundamental contradiction that permeates capitalist societies, the contradiction between capital and labour. Common component of their policies is the acceptance of the logic of capitalist competitiveness and growth, the acceptance of the imperialist organization called European Union.
The promotion of EU policies, the Europe 2020 strategy, the competitiveness of capital and profitability of the multinationals passes over the division of the working class either to natives and foreigners, or men and women, white or black, or even to northerners and southerners.
Our position is based on the recognition of migrants as part of the People’s Movement. For this labour movement needs to develop its own policy on immigration. This is a requirement so as the migration problem not to be alibi for new measures against the workers, to stop the “divide and rule” policy, the escalation of state violence and repression aimed at silencing and subjugating the movement. Immigrants as part of the labour movement, to become a source of strength, not a lever for even more deterioration.
In Greece, the number of immigrants is, according to data from 2012, about 1,400,000, including their families. They account for about 13-14% of the total workforce and labour and are located as follows:
Construction 32.1%, private households 17.4%, manufacturing 14.6%, hotels – restaurants 10.3%.
Greece was traditionally a country exporting migrants -over 1 million left in the decades of 50s and 60s- but since the 1980s Greece began to receive immigrants and refugees mainly from the Middle East. After 1990 the country became a massive importation of immigrants mainly from the former socialist countries. In 2000 immigrants were used as the cheap fuel of the capitalist development. In recent years as a result of the wars and destabilization of regions and states, caused by imperialism in M. East, Asia and Africa, Greece has been receiving waves of immigrants from these regions, from whom the overwhelming majority has as destination other EU states but is trapped in Greece because of EU legislation (Regulations Dublin, Schengen Agreement etc.).
How capitalism manages this situation? It creates migrant concentration camps. There are already a number of countries – EU member-states and third “willing” countries that are funded for this by the EU. They imprison people massively under unacceptable and intolerable living conditions for up to 18 months. Although most of them want to go in other EU states they remain trapped in Greece, due to the Schengen and Dublin II Regulation. They even imprison refugees who have sought asylum, so as to send them back to their countries where their lives are in danger, crudely violating the rights of refugees and the Geneva Treaty. This is the “culture” and the “values” of capitalism.
Given today’s standards to repel migrants at the border means a sharp increase in deaths and a sharp increase in spending by the so-called European border surveillance system and the automated entry and exit system. The persecution against immigrants or so-called “illegal immigrants” leads to gigantism of illegality and semi-clandestine, the growth of the various organisations that exploit them. To reduce crime should be ensured their legal residence in order to claim a tolerable life and not fall into organisations of crime, prostitution, or drug trafficking.
It is obvious that for as long as the causes of migration and refugees remain and exacerbated, we will see huge waves of hungry, impoverished and persecuted migrants and refugees, who will seek to immigration the way to save their lives. These causes that are consciously hushed or downgraded are:
class exploitation and oppression
the continuation and escalation of the imperialist aggression, wars, interventions, the civil wars instigated by the US, NATO and the EU
the looting of the wealth of nations by a handful of monopolies.
The immigration problem is inherent in the capitalist system and the imperialist war. We expect the problem to grow bigger in the coming years because of the capitalist economic crisis and new wars being prepared in our region.
The position of immigrants deteriorates as the overall position of the working class worsens, and especially as additional measures against immigrants are being implemented. For the class movement it is clear that there can be no easy solutions to the immigration issue, without conflict with the monopolies, the European Union, the participation in imperialist organizations, without conflict with the capitalist path of development itself.
For the class labour movement, its positions, action, demands on the migration issue have as a starting point the fundamental principle of the unity of the working class. Greek and immigrant workers against the common enemy. To repel separations based on national, racial, religious or other differences. Unity for the fight against the monopolies and their power, so as to abolish the exploitation of man by man, for the working class to take the wealth it produces in its own hands.
