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94 on the frontiers of citizenship: considering the case of Konstantina Kuneva and the intersections between gender, migration and

gender, migration and labour in Greece


Nelli Kambouri and Alexandra Zavos

open space

chronicle
Konstantina Kuneva, a Bulgarian migrant woman living in Greece, was attacked with vitriolic acid by two unknown men as she was going home after work around midnight on 23 December 2008. The neighbours called an ambulance and she was transferred to the nearest on duty hospital; she was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit, where she remains to this day. She has escaped mortal danger but has suffered extensive burns on her face and upper gastrointestinal tract and has undergone several surgeries to restore some of her ingestion (swallowing) capacities. She has lost her vision in one eye. Kuneva, who is a single mother, moved to Greece with her son 15 years ago. During this period she was employed in low paying and menial jobs, even though she holds a university degree from Bulgaria, and she ended up working as a cleaner for the private company OIKOMET. OIKOMET represents one of the largest Greek cleaning companies subcontracted by public institutions and transport services (such as the suburban rail line ISAP where Kuneva worked) to provide cleaning services. Kuneva had been an active and vocal union member and was the first migrant to be elected deputy secretary of the Panattic Union of Cleaners and Domestic Personnel (PEKOP). On numerous occasions, she denounced the illegal and exploitative practices of OIKOMET, thus becoming a target of the companys formal and informal persecution.
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As she mentions in her report to the police, she had received several threats by the company and by unknown sources, some directly against her life, to stop her union activities. Although she had mentioned these threats to the Greek Labour Inspection, no action was taken. She herself, as well as her co-workers and the other members of her union have denounced the attack against her life as a murderous act of revenge and terrorization on behalf of the company OIKOMET. They claimed that it was meant to curtail her union action, as well as terrorize other workers from taking on an active role in demanding their legal rights from the specific company and others like it. The Greek police, in contrast, originally attributed the attack to personal circumstances, possibly a lovers vendetta, and interrogated an Albanian acquaintance of the family. When that line of enquiry proved unfounded, they turned their attention to employers circles, proceeding eventually (six months after the attack) to close the file without any results. Immediately following the attack a large number of unions, local and national collectivities and political organizations publicly condemned the incident, demanding justice for Kuneva and the enforcement of legal measures to end workers exploitation by companies such as OIKOMET and others which subcontract cleaning and other services from public institutions, hospitals, universities etc. An unprecedented country-wide solidarity movement developed, with local solidarity initiatives and events springing up in different Athenian neighbourhoods and other cities organizing fundraising activities, briefing meetings, public discussions, mass demonstrations, union occupations, and solidarity concerts which extended over a period of several months. These mobilizations demanded from the government not only that the perpetrators be brought to justice, but also that cleaners and other precarious labourers be employed as public servants and not through private subcontracting any longer. It is around this latter point that the first major rift between Greek and foreign workers, and EU and non-EU migrant labourers became visible. The demand for legal contracts in the public sector for cleaners and other temporary workers by default excluded migrant labourers from non-EU countries, as well as undocumented migrant labourers, who by law cannot be employed by the Greek state. This caused serious conflict between Greek and migrant women members of PEKOP. A split of the Union was imminent. Nevertheless, after several months of deliberations, a new common position was forged, whereby the Union demanded legal state contracts for all cleaners regardless of national/migrant status.

