The View from the Grassroots: An Interview with Giorgos Gogos on SYRIZA’s Election Victory in Greece

Pho­to by Mat­tia Insol­era, 2010

Gior­gos Gogos is a Greek dock­work­er and union lead­er from the Port of Piraeus. A mem­ber of SYRIZA, he is active at the region­al and union lev­els of the par­ty and is engaged in local orga­niz­ing efforts in Piraeus, the large urban indus­tri­al area sur­round­ing the port out­side of Athens. Fol­low­ing the col­lapse of the Greek econ­o­my, the mem­o­ran­dum with the troika includ­ed a pro­vi­sion to sell off prof­itable state-owned com­pa­nies to pay back loans to for­eign lenders, result­ing in the par­tial pri­va­ti­za­tion of the Port of Piraeus, Greece’s largest port, where Chi­ne­se state-owned ship­ping com­pa­ny COSCO now holds the con­ces­sion for two con­tain­er ter­mi­nals. Since that time, dock­work­ers have waged a mil­i­tant and sus­tained strug­gle, with strong local alliances in Piraeus and inter­na­tion­al sup­port from dock­work­ers around Europe, to return the port to full pub­lic own­er­ship and improve the poor work­ing con­di­tions at the pri­va­tized COSCO ter­mi­nals. Katy Fox-Hodess is a doc­tor­al stu­dent in Soci­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley writ­ing her dis­ser­ta­tion on inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty among dock­work­ers’ unions. She spoke with Gogos on Jan­u­ary 31 fol­low­ing the recent elec­tion in Greece.

Katy Fox-Hodess: How have peo­ple in your com­mu­ni­ty react­ed to the elec­tion results?

Gior­gos Gogos: Gen­er­al­ly, it was accept­ed with great enthu­si­asm by many peo­ple, not only by those who vot­ed for SYRIZA but oth­er peo­ple who tra­di­tion­al­ly belonged to oth­er par­ties and couldn’t escape from those com­mit­ments. Every­body I think was say­ing, ok, let’s see what this new route is like and we have to try, some­how, a new way of approach­ing the whole prob­lem.

K: When you say oth­er par­ties, you mean PASOK and the Com­mu­nist Par­ty?

G: PASOK and New Democ­ra­cy, most­ly. From the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, any­way, I don’t have many acquain­tances, but I think that peo­ple who don’t belong to the struc­ture of the par­ty, who are not mem­bers of the par­ty, accept this elec­tion result with relief. In the begin­ning, we can say there was a neg­a­tive reac­tion, they were ques­tion­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of co-gov­ern­ing with ANEL, the Inde­pen­dent Greeks, that is actu­al­ly a pop­ulist right-wing par­ty, though all of their dis­course is actu­al­ly quite anti-Troika, anti-mem­o­ran­dum. But I think after the for­ma­tion of the new gov­ern­ment, the new elect­ed gov­ern­ment, many peo­ple real­ize that there is going to have to be coop­er­a­tion with­in the gov­ern­ment. The new gov­ern­ment has been quite coher­ent and we have the first announce­ments from sev­er­al min­is­ters con­firm­ing to the peo­ple that the main guide­li­nes of the pre-elec­tion pro­gram are going to be imple­ment­ed at once.

K: What has the reac­tion been in the port?

G: In the port, we were real­ly hap­py, espe­cial­ly after hear­ing the first announce­ments by the new Min­is­ter of Mar­itime Affairs. He recon­firmed that the pri­va­ti­za­tion process of all ports, but espe­cial­ly the Port of Piraeus and the Port of Thes­sa­loniki, will stop.

K: One of the first announce­ments SYRIZA made after the elec­tion was about stop­ping the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the ports. Why do you think SYRIZA has made this such a pri­or­i­ty and why is it impor­tant to fight for pub­lic ports?

G: You know we are say­ing in the port that every­one who was again­st the dock­work­ers in Piraeus port lost pow­er, lost the gov­ern­ment, they were elim­i­nat­ed, so don’t fight again­st us. Ok, so this is a very macho expla­na­tion, it’s not polit­i­cal. For SYRIZA, pri­va­ti­za­tion in gen­er­al is some­thing that’s not accept­able. The pri­va­ti­za­tion that was going on very, very quick­ly was the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the ports, and espe­cial­ly the Port of Piraeus. So I think that it was sym­bol­ic, and at the same time, an impor­tant mes­sage, that we’re not going to pri­va­tize. And of course, it’s very impor­tant that Piraeus port work­ers and dock­work­ers have shown their deter­mi­na­tion, their devo­tion to defend the pub­lic port.

