ON THE same day that tens of thousands workers and youth were demonstrating on the streets of Nice, (7 December), the Greek working class held a general strike – the second in the last two months.
Transport came to a complete standstill. Many workers in public utility companies struck and the civil service was semi-functioning.
Journalists in the private mass media went on a five-hour stoppage for the first time in their history. In the big private-sector companies a large majority went on strike.
The central demand of the strike was the withdrawal of the new labour relations bill that the government was pushing through parliament.
In the name of fighting against unemployment, the so-called ’socialist’ government of Simitis, is aiming at taking away from the working class all the reforms gained since world war two.
The bill provides greater freedom for the bosses to sack workers without having to justify this; for the imposition of temporary employment on a much more extensive scale than before not only in the private sector but also in the public sector; and for the abolition of the eight-hour day and five-day week, through the annualisation of working hours.
The government is attempting to copy the flexibility models applied to the labour markets by a number of EU countries.
They use the "fight against unemployment" as a pretext, arguing that the flexibility of the labour market will bring it down. According to the confederation of industrialists themselves, however, the Greek labour market is not less flexible than the rest of the EU.
Greek workers work on average not 40 hours but 46 hours every week, while, at the same time, 43.6% are not paid what they are supposed to receive (unpaid overtime). Also seasonal employment is the most developed in Greece compared to any other EU country. Despite this, unemployment has been rising and has officially reached 12% during the last few months.
The picture of the government’s plans is completed by the attempt to have the health service function on profit criteria, and the attempt to sell off major public companies like Olympic Airways, the electricity company and the telecommunications company. At the same time it is attempting to link post-graduate degrees in the universities with private companies and ’sponsors’.
In all these sectors we had strikes, protests and demonstrations in the recent period.
An additional factor that intensifies workers’ dissatisfaction and their desire to fight back is the universally bad perception of the government. Only eight months after its election to office, a whole series of scandals, which involve top level government officials, have come to the surface.
In a recent opinion poll, only 14.5% had confidence in the government’s policies, only 32.7% consider that the entry into the EMU will make their life any better, while 91% of the population considers that "public life" is identical to corruption.
Despite all this, the trade union leadership refuses to give a lead to the working class. In reality they function as a break on the labour movement, so that the latter is prevented from going on the offensive.
The previous 10 October general strike was also a great success as the working class responded massively, despite the complete lack of preparation by the union leadership. The president of GSEE (the Greek TUC) did not even openly campaign for a no vote to the bill, but only ’corrective changes’!
To thousands of activists the role of the union leaders is becoming clearer and they are searching for ways to fight back, not only against the policies of capitalism but also against the present union leaders.