taking a closer looky


The case of Kuneva offers a poignant example for illustrating the relevance of adopting an intersectional approach to social antagonisms, as well as locating
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(women) migrants struggles at the heart of gendered transformations of citizenship in Europe. intersectionality The response of official institutions in Greece was ambivalent despite the unprecedented brutality of the event, ranging from complicit silences to gestures of extreme idealization. In the months that followed, the largest political parties and labour unions, most notably the General Federation of Greek Workers (GSEE) and the Workers Centre of Athens (EKA), condemned the attack. In their official statements, Kuneva was idealized as a tragic victim of violence. Indeed, certain political parties of the centre left went as far as to ask her to stand in the upcoming European elections. Nonetheless the broader circumstances of the attack were silenced. It is worth noting, for example, that there were systematic attempts by GSEE to prevent the publication and dissemination of a report produced by its own research institute before the attack, which revealed gross violations of labour rights by private cleaning companies, such as OIKOMET. Although the report paid some attention to the exploitation of migrants and in particular those who do not possess a residence permit, there was no reference to gender as a factor determining power relations in this sector. Subsequently, PEKOP criticized the GSEE leadership for failing to act against these labour rights violations and even for having collaborated in the past, for electoral gains, with private cleaning companies, which effectively led to the silencing of the Kuneva affair in official labour union and political party circles. Similarly, with the exception of a handful of press articles in the left-wing press and a TV documentary produced by the private TV station SKY, the attack against Kuneva received very little public attention in the Greek mainstream media. Whenever the media referred to the attack, Kuneva was presented as an exceptional woman (strong, gifted, beautiful and well educated). Thus, in those occasions when the attack was not silenced, Kuneva was idealized and represented as a unique individual precisely because no other migrant woman could claim the same position as she did. Both the silences and the explicit focus on Kunevas exceptionality prevented a broader public discussion of the socioeconomic and political conditions that led to this attack. Nonetheless, the PEKOP leadership was given, for the first time, direct access to certain media, where they could publicly denounce the invisible exploitation of cleaners by private companies. Their interviews, speeches and public statements challenged the typical image of the invisible, silent and victimized cleaner and brought to the spotlight strong, active and determined women labour unionists, able to challenge not only bosses and state institutions, but also the all-male leadership of the largest labour unions. Notwithstanding this challenge, however, the representatives of PEKOP were all Greek working class women that made no claims to feminist solidarity.
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In parallel, Kuneva became an emblematic figure for the Greek social movements. The attack coincided with the eruption of the December 2008 revolt that begun in Athens and spread all over Greece after a 15-year old student was murdered by a policeman. The revolt, the most explosive, widespread and long lasting one experienced in Greece since the 1970s, involved both old and new forms of protest and self-organization, such as mass demonstrations, occupations of public buildings and services, burning of banks, cars and large department stores, but also neighbourhood and student assemblies to reclaim public space and extensive use of new media for organizational purposes (Gavriilidis, 2009). Various left-wing, student, anti-racist, feminist, and anarchist groups and individuals, including for the first time many migrants, participated in the revolt. In this context, Kuneva was hailed as a precarious worker suffering oppression and illegal exploitation under state authoritarianism and the neo-liberal regime. The attack against her was represented as paradigmatic of a more generalized attack launched by all forces in power (the police, the bosses, the market, capitalism, the state) against all precarious workers. In fact, it could be argued that Kuneva became a new hero and symbol for the December revolt. This came at the cost of turning her into a, more or less, empty signifier (Stavrakakis, 1999). As a symbol she was domesticated, universalized and stripped of her particularities. Some of the slogans heard during protests and support actions exemplify this form of reductionism, where Greeks and migrants are subsumed under a common worker identity invoked as universal: Migrants are the wretched of the earth. Greeks and foreigners united; The bosses talk about profit and loss. We talk about human lives. Her hyper-visibility as an assaulted waged worker obscured her gender and national difference, both of which are significant for determining her particular experience of discrimination and precarity as well as the kind of attack performed against her, which clearly bears gendered characteristics: vitriolic acid is considered a gendered weapon, mostly used by both men and women in private crimes of passion to punish lovers for their infidelity or betrayal. Her interpellation as a hero of the precarious generation did not overcome the fact that in most social movements discourses, Greeks and migrants, as well as men and women, are not represented through demands that take into account their particular positionality. Rather these discourses assume a formalistic notion of enfranchisement based on the exclusive relationship between the state and its citizens that silences the differences of status and rights accruing from the intersections of gender, ethnicity and class. Thus, despite the fact that the December revolt was dispersed and turned against several centres of power, most of the actions in support of Kuneva were attempts to restore specific national institutions (universities, hospitals, train stations, the police etc.) to their role as employers and providers of welfare. The horizon of imagination of these actions rarely went beyond the national social state framework to use a term
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coined by Balibar (1991: 92). When the students of the University of Thessalonica, for example, occupied the rectors office protesting in the name of Kuneva, they demanded that the University, as a public institution, abolish all existing subcontracting with private companies and employ cleaners as civil servants directly through an open competition procedure (ASEP). Demanding a civil servant status for cleaners, however, in practice meant excluding non-EU nationals, since they are legally disqualified from participating in the ASEP competitions. While these demands challenged the neo-liberal synergies of the public sector with private business, they failed to challenge its ethnocentric character. The fact that they were directed exclusively towards institutions, such as the University and public administration, whose purpose and organization are premised upon and in turn reinforce the role of the nation-state, circumscribed the scope of intervention and set a new boundary between workers according to nationality. Even anti-racist groups, who emphasized migrant issues in their discussions and mobilizations in support of Kuneva, failed to address the intersections of gender, class and citizenship impacting the experience of precarity. So, they did not consider that women workers, who as a whole are more exploited because of union under-representation, are not a homogeneous category but rather enjoy different legal and political status: EU citizens have more rights than non-EU citizens. Thus, all of the PEKOP leadership, who are Greek working class women, and Kuneva herself, as a Bulgarian national, have more rights than non-EU migrants. But even within EU citizens there are differences, since Greek nationals have more rights than Bulgarians. Moreover, within the cleaning sector itself there are hierarchies of power and privilege amongst migrants according to legal status and other factors. For example, the working conditions of migrants who read Greek and own a residence permit differ significantly from those who do not as they are forced to sign blank contracts and cannot read the terms and conditions, or are forced to accept all kinds of employment because they are illegal. Indeed, certain groups of non-EU migrant men may be in an even worse position than EU migrant women working in the cleaning sector. All together, the interconnected processes of ethnicization, racialization and feminization structuring the cleaning sector proved to be difficult to address from a reductive approach that focused on only one dimension of inequality. Similarly, the mobilizations organized by Greek feminist groups, while foregrounding the impact of Kunevas gender identity on the working conditions she had to put up with and on the symbolic gender violence inflicted upon her, failed to take into account the specific problems accruing from her migrant positionality and her precarious legal status in Greece. The conditions of work surrounding the feminized cleaning sector were criticized as revealing the gendered face of exploitation as well as the private and low status of this kind of work, both in mainstream middle class culture and in the workers movement. While this line of argument is clearly significant for challenging the masculinist
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hierarchies that underpin union organizing and the workers movement, the absence of references to her migrant identity once more reflect the ethnocentric biases that permeate political mobilizations in Greece from which the feminist movement is not exempt. We have argued that Kunevas case articulates poignantly the dynamics of intersecting relations of power and exclusion that structure Greek labour politics and social movements. Migrant womens experiences of discrimination as female and non-Greek, cannot be assimilated to Greek womens experiences or to the experiences of Greek and migrant male workers, but rather need to be highlighted in their singularity. In addition, status discrimination between EU and non-EU migrants needs to be addressed as another dimension of inequality. In the end, the specificity of multiple, intersecting discriminations which were bypassed by the labour, anti-racist and feminist movements was indeed and by necessity accounted for by PEKOP even if its all-Greek leadership failed to symbolically represent the diversity of national and gender identities and labour demands within the Cleaners Union. This brings us to the final point we would like to raise.