First of all, it’s a strate­gic point for a coun­try such as Greece, not only because of the many islands that con­nect the peo­ple liv­ing there and trav­el­ing there, not only because it’s the main gate of ingo­ing and out­go­ing car­go and goods. It’s also because when a state-owned com­pa­ny pass­es to pri­vate investors, the pri­vate investors care only for their prof­its and noth­ing else. So the people’s trans­porta­tion needs will not be served. Apart from this, it affects the soci­ety and the econ­o­my in gen­er­al. It was and it will be prof­itable. It didn’t have loss­es in any year over the past fifty years. And a gov­ern­ment like SYRIZA needs prof­itable pub­lic enti­ties so as to redis­trib­ute the pub­lic wealth. Apart from this, our jobs would be lost, our labor rights and the orga­ni­za­tion of our job would be chal­lenged and in dan­ger, and it’s affect­ing our fam­i­lies, so we are fight­ing also for our jobs and for our chil­dren.

K: Are you opti­mistic that SYRIZA will be suc­cess­ful in this process of con­fronting COSCO and the troika and stop­ping the process of port pri­va­ti­za­tions?

G: SYRIZA will be strong only if they will remain com­mit­ted to the pre-elec­tions pro­gram. In addi­tion to this, they need the sup­port of the peo­ple and soci­ety. For exam­ple, of course we are sure that they are going to have pres­sure from abroad, from Chi­na and from the Euro­pean Union and from the troika and from mem­ber states in Europe. But all this pres­sure will be less effec­tive if peo­ple stand with the deci­sions of the gov­ern­ment. One of the first things that Alex­is Tsipras said yes­ter­day to [Eurogroup Chair] Dijs­sel­bloem was that he wants to do things dif­fer­ent­ly than the peo­ple who were in pow­er before him. He said he wants to fol­low the com­mit­ments that he made to the peo­ple. It’s impor­tant to hear that from a lead­er, the Prime Min­is­ter, to say that he will fol­low the pro­gram that he showed to the peo­ple and was vot­ed for. This way, they can­not reverse their plans or in case they have to reverse their plans, they will have to ask for the opin­ion of the peo­ple and the soci­ety first.

I have trust in my com­rades in SYRIZA. And I have trust not only that they will be account­able but that they will fol­low what they have been say­ing. I have trust that they have received the mes­sage from soci­ety, which says go do what you have told us you will do. Of course, we know that as a union, we have our auton­o­my, we are not going to fol­low some­thing that a mem­ber of SYRIZA says or a min­is­ter of SYRIZA says – we have a very healthy coop­er­a­tion and an hon­est one.

K: Is it impor­tant for the union and for the coali­tion in Piraeus to con­tin­ue to orga­nize and be mobi­lized to provide pres­sure from below for SYRIZA to keep its promis­es?

G: Of course. Orga­ni­za­tion and mobi­liza­tion of the union in gen­er­al, and espe­cial­ly in a sec­tor like ours, is a neces­si­ty and a pre­con­di­tion for any­thing you want to do at any time. No mat­ter which party’s in pow­er, no mat­ter what the deci­sions are. Until now, all the deci­sions have been neg­a­tive for the unions – it’s the first time in Greece we face some­thing pro-labor, anti-pri­va­ti­za­tion and so on. But we still want to be mobi­lized. We don’t want peo­ple to remain on their couch­es, but instead we want to be on alert in order to pro­mote our demands so that they will not dis­ap­point us. And we want to pro­mote our demands and the deci­sions of the gov­ern­ment that the Euro­pean Union or oth­er coun­tries do not accept and are pres­sur­ing the Greek gov­ern­ment to back down on. And already we have start­ed to have this dis­cus­sion among our­selves. Every­body was hap­py all this week, it was the first time we were laugh­ing after the announce­ment of the new gov­ern­ment, but at the same time, or the next day, we were start­ing to talk about it, to say, now we have a gov­ern­ment that says no to pri­va­ti­za­tion, but in case they are pres­sured by Europe to sac­ri­fice the ports, what are we going to do? We’re going to stand out­side of the door of the Mar­itime Affairs Min­istry and our port, and we will con­tin­ue our fight.

K: The same day that SYRIZA announced it would stop the port pri­va­ti­za­tion process, they also announced that they would rehire the clean­ers from the Min­istry of Finance and thou­sands of peo­ple who were ille­gal­ly fired from the pub­lic sec­tor. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of pri­or­i­tiz­ing the­se deci­sions?

G: It’s very sym­bol­ic, first of all, because this group of wom­en were very mil­i­tant, very active, and very much present in every strug­gle tak­ing place in Athens. So it’s very sym­bol­ic and a very good exam­ple, not in all sens­es because they made cer­tain mis­takes in my opin­ion, and we have some oth­ers who can say a lot of things, but they still remain like heroes. But I don’t like to use the word hero because you put a hero over there and you for­get him and you are doing bull­shit on the oth­er side. So they’re peo­ple like us, they were wom­en like us and they were very devot­ed to their strug­gle. So it’s very impor­tant for SYRIZA to sup­port them and to solve their prob­lem. It encour­ages oth­er unions to be this devot­ed.

