Workers, pensioners and youth stike to defend pension rights.
On Wednesday 13 February, tens of thousands of workers, pensioners and youth from all over Greece came out for the second time in less than two months in a general strike to defend their pension rights.
Dock workers on the march, Athens, general strike 13 February
Up to 50,000 workers took part in the rally in Athens and many more in 63 other towns all over the country despite very cold weather. The detailed plans of the government attacks on the social insurance system are not yet known – the Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, is expected to announce his government’s plans on 15 February – but even then he is expected to speak about the "general principles" of his pension reform and not the specific proposals. But workers know for sure that the government will launch a general attack against pensions and, in particular, will attack the new generation of young workers and workers in the private sector to start with, leaving the public employees and the workers in the heavy industrial sector, as well as mothers with young children in their late forties who have rights to early retirement, for the time being.
At least 2 million workers went on strike, on 13 February, and over 50,000 marched in Athens despite freezing cold.
After long delays in announcing its plans, the government is expected to ’fast-track’ its measures to get them voted by parliament in less than one month.
In recent months, the government has been in a very difficult position despite having been re-elected only last September.
At the same time as attacking pensions, the government is trying to get through the sell-off and possible closure of Olympic Airways, and the privatisation of the public electricity company and the ports in Piraeus and Salonika, which are still under public ownership.
There is a lot of anger and turbulence inside the working class, as a result of these policies, which has been magnified by the many corruption scandals in which the government is involved.
For the last two months, top government officials have been implicated in a very big scandal, as a result of which the general secretary of the ministry of the culture, a very close friend of prime minister Karamanlis and his family, attempted suicide, because of his involvement in a sex scandal and corruption involving many millions of euros. Workers listen on a daily basis to stories of ten of millions of euros exchanging hands at the same time as they suffer from rising inflation, rising unemployment and continual attacks against their living standards and their rights.
As a result of all the above, the government has in reality been semi-paralysed, having lost control of the situation. Soon after the last general strike (20 December) the minister of labour, responsible for the pensions bill, was sacked by the Prime Minister because he too was involved in a scandal. After the attempted suicide by the PM’s close friend, another member of parliament was forced to leave the governing party New Democracy (ND) because he too was involved in a scandal. The government has now a majority of only one MP and clashes between its top officials are very frequent.
As a result of this, all the recent polls show a big drop in support for the government. What is really astonishing, however, is the fact that the opposition party, the so-called ’socialist’ party PASOK, is losing support even faster than the ruling party! PASOK is actually in a bigger crisis than ND! What recent polls show is that the two bourgeois parties, together, have no more than 50% support of the electorate, where as two to three years ago they enjoyed about 80% support. As a result of the crisis of the two main parties, the left parties have made big gains. The communist party (KKE) and SYRIZA (a left reformist alliance of parties and groups), together, now have more than 20% electoral support. This is the first time in decades that these left parties have enjoyed such widespread support – in the early 1990s, both parties had around 7% combined. Between the two parties, SYRIZA is the party that which has made the biggest gains, as it is now around 10%, compared to 3% three years ago.
All this shows that a new period has opened with bigger opportunities for the left and for Marxist ideas in particular. These opportunities will continue in the next period.
A new general strike is expected to be called in the next few weeks by the trade unions, as the government will try to get its polices voted through parliament in less than a month’s time. Greek workers and youth will respond massively once again. At the same time, they will be looking for alternative political ideas to the policies that have been applied by both PASOK and ND over the past two decades. They will continue to move to the left, but suspicion to the leadership to the left parties is already present. Because of the betrayals of the past by the parties of the left in Greece, doubt exists in the minds of workers, particularly the younger generation.
In these circumstances Xekinima, the section of the CWI in Greece, will intervene, will try to push the class struggle as far as possible, push the trade union bureaucracy as far as possible, towards the adoption of more determined forms of struggle, and at the same time expand the influence and build the forces of Marxism in the Greek working class and youth.