Greek truck drivers strike to protect the status quo, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
July 26,
2010
to
August 1,
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
Greece
Goals: 
The truck drivers wanted to keep the truck driving industry closed to competition. This way, their truck driving licenses would not become worthless.
 

Greece, a country characterized by consistent economic growth, began to display signs of a serious economic downturn in 2009. Unemployment was on the rise, the budget deficit was growing, and it received the second lowest value in the European Union (EU) for Index of Economic Freedom.

In 2010, Greece’s economy continued to decline along with other EU members like Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy. As a result, both the Greek Parliament and the EU took action in an attempt to address Greece’s economic woes. The Greek Parliament passed the Economic Recovery Bill on March 5, 2010. The austerity bill was estimated to save Greece $6.5 billion. On May 2, 2010, Greece, other European nations, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to terms on a loan that would provide Greece with over $143 billion in loans. An important component of Greece’s austerity measures was the decision to open up many closed professions, including pharmacists, architects, and truck drivers.

The aforementioned austerity measures would go on to provoke substantial opposition from the Greek public. A general strike, which was organized 3 days after Greece agreed to the terms of the loan package, resulted in three deaths and over 100 arrests.

The truck driving industry displayed similar sentiments once the government included in its austerity measures a call to open up the truck driving industry, revoking the industry’s system of licensing drivers. Under the previous system, truck drivers paid Greece up to $275,000 for a license to own and operate trucks. A significant amount of truck drivers would take out loans in order to pay the fee, but with the new austerity measures in place, the expensive licenses would be worthless within three years. This prompted an angry response from the truck driving industry.

On the 26th of July, Greece’s over 35,000 truck drivers went on strike. The strike was done in an attempt to protect the status quo; the truck drivers wanted their industry to remain closed. Giorgio Tzortatos, the leader of the trucker union, was quoted as saying, “We will take this to the end.”

By the second day of the strike, 80% of Greek petrol stations had ran out of fuel. Many consumers bought large amounts of fuel on the first day of the strike because they anticipated that the truck drivers’ strike would last for several days. Consequently, many petrol stations ran out of fuel while those stations that still possessed some fuel experienced long lines of cars.

On the 28th of July, the Greek government issued a public statement, ordering the striking truck drivers to return to work within 24 hours or risk losing their truck driving licenses. The union defiantly ignored the order. The next day, the truck drivers organized a demonstration outside of the transport ministry. Varying media reports suggest that between 500 and 2,000 truck drivers participated in the demonstration. The large amount of participants provoked a clash with riot police, which attacked the demonstrators with teargas.

Other reports from the 29th reviewed the strike’s negative impact on tourism, a major contributor to the Greek economy. One Greek newspaper estimated that there were at least 100,000 Serbs stuck in Greece as a result of the fuel shortages. The Serbian government advised the stranded Serbs to travel to Macedonia, located up to 250 kilometers away from the popular tourist areas in Greece, to refuel their vehicles. A respected leader in the tourist industry, quoted as calling the strike a “catastrophe,” explained that hundreds of tourist reservations were canceled in Greece. Many rental cars were also abandoned by the sides of roads with no fuel remaining in their tanks. Other tourists told local media outlets that they had purchased fuel on the black market at three times the rate of the normal price.

As the strike persisted, Greece’s economy began to suffer serious shortages in food, fuel, and medical supplies. Those shortages, combined with an ailing tourism industry, prompted the Greek government to order military action. Greece utilized its military and navy in order to replenish supplies at areas of most need, including hospitals and electrical centers.

Tension between the campaign and the government continued to rise. On the 31st of July, strikers clashed with police as they tried to prevent a government fuel truck from leaving an oil refinery. Afterwards, union leader Tzortatos told the media, “We will not back down and have decided to continue the strike.”

The very next day, however, the strike came to an end. With over 300 mobilized army trucks transporting fuel and other essentials to areas of Greece, the Greek government had begun to repel the effects of the strike. At the same time, the government threatened criminal prosecution if the truck drivers continued the strike. At that point, the strike was suspended and the truck drivers decided to return to work. With the strike over, the government made no concessions to the truck drivers as most economists agreed that opening the truck driving industry would help the country recover from its economic woes. Thus, the truck drivers succeeded in temporarily crippling the Greek economy, but they failed to protect the industry from future competition.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Not Known

Sources: 
Associated Press. “Greek truckers’ strike ends” The Australian 3 August 2010

Deutsche Press-Agentur. “Greek petrol stations of fuel after truck drivers strike” Deutsche Press-Agentur 27 July 2010

----. “Striking Greek truck drivers clash with police” Deutsche Press-Agentur 29 July 2010

Hope, Kevin. “Police use teargas on striking Greek truckers” Financial Times (London, England) 30 July 2010

Irish Independent. “Greece issues warning to striking workers” Irish Independent 30 July 2010

Petrakis, Maria. “Greek Truck Drivers Strike as EU, IMF Begins Loan Inspection in Athens” Bloomberg 26 July 2010

Reuters. “Truck drivers in Greece defy an order to end their strike” New York Times 29 July 2010

Sharp, Gene. Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential. Boston: Porter Argent Publishers, Inc, 2005.

Smith, Helena. “Greek truck drivers call off strike after tourist industry is crippled.” The Guardian 1 August 2010

----. “National strike threatens chaos for British tourists as Greek holiday season opens.” The Guardian 30 July 2010

Additional Notes: 
A note regarding allies: it is very unlikely that the truck drivers were able to acquire strong allies. The truck drivers acted swiftly and severely hindered Greece’s fuel and tourism industries, which only served to deter public support and support from other trade unions.

This campaign was part of larger national protest action against austerity measures in Greece that continues at this time (17/05/2011).

Edited by Max Rennebohm (17/05/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Julio Alicea, 21/11/2010