K: What is the sig­nif­i­cance of the elec­tion for work­ers and unions in Greece in gen­er­al?

G: It’s the high­est moment of democ­ra­cy. This is a moment in which all of us are called to choose who is going to rep­re­sent us and sup­port and defend our rights and our posi­tions. We are not afraid of elec­tions. On the con­trary, I think Greek peo­ple should be asked more fre­quent­ly. For exam­ple, it is con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly per­mis­si­ble to have ref­er­en­dums, so I think the new gov­ern­ment will use this process and will mobi­lize peo­ple in this way to be par­tic­i­pants and not an audi­ence. This is impor­tant. It needs time. It’s not a mat­ter that will change in one or two or five years. But if a left gov­ern­ment can remain pow­er­ful for more than five years, for two gov­ern­men­tal cycles, and build strong foun­da­tions, it will change the our men­tal­i­ty as cit­i­zens. We believe in this because as a trade union, we use elec­tions fre­quent­ly, we have col­lec­tive deci­sion mak­ing process­es.

K: Do you believe SYRIZA will pri­or­i­tize revers­ing the anti-labor leg­is­la­tion of the last gov­ern­ment, which tar­get­ed col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and unions?

G: It’s one of the first things they say they are going to cure. They are going to reverse all of the­se neg­a­tive laws which pre­vent col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and return all the laws that were pro­tec­tive to the less pow­er­ful part of the mar­ket, which is labor and not the employ­ers. It’s a com­mit­ment and I think it’s one of the first laws they are going to reverse.

K: What is your opin­ion on the alliance between SYRIZA and ANEL?

G: In the begin­ning, I was quite skep­ti­cal. But the major­i­ty of 149 MP’s gives them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to have a role in this gov­ern­ment. Greek soci­ety in gen­er­al is not so pro­gres­sive. A big per­cent­age of Greek soci­ety is quite con­ser­v­a­tive, not only in its way of think­ing, in its way of act­ing, but in its way of approach­ing sev­er­al issues, for exam­ple, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or human rights con­cern­ing immi­grants. The­se are issues that many Greek peo­ple are not in favor of. They are quite con­ser­v­a­tive. The vast major­i­ty of Greek peo­ple are not so reli­gious, but quite attached to the tra­di­tion con­nect­ed to the Ortho­dox church. The oath that the new Prime Min­is­ter, Tsipras, gave was polit­i­cal, with respect to the lead­er of the Greek church, say­ing that I’m going to give a polit­i­cal oath but also I want your good wish­es for this gov­ern­ment to go on. It sends a mes­sage. So you need a con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty that can sup­port you in this strug­gle, in the com­mon fight again­st the mem­o­ran­dum poli­cies, and after that, I think the Greek peo­ple will real­ize that rec­og­niz­ing, for exam­ple, the mar­riage between LGBT peo­ple, it’s not cru­cial, you’re not going to be affect­ed, you’re not going to be infect­ed, it’s a human right. So you are more pow­er­ful hav­ing a con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty in this and hav­ing already some time, a year, six months in pow­er, and hav­ing shown that you believe in what you are say­ing and you fight for it and you want to imple­ment it. It’s impor­tant to have a con­ser­v­a­tive audi­ence in such a gov­ern­ment so as to trans­mit some ideas. It’s more clev­er, let’s say, to have them inside, and hon­est, in the sense that you can say to them, for exam­ple, ok guys, we have a prob­lem with some thou­sands of kids that are born here in Greece, their par­ents were cit­i­zens of oth­er coun­tries and they have no cit­i­zen­ship, but they are Greeks, they are brought up here, they have been taught in Greek schools, they are our children’s friends, so we should give them cit­i­zen­ship, they are Greek peo­ple.

K: So you are say­ing that hav­ing ANEL in the coali­tion forces SYRIZA to try to speak to and con­vince peo­ple on the right?

G: Yes, Yes. And I think it’s the best vehi­cle to min­i­mize con­ser­vatism in Greece. May­be what I’m say­ing is too roman­tic and has no polit­i­cal expla­na­tion, but it’s my per­son­al impres­sion. I’ve seen this in my union. Some con­ser­v­a­tive peo­ple have seen mem­bers of our union, left guys, who are com­mit­ted and hard-work­ing, and through their exam­ple, they are per­suad­ed that no mat­ter if you left wing or right wing, when some­body is fight­ing for some­thing that is right, and if they trust you more and they are con­vinced but you vot­ed for SYRIZA, it’s ok. If you want to make bread, you put in flour and water and you mix it togeth­er and after that you have bread. This process I think will take place in the gov­ern­ment and will be expand­ed to soci­ety.

