Greece: Which way forward after 15 March general strike?

Mass struggle needed to defeat government’s cuts

The following leaflet, produced by Xekinima (CWI in Greece), is being distributed in working class neighbourhoods and on workers’ demonstrations throughout Greece. It looks at what needs to be done after the general strike on 15 March, to defeat the cuts policies of the right wing New Democracy (ND) government.

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Which way forward after 15 March general strike?

The ND government’s policies only can be defeated through well-coordinated mass struggles.

French students and workers show the way

The general strike that took place on 15 March was one of the most successful mobilisations of the Greek working class in the last 3-4 years. Participation was massive, with 90% in the public sector, and 70% in the private sector involved. Tens of thousands, throughout Greece, demonstrated under pouring rain, calling for resistance against the government’s policies and lies.

Indignation

The success of the strike is due to constant government attacks, which lead to anger and frustration welling up within the working class. Living conditions are deteriorating, the 8-hour working day is practically abolished, workers are forced to work overtime without being paid for it, permanent contracts in the public sector are replaced by short-term ones, and poverty and unemployment are on the rise. Last, but not least, the government now attacks basic trade union rights, including the right to strike.

Bank workers and marine workers

The recent refusal by the bank bosses to negotiate with the Bank Workers’ Union over a collective agreement, shows that the bosses not only deny the right to collective bargaining to workers, but also that they aim to destroy the bank workers union and to create ‘yellow’ unions in each bank separately.

At the same time, the ‘call up’ order made by the authorities made to striking merchant navy workers, to bring their strike to an end, shows clearly that even the right to strike is under attack.

Trade union leadership

Trade union leaders boast about the success of the 15 March strike but the workers know that its success has nothing to do with the leadership. On the contrary, the majority of workers think that the trade union leaders are alienated from the rank and file union membership, and that the union leaders are only interested in maintaining their positions and privileges. It is no accident that that the last two former presidents of GSEE [the Greek private sector TUC] were ‘promoted’ to government ministers… to carry out the anti-labour policies of the previous PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Party) government and the EU.

France shows the way

The ND government, as well as the previous PASOK one, promised that after an “adjustment period”, as they called it, Greek workers would enjoy prosperity and unemployment would be minimised. Only fools will believe them any more.

A quick glance around Europe proves that the attacks we face are not a Greek phenomenon and also show that the future will be even worse.

Some of the worst austerity policies carried out in Europe over the last few years is taking place in Germany – the richest EU country. The unemployed in Germany are forced to accept jobs which are paid as little as €1 per hour.

In France, the government’s new law, the ‘CPE’, allows the employers to fire youth without justification and or compensation, during the first two of years in a new job. This only means that older workers will be made redundant to be replaced by cheaper and more easily expendable labour.

French youth and workers gave their government a vigorous reply to the CPE by going on the streets: 1.5 million demonstrated on the 18 March, throughout France, demanding the withdrawal of the CPE.

In Greece, we need to coordinate and escalate the struggle.

Every worker knows that a 24-hour general strike is not enough to stop the government. What are needed are persistence, co-ordination and escalation of the struggle:

A medium term plan consisting of a series of 24 and 48-hour general strikes over the next few months

Between the general strikes there should be rolling strikes by different union federations, on a city or area basis, so that the government gets no moment of peace

All decisions should be taken by the workers’ general assemblies. Workers should be well informed and should be fully involved in the decision making process. Strike committees and co-ordinating bodies should be democratically elected on a local, city and area basis

This is the only way to achieve, mass workers’ participation, good co-ordination, and high morale and determination amongst workers.

We can win!

During the last few days, the government showed signs of retreat or at least signs of confusion and internal contradictions on a number of issues.

They asked the bosses’ union to be more generous with pay rises! They suddenly discovered that the economy is going very well and, therefore, next year they’ll be in a position to give better wages and benefits! The managers of the state companies announced that they have difficulties carrying out the new anti-labour regulations…the following day the government insisted that the regulations will take place, according to plan. After meeting workers from the Phosphoric Fertilisers Factory, government officials promised that the plant will not shut down and that the workers jobs will be saved. But the next day, the bankers and owners issued a disclaimer.

All the above shows that while the government wants to continue with attacks against workers, they are afraid of the growing anger in society, as well as the possible repercussions of the French strikes and protests, which are widely discussed in the Greek workers’ movement. The retreats and wavering by the Greek government represent a sign of its weakness. We must take advantage of this and fight to defeat them.

The rank and file

Workers know, however, that we cannot expect the present leadership of the trade unions to lead the sort of militant struggle needed. They never take the right steps unless under pressure from the trade union’s base and from the working class movement, as a whole.

Individual rank and file trade union activists have a very important role to play and on many different levels. They must take bold initiatives in the movement, mobilise from below and thus, also, exert pressure on the union leadership. They have to link and co-ordinate between them, and try to propose common action plans in different workplaces and unions. The workers’ actions are decisive for the revival of the trade unions, which are in crisis and face a decline under the control of the Panhellenic Socialist Party and the New Democracy.

At the same time, however, we should also bear in mind the need to build a new left force, both in the unions and in society, as a whole. The domination of PASOK and ND in the unions, and in society, is not the working class’s fault (as the communist party leadership claims), it is because the leaders of the mass left parties (Synaspismos and the communist party) are unable to offer an alternative and to inspire the working class.

We need a new, militant left, in the service of the working class. That is the only long term answer to the attacks we face under capitalism.

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