|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Greek strike movement escalates
ON THURSDAY 11 March, Greece was again brought to a standstill by the collective action of the organised working class. Workers from the public and private sector joined together in the third general strike in a few weeks against the government’s draconian austerity package.
The action hit 90% of public-sector workplaces and up to 90% of large private-sector concerns. Nothing functioned. Nothing moved. Public transport closed down completely, with the exception of some trains in Athens to transport workers to and from the demo. Even small shopkeepers joined the strike. It was a further display of the enormous power of the working class when it is organised and acts in a united fashion.
Greece’s two union federations called the strike to protest at the additional €4.8 billion package of spending cuts and tax increases that the government announced on 3 March, and passed by parliament days later. This was the third austerity package since the beginning of the year, introduced under the pressure of the EU. They add up to about €20 billion.
Protest rallies were organised by the GSEE union and the civil servants’ union, ADEDY. Another was organised by the Communist-affiliated union, PAME. Athens saw a huge demonstration of 80,000 to 100,000, one of the biggest street protests in recent years. Many more workers wanted to join the protests but could not attend because the public transport system was not properly planned to enable workers to participate fully – parts of the train system in Athens were running, but only between 10am and 4pm! The strike action also hit smaller cities and towns, with big demonstrations in these areas.
Under pressure from the EU and financial markets, in early March Greece’s social-democratic Pasok government presented the latest in a series of austerity packages to cut the budget deficit to 8.7% of gross domestic product this year, from an estimated 12.7% last year. Among other things, the package cuts public-sector wages by 7%, Xmas and summer bonuses (which are known as the ‘13th and 14th wage’) by 30%, freezes all pensions including the lowest (over a million pensioners get less than €500 a month), and massively raises taxes on fuel, alcohol and cigarettes, and VAT from 19% to 21%.
The mood of the strikers was angry. In fact, that anger and frustration has hardened and widened since the Pasok government announced its most recent cuts. But there is also a feeling that the strike action up until now will not be enough to stop the avalanche of attacks. Workers are furious and want to take action but the union leaders are not putting forward any concrete steps or plan to see off the government’s assault. Pasok also blames the legacy of the last right-wing New Democracy government which it decisively defeated in general elections in 2009. Indeed, New Democracy in opposition is now between 12-15% behind Pasok and that gap is growing.
Due to the lack of decisive union opposition to the cuts, the Pasok government has so far been able to largely carry forward this line of argument. However, the Pasok-dominated union federations (GSEE and ADEDY) are seen by the most class-conscious workers as only pretending to offer a fight to its members.
Given workers’ huge anger, it is likely there will be further general strikes. The strike movement will most probably continue against ‘pension reforms’ and new tax changes, which will be voted by parliament in the next few weeks, both of which hit the working class hardest. The latest general strike followed several days of escalating actions by a variety of unions, but the movement is largely developing in an uncoordinated way.
So far, young people have not engaged in the mass protest movement in a decisive manner. This is partly because the economic crisis has not hit them directly, as it has workers in the public and private sectors. School students have not come out onto the protests in big numbers. But this can change. Both school and university students have taken mass protest action over the last few years. In December 2008, the streets were ablaze with an eruption of youth anger against police brutality. Now many university students are finishing exams and occupations are beginning against the consequences of cuts in education. Xekinima (CWI Greece) calls for this to spread into a wave of occupations not only in the universities but also the schools. Mass action committees should be formed, with the youth struggles linking up with workers’ struggles.
The strike action needs to be co-ordinated and expanded to a 48 hour general strike, with the threat of longer general strikes if the Pasok government does not back down. Workplace and community committees of action should be formed to co-ordinate and link up struggles on a local, regional and national level.
The left parties, such as Syriza and the KKE (Communist Party) have a key responsibility to form a ‘united front’, with a bold socialist programme. This should include opposition to paying the national debt, nationalising the banking sector, ending the enormous tax evasion by the bosses, an immediate programme of huge investment in health, education, housing and infrastructure, and the nationalisation of public utilities and major parts of the economy, under the democratic control and management of the working class. Only a left government, based on the needs of the working class and youth, can resolve this deep crisis which is a crisis of Greek and international capitalism. However, both mass parties of the left refuse to fight for such a bold programme. This is, therefore, a factor which acts as a brake on the dynamic development of the mobilisations and movement. In these circumstances, Xekinima (one of the constituent organisations of Syriza) explains the need for a mass party of the left with clear revolutionary socialist ideas, based on the best elements inside Syriza and the KKE, but also including some of the other organisations of the far left.
Joe Higgins, Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), visited Greece and spoke to packed meetings of workers and youth. Joe brought solidarity greetings from Irish workers who are also facing draconian attacks on their jobs and living conditions. He called for workers’ solidarity action co-ordinated across Europe, in opposition to the cutbacks being implemented by all governments and against the dictates of the bosses’ EU. In a very successful public meeting in Athens, held after long hours of marching and clashes with the police (and when the public transport system was completely shut down), over 220 people attended to hear Joe and a representative of the French NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party). This was repeated at another public meeting in Salonika, addressed by Joe and a representative of the local Syriza. The attendance at these meetings proves the preparedness of working-class people to resist the attacks, and to strive to find a way to take the movement forward. They also point to the attraction of genuine, democratic socialism as a viable alternative system to profit-based, crisis-ridden capitalism.
Andreas Payiatsos, Xekinima (CWI Greece) and Niall Mulholland
For latest developments see the cwi website: www.socialistworld.net