K: Is there not a risk that SYRIZA will move to the right?

G: No, not from ANEL. I don’t think there is this dan­ger from ANEL being inside the gov­ern­ment. If we will have this move, it will be from oth­er agents out­side of the gov­ern­ment, more pow­er­ful play­ers in this game, the state or big cap­i­tal­ists – the whole sys­tem, let’s say. But not from ANEL.

K: What are the biggest chal­lenges or pres­sures SYRIZA will face to push its agen­da?

G: First of all, if we leave the case of the port and pri­va­ti­za­tions and all of that, this anti-pri­va­ti­za­tion pol­i­cy will be the vehi­cle for the troika to press us. For exam­ple, if you don’t fol­low our pro­gram, we’ll stop your liq­uid­i­ty. The first thing they have to do is address the debt cri­sis at the Euro­pean lev­el. It’s not easy. There are sev­er­al arti­cles this week, for exam­ple, about how Prime Min­is­ters Mar­i­ano Rajoy in Spain and Pedro Pas­sos Coehlo in Por­tu­gal, reject this pro­pos­al. They say it will be dam­ag­ing for all of us and the mar­kets will pun­ish us, just like what Anton­is Sama­ras, the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter, would say, for exam­ple. But I think that if this cause is tak­en up by the peo­ple and the Euro­pean social demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties that still have some sig­nif­i­cant part of left dis­course in them, I think that more alliances and more allies will be found. This is the first thing. Because the debt is not only stran­gling us, it’s also press­ing more healthy economies. Ger­many itself has such prob­lems. It’s not obvi­ous now, but soon­er or lat­er it will come. And on the oth­er hand, for inter­nal affairs, I think they should start giv­ing signs that the cit­i­zens are the pri­or­i­ty, not the com­pa­nies. They should start, for exam­ple, as I said, by ame­lio­rat­ing labor laws, and also mak­ing changes in the health and edu­ca­tion sys­tem, and mak­ing a seri­ous effort to tax big wealth. The­se will be signs to soci­ety and to the poorest part of the soci­ety that some­thing has changed, that they’re not the same as the oth­ers, that the rich are not untouch­able and the rest of us will not be fucked over once again.

K: Do you believe that the coali­tion with ANEL will last?

G: I don’t know. It’s a big ques­tion mark. I don’t think that this form of gov­ern­ment will last much time. I don’t know if it’s going to be one year or two years but I don’t think it will last for four years. They are going to face seri­ous chal­lenges in the near future. I put a dead­line, let’s say, in the sum­mer, when we’re going to face the first seri­ous prob­lem in pay­ing back some of the debt. If we don’t have any alter­na­tive resources for pay­ing this mon­ey, I think we will have new elec­tions. So SYRIZA has until that time to show to the peo­ple what the direc­tion is, that it’s dif­fer­ent than the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, so they will reaf­firm, may­be with bet­ter results, the new gov­ern­ment. Actu­al­ly, I wouldn’t like to see this coali­tion last for four years. I would like to see the left par­ty get more pow­er­ful through this coali­tion in order to have a light at the end of the tun­nel soon and to go to elec­tions again with a greater per­cent­age for SYRIZA, so it has an absolute major­i­ty.

K: To sup­port SYRIZA, in gen­er­al, what should work­ers and unions in Greece be doing?

G: They should be more active and respond to the calls for dia­logue. There is a com­mit­ment from SYRIZA’s side that no deci­sion will be tak­en with­out a dia­logue between the gov­ern­ment and the affect­ed or inter­est­ed par­ties. So first of all we have to be work­ing hard­er to have pro­pos­als, so as to have some­thing to say and not to sim­ply say no or yes with obe­di­ence, but to con­tin­ue to be crit­i­cal. On the oth­er hand, we have to start process­es, pro­ce­dures, and ini­tia­tives in order to real­ize we are not the only ones with a prob­lem, but next to us there are also peo­ple with more prob­lems or less prob­lems. This way we can have hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal rela­tions with oth­er adja­cent insti­tu­tions.

