Greece: Wave of strikes to defend public sector

Workers need decisive, militant leadership not rotten ‘deals’

The last few weeks have seen an escalation of strike activity in Greece. The main issue causing the industrial action is attacks on bank workers’ pensions. They are now in their third week of strike action.

However, the whole of the public sector is under attack (most of the banks are not fully privatised and some are still public) with the right wing New Democracy (ND) government using the pretext of the “privileges of workers in the public sector” to try to isolate them from the rest of society.

Before attacking the bank workers, the government managed to get an agreement with the unions in Greek Telecom (OTE) that 6,000 out of 16,000 workers – all older workers – would get early retirement. In place of these workers, the government will employ part-time and casual labour. The importance of this bill is that it opens the way to abandoning permanent, life-time contracts, throughout the entire public sector. PASOK trade unionists [i.e. unions linked to the opposition social democratic party] have the majority in the OTE unions, and together with New Democracy unions, they signed the agreement.

The problem of leadership is once again starkly evident in the current struggles in Greece. The call is made for strikes but without doing anything to properly organise them. Workers only learn, one or two days in advance, through adverts in the TV and the radio, that there is a general strike, or stoppage of work. The President of GSEE [the public sector unions’ federation] was fully aware of the negotiations in the Greek Telecoms but afterwards, fearful of the wrath of union members at the sell out, the GSEE President said he “didn’t know” about the details of talks and he also described the agreement as a “sell out”. He was then publicly accused of lying by the PASOK unions in Greek Telecom!

On Thursday 16 June, GSEE called a 3-hour work stoppage. The civil servants’ union, ADEDY, which is not part of the GSEE union federation, called a 4-hour stoppage. Such “strike calls” for Greek workers are equivalent to empty phrases, or blank shots. They are like admitting defeat before a struggle is even launched.

Left split

An additional problem is that the left is completely split. The Communist Party (CP) refuses to attend rallies called by the official unions because “they are traitors”. It is beyond doubt that the leadership or GSEE, and the majority of the union federations, have sold out, one by one, all the major battles of the Greek working class, in the same way that TU leaders are doing everywhere, internationally. But the task, and the test, for socialists, is to be able to convince the majority of the workers about the role of the union leaderships and to change the balance of forces inside the unions in favour of the rank and file and for decisive, militant action. Having failed to do that, the CP, simply stands at a distance, and asks workers to leave the official unions and join the CP unions. It is clear that the CP is determined to set up a second TUC, controlled by the Party. These tactics by the CP leadership only discourage the rank and file in the movement, who see that the left is incapable of organising in a common way.

During the period leading up to 16 June, Xekinima, the Greek section of the CWI, campaigned for a 24-hour general strike, as part of a broader fight-back to stop government attacks.

During the 16 June rally, the TUC President declared a 24-hour general strike on Friday, 24 June. This was not followed, however, by the civil servants’ unions, ADEDY, which only called for a 3 hour stoppage, on the same date.

Xekinima participated (with the text from the leaflet, reproduced below), during the main rally on 24 June. The same leaflet is will be distributed in working class communities and workplaces, during the coming days in the run up to further action.

Co-ordinate and escalate the struggle – the only way to break New Democracy’s attacks

The [New Democracy] government’s attacks against the rights of the workers are escalating. It is now using existing differences in the living standard between workers in the public and the private sectors to abolish the hard won rights of workers in the Greek Telecom Company, and the banks and the docks – all of which were formerly public companies.

The abolition of the permanent tenure contracts in the Telecom Company for newly hired workers – with the shameful agreement of the PASOK and New Democracy trade unionists – is the first step towards abolishing ‘jobs for life’ contracts, not only for all the privatised former public utilities, but also for the existing public sector. The workers in the private sector have nothing to gain from this – it is only part of the attack against them, as well.

Not enough to live on

  • Unemployment remains steadily above 10%.
  • 45% of workers earn less than 500 euros a month.
  • 73% of state pensioners get less than 500 euros a month
  • 54% of new jobs are part time
  • The 8 hour working day is abolished in the name of ‘flexibility’
  • The State Insurance Fund is undermined by the employers and the state, while workers and pensioners are asked to pay for the deficits

Who are privileged?

The government says the public employees and bank workers are privileged, and that it is only attacking their privileges. It fails to mention that:

  • Bank profits increased last year by 25-45% (in total, by 1.5 billion euros)
  • A “poor” MP earns only 5,000 euros every month, i.e. that is their ‘basic wage’, excluding ‘extras”, such as the following MPs :
  • Anna Diamantopoulou, a so-called ‘socialist’, MP, earns 272,801 euros annually (2003 figures)
  • Milena Apostolaki, another ‘socialist’ MP, earned 1,861,845 (nearly 2 million) euros
  • The recent information about the dealings of MPs on the stock exchange are very revealing:
  • Ioannis Averof, New Democracy MP’s “earned " 2,104 (2bn and 104mn) drachmas from the collapse of the Athens stock exchange, in 2001
  • Achilleas Karamanlis, “earned” 1, 326 million dr.
  • Stefanos Manos, an “independent” elected on PASOK’s list won 1,918 million dr.
  • N. Sifounakis, a PASOK MP, won 1,307 million dr.

