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Dockworkers against exploitation and the imperialist war

A rich exchange of experience from the struggle of dockworkers

On Monday 14 November, the MEPs of the KKE organized an event on the theme “Dockworkers against exploitation and the imperialist war”. The event took place at the European Parliament in Brussels, with guest speakers from dockworkers’ trade unions from Greece, Italy, and France. The delegation from Greece consisted of dockers from the COSCO Workers’ Union–Piraeus port.

The keynote speech was made by Kostas Papadakis, MEP of the KKE.

The speech was followed by contributions from Markos Bekris, President of the COSCO Workers’ Union (ENEDEP)–Piraeus port (Greece), José Nivoi, President of the Genoa Dockworkers’ Union and Member of the USB National Committee of Dockworkers (Italy), and Tony Hauboit, General Secretary of the CGT National Federation of Dockworkers (France). The closing speech was delivered by Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos, MEP of the KKE.

At the end of the event, the delegation of the COSCO Workers’ Union–Piraeus port gifted to the delegations from Italy and France a photo from the demonstration of the class-oriented trade unions rallying in PAME on May Day 2020.


Ports at the service of the people’s prosperity and the needs of the working class

In his introductory speech, K. Papadakis noted among other things that “Dockworkers work in a workplace of strategic importance. Ports are a meeting point for paramount business interests; a battlefield of fierce competition between monopolies with a high concentration of capital for the combined control over capitalist production, transport, energy, the war and shipbuilding industry, and tourism. They are also a commercial hub for assembly, packaging, storage, transport, and logistics. They constitute a junction of major roads, central rail networks and shipping (...) Ports occupy a prominent place and a crucial role in the strategic planning of the opponent, i.e. the bourgeoisie, for the safeguarding of  competitiveness and the profitability of capital. One can realize that amidst the outbreak of an imperialist war and a new imminent capitalist crisis and escalation of competition, the economic, political, and military importance of ports is multiplied”.

He added that “On the other hand, from our point of view, ports have an invaluable strategic importance for the working class because they gather the enormous concentrated wealth that can be exploited in another path of development that will meet the social needs of the people. This highlights the large degree of concentration of the capitalist economy. Ports, thus, can become social ownership exactly in this concentrated form, directly solving many practical problems for the social system where the working class will be in power; the system for which we struggle to take the place of the barbaric capitalism, namely socialism.”

K. Papadakis also referred to the role of the EU, noting that “The EU has made it clear that the interest of the EU monopolies dictate that a port, apart from being a commercial hub, a shipyard, and a tourist destination, should also be a military base, providing all kinds of military facilities, as well as an energy hub with enhanced infrastructure for energy production, saving, and storage, even from moored ships. The EU also foresaw in good time that ports are a field of fierce competition and therefore took advantage of the regulation on Market Access to Port Services to avoid setting uniform operating rules. Particularly on the issue of ownership, it gave the bourgeoisie of each country the opportunity to set its own terms based on its own interests. It is indicative that the confrontation between the USA and China over supremacy in the global capitalist economy is unfolding around key European ports. For example, in the Piraeus port  competition is expressed over whether and when the master plan of the Chinese monopoly of COSCO will be achieved, while the US groups impede its implementation. The US has responded to the Chinese control over the Piraeus port by taking control of the Alexandroupolis port. That is a port of great economic and geostrategic importance, with a large pier that can be further expanded, an adjacent international airport, road and rail connections with corresponding networks, and the possibility of installing floating platforms for the production, storage, and supply of natural gas. At the same time, a network of military camps is nearby and the port is located just 500 miles from the Ukrainian border. In short, it is ideal for the US to advance its imperialist plans in the region”.

“It is necessary to set certain criteria for the stance of workers towards such developments and raging rivalries. First of all, the workers need to realize that they can seek and discern their own independent interests in confrontation with those rivalries. Their interests not only are not met but clash with the business plans of one business group or another or even with the bourgeois state. Besides, most of the time these interests are promoted in parallel and business groups even make partnerships with each other. Their common denominator is that they are opposed to the interests of the workers, the dockers, the seamen, and the people overall”, he added.

He then elaborated on the KKE’s political proposal on ports. “The KKE’s position on ports expresses our overall understanding of the means of production and strategic sectors in Greece. It shows that there are two paths of development, the path of capital and the path of the working class, the capitalist and the socialist path. Ports in the service of the people’s prosperity and the needs of the working class, of the people, can only exist when they are freed from the criterion of competitiveness and profitability of capital; when they are included in a scientific plan based on the development of all productive forces, the meeting of social needs for the benefit of the great majority of the people. Such a plan presupposes that we take power from the bourgeoisie, that we get rid of the parasites - capitalists. It presupposes that the means of production become social property, and this will only be achieved when the working class seizes the reins of power”.

