Better late than never. Deregulation of the haulage market in Greece has finally been approved in a political decision that experts agree will help boost economic development and employment as well as lead to more competitive prices for consumers.
So, the question is: If such a decision only leads to good things, why has it taken so long? The answer does not lie in truck drivers’ votes, as there are not enough of them to present a threat. The fear successive governments have had lies in the fact that before things can get better in the economy, first they must get worse, as is the case today with truck drivers staging rolling strikes and road blockades.
By allowing them to keep the door of their sector tightly closed, the state not only granted them the privilege of having no competition but it also gave them a tool with which to blackmail society. When truck drivers strike, the entire market feels the disruption in distribution of goods. Queues are already forming at gas stations and we’ve seen the kind of headache truck road blocks can cause holiday travelers.
So, the bottom line is that if a minister or prime minister wants to have peace and quiet, deregulation is nothing more than a major hassle. As a move, it makes the decision-maker unpopular in the short run but it benefits society in the long run, making it the perfect kind of hot potato that anyone would prefer to pass on to his or her successor.
On their side, unions have also tended to look to the present rather than the future. They all knew that sooner or later their market would be deregulated; it has already happened to markets all over the developed world and it was only a matter of time before it happened in Greece. However, truck drivers’ union representatives dangled promises that their usual blackmailing tactics would work forever, instead of informing their members of what was to come, instead of coming up with ways to meet the challenges ahead. Even today, on the threshold of deregulation, all they can think about is striking, and their members are losing their income as well as precious time to adapt to the new state of affairs.
It was not just the politicians who closed their eyes to reality; unions and other professional groups were also quite happy to string their people along, and many continue to do so, fighting a rearguard action.
Published in "Kathimerini" newspaper 27.7.2010