On the eve of the Second World War (1938-1939), the Mining Industry in Cyprus reached its highest point with significant exports of pyrite and chalcopyrite. The number of workers employed by all the mining companies exceeded 10,000 the majority of whom were landless peasants. Miners’ working conditions and terms of employment were inhuman. The housing and living conditions of workers and their families were in a terrible state. Accidents at work occurred quite often, illnesses plagued workers and protective measures underground, in galleys and buildings were almost non-existent.
The application to establish a Trade Union
The struggles of the Miners and Construction Workers in 1948 did not appear out of nowhere. In the period 1938-1939, the dark shadow of the British colonial regime of Palmer ruled Cyprus the miners of the KME Company in their efforts to organize themselves in order to solve their problems sent the government their first application to establish a Trade Union. The government characterized the application as “communist” and ignored it. This left no choice to the workers other than to wage the honorable struggle to assert their just demands.
The demands were an increase in wages, payment of overtime on Sundays, the recognition the Labour Disputes Committee, the repair of worker’s homes and the rehiring of those workers who were sacked.
The strikes lasted 266 days with the participation of 4,300 miners and construction workers and with the support and solidarity of the entire working class. Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots workers stood hand in hand and organized their struggle against the British colonial government, local and foreign employers.
Although the demands of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot workers were justified, apart from the employer’s complete refusal to meet the striker’s demands, they also had to combat the fierce reaction on the part of the colonial police, the strike-braking stand adopted by the “New Trade Unions” (SEK), as well as the Church’s hostile stand. Indicative of the Church’s stand was the circular it had distributed, calling on the strikers to surrender, while SEK, with its statement, urged the colonial police to seek the help of the English army in order to “fight Communist anarchy once and for all.” It even reached the point of going around the villages, organizing strike-breakers for the American Company with the slogan “Better 12 hours of blue, than 8 hours of red”.
The then Director of the company, Hendrix, declared “My country spends millions of dollars fighting communism around the world. It will not think about spending a few thousand pounds more for the same purpose in Cyprus.”
During this time of intensive class struggles, the alliance of workers – peasants and small-medium strata was forged and expressed in practice through the development of an unprecedented movement of solidarity towards the strikers. Money, food, clothes and all sorts of help was being received from everywhere. The battle to secure bread and milk for the strikers’ children, the struggle for their moral and material support is one of the most glorious manifestations of genuine and unselfish social solidarity.
Despite the clashes, confrontations, the terror unleashed, the anti-worker policy pursued by the employers and those who supported them, the 1948 strikes ended successfully and attained the following:
– Collective agreements were established and strengthened.
– Significant increases in wages were achieved.
– Working hours were reduced, especially in mines.
– Overtime began to be paid.
– Paid holidays were won.
– The Social Healthcare Fund was strengthened.
– Working conditions in mines and construction sites improved.
– The cost of living allowance begun to be granted.
– The mass strength of the trade union movement of PEO and KTIBK was strengthened.
However, the most important achievement of the 1948 strike struggles is that the strikers Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot workers as genuine class brothers, succeeded in achieving the recognition of the existence and role of the Trade Union Movement.
On the path of this glorious history, PEO this year is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the 1948 mass strikes of the Mineworkers and Construction Workers by organizing numerous events; On 8 July, there was an inauguration event for the memorial to honor the heroic fights of 1948 at PEO Rest Houses in Pelendri. The main speaker at the event was PEO Secretary General Pambis Kyritsis. There were also speeches by PEO Builders’ Union S.G., Michalis Papanicolaou, DEV-IS President, Hasan Felek and Soteris Socratous, veteran miner .