It’s not dif­fi­cult for this to hap­pen, espe­cial­ly in Piraeus, because we have the labor cen­ter. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the pow­er rests with the the Com­mu­nist Par­ty link in trade union­ism, and they’re not so coop­er­a­tive. They not only have cer­tain struc­tures and dis­cours­es, but they fol­low cer­tain direc­tives from the par­ty. And their inten­tion is to get more pow­er for the par­ty instead of devel­op­ing a more coher­ent pro­gram and becom­ing closer to pri­vate work­ers. I think we have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to be con­struc­tive and if we want to expand the idea of sol­i­dar­i­ty and co-action. I think the days of each sec­tor fight­ing on their own are over. It’s not effec­tive any­more. And in case SYRIZA does not do well and los­es pow­er, a more con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment will cer­tain­ly come to pow­er. So we need to make the most of this time, not only to change things for the bet­ter, but in case we have neg­a­tive results, to be more pre­pared to face the con­ser­v­a­tivism that will come for sure. But this is the pes­simistic view. We have a more opti­mistic view, to be con­struc­tive, draw up pro­pos­als, and make our self-crit­i­cism – why we didn’t suc­ceed as trade unions before, what things have to be changed with­in the struc­tures and the process­es to be more demo­c­ra­t­ic and less clien­telis­tic. We have a lot to do.

K: How is the rela­tion­ship between SYRIZA and the labor unions? Are there strong ties?

G: No, they don’t have strong con­nec­tions because actu­al­ly with­in the trade union struc­tures, SYRIZA’s per­cent­ages are the same as they were five years ago. So peo­ple from SYRIZA in trade unions are in the minor­i­ty. Although soci­ety has changed, due to clien­telism, per­son­al con­nec­tions, and all the­se rot­ten sys­tems, demo­c­ra­t­ic ways of breath­ing are not allowed. So SYRIZA in pow­er is in a bet­ter posi­tion to put the­se process­es in the front and cen­ter. But I don’t know how big the resis­tance will be, espe­cial­ly from the Com­mu­nist side. Because, unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Com­mu­nist Par­ty is part of this clien­telism and has espe­cial­ly non-demo­c­ra­t­ic ways of hold­ing pow­er with­in the unions. I’ve heard ter­ri­ble sto­ries, and I know they’re not just sto­ries, about how unions that belong to the Com­mu­nist par­ty use very unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic means to keep their pow­er.

K: In oth­er words, the prin­ci­ple prob­lem is the struc­ture of the unions – they are clien­telis­tic and not very demo­c­ra­t­ic – which makes it dif­fi­cult for SYRIZA to gain a foothold in the unions?

G: They were very close to the par­ties that were in pow­er. SYRIZA must not fall into the trap of using their pow­er in gov­ern­ment to sow the same seeds in this field. It must leave the trade unions alone to change them­selves.

K: One crit­i­cism of SYRIZA is that the par­ty is dom­i­nat­ed by uni­ver­si­ty intel­lec­tu­als, not peo­ple from the union move­ment – do you share this view?

G: It is more or less true. But as I told you, the prob­lem is that peo­ple in the unions who are mem­bers of SYRIZA are few in num­ber. And to be hon­est, per­son­al­ly speak­ing, I don’t pro­mote myself in SYRIZA as a trade union­ist and in my trade union as a mem­ber of SYRIZA. They are two dif­fer­ent roles. I try to dis­tin­guish and behave accord­ing to where I am. Of course, between the­se two roles, the pri­or­i­ty for me is to be a dock­work­er and to pro­tect as much as I can the rights of my col­leagues and my job. But apart from this, I need some polit­i­cal tools to make this hap­pen. I think there will be few­er uni­ver­si­ty guys and more trade union­ists over time. But also I have to tell you that trade union­ism in Greece is quite deval­ued.

K: There is a neg­a­tive opin­ion of trade unions?

G: Yes, because of the very big con­nec­tion between the par­ties of New Democ­ra­cy and PASOK with the trade unions. I think I told you before that many pres­i­dents of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Greek Work­ers, after the end of their term, became min­is­ters, with­out explain­ing or hav­ing any process open to the peo­ple or open to the unions. It was just a very per­son­al deci­sion, pass­ing from one role to the oth­er. So all the­se behav­iors cre­at­ed prob­lems and peo­ple were leav­ing the unions. What we’re try­ing to do in our union is to fight this. Of course we have few things in com­mon with such behav­iors. On the con­trary, we have very open approach­es, we try to mobi­lize peo­ple, we try to involve new mem­bers and young mem­bers in deci­sion mak­ing in the union, so while we might not one of the best, I think we have a very good approach to this. And we think that union­ism is a tool to have com­mon demands and to fight for our com­mon demands. It should not be seen as only a step for one per­son to become more pow­er­ful or more dom­i­nant. Who­ev­er holds the­se posi­tions has to serve for the good of every­body, not to serve their per­son­al inter­ests.

K: The Piraeus B elec­toral dis­trict near the port had among the strongest sup­port for SYRIZA in the elec­tions in 2012 and in 2015. Why has there been such strong sup­port there?

