Greece: Papandreou fights his left-wing family
19 July 2011
The New York Times
As part of his package of austerity measures voted in June, the Greek PM plans to sell off state assets like the national electricity board. But in a manner symptomatic of how deeply intertwined his country’s various forces are, he faces the hostility of a union his own party helped create.
Sitting in his office on a recent morning beneath photographs of Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara, Nikos Fotopoulos, the leader of Greece’s most powerful labor union, took a freshly printed flier from a stack. “We are ready for new battles,” it read.
“And we are,” Mr. Fotopoulos said, sipping an energy drink and then chasing it with an espresso. “We will continue with street protests because we still have unfinished business with the government and the troika,” he said, referring to Greece’s three foreign lenders: the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.
Last month, amid violent protests, Prime Minister George A. Papandreou narrowly managed to push a new package of austerity measures through Parliament, including plans for selling $71 billion in state assets, a step that economists and the troika say is crucial to overhauling Greece’s bloated public sector.
But whether Mr. Papandreou will be able to carry out the plan will depend to a large extent on people like Mr. Fotopoulos. His union, Genop, represents workers at the Public Power Corporation, which is owned jointly by the government and by private investors.
The union vehemently opposes privatizing public entities and is known for its aggressive protests, including walkouts at the Public Power Corporation that have caused rolling power failures, costing Greece $42 million to $57 million in recent weeks, the company estimates.
Genop represents a particularly thorny problem for Mr. Papandreou. It is a creation of the governing Socialist Party, which over the years helped build up the labor-centric jobs-for-votes system that the prime minister is now forced to dismantle. To carry out the reforms, Mr. Papandreou will have to strike at the heart of his own party – and it remains to be seen whether he has the muscle, let alone the stomach, to do so. Read full article in the New York Times...