SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 148 - May 2011


Greece: literally not paying for the crisis

AT THE end of 2010, a non-payment movement began to develop in Greece with people refusing to pay road tolls. Having had enough of the continuous attacks from the government on living standards – and angry at the prevarication of the organised workers’ movement – people decided to act. Although it has not developed to its full potential, as yet, this shows the possibilities for building resistance against the cutbacks.

The movement has spread to public transport where people refuse to pay bus and metro fares. In the last four months, more and more people have got involved, forming local committees in workplaces and neighbourhoods, organising big public meetings and days of action. The campaign has been gaining increasing popularity especially among the youth. It has become a broad movement of mass disobedience under the general slogan: ‘We can’t pay. We won’t pay’.

A day of action was organised on 9 April by the coordinating body of local non-payment committees. Ticket machines were closed in every metro, train and tram station in Attica and an open meeting followed in the main square in Athens. According to Reuters (10 March), the non-payment movement is "a major threat to the Greek government", with 56% supporting it and only 39% disagreeing with it. The number of drivers refusing to pay the road tolls each day has reached 8,000 people – from 6% to 18% within a year – and 40% of public transport passengers refuse to pay any fares in their daily commute. ( 22 February)

The government argues that cuts are the only way of paying back its debt, using the economic crisis as an excuse. Yet, for the last twelve years every government underfunded urban transport. Greek people have been paying over and over again for supposedly improved public transport through direct and indirect taxation. All they have got back is a 40% rise in fares, and closures of bus routes and train lines.

People are realising that they can no longer afford to accept this. By launching and expanding the non-payment campaign, they can have their say on how public transport should work: for the benefit of all, not for the big companies which, alongside the government, are pushing through privatisation in every part of the public sector.

The campaign calls for a refusal to pay increased fares, for free public transport from 5-8am – as in the 1980s – and for free transport for the unemployed, people with disabilities, low-paid workers and students. Many public transport drivers give their tacit support by letting campaigners on buses to ask other passengers not to validate their tickets, or by not stopping to allow inspectors to issue fines.

Drivers are not yet able to fully express their support as they are under immediate threat of the sack. At this point, however, the main goal is to link the movement with the transport workers and fight together for a free, safe and environmentally-friendly public transport system. The main advantage of the non-payment movement is that it is independent of the national union bureaucracy, thus more free to expand and include other public-sector services that are being threatened with privatisation.

The government has been trying to break the movement. It has threatened that it is ‘illegal’, and there have been a few incidents of people being taken to police stations – although without any real consequences. It is now creating a new body of inspectors, closely collaborating with the police. The response should be united resistance, organised by the local non-payment committees. On a bigger scale, the government cannot send hundreds thousands of people to court. Only a mass united campaign can win.

Xekinima (CWI Greece) has supported the campaign since it started and is urging its expansion to combat rising water and electricity charges. Xekinima consistently emphasises the big potential of a mass non-payment movement, referring to the example of the Thatcher government’s defeat in the 1990s by the anti-poll tax campaign in Britain.

Xekinima calls for the formation of democratically organised non-payment committees, linking them with public transport workers and rank-and-file trade unionists. It campaigns against all the austerity measures taken by the government for its ‘bailout’ by the EU and IMF, and for the need for rolling 24-hour and 48-hour general strikes of the different sectors, culminating in repeated three-day general strikes.

A fuller version of this article can be found on the website of the Committee for a Workers' International and on the Xekinima website

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