In this effort, obstacles and difficulties we face are:
The oppression by the capitalist state
the terrorisation and intimidation through political persecution, imprisonment, deportation and even torture against immigrants
State and employer violence
the various organisations often of migrants’ countrymen who have become employers – contractors or cooperating with local ones
the action developed by the embassies of countries of origin in order to keep them away from the class trade unions
finally, small or no union experience (from the countries of origin) of the migrants themselves
Those are major difficulties, important reasons for the low level of trade union organization.
But despite the obstacles, the long effort and steady position of the class movement in Greece since the early years of mass arrival of immigrants in our country, based on the principles of proletarian internationalism, is resulting in a large number of migrant workers to respect our stand, to trust us, to take under consideration our sayings.
In industries where the correlation of forces is in favor of the class trade union movement we developed struggles with the participation of migrant workers themselves for the payment of accrued, for health and security issues, against the arbitrariness of employers and their terrorizing tactics, against uninsured work, etc. We took initiatives denouncing the imperialist wars, we were in solidarity with the persecuted, we stood side by side in strikes for Collective Agreements, against layoffs and wage cuts, like in the Recycling Industry of Crete, in factories in Athens and elsewhere. To achieve this work we took practical measures such as trade unions and the Regional Trade unions were translating their announcements, and leaflets into other languages, such as Albanian, Pakistani, Russian etc. they did briefings to the migrants on their rights, such as the seminar we did a month ago in Amaliada. With such work many migrant colleagues joined the trade unions, they took part in collective actions and in elections, and they were elected in the leadership of trade unions. The class trade union movement prevented deportations, it denounced and fought against the “sweeping” of migrants that successively governments have tried, the arrests and abuse of migrants by police, it even created school for migrants in Athens. This work has resulted in gaining a lot of experience, positive and negative, which may under certain conditions be a tool in the development of more qualitative and quantitative work to immigrants.
The main task for the class movement is to put into action, to enlighten and organize all workers, targeting on workplaces, where Greek meets with the foreign worker, where the common interests of the Greeks and migrant workers are understood, where the immigration problem is understood as a problem of the working class. The action in the workplace is essential to break the fear, hesitation, to make the migrants feel that they are part of the whole working class. Any other approach, towards immigration as a problem exclusively of human solidarity, charity or cultural issue does not give perspective. The joint action by industry, of course, includes all matters relating to life of the migrants, as family, living conditions, Education, Health, racism, problems in the home country, condemning the imperialist interventions and generally anti-imperialist and internationalist class struggle movement. Through joint action and struggle the policy of the monopolies, the European Union and the political forces that serve the interests of the capitalists are revealed in the most effective way.
For the class labor movement, class unity and solidarity are our weapons against the permanent goal of the capital and its political forces for cheap labor. So as not to use migrants as a wall against the demands of the labor movement. This is the only answer to the poison of racism, nationalism and xenophobia they support in order to divide and to distract the workers, so as not to see the real causes of unemployment, oppression, exploitation. The problems posed by migration can be addressed only by the common struggle of Greeks and immigrant workers. A prerequisite for the formation of a unified class consciousness is revealing the real causes of migration, why hundreds of thousands of people are forced to emigrate, to leave their country.
List of Demands of PAME for the Immediate Relief and Protection of the Immigrants and Refugees
Stop stare oppression and persecutions against the immigrants
Create humane and decent, open and public, temporary reception and hospitality facilities of migrants and refuges. NO Concentration Camps
Provide healthcare, free food and shelter, translation and legal aid.Special care by the state for underage refugees and migrants, mothers and children, victims of trafficking
Provide travel documents for those who wish to move to another member-state of the EU, by disobeying to Schengen Agreement and Dublin II Regulation
Be given temporary asylum or humanitarian status to refugees
Legalization of immigrants living and working in Greece, by simplifying the renewal procedures, disconnect from the contract with the employer, eliminating administration fees and fines.
Equal access to public and free Health, Welfare, Education, regardless of legitimized documents. Equal labour, social security, social rights.
Portability of insurance and pension rights to and from the countries of origin.
Stop the new repressive measures against migrants at the borders and the assignment of the borders guarding to EU mechanisms (FRONTEX, the European Border Surveillance System).