Lazaridis and Maria Koumandraki (2003) 'Survival Ethnic Entrepreneuers in Greece: A Mosaic of Informal and Formal Business Activities
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/8/2/lazaridis.html>
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Received: 14/11/2002 Accepted: 30/5/2003 Published: 31/05/2003
I was working as a decorator with emulsion. I learnt alongside a skilled worker in a big company where I was working. Very hard work. I was not responsible for skilful tasks because these were carried out by the skilled workers. And then I left because I asked for IKA [National Insurance Fund] he did not provide me IKA. And I decided to work alone. I asked for more money because we were paid not at all well. I worked very many hours and he was paying me just 17.68 Euro a day including Saturdays and Sundays and holidays and he asked me to work all day long. Not to stop for half an hour you know to [go to the toilet]. There was a lot of dust [by this he means that the job was unhygienic] I had to do very hard jobs. Without a break, without nothing, without bonus. I brought here the family, I was a dad with kids, and things did not turn out the way I expected, I had to work alone. I took the brush and I looked for work amongst friends, and acquaintances in the beginning.
I didn't have a working permit. And they never give you permission to open a shop when you don't have a working permit. So I had a front person. This person was working in an embassy, so he had a working permit. So I used his papers to set up the business.
Wherever I was working --- the men, the women [she refers to her employers] didn't treat me nice. And I worked for one employer who didn't pay me. I worked for the whole month. He employed me to look after his father-in-law. I was staying with the old man. I was cleaning. There was a lot of work to be done. I worked for them and at the end of the month. I asked him: "where is my payment?" He answered "I don't have any money to give you". And he wanted to fuck me. I said, "no, I don't want". I said, "I'm not doing this kind of job. I am doing house cleaning. I am not a whore". I told him that I am going to report him to the police, but I was afraid to do such thing because I didn't have any legal documents at the time...Then I got another job. I was looking after the grandfather and grandmother. One day, they told her husband: "Giannis your house looks like a salad. A black woman is coming to your house and your house looks like a salad. There are various colours. You should get a white woman to work for you". She said to me, "I don't want you to work for me anymore". And my sister suggested, "why don't you stay at home with me to provide Afro- Caribbean hairdressing services?" From then on I started to provide hairdressing services with my sister at home and slowly I saved some little money and I set up this business.
When I came into the country, I knew just a girl who was a cousin of mine...I stayed with them for three months. I was wondering, "what are these people doing here?" And I asked her, "what are they doing?" And she said, "they are selling. That's what everybody does". And I said, "OK, I am not going to do that"(laugh). I stayed for a month, they bought food, I ate, I drank and whatever, but I couldn't continue to do that. I told the husband "OK, you have to take me now and show me where to buy these things and I think I have to sell". So, he showed me where to buy these things, he took me to the bus stop and he said, " OK you take this bus, you stop where the bus stops and you just start working". I didn't understand shit about the language. He taught me one, two, three, all this shit and that was it. I started selling watches, radios and all that. Eh - this is what I've been doing up till now, I've been selling watches.
Well, there is no alternative. But at least I have my pride. I would have preferred working in the factory, I would have preferred working in an office, I would have preferred working in a restaurant, but there is not that work, except farm work. And farm work has seasons. So I met my fellow Nigerians and I said, "what else can we do?" They said: " the only thing you can do now is to hawk. Buy and sell".
the police, they know we are buying from Omonoia [central square in Athens] and they know we are selling. So [it is OK] except when you meet the bad ones, who can arrest you because they don't like you.
The tax office wouldn't give us a license. There is a huge bureaucracy. That's in all state agencies. A lot of bureaucracy and wherever we went there was trouble.
[The owner of the shop said to us]: "You are black, you are foreigners. I want to rent the place to a Greek man". He said: "a Greek person should sign the contract". I said: "why should I put a Greek's person name to rent the place since I put the capital?" He said, "that's the way it is", otherwise he wouldn't let me the shop...And my Greek husband signed up the rental contract.
I don't have an employee my dear because I am very poor.Many try to save labour costs by relying on other family members and friends for support.
I can decide not to go to work for weeks, which I have done. Nobody asked me, "why you didn't come to the office?" So there is this freedom, it is going to be very hard for me now to go back to work for anyone, because I love the freedom, the fact that I can work when I want to work - choose anytime I want.
I want challenge...I want to be creative. When you are working on your own you expand your ideas...and then I am free to make my own decisions.
the nice people are my customers because they know I am fixing their hair, making them beautiful, so they try to be nice to me, they treat me nice. I am very satisfied.For Adama pleasure comes from 'doing' not ' having' [Gartner 1995: 85, cited in Kupferberg, 1999: 3]. 'The pleasure of enterpreneurship is the pleasure of learning new things, while being engaged in the social effort of organising, bringing a new enterprise into life' (Kupferberg, 1999: 6).
I am the kind of person who is constantly searching. I like to create things, I like to build something and then move on to do something else. I am not interested in making money, but in inner satisfaction. I always wanted to study archaeology and I thought that by setting up a restaurant I would have the opportunity to reveal a lost world, my world. And I believe that Greeks have known Ethiopia during the last six years. Greeks have tried Ethiopian dishes.
the employees are not really getting paid that much. I have got friends that work and what they make in a month I can make in three days.
2The existence of informal employment activities has been pointed out in Britain by MacDonald (1994, 1996) in relation to the native population and in particular in reference to 'benefit scroungers' and ' dole fiddlers' who undertake waged work in the second economy to supplement welfare benefits. Although many scholars have noted the existence of informal economy in Southern European countries in relation to the native population (see Mingione, 1995) and to the waged-worker migrants (see Mingione and Quassoli, 2000; Fakiolas 2000) the emergence of businesses operating at the margins of the law which serve as survival, inclusionary practices have not gained any attention.
