Greek post-WWII industry: of fallacies and unsung truths

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The saga of Greek post-WWII manufacturing that helped to propel the economy to developed-world status ended somehow abruptly in the Eighties. It left behind a number of popular fallacies that either belittle or misrepresent the real achievements of a vibrant sector.

It is true that Greek industrialists never really invested own capital in their own firms? Did post-War industry remain in the labour intensity league and missed the train of internal growth to reach competitive size? Is it true that Greek companies never succeeded in training and upskilling their workforce? Were salaries kept low? Last but by no means least: did Greek manufacturing live in a State-subsidy hothouse, so when EU accession put an end to it, it withered away?

Standing on the borderline between academic and business, having worked as staff of multinationals and with chop-floor experience, especially in HR which acquainted him with narratives-from-within – Lefteris Anastasakis devoted a book (initially a doctoral thesis), to “Innovation and Industrial Transformation in Greece from 1950 to 1973”. In this, he endeavours, as stated in his subtitle, to dispel widespread fallacies and re-establish unsung truths about industry.

In a spirited panel discussion, originally designed as book presentation, readings of this story were proposed ranging from a historian’s perspective to the technologist to the industry executive.

Of points made:

  • Industrialisation in Greece, from the last decades of the 19th century onwards and through the vagaries of wars and crises, notwithstanding the lack of a deep internal market, was a decisive factor in building a modern economy and a correspondingly advanced society. Post-WWII, the contribution of the Marshall Plan and of a stabilizing monetary policy allowed for the implementation of an active industrial policy to unfold – itself supported by a hesitantly rising banking system.
  • When going over Greek economic history, the analysis of industrial processes should go hand in hand with the tracking of technological change. One of the least-explored aspects of post-WW-II manufacturing in Greece was the element of innovation – in large part patent-less – that was successfully integrated. In that respect, innovation should be treated as an overall social construct and intellectual process. The research of Anastasakis is data-based but also deriving information from oral history testimonies about a handful of businesses in the sectors of steel, shipbuilding, textiles, cement, white goods and plastics. Material from public and privately-held archives was also used, opening new avenues of research.
  • The overall manufacturing sector has always prized its own contribution to (well-payed) employment, to economy multipliers, diffusion of innovation and extroversion. Still, it would benefit from a more assertive stance to that effect.
  • Linking education – higher education but not exclusively – to industry: it happened in earlier times, quite successfully, “so it can happen again”.