Greece: Strikes rock government

A few months before the general elections in spring 2004, the social democratic PASOK government is in serious trouble.

The huge public relations effort that was launched last September, when the government appeared to be making a series of concessions to the more vulnerable sections of the population (the unemployed, pensioners, farmers etc) has now almost run out of steam.

Not only has the gap in the polls between PASOK and New Democracy (the main right wing party) not decreased – ND remains in the lead by 8 points – but also the ’concessions’ have only helped to spark off a series of strikes by different public sector workers.

The first workers to take action, one and a half months ago, were those in education. University and technical college teaching staff went on strike, demanding an increase in government spending for public education by 25%. They also demanded the government keeps its promise of a 20% increase to their salaries, (to partially cover losses of previous years).

Primary and secondary education teachers soon joined in. They are now planning a 48-hour strike (3-4 November) and are threatening an indefinite strike after the 18 November. They are demanding more money for education, the abolition of the so- called ’Arsenis Educational Reforms’ and decent salaries. It is the first time since their strike of 1997, which lasted nearly two months, that school teachers seem prepared to wage a determined struggle.

The health sector is also in turmoil. Hospital doctors are holding repeated 24 and 48-hour strikes. Nurses and other hospital workers have decided to take more decisive action (one 24-hr strike to be followed by two 48-hr strikes). They are fighting for more money for public health, the hiring of more nurses and hospital workers, wage increases and humane hours of work (hospital doctors have to work 70-80 hours a week and get no overtime pay – they get days off instead).

The recent decision taken by the Federation of Hospital Workers (POEDIN) for more militant action was a direct result of pressure by the rank and file of the union, who are furious with the actions of management and the lack of action of the top trade union leaders.

Other important recent strikes have involved state vets, agronomists, forestry workers and municipal workers (70% of who participated in a 10-day strike).

Courts used against strikers

The government took the unions to court and succeeded in getting the strike declared illegal. However the strikers continued their struggle for some time after that.

The striking municipal workers’ main demands were for wage increases, no part time employment, a lowering of the pension age, no privatisation of garbage collection and for their jobs to be classed as a hazardous occupation.

The dispute led to mountains of rubbish piling up in the streets of all major Greek towns. The courts again declared the strike illegal because it was ’dangerous’ to public health. The strike finally ended when trade union leaders linked to PASOK and ND refused to support industrial action any longer.

Despite the significant number of strikes and frequent workers’ demonstrations there is no coordination between those taking action. PASOK linked trade unionists are trying to stop or sabotage the strikes to save the PASOK government from further ridicule, and the right wing unionists try to prove how "responsible" they are, and they will be, should ND win next spring’s elections.

The Communist Party, which has important influence and positions in the unions, refuses to co-operate with the other left parties, on the pretext of having political differences with all of them. But the Communist Party does not propose more radical action.

Xekinima (the CWI in Greece) calls for co-ordination of all workers in dispute and the stepping up and extension of militant strike action. Industrial disputes must be democratically organised and run by the rank and file of the unions.

Also, the negative influence of the PASOK and NP linked trade union leaders shows the working class and workers in dispute need a mass socialist alternative.

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November 2003