Greek cleaning women demand an end to austerity

In Greece, women are leading the popular struggles against austerity. In Athens, women cleaners have been camping out in front of the Finance Ministry for months. And they’re winning, slowly but winning.

Konstantina Kouneva, a Bulgarian immigrant to Greece, has been working as a janitor since 2001. She is also a trade unionist. In 2008, she was the victim of an acid attack. She sued the company she works for, for its lax approach to workers’ security, and won. She has kept on winning, and next month she will join the European Parliament, representing SYRIZA, workers, women workers, and social economic justice.

Women cleaners were fired, months ago, from the Finance Ministry and have been protesting, camping out, occupying, and suing. They have repeatedly won in court, and look forward to more such victories. The Supreme Court was supposed to decide on Thursday, but delayed its decision until September. The struggle continues.

The women continue the struggle. Despite police brutality which sent women to the hospital, the women continue their encampment in the space in front of the Finance Ministry. As Despina Kostopoulou explained, “They’re bigger than us, but we’re angrier.” Despina Kostopoulou is in many ways typical of the women cleaners. She’s in her 50s, she’s been working for the ministry for decades. She thinks the labor and time she has invested in the ministry counts. She’s right. That’s why the State is trying to rob her and the other women every which way every second of every day.

The women have traded, temporarily, the labor of cleaning for the labor of justice. “Protesting wasn’t hard for us, really. We had no choice. If you make a living with a mop in your hand, you’re already fighting to make ends meet anyway,” explains 57-year-old Evangelia Alexaki. What is the cumulative value of a life of labor, and especially if the laborers are women?

The struggle will not end with the re-instatement of hundreds of cleaner women. First of all, re-instatement under austerity is a tricky business, literally. The `returning’ workers will be offered half of their original salaries. Many will be told they have no insurance. And they will all remain vulnerable to the predations of austerity. That’s how `recovery’ works these days.

Women cleaners, mops and buckets in hand, are leading the charge. Don’t fix austerity. Throw it out. People are valuable, workers are valuable, women are valuable, women workers are valuable. Nobody should be treated like trash. Instead, take the program that treats women like so much garbage and throw it away. They are bigger, but we are angrier. Stay angry.


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About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.