ONE-HOUR work stoppages have become very fashionable. Yesterday the bank employees union ETYK called a one-hour work stoppage at the Central Bank so that its employees could express their dissatisfaction over the bickering between governors and the political system. The union’s general secretary said that with the stoppage “we are showing our disappointment and grief for the happenings at the Central Bank,” explaining that the workers were not taking sides.
All they wanted was for the bank to be left to do its job for the good of the economy. It is very moving when union hold stoppages for the good of the country rather than for the interests of their members. It is in this context we should also view the one-hour work stoppage to be held on Monday by the employees of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC). Their stoppage, like that of their Central Bank comrades, is not aimed at personal gain, but is a cry of anguish for the future of the power industry.
In an announcement signed by all the EAC unions, they warned that “things in the electricity sector, after the stand taken by the energy minister, are being led to very dangerous paths with huge dangers for this unfortunate, much-troubled and economically devastated country.” Closer examination of the reasons for the stoppage suggested the EAC unions were not being as public-spirited as they claimed. They minister’s stand they objected to was his intention to proceed with the privatisation of the EAC which the unions are dogmatically opposed to because their members might lose some of their super-privileges.
A little over a week ago, state kindergarten and primary school teachers also staged a one-hour stoppage to protest against the pay terms of supply teachers. This was a more traditional example of industrial action as the aim was the protection of the interests of workers, but as with the EAC stoppage, the primary concern was to dictate government policy, even though they have no legitimate authority to do so. The port strike which lasted a couple of days was aimed at forcing the government hire more dock-workers.
Although it is unacceptable for union bosses to impose their diktats on the government there is a positive aspect to these one-hour-work stoppages. They reveal a weakening of the once-mighty unions, which are now afraid to antagonise public opinion. One-hour stoppages have become so popular because they do not inconvenience the public, while demands are no longer focused on pay and benefits, as these would be a provocation to the tens of thousands of jobless. Only teaching unions have no such qualms, because for those entrusted with the education of our children pay is the only thing that matters.