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  • Labour protection | Europe and Greece

    28.04.2022

    Labour is crucial in the production and consumption of goods and services. Labour rights are both legal rights and human rights. The right to work is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union mentions it as "freedom of profession and right to work" in Article 15. The Greek Constitution also protects the right to work in its 22nd article. 

    Labour contributes to social and economic cohesion and affects the individual's life. It offers several benefits, the first being the provision of livelihood and decent living conditions. It contributes to self-knowledge and personal advancement and an increase in self-esteem. Through work, one develops skills and talents and socialises. On the contrary, in harsh working conditions and abuse, one feels wronged, angry, frustrated and overwhelmed by feelings of resignation. To avoid these, choosing one’s job title is of utmost importance. At the same time, establishing and enforcing rules that protect workers and working conditions is also essential.

    All these are results of the continuous re-interpretations of the concept of labour during the 20th century. The struggles of the labour movement and systematic claiming of workers’ rights made this possible. Reviewing the history of labour in Greece may enlighten us. About a century ago, the reality was far from today’s protective environment. Having a job was, to an extent, a luxury. Having a job that offers benefits like the ones listed above was rather unlikely. There were occupations with a working day from sunrise to sunset, some with 14-15 hours, while some more favoured ones worked 10-12 hours a day. The first strikers demanded a ten-hour workday and a nine-hour workday for the heavy and unhealthy professions. Working in large industries was difficult, and the conditions were terrible. That’s what urged workers to unite and form the first unions.

    Industry in Greece developed in two waves. The first coincided with the arrival of the visionaries Zurich University graduates to Greece at the end of the 19th century. As the industry flourished, so did the labour movement. In the '50s, along with the Marshall Plan, we trace Greece’s second industrial development phase. Industrial growth continued until the ‘70s, when the reconstruction of large urban centres began to house most of the population. The gradual deindustrialisation of the country starts in the ‘70s. The ideas that gave birth to the labour movement, the dynamic demands, the bloody strikes and the mobilisations were born in the big factories.

    The technological revolution of the middle of the last century has not stopped offering new solutions while changing priorities. In recent decades, the transition to the post-industrial era has come with significant changes in the work landscape, claims, and labour protection. The concepts of a knowledge society, an information society, innovation, and work flexibility have gained both followers and critics.

    Cultural and creative industries hold a unique place in the post-industrial era. The technological revolution heralded that the need for long work hours would cease. The increase in leisure time and the improved education level of the population created the market to re-organise cultural industries. The shells of the once-bustling factories were ideal locations for creating centres of cultural development combining mass entertainment and industrial heritage.

    Historian Antonis Liakos, on the debate on the eight-hour workday, noted that “since the 1990s, Greece and Europe have entered a phase of deregulation of labour relations. Globalisation and major technological changes have changed many things in work and the type of worker. [...] This one-sided (on the part of governments) labour regulations settlement overturns conquests that needed two world wars, and thousands of labour struggles to achieve. It overturns the balance at the core of modern democracies: the constant effort to reconcile economic development and social justice.” The post-industrial working model has prevailed. The million-dollar question is, what can we do so that traditionally sluggish labour protection mechanisms keep pace with developments and protect everyone’s right to work?