G: Gen­er­al­ly, in the poorest areas, SYRIZA got the biggest per­cent­ages. The vote was quite class ori­ent­ed. In Piraeus, and in the wider area of Piraeus, I think the seri­ous­ness of the approach of SYRIZA, the sin­cere inter­ven­tion, you know, all the activ­i­ties of the last three years, have award­ed SYRIZA with this per­cent­age of the vote.

K: You have been very active in orga­niz­ing with the par­ty in Piraeus. What kinds of activ­i­ties has SYRIZA been involved in there?

G: Sol­i­dar­i­ty for All in Piraeus, an orga­ni­za­tion sup­port­ed main­ly by SYRIZA, serves dai­ly meals. There are also the “sol­i­dar­i­ty lessons”, free class­es for stu­dents who can­not afford to have pri­vate lessons for the uni­ver­si­ty exams, as well as social phar­ma­cies and social doc­tors, check­ing peo­ple for free and pre­scrib­ing and so on. The­se are imme­di­ate actions for the soci­ety done with­out check­ing people’s sta­tus, unlike Gold­en Dawn. Every vul­ner­a­ble per­son is accept­ed. It’s a healthy inter­ven­tion in soci­ety. Of course we are try­ing to tell peo­ple that they should mobi­lize and col­lec­tive­ly demand their rights. But it’s not to make them be a mem­ber of SYRIZA or to work for SYRIZA and so on.

There is also a coor­di­nat­ing body of anti-fas­cists in Piraeus and we are in it. We don’t have our own cam­paigns. We try to sup­port the com­mon strug­gles, the anti-fas­cist strug­gles. On the con­trary, the Com­mu­nist Par­ty is unfor­tu­nate­ly out of this, with their own inter­ven­tion, which is very low, I have to tell you. They don’t make fre­quent protests, and so on, although they were a tar­get and they are still a tar­get of fas­cists. But they are very afraid to get involved in a com­mon strug­gle. On the oth­er hand, we have very good rela­tions with peo­ple from ANTARSYA, espe­cial­ly in anti-fas­cist strug­gles, despite our dif­fer­ences. I don’t think there is an anti-fas­cist move­ment or man­i­fes­ta­tion, in Piraeus at least, that we do not par­tic­i­pate in.

K: sup­port for Gold­en Dawn is less than it was one, two, or three years ago. Why do you think this is?

G: In my opin­ion, they should be even less pow­er­ful, they should lose more than 5% of the per­cent­age. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they kept 6.5% or some­thing like this. It’s a big per­cent­age if you con­sid­er that their lead­er­ship is in pris­on, that they don’t have the finan­cial resources they used to have, and, most impor­tant­ly, that it is now pub­licly well-known that they are engaged in crim­i­nal activ­i­ties. So it’s an unfor­tu­nate result and it’s quite painful to have 6,000 or so of your neigh­bors vote for Gold­en Dawn. I expect from SYRIZA first of all to put them on tri­al, to give them a fair tri­al, and at the same time, from the per­spec­tive of being in gov­ern­ment, to pro­mote anti-fas­cism and anti-racism so as to start chang­ing the men­tal­i­ty of those peo­ple who are now vot­ing for Gold­en Dawn, to change their ori­en­ta­tion and to be clear with soci­ety about their crim­i­nal face.

K: As a union lead­er and a SYRIZA mem­ber, when you speak to mem­bers of your own union or to work­ers in Piraeus in gen­er­al who aren’t mem­bers or sup­port­ers of SYRIZA, what kinds of argu­ments do peo­ple make and how do you respond and try to orga­nize them?

G: First of all, they are afraid that they are going to act like the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments. They say now that they are not going to pri­va­tize the port and final­ly they will do it. So the­se are the main argu­ments I hear. What I say hon­est­ly is that I don’t believe they will do it, but in case they are pres­sured or they change their mind, I’m sure that they are going to fight from a bet­ter posi­tion. We are going to have for sure a more demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment. I’m cer­tain we are going to take part in an open dia­logue, and any­way, not only our abil­i­ty to fight but our respon­si­bil­i­ty to fight is here. And we are going to be again­st any­one, even if it’s SYRIZA in pow­er, who under­mi­nes our rights and our jobs. It’s clear.

K: Are there oth­er strate­gic sec­tors that you would like to see pass to pub­lic own­er­ship?

G: Ener­gy com­pa­nies, for sure, I don’t have to men­tion the health sys­tem and edu­ca­tion sys­tem, uni­ver­si­ties, trains and roads, should be tak­en back from sub­con­trac­tors that have tak­en a very big amount of mon­ey. For exam­ple, I trav­eled to my vil­lage which is 350 km from Athens recent­ly dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days and we paid 45 euros for the tolls, for the roads that were paid to be con­struct­ed by the state. I want to see my dad but I don’t want to pay 45 euros to go and see him. So for all the­se sec­tors, I think they should remain pub­lic.