acts of citizenship PEKOPs eventual demand for legal, state sanctioned contracts for all cleaners regardless of national status articulates a novel standpoint for the workers movement in Greece. Indeed, it goes beyond traditional unionist practices that are framed within the horizon of the national social state. So far, workers struggles in Greece have been primarily addressed to the state demanding that national labour politics secure the rights and wellbeing of the Greek workforce. More often than not, these demands imply xenophobic sentiments or mobilize nationalist discourses. In contrast, the claims put forth by PEKOP, although initially reproducing the split between Greek and migrant workers, eventually overcame formal status differences between women and engendered the possibility for enacting a shared struggle that encompasses Greek and migrant, EU and non-EU nationals. It is relevant to point out that PEKOP comprises up to 70 per cent migrant women members. On the basis of its mixed constituency, it became clear that the demands put forth would need to represent the rights of all its members and not just its privileged ones. Significantly, it is out of the internal tensions and contradictions that accompanied PEKOPs efforts to establish political recognition for its struggle for justice that this new, inclusive and contingent (rather than abstract) standpoint emerged. This inclusive standpoint illustrates at once both the efficacy of what feminists have called transversal coalition politics (Yuval-Davis, 2006) and the enactment of a politics of citizenship that transcends national entitlement.
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The idea of acts of citizenship theorizes the politics of citizenship beyond the realm of formal entitlements, rights and laws. As Isin (2008: 18) has argued, To investigate acts of citizenship y requires a focus on those moments when, regardless of status or substance, subjects constitute themselves as citizens or, better still, as those to whom the right to have rights is due. It is precisely the enactment of the right to have rights, beyond formal entitlements, that forges the legal frontiers of citizenship enabling a new position or identity to emerge. We would like to argue that PEKOPs articulation of a novel inclusive demand that assumes the possibility of rights to formal citizens and non-citizens alike constitutes such an act of citizenship. Moreover, the example of PEKOP highlights that this act is one that requires and involves the collaborative effort of multiple subjects that negotiate both their own differences as well as their political legitimacy within the wider workers movement and the national community of citizen-workers. Feminist coalition politics calls attention to the importance of horizontal, bottom up organizing that engages with concrete problems and involves multiple actors, who need not necessarily share the same identity or abstract principles, but rather are committed to furthering a particular cause in coordination with others. This seems to be the course of action followed by PEKOP, even if not explicitly invoking a feminist political standpoint. It is therefore worth considering further how womens labour and migration struggles might intersect with feminist practices to produce citizenship challenges (cf. Lombardo and Verloo, 2009) and innovative positions that transgress established identity boundaries.

