359. Airgram From the Embassy in Cyprus to the Department of State 0
G–39. The position of the non-Communist trade union federation SEK has continued to deteriorate during the past several months while the relative strength of the Communist PEO has increased. PEO, as the Department is aware, is the most important component of the Communist apparatus in Cyprus. It is well led and appears to have no money problems although, so far as we can determine, most of its financing is internal. SEK, on the other hand, is torn by factionalism in its leadership with pro and anti-Pissas elements working at cross purposes. It is short of money and we are told has an indebtedness of 12,000 pounds. Pissas, SEK’s General Secretary, is considered corrupt and self-seeking. He has for the past several months been trying to promote for himself a job in the diplomatic or consular service of the Government of Cyprus but has rejected the offer of a post as Consul in Khartoum.
We feel we can help by training SEK leaders, including new blood which may be brought into the organization, this to be done by sending a number of trade unionists to the US and bringing an American trade union organizer to Cyprus to remain here for a minimum period of six months, preferably longer, to work on the spot with SEK leaders in reorganizing the federation. We have informally advised the Minister of Labor and a handful of other reliable labor contacts that we are prepared to assist with training of trade union leaders in the US. The Department was previously requested to look into the possibility of bringing an American trade unionist to Cyprus. This was first proposed by the Minister of Labor and has been endorsed by other labor people here as even more helpful than training union leaders in the US.
We have repeatedly emphasized in our conversations with the GOC that we consider the removal of Pissas a precondition to any real progress in reorganizing SEK as a strong counter to PEO. The Labor Minister and others agree with this and say that Pissas will be eliminated. However, with its numerous preoccupations, the government has not given this problem a high priority. We feel that, if we could go to the GOC with a concrete proposal for training trade union leaders in the US and an offer to bring an American trade union leader to Cyprus to advise and work with new SEK leadership, we would stand a better chance of getting early action on Pissas.[Page 838]
We consider that meeting the challenge of PEO which, as noted earlier, is growing in strength daily while SEK is becoming progressively weaker, is one of the most pressing problems here in Cyprus. We do not see any significant disadvantages to the lending of our assistance in trying to build a strong non-Communist center here. We have every reason to believe that the Government of Cyprus would welcome this assist-ance and, as a matter of fact, there is evidence that the Communist leadership expects us to assist SEK in an active, overt way. AKEL and PEO would, of course, attack our participation in any program to resuscitate SEK, but we do not feel that this would bring on any serious opposition among the people of Cyprus. So far as we know, the British have no plans to help in the labor field. Some eighteen months ago the British trade union advisor to the then Commissioner of Labor suggested that a joint council of the four trade union groups here—PEO, SEK, the independent unions and the Turkish Federation—be established presumably with a view to eventual merger. The Embassy assumes that this proposal, while it may not have had the active advocacy of the British colonial government at the time, was at least accepted by it. Recent conversations, however, suggest that the British mission here now is not trying to promote a TUC-type labor center in Cyprus, and British mission officials may now understand that such a project would play into the hands of the Communists. We do not believe the British would object to our proposed program but feel they should be informed of it at the proper stage. We believe, in any event, that the Cypriots would be reluctant for local political reasons to turn to the UK for help in this field or to the ICFTU lest it provide a UK labor advisor or one of some other nationality schooled on TUC lines.
We do not believe either the Greek or Turkish Governments would object to our aiding the non-Communist labor movement, although in anything we do some help would have to be given the Turkish Federation. This would be desirable in any event since the Turkish Federation is short on leaders with trade union know-how and is an anti-Communist organization worth assisting.
Included in the terms of settlement of the recent strike of casual loading workers at the American owned Cyprus Mines Corporation1 was a commitment by CMC management to give a definite answer on the question of union recognition following a meeting of the CMC Board which will take place in Cyprus later this month. Conversations which we have had with the CMC management indicate that the company is prepared to recognize one or more unions if a way can be found to [Page 839] freeze out PEO. The Minister of Labor some weeks ago suggested to the Embassy that the company might recognize as bargaining agent for its work force a joint committee of the Turkish Federation and SEK. The Minister asked the Embassy to explore this possibility with CMC and the Turkish Federation. We have done this and both appear favorably disposed in principle. With the question of union recognition by CMC coming to a head, we feel that the removal of Pissas takes on even greater urgency. He would certainly claim a part of the credit if CMC agreed to deal with SEK and the Turkish Federation, and this might delay his departure from the General Secretaryship of SEK. We hope it will be possible for the Department to reply favorably both as regards training SEK leaders in the US and as regards sending an American trade union organizer to Cyprus.
In a recent conversation with Makarios, the Ambassador discussed the trade union situation. Makarios indicated that he was aware of the urgency of replacing Pissas but was hoping SEK itself would take action or Pissas himself would resign or offer to go elsewhere. Makarios did not want to appear to be taking responsibility for the administration of SEK as that would subject GOC and SEK to Commie criticism. It would be wiser if Pissas were maneuvered into withdrawing. Meanwhile, Makarios agreed he would work on the problem and approved our continued cooperation with the Minister of Labor. We thus now have an opportunity to bring present situation to head and recommend that the program we have suggested be provided as an incentive to cooperation by GOC.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 880A.062/10–1160. Secret. Drafted by Moffitt. Repeated to London, Ankara, and Athens.↩
- September 29–October 3. The strike was settled by an agreement on wage rates and on worker representation on the corporation safety committee. The question of company recognition of trade unions was postponed for one month.↩