“The KKE examines the issue of the ownership of ports from the point of view of the interests of the working class and the people (...) The interests of the workers cannot therefore be served or protected by one form of capitalist exploitation of ports or another,  no matter if the bourgeois state has a minority or majority shareholding in the ports or manages them”, he added.

He concluded his speech by stressing that “We are encouraged and inspired by the struggle of dockworkers around Europe and the rich experience that our guest speakers will covey today. We are confident that their struggle, the struggle of all of us, will reach a harbour and destination; a world without exploitation and imperialist wars, crises and refugees”.


“Dockworkers must not unload ships carrying materiel”

Markos Bekris, President of the COSCO Workers’ Union (ENEDEP)–Piraeus port from Greece, referred to the conclusions drawn from the struggles waged by the union in the previous period, such as the anti-labour mission of the EU, the crushing of rights even under the state-owned Piraeus Port Authority, and the rapid rates of growth and profitability in the period of the capitalist crisis that was based on the trampled rights of the dockworkers. He underlined that “the role of ports becomes more important when a war breaks out as military supplies, vehicles, and troops are transported through the ports.

That is why we believe it is important that we have decided that we will not join these imperialist plans and we will do everything in our power so that dockworkers do not unload a ship carrying materiel”.

“Two lines are confronting in the labour movement in Greece and the rest of the world and this confrontation must grow. On the one hand, there is the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) saying that strikes bear no results and that now we have to consult with the employers to see what we can gain, always refraining from struggles. Besides, the employers have said the same thing during both the crisis and capitalist development. On the other side, there is the Word Federation of Trade Unions, through which we struggle”. He also referred to “the clear and specific role of Greek governments of all hues and coalitions, which secures that the investments and profitability of business groups are not disrupted”. He concluded by saying that “That is why we have been dragged to court all those years, for all the strikes we have held and will hold. That is also why the dockers, who practice a truly dangerous and unhealthy profession, are not included in the list of hazardous occupations. What is more, we are well aware that we cannot expect that someone else will save us. We must save ourselves; we will do it for our families, for our children. That is why today, we will not let anyone call upon us to be patient until the elections. After all, by the time the elections come, they will have already drained us. That is why we say to the workers that now is the time to strengthen the struggle and our union, to continue being a bastion of struggle and solidarity that will get stronger and further consolidated day by day.”


We refused to even think that our own labour would become the cause of deaths

José Nivoi, President of the Genoa Dockworkers’ Union and Member of the USB National Committee of Dockworkers from Italy, shared his experience about how their union went from being an employer’s union to being in the hands of the workers. He also revealed the fierce attack on the dockers’ rights by the Italian governments. He added that “We are also thinking about the impact of automation on dockers’ work or methods such as making seamen do dockers’ work. These things go hand in hand as automation and the replacement of dockers’ work by seamen intensify the flexible working conditions.

Dockworkers face this fierce attack every day. They work for a pittance while the employers exploit them ruthlessly. However, the employers are well aware that we have the strength to block goods and they are very concerned about it”. He also highlighted their decision to block the transport of materiel in 2019 in Genoa, as well as to organize a general strike when the war broke out in Ukraine, while all that the government did was increase military expenditure. “We did not accept it, we refused to even think that our own labour would become the cause of deaths”, he said.


“ The class struggle is our guide - The war in Ukraine is imperialist”

Tony Hauboit, General Secretary of the CGT National Federation of Dockworkers from France, stressed that through the collective and mass struggles that were waged in the past years, they managed to achieve certain rights against the anti-labour attack of the French governments. He also provided invaluable insight into the class struggles of the trade unions, stating that their advantage is that they are aware “that the ports are the economic heart of a nation owing to the entire freight transport chain” and that “they have the power —and this is a good thing— to halt work at the French ports”. He conveyed experience about the solidarity expressed with the strikers in the refineries. As regards the the war in Ukraine, he stated that “in our opinion the war is imperialist; it is waged by the big capital and the victims are once again the people and the workers”.


The struggles at the ports of Greece, Italy, and France are a very important legacy”

Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos, MEP of the KKE, concluded the event. He thanked the speakers for the rich experience they conveyed and stressed that the event highlighted “the true class and internationalist stance of the working class in the face of imperialist war, that is, that the people should refuse to side with one or the other camp of imperialists – thieves. The people and the workers need to struggle against the bourgeois classes based on their independent action aiming to seize power and put an end to wars”.

“The struggles at COSCO and the ports of Italy and France as well as the rallying of  workers under difficult conditions also show how the working class must struggle. That is, independently, without siding with one monopoly or another, playing the game of capitalist competition for profitable infrastructure, stressing the fact that capitalist profits come from the crushing of wages and workers’ rights” he added and concluded by saying that “These struggles are a very important legacy. They bolster the heroism, unwavering stance, fearlessness, and solidarity of the working class in the face of the confrontation with the forces of repression, the state and its mechanisms, and the henchmen of the employers”.