The Communist-inspired President of Greece’s most powerful labor union is threatening to have workers at the country’s biggest power plant turn off the electricity around the country in the height of the tourist season to protest government plans to sell it off to meet demands from international lenders as part of a burgeoning privatization program.
The $800 million facility in the northern Greece town of Florina is the most modern of four production units that state-controlled Public Power Corp. (PPC) is scheduled to sell to competitors to meet four-year-old European Union demands that the country deregulate its energy market.
“We will make saving PPC a cause for all Greeks,” Nikos Fotopoulos, head of the 18,000-strong GENOP union, told the Bloomberg news agency last month in his Athens office adorned with photos of Communist revolutionaries including Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. “We fight our battles with faith and passion, and we fight them hard. A serious state must control businesses of strategic importance.”
Founded in 1950 to distribute domestically generated electricity to Greek citizens, PPC is a microcosm of political protection, vested interests and reliance on foreign financing that have defined the economy for decades. Despite the new plant’s modern equipment, there are constant brown-outs across Greece, breaking up Internet service as well.
PPC is the country’s biggest employer and its eight plants fired by the soft, brownish-black coal called lignite meet half of Greece’s power demand. PPC is fighting to keep its monopoly on the fuel, which is so vital to the company it’s in the process of moving a whole village to mine more of it.
The union is on a collision course with the new coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who said privatization must move ahead more quickly or Greece risks losing a second bailout of $173 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB.)
Samaras, 61, has vowed to make the sale of state-owned assets a priority and last month appointed former PPC Chief Executive Officer Takis Athanasopoulos – a bitter foe of Fotopoulos – as Chairman of the organization managing the privatization program. Athanasopoulos, 68, a U.S.-trained business manager and university professor, battled Fotopoulos, 48, at PPC during his tenure while serving as an advisor. PPC employs 20,000 people, compared with about 38,000 in the mid-1990s, and is now restricted to one new hire for every 10 departures.
Bloomberg said that asset-sale program also may involve lowering the state’s stake in PPC to a minority from the current holding of 51 percent. The company’s shares collapsed by 61 percent in the past year and its net debt at the end of the first quarter stood at 4.85 billion euros, some $5.96 billion.
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