acknowledgements
We thank Akis Gavriilidis for his incisive and critical comments on our analysis of the present case study. Also, we would like to acknowledge the contribution of PEKOP and the Feminist Centre of Athens in furthering the debate on the gendered aspects of labour discrimination in Greece.

authors biographies
Nelli Kambouri holds a PhD from the LSE, UK. She is currently employed as a research fellow at the Centre for Gender Studies, Panteion University. During the past two years, she has been teaching and working on the FP7 EU-funded project, GeMIC where she has conducted research on different aspects of migration and gender policies, processes and practices. She has also completed post-doctoral research on the visual representations of Pakistani migrants. She has published a book and several articles on gender, migration, domestic work and social movements. Contact email: hellikam@gmail.com. Alexandra Zavos has completed her PhD on The politics of gender and migration in the anti-racist movement in Athens at MMU, UK. She has been engaged for
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several years in anti-racist politics in Athens and helped organize, together with other Greek and migrant women activists, a gender and migration initiative. She is currently working as senior researcher for the EU-funded project GeMIC (www.gemic.eu), coordinated by the Gender Studies Institute at Panteion University. Some of her recent work has appeared in Greek and English publications. Contact email: azavos@otenet.gr.

references
Balibar, E. (1991) The Nation Form: History and ideology in Balibar, E. and Wallerstein, I. (1991) editors, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, London and New York: Verso. Gavriilidis, A. (2009) Greek riots 2008: a mobile Tiananmen in Economides, S. and Monastiriotis, V. (2009) editors, The Return of Street Politics? Essays on the December Riots in Greece, London: The Hellenic Observatory, LSE. Isin, E. (2008) Theorizing acts of citizenship in Isin, E. and Nielsen, G. (2008) editors, Acts of Citizenship, London and New York: Zed Books. Lombardo, E. and Verloo, M. (2009) Contentious citizenship: feminist debates and practices and European challenges Feminist Review, Vol. 192: 108128. Stavrakakis, Y. (1999) Lacan and the Political, London and New York: Routledge. Yuval-Davis, N. (2006) Human/womens rights and feminist transversal politics in Ferree, M.M. and Tripp, A. (2006) editors, Transnational Feminisms: Womens Global Activism and Human Rights, New York: New York University Press. doi:10.1057/fr.2009.42

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