Greece’s second twenty-four hour general strike held this year, on Wednesday 11 May, saw massive workers’ participation and showed again the enormous power of the organised working class and its potential to defeat the PASOK government’s austerity cuts. But just days later, reaction took to the streets of Athens, in the form of a murderous rampage by neo-Nazi thugs, while the police stood by. ‘Golden Dawn’ thugs attacked immigrants, killing a young man from Bangladesh and hospitalising many others.
Xekinima reporters in Athens look at these events and discuss how the workers’ movement in Greece can successfully fight-back against the fascists and stop the PASOK government’s austerity policies.
Last Wednesday’s general strike rally was slightly smaller than during the last general strike in February, but it was still very big. Many tens of thousands demonstrated in all the major cities. In the two central rallies in Athens (the communist party, KKE, organized a separate rally from the Greek union confederation, the GSEE), between 40-50,000 took part (the police reported 20,000 people).
The lower turnout was mainly due to the complete lack of organization and preparation, not only on the part of the trade union leaderships, but also on the part of the leaderships of the main Left parties. It was also due to the lack of any plan and any prospect for the development of the mass struggles. More workers understand that one 24 hour strikes, every 2 or 3 months, will not force the government to back down over its severe austerity programme. There have been nine general strikes in Greece since the beginning of 2010 and the government still continues to push through its policies.
“This government must fall!”
There is widespread understanding that to stop this avalanche of attacks, the PASOK government must fall. Most of the slogans chanted in the course of the demonstrations, last week, and those slogans with the biggest appeal to people, called for the downfall of the government. This is despite the fact that there is no real alternative on the part of the main Left parties, which objectively represents a break on the development and the momentum of workers’ struggles.
The main Left parties (the KKE, Syriza, and some sizeable ‘far left’ parties) do not offer a viable alternative, failing to put forward clear anti-cuts policies and a programme for mass action. For example, the communist party (KKE) talks about the need of an alternative “peoples’ economy” and “peoples’ power”, abstractly implying some sort of alternative to the capitalist system but do not link this in any way to the present struggles. When it comes to what to do now, the main reply of the KKE is a sectarian appeal for everyone to join the KKE to give it enough strength to bring about the necessary changes.
Synaspismos, the main force in the broad left party, Syriza, tries to act as an advisor to the Greek ruling class, with demands like, ‘restructure the debt’, which is not much different to what the Financial Times (London), The Economist (London), Handlesblatt (Germany) and the Wall Street Journal (US) call for. In relation to the banking crisis, Synaspismos only calls for the PASOK government to hold onto a part of the banking system in public hands, not the nationalisation of the banking system.
In contrast, the demands of Xekinima (CWI Greece) include: refuse to pay the debt; for the nationalisation of the banks and commanding heights of the economy, under democratic workers’ control and management; for the development of the strike movement, including co-ordinated strikes and occupations, general strikes (24, 48 hour and longer) to stop the cuts. This action must be organised by the masses themselves, through action committees in workplaces, neighbourhoods and in colleges.
Xekinima puts forward the perspective that through the mass struggles of the working class, the conditions will develop for a strong and militant socialist opposition. Big class struggles will radicalise workers and youth, developing the forces on the Left with new fresh layers. Class battles can see mass action committees spring up in Greece, as has happened in the past. These types of developments can provide the basis of a viable alternative to the PASOK or NDP governments of cuts – for a government genuinely representing the class interests of working people and the poor.
Massive state repression and police violence
Many workers are preparing for a hard struggle and long-term strike activity because of the plans of the government. The Electricity Company staff are fighting government plans to privatize the company, in which the state holds a 51% stake. Many workers from this industry, including members and supporters of the ruling party, PASOK, stated during the general strike action that, “If we don’t bring down this government, this attack will not stop”. They also said, “We were late to react and enter the struggle, when other sectors of the public workers were being attacked – now we need to coordinate ourselves with other sectors.”
There was a significant presence on the general strike demonstrations, last week, from many new trade unions created in private companies, for example, Wind Telecoms, despite the massive wave of terrorisation of the workers by their employers.
Last Wednesday’s demonstration was characterized by violence on the part of the police, who viciously attacked workers’ contingents, hospitalizing around 100 people. More than 30 people were arrested.
Two of the injured demonstrators are still in a critical condition in hospital. One of them has severe head injuries and is in a coma.
The police violence increased the massive hatred in Greek society towards the government and anger against state repression.
In the current situation of deep economic crisis, social despair and the lack of clear, strong left alternative, sections of the most alienated youth could even look towards terroristic methods; Greece has a history of small numbers of youth turning to such desperate and counterproductive methods.
As well as widespread police violence against workers, the neo-Nazi group, ‘Golden Dawn’, ran amok in Athens’ streets following the killing of a man, reportedly by immigrants trying to steal his camera.
The Golden Dawn thugs attacked immigrants and a young man from Bangladesh was murdered. Many others were hospitalised by the thugs. The police refused to make any attempts to stop these racist attacks. Indeed, video footage shows riot police standing alongside neo-Nazis. Courageous Greek passersby did attempt to stop the neo-Nazis attacks against immigrants but they too were attacked and often hospitalised. It was reported to Xekinima supporters that a Greek woman who protested to the police who just stood by and watched the neo-Nazi rampage was attacked herself by both the police and the neo-Nazis!
While the vast majority of Greek workers and youth oppose the neo-Nazis, the Golden Dawn is making gains, partly due to the political vacuum. Polls give them 1.5% support nationally, still a low figure but one that was hardly imaginable for most Greeks just one year ago.
Following the violent police attacks on workers’ demonstrations and the fascists’ murderous assaults, it is essential that workers’ demonstrations are properly organised and stewarded, to protect them from provocations and attacks. A united, workers’ movement must oppose all forms of racism and racist attacks, resist the neo-Nazis and the far right and oppose the bosses’ agenda of sowing ‘divide and rule’ policies amongst working people. This includes putting forward clear socialist policies, including calling for jobs for all, a living wage, decent and affordable housing and huge funding for health and welfare.
‘Memorandum number 2’
On 18 May, the PASOK government will announce a new package of ‘reforms’. The first ‘memorandum’ agreed by the Greek government and the ‘Troika’ (the IMF, European Central Bank and EU), one year after its implementation, clearly failed to find a solution to the problems of Greek capitalism and particularly to the problem of huge sovereign debt.
Part of this new package will see the fast-track privatisation of anything still in the public sector. This makes the electricity workers’ struggle so important. The Electricity Company is one of the last public companies left and is very profitable. It also has one of the largest unions in the country, numbering 23,000 members and 30,000 pensioner-members.
Xekinima (CWI Greece) calls for co-ordinated struggle of all the workers in public utility companies that are in the process of being privatised, with strikes, demonstrations, occupations etc, to paralyse and finally bring down this government.