K: What is your opin­ion of the argu­ments made by SYRIZA fig­ures like Costas Lapavit­sas in favor of Greece leav­ing the Euro­zone?

G: Per­son­al­ly, I think the euro as a cur­ren­cy is a means, it’s not the objec­tive. It’s the means to have an econ­o­my. What is an econ­o­my? An econ­o­my is ok if it serves peo­ple and pro­vides a cer­tain lev­el of secu­ri­ty to the peo­ple – jobs, health sys­tems, edu­ca­tion. So in those terms, the euro is a tool. Apart from this, it is a polit­i­cal issue. I would prefer to see what chances we have inside the Euro­zone. And after that, for sure inside the Euro­pean Union, which is some­thing dif­fer­ent. And after that if they insist, if they say, you have to keep get­ting fucked over, you have to be sac­ri­ficed so as to remain in the Euro­zone, no. I think that if that moment comes, we should go to a ref­er­en­dum and decide alto­geth­er. And from Lapavit­sas’ side, I was fol­low­ing him dur­ing 2011 and 2012 – for two years, I was fol­low­ing his speech­es. I was quite open to hear­ing such opin­ions but I was not per­suad­ed that they have a clear answer espe­cial­ly for the first peri­od of a trans­fer from the euro to a local cur­ren­cy. They didn’t con­vince me that they have some­thing con­crete to pro­pose to the peo­ple for those first crit­i­cal six months of tran­si­tion. And you know, our soci­ety is not trained or edu­cat­ed to suf­fer under such terms. For exam­ple, if you leave the euro, the iPhone will be three or four times more expen­sive. I don’t care. I don’t give a damn. But many peo­ple give a damn about some items that they don’t even have the pow­er to buy in euros. So I’m ready to wait for gaso­line and to do my part and not to demand more but I know many guys around me that would be hap­py to sim­ply take their share and their family’s share for the mon­th. So I think we’re not trained well enough to con­front such a dan­ger.

K: There have been some crit­i­cisms that SYRIZA has moved toward per­son­al­is­tic lead­er­ship and is becom­ing too focused on indi­vid­u­al politi­cians – do you share this view?

G: It’s becom­ing too pres­i­den­tial, yes. That’s true. I’m one of the­se guys that are crit­i­ciz­ing Tsipras although I rec­og­nize that he is very charis­mat­ic, very clev­er, very effi­cient. He can rep­re­sent our core ideas and all this that we call SYRIZA. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the last six months, we have seen that the par­ty pro­ce­dures were not respect­ed and some deci­sions were tak­en with a small group around the pres­i­dent. This is a prob­lem. This is a prob­lem which we have addressed with­in the organs of the par­ty. It’s some­thing that we can­not pre­vent now, now that he is Prime Min­is­ter. This kind of thing will hap­pen more and more, I think. But I hope that the col­lec­tive reac­tions, the col­lec­tive inter­ven­tions will ame­lio­rate this. And of course I’m not say­ing that he’s like Geor­gios Papan­dreou or Sama­ras. He’s a left guy. And he’s not going to act in such a way. But ok, with­in the left spec­trum, he has made some mis­takes – not respect­ing the organs of the par­ty – and he was try­ing espe­cial­ly dur­ing the pre-elec­tion peri­od to put things as far back as pos­si­ble so as to have less col­lec­tive pro­ce­dures. I’m also crit­i­cal of this. But I don’t know if it’s per­son­al deci­sions or peo­ple sur­round­ing him. For exam­ple, there are one or two guys that are are not so clev­er, in my opin­ion, that don’t have such a col­lec­tive way of act­ing, though I don’t want to min­i­mize his respon­si­bil­i­ties. I prefer to give respon­si­bil­i­ty to a team, a par­ty, a union. That’s why I’m accus­ing the team of lead­er­ship. It’s not just one man.

K: Do you par­tic­i­pate in a polit­i­cal cur­rent with­in SYRIZA?