3This paper is an offshoot of a project funded by the EU's TSER (Targeted Socio-Economic Research) initiative. The project is on 'Self-employment practices in relation to women and minorities: their success and failure in relation to social citizenship policies'. Gabriella Lazaridis and Maria Koumandraki are respectively Director and Research Assistant on the Greek part of the project. The authors acknowledge the financial contribution of the European Commission on this project (grant no. CEC: SOE2-CT97-3042).
4For example, Rafiq's (1992: 58) study on Asian entrepreneurship in Bradford, UK, shows that despite the cultural disposition to business ownership shared by both Muslim and non-Muslim Asians, Muslims demonstrated lower self- employment rates because of their lower educational level.
5For example, in the Netherlands a license is required in certain trades and one should demonstrate to national institutions that there is a need for one's business. In Germany, one can set up a business provided that one has a residence permit (Waldinger et al., 1990b: 31).
6Waldinger et al. (1990b: 13-14) argue that market structures are ' historically contingent': in a given period and setting there may arise the demand for certain products or services. This in turn circumscribes certain business ventures. According to the authors 'immigrant economic activity is an interactive consequence of the pursuit of opportunities through the mobilisation of resources through ethnic networks within unique historical conditions'.
7Individual characteristics refer to the economic, social and psychological determinants of migrant entrepreneurship and in particular, to motivation for making money (economic), the wish to escape racial discrimination in the labour market (social) and the need for autonomy and independence (psychological).
8This is for example the case of Afro-Caribbean in Lambeth, London (Brooks, 1983: 43). Also, according to Kloosterman et al. (1998) some Turks and Moroccans in Amsterdam became entrepreneurs because of high unemployment rates.
9A variety of EU initiatives and programmes (such as, HORIZON and INTEGRA) have been implemented to promote the integration of disadvantaged groups, such as migrants, returnees, members of ethnic minorities, refugees in the host country (that is groups which are considered to be at higher risk of social exclusion). Although self- employment has been incorporated into most related programmes, it seems that the issue of self- employment of undocumented migrants has not yet become a primary goal of the national institutions and agencies responsible for operationalising and/or implementing these programmes. Policies are selective and directed mainly towards returnees such as the Pontians and NorthEpirotes, that is groups which are of Greek descent. The Greek state has developed programmes only for the inclusion and integration of Greek repatriates and not of third country migrants.
10Our fieldwork in Athens revealed that there is not a substantial percentage of Albanian migrants-, which is by far the largest group amongst migrants in Greece (500,000) - who are self-employed. Pre-migration group experience which relate to Albania's communist regime and closed economy (Hall, 1995) maybe amongst the factors accounting for the differential degree of ethnic entrepreneurship between Albanian and African migrants and the low representation of Albanian migrants in ethnic business. Research on migrant workers in Greece has shown that the Albanians are engaged in the construction industry, as decorators, builders, in agriculture (Lazaridis and Romaniszyn, 1998). Only a few run small businesses such as a kiosk or an off-license shop. So far, we have not encountered any self-employed Albanian women; they are mainly employed in the tertiary sector as domestic workers, cleaners, and in the entertainment and sex industries (Psimmenos, 2000; Lazaridis, 2001).
11Although the biographical interview aims at covering the whole life story of an individual this 'cannot be taken to mean simply a review of every single event that ever took place in a person's life. It must rather be interpreted in a general pattern of orientation that is selective in separating the relevant from the irrelevant' Rosenthal (1993:62).
12Greece has had the highest self-employment rates amongst the Southern European countries and its self-employment rates are almost three times higher than the EU average. For example, figures for 2000 show that the percentage of self-employment in Greece has is 44%, whereas the EU average was 14,8 percent. Portugal, Spain and Italy were 27.5, 16.6, 26.2 respectively (European Commission, 2001).
13High female employment rates in the host country in conjunction with a rudimentary welfare state (limited child-care facilities or support for the elderly and people with special needs) have created a structural demand for domestic workers (baby-sitters, nurses) (see Anderson and Phizacklea, 1997; Lazaridis, 2000).
14 The white and green card constitute residence permits and were launched with the two presidential decrees of 28 November (358/97 and 359/97). The white card is a temporary stay permit and its possession it is a prerequisite for applying for the green card. The holder of the green card could reside for 1-5 years in Greece (for details see Lazaridis and Poyago-Theotoky 1999).
15Criminal activities (such as, drug smuggling) could be viewed as part of the informal business activities because they escape the formal regulations. This kind of activities is not going to be discussed in this paper.
16Exclusion and racialisation of the labour market confines migrant workers to low-paid, seasonal, precarious occupation (Lazaridis and Koumandraki, 2001).
17 Kloosterman et al. (1998: 253) stress that in Netherlands the state agencies tolerate informal economic activities 'as part of the typical Dutch policy of gedogen, a nighuntranslatable term that means looking the other way when you must'. A similar approach towards informal business activities is being adopted by Greek institutions, such as the police.
18Banks require guarantees, personal assets as collateral security for borrowing money to prospective migrant entrepreneurs.
19The literature on ethnic business demonstrates that migrants run usually small sized, family -based businesses (Wilson, 1983, Sawyeer, 1983). For example, the Lambeth Study showed that in Britain the majority of Afro-Caribbean and Asian enterprises are small, ranging from retailing to services and employ four persons on average (Wilson, 1983: 65). Sawyeer (1983) arrived to the same conclusion with the study in Manchester.
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