After general strike, workers and students discuss next steps
Last weekend, 16-17 December, the Greek section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), ‘Xekinima’, held a highly successful national conference. This important gathering took place just days after a successful general strike by public and private sector workers, throughout Greece, against government cuts.
Around 125 delegates and visitors attended the Greek conference, with standing room only for some. They came from 11 major cities and towns throughout Greece and from Corfu and Crete. Fraternal delegates travelled from Cyprus.
The mood was very confident and optimistic. Longer standing Xekinima members said it was the best ever Greek CWI conference. The high proportion of school students made the event youthful and morale was sky-high. This was reflected by the excellent 14,500 euro fighting fund collected, despite many delegates living on low wages or none at all e.g. school students.
Many people wanted to speak during the conference, including during sessions on the international political situation, the work of the CWI internationally, political perspectives for Greece, and party building.
The buoyant mood reflected the campaigns of the party over the last twelve months and the increase in the membership, which is the fastest in the section’s recent history.
Since the anti-Iraq war movement in 2003, Greek society has become more radicalised. Youth from 16-20 years, and young workers in their 20s, are looking for a militant alternative.
As well as this, Greek workers have faced the biggest attacks on their living standards and rights for 15 years, from the right wing New Democracy (ND) government. Last summer, pension rights were attacked, privatisations forced through, and overtime pay cut back. Wages grew less than inflation, resulting in a pay loss for many workers.
General strikes against cuts
The Greek GSEE (trade union federation) leaders, under intense pressure from their rank and file, called three general strikes in the first half of 2005, to oppose the government plans. But these were poorly organised. The social democratic parliamentary opposition, PASOK, is a pro-big business party. It has no interest in leading the unions it controls in a serious struggle against the bosses’ dictated government attacks. Consequently, most workers only found out about the strikes shortly before they took place and through TV ads.
The workers’ movement ability to resist the ND government cuts is also severely weakened by the splitting tactics of the Communist Party (KKE), which unlike communist parties in most of the rest of Europe still has strong support. The KKE regularly calls its own union demonstrations and strikes in an attempt to split the GSEE and to create another union federation that it would control.
Due to these tactics and policies, the main left parties are not performing well in polls, despite workers’ outrage at the cuts of the right wing government. The KKE, and a reformist and divided ‘coalition of the left’ party (Synaspismos), have both grown marginally during months of industrial unrest, getting about 1-2% more in polls.
Despite this, union rallies against the cutbacks and privatisations got a better response in the autumn. The 14 December general strike was successful. It shut down the public sector and much of the private sector. Public transport was at a standstill for 48 hours. Union rallies attracted thousands.
Many delegates at last weekend’s Xekinima conference spoke about a growing radicalisation amongst young workers and school and university students, who feel that the “system doesn’t work and we must do something about it”. The CWI in Greece has grown fast amongst these parts of society, by putting forward campaigning, bold socialist ideas that correspond to their demands. Xekinima’s success is begrudgingly recognised by others on the left, many of whom are not making any headway because of their pessimistic outlook.
School students get organised
The school students who attended the Xekinima conference travelled from all over Greece, including from the cities of Thessalonica and Volos. Some have only been members for a few months or weeks but they spoke with great enthusiasm and confidence. They reported how students in their schools have organised themselves to fight for their rights.
They also described how some of the students in schools and universities came under ferocious attacks from local Communist Party (KKE) leaders. The KKE, which is one of the main left parties in Greece, is frustrated at Xekinima’s successes in the schools and is panicking that they will lose their hold in many schools, colleges and workplaces to a campaigning socialist organisation. The KKE produced hysterical leaflets accusing Xekinima members of being agents of PASOK (the pro-business social democratic party) and the bosses’ European Union. But Xekinima responded after each attack, exposing the reformist ideas and undemocratic methods of the CP leaders. Some CP members have left the party in disgust at its attacks against Xekinima.
Conference also heard inspiring reports from working comrades in the public and private sectors, showing that the Greek section has increased its influence in the workplaces and in working class communities. New members who work in the health sector reported on their important work, including organising trade unions for the first time in private mental health hospitals in Athens. The health worker comrades produce and sell around 500 copies of their special bulletin. Special papers are also sold by members in schools and universities.
Xekinima (CWI Greece) is also campaigning over the terrible conditions faced by young workers in the ‘McJobs’ fast food and service sector industry.
Immigrants officially make up around 10% of the Greek population and suffer appalling discrimination and exploitation. Therefore, campaigning with immigrants is another important part of the party’s work. This was shown by the immigrant comrades who attended the conference. They mainly originate from Africa (e.g. Nigeria and Ghana) but also from Bulgaria and other parts of the Balkans. The immigrant comrades described how by organising high profile campaigns through Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) and Xekinima (CWI) they have forced the Greek government to make concessions to individual cases of injustice. “We are no longer afraid of the police and the state”, one immigrant delegate told conference.
An African party member, Tim, who suffered bullet wounds during a racist attack several years ago, was elected to the section’s main body, the Central Committee, indicating the importance of work with immigrants for Xekinima. A recently published book recounting the racist gun attack on Tim and other immigrants, and their subsequent campaign for justice, is now a bestseller in Greece.
Two members of the CWI in Cyprus gave inspiring reports on how the section was rejuvenated on the island over the last twelve months. This was mainly achieved by a school students’ campaign against compulsory wearing of school uniforms. The campaign was reported in the main Greek Cypriot newspapers.
Socialist growth in Cyprus
There is now a wider audience for socialist ideas in Cyprus. The island’s politicians and big business leaders bemoan the slowing down of the economy in the Greek part of the island. At the same time, the UN ‘Annan Plan’, which is meant to ‘resolve’ the national question, is going nowhere. In this context, the Cypriot comrades’ campaign against national divisions, for workers’ unity, and for a socialist solution, is getting a good response from many workers and youth.
The 16-17 December Xekinima conference showed that the CWI in Greece is growing in numbers and influence. Delegates reported that over 130 members and supporters formed a lively contingent at this year’s Polytechnic Rally in Athens, on 17 November. This annual event commemorates students and others massacred by the former military regime as it crushed protests in November 1973 that marked the start of the end of that dictatorship. Given that heavy rain reduced the size of the Athens demonstration to a few thousand, the CWI contingent was impressive. A Xekinima contingent of over 70 supporters also marched in Thessalonica. In Volos, Xekinima members carried the main banners from their schools and universities.
Over the next year, Xekinima aims to increase its membership by hundreds and to increase its support in schools, colleges and the workplaces. This will be an important boost to the development of a working class industrial and political alternative to the pro-capitalist parties.