G: I was par­tic­i­pat­ing in the meet­ings of AKOA, the Renew­ing Com­mu­nist Eco­log­i­cal Left, a Euro­com­mu­nist par­ty and one of the found­ing mem­bers of SYRIZA. Inside SYRIZA, AKOA, with two small­er groups, cre­at­ed ANASA, which in Greek means breathe. ANASA became an offi­cial polit­i­cal cur­rent. It doesn’t have a struc­ture, there is an open dia­logue between ANASA and some guys from the major­i­ty of the par­ty, mean­ing close to Tsipras and close to the president’s group. They’re crit­i­cal and they cre­at­ed what is called the Group of Fifty-Three, fifty-three mem­bers of the cen­tral com­mit­tee. So this Group of Fifty-Three, it’s get­ting big­ger and big­ger, it’s not fifty-three any­more, it’s more. We don’t have a very strict struc­ture. Actu­al­ly it’s a group for dia­logue that is try­ing to pro­mote col­lec­tiv­i­ty with­in the par­ty, try­ing to pre­vent fac­tion­al­ism, try­ing to pre­vent the lead­er­ship from mak­ing deci­sions with­out being approved by the col­lec­tive, and try­ing to pre­vent the pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship group from mak­ing mis­takes and tak­ing deci­sions out of the hands of the par­ty.

K: What can work­er move­ments in gen­er­al learn from this expe­ri­ence?

G: This top­ic we could talk about for some hours. Look, the mot­to that SYRIZA used dur­ing the pre-elec­tion peri­od was that hope is com­ing. So now we feel that hope has come and we think it’s a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for the work­ing class to start breath­ing. In my per­son­al opin­ion, it’s a peri­od of respon­si­bil­i­ty for all of us to go beyond our­selves, not to have the first demand be for our union, for our­selves, but to try to devel­op more col­lec­tive demands, more fun­da­men­tal demands, and to start the hard work of pos­i­tive crit­i­cism, of seri­ous impact pro­pos­als. Because I think now we are fight­ing from a bet­ter posi­tion, but we are still fight­ing. It doesn’t mean that just because we have a very charis­mat­ic Prime Min­is­ter with good min­is­ters that this is the end of the sto­ry, no. I’ve know the­se guys for many years. They are guys like our­selves. So I can imag­ine that if I were in that posi­tion how impor­tant it could be for me to have the sup­port of the peo­ple. I would feel more secure hav­ing peo­ple back me. Not to fol­low them and to say yes to every­thing they say, no, but to sup­port the right deci­sions, to keep our pres­ence and to keep our sig­na­ture being active in every deci­sion they take. It’s real­ly seri­ous and I feel more respon­si­bil­i­ty because as Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary of the union, it’s a lot of work for me to mobi­lize peo­ple, hav­ing ful­filled their main demand, mean­ing that the port is not going to be sold but I want the state to own it. It’s dif­fi­cult. But it’s the only way we’re going to suc­ceed, know­ing that the pro­gram is not some­thing rev­o­lu­tion­ary. It’s a clear social demo­c­ra­t­ic pro­gram. But in order to achieve a social­ist soci­ety, we need some time so as to pass through a real social demo­c­ra­t­ic path with social­ism as the end goal.

K: What is the sig­nif­i­cance of the elec­tion for work­ers out­side of Greece?

G: I have to tell you that I have received from our friends who are dock­work­ers in Europe many, many mes­sages, con­grat­u­la­tions, very opti­mistic mes­sages. They are wait­ing, at least the peo­ple I am in con­tact with, and they are very close to my men­tal­i­ty, they were very hap­py. And they real­ly want to see this gov­ern­ment suc­ceed, because they feel that this will trig­ger changes in this direc­tion in their coun­tries. I do believe that the gov­ern­men­tal change in Greece will have a snow­ball effect.

K: What can peo­ple out­side of Greece do to sup­port the polit­i­cal process in Greece?

G: First of all, they should not lis­ten to the main­stream mass media and should try to find alter­na­tive infor­ma­tion. It’s real­ly impor­tant. I’m fol­low­ing what the mass media in Ger­many has been say­ing the­se past two or three days and it’s real­ly too biased. They are again­st the new gov­ern­ment and they don’t tell the truth. The sec­ond thing is that they should show their sol­i­dar­i­ty active­ly. For exam­ple, I know that today (Jan­u­ary 31) PODEMOS are hav­ing a big man­i­fes­ta­tion in Madrid, so as to crit­i­cize Rajoy for his state­ments at the Euro­pean meet­ing about Euro­pean debt. The­se kinds of actions are real­ly encour­ag­ing the Greek peo­ple and encour­ag­ing Greece’s new elect­ed gov­ern­ment to go on. To Euro­peans, I have to say that we have to remain togeth­er and to remain togeth­er as nations, not as com­pa­nies or as multi­na­tion­als. SYRIZA is anoth­er Greek exper­i­ment. Greece was an exper­i­ment in aus­ter­i­ty for the past five years and now I think it will be an exper­i­ment in pros­per­i­ty.

Authors of the article

s a Greek dockworker and union leader from the Port of Piraeus. A member of SYRIZA, he is active at the regional and union levels of the party and is engaged in local organizing efforts in Piraeus, the large urban industrial area surrounding the port outside of Athens.

is a graduate student at the University of California.