These people, who live in absolute luxury, whether they belong to the ND or PASOK, all agree with the bankers, the industrialists, and the ship owners, that a worker in the public sector who earns 1,000 euros a month is highly privileged and undermines the economy of the country!

Hypocrites and Liars

While attacking workers, the government decided to reduce the rate of tax on profits from 35% to 25%. At the same time, it increased the subsidies to the industrialists, who continue to lay off workers, in the name of fighting against …unemployment!

The government is intentionally spreading lies. It attacks workers in the former public and the public sectors for being privileged, while the truth is that a public employee, with university education and 20 years of service, earns only around 1,200 euros a month. The New Democracy government attacks bank workers for earning fat pensions, while the pension after 35 years of service is only 1.102 euros a month (about 80% of earnings).

The Consumers’ Institute estimates that to cover its basic needs, a family of four needs to earn 3,000 euros a month.

Consecutive governments tell workers the same story: “We inherited chaos, so we have to take some unpopular measures, to put things in order and then we will prosper.”

We heard this from the previous PASOK governments, now we hear it from ND governments. Nobody should believe them anymore!

These neo-liberal attacks serve only one purpose: to give more fat profits to the capitalists. And they are never going to cease, unless they are stopped by the workers’ struggles!

24 hour General Strike

Workers have shown, time and time again, that a determined struggle can force governments to retreat. The most important example of this was the strike wave in 2001, which forced the government of Simitis (PASOK), to scrap the proposed reactionary Pension Law.

Our struggles today should be inspired by the stand workers in France and the Netherlands took against the proposed ‘European Constitution’, dealing a big blow to the European ruling classes and causing a political earthquake throughout Europe.

The French and Dutch workers sent a message to the European working class, as a whole: “We can beat them!”

The 24-hour general strike, called by GSEE (TUC), for Friday, 24 July, is a first important step forward.

However, on its own, this action is not enough. The workers’ movement must show that it is determined to stop the government in its tracks.

Co-ordination and Escalation

First of all, workers must be convinced that their trade union leaders have the determination, and a plan, to force the government to retreat.

This means that workers need to know that a 24-hour strike will have a determined follow-up. That means another general strike, like a 48-hour general strike, on a specific date, and then, if there no change, it must be made clear that another 48-hour strikes will be called. Such strike action plans (or similar to this) must be openly stated in advance, so that workers will have confidence that a serious struggle will take place, and will be worth the sacrifices – because it can be victorious.

Preparation and Organisation

Calling for a strike, and particularly a 24-hour general strike, is not enough. For a strike to succeed it must be well-prepared for and well-organised.

A determined campaign has to be conducted among workers in the factories and offices, explaining demands, and the plan and organisation of struggle. Workers must have a say. They must control the course of the struggle. The strike must also be linked with mass rallies and bolder initiatives, like occupations, until the government backs down.

What Leadership?

Who is going to provide the leadership which is required for such a plan of action? Most workers are fed up with the existing leaders of GSEE (TUC) and ADEDY (Public sector TUC).

It was the PASOK trade union leaders in the Greek Telecom Company, together with the New Democracy trade unionists, who betrayed workers, and signed away the life contracts for all newly-employed workers in the company. The President of GSEE, after the event, expressed his disagreement with this disgraceful deal, but leaders of PASOK union in the Telecom Company insist that he knew all about it, weeks ago.

After all, the last two presidents of GSEE were elevated to parliament as PASOK MP’s and cabinet ministers, for services rendered. This says it all!

The Rank-and-File

As a result, the trade union leaders will act only under the persistent pressure of their rank-and-file. So, from below, militant workers in the unions must demand a definite fighting programme and action.

At the same time, we must bring to the fore the question of democracy in the unions, and control of the leadership by the rank-and-file. This means:

  • Regular general assemblies of workers where the course of the struggle will be discussed and decided
  • Election of Strike Committees or Action Committees which will have the task of mobilising workers and coordinating the struggle. These Committees must be linked together on town, area and national levels
  • Any deal worked out by the management and the union leaders must be agreed to finally by assemblies of the rank-and-file

The participation and the control of struggles, by the rank-and-file, is the only guarantee for the success of our struggles

XEKINIMA: Socialist Internationalist Organization

The policies of the New Democracy government, and of PASOK, are no different from the neo-liberal policies that capitalist governments are trying to enforce against workers all over the world. These policies against workers are non-stop because the drive by capital for more profits has no end.

That is why XEKINIMA [CWI in Greece] says that the only way to stop continuous attacks, and to solve the acute problems of unemployment and poverty, is to overthrow the capitalists’ stranglehold, to take over the commanding heights of the economy, under workers’ management and control, and to build a genuinely democratic, socialist society.

The ideas of socialism, which inspired the Greek working class in the past, have been betrayed by the leaderships of the left parties, who disappointed the working class and still provide no way forward. That is why we have to struggle for the building of a new left, for parties of the working class that are devoted to the day-to-day struggle for the needs and demands of the workers but also for the socialist transformation of society. Of course, when we say a socialist society, we mean one run under workers’ democracy, and not the dictatorial Stalinist regimes of the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe, or the “socialism” of PASOK, which is wholly in the service of big capital.

This struggle can only be international. XEKINIMA is part of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), with members in over 40 countries, on all continents, which fights for building new, mass workers’ parties and a socialist society.

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