Greece: Government pension attacks provoke strike wave of historical proportions!

Left support grows

Yesterday, Wednesday 19 March, Greece experienced one of the greatest general strikes in its history. It is impossible to give accurate figures, because of a 48-hour strike by the journalists (extending the general strike by another 24hr strike) as a result of which there are no papers, or electronic press, today. However, up to 3 million workers probably took part in the strike and up to 200,000 workers took part in a big demonstration in Athens, according to the estimates of some trade unionists. Today, Thursday 20 March, a legislative bill attacking pensions will be voted on in the Greek national parliament. There is another mass rally called for this afternoon, outside parliament, to protest against these attacks. Strikes called by various trade union federations, will continue for today and some will go on to tomorrow.

3 weeks of paralyzing strikes

It was not just the general strike – the third since December 2007 – against the “social insurance bill”, which was of massive, historical proportions. For the last three weeks, one sector of workers after another went out on strike to defend their pension rights. The dockers were amongst the first. Violent clashes between dockers and the police ‘special forces’ took place in the big ports of Pireas and Salonica, over the past few weeks. Dustbin workers came out all over Greece. Thousands of tons of rubbish cover every major city, particularly Athens, Salonica and Pireas. The right wing New Democracy (ND) government tried to create a strike-breaking mechanism but had only limited success.

The Electricity Company workers have been on strike, for the last 3 weeks. There have been daily power cuts all over the country. The government started a nauseating campaign, of hypocrisy and slander, against the electricity workers, trying to present the workers in the industry as uncaring about the old, sick and all “who suffer and might even die, because of the winter cold”. The government also spoke about small shopkeepers who might suffer damages etc due to the electricity workers’ strike. But the government propaganda was not able to turn public opinion against the strikers: 85% of Greek people are opposed to the government plans and want the pension bill to be scrapped.

Buses, metro and tram have been out on a number of 24hr strikes, and workers in the mass media (apart from journalists) have been out for the same time.

Judges in the service of bosses

The management of the Electricity Company took the workers’ union federation to court, demanding that the strike be stopped. The judges did the management a favor by deciding not only that the strike should be stopped but also that there should not be another strike call by the federation in the future with the same demands (i.e. against cuts in pensions). This is democracy in the 21st century! The strike did not end, however, because the local unions decided to take responsibility for continuing the strike.

The decision of the judges against the electricity company workers’ federation encouraged other sections of the bosses to take legal action against striking workers. They faced a problem, however, in following this course of action: advocates and lawyers went on strike, for one whole week, from Monday 17 March to 20 March, 2008. The courts ceased to function!

Unparalleled industrial action for 15 years

The last two weeks have written another golden page in the history of the Greek working class; Absolute determination, absolute hatred against this government of New Democracy. In fact, the events of the last few weeks have been unparalleled for the last 15 years, i.e. since the massive social explosion against the ND government in Greece, immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Developments on the political front are also very important also. SYRIZA, a new left political formation, which received 5% in the last general election, in September 2007, shot up to over 15% in the last opinion polls.

The fundamental reasons for this is the lack of any alterative policies from the main opposition party, (so-called ‘socialist’) PASOK, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fact that SYRIZA is taking steps to the left, and comes close to the demands and struggles of workers and youth.

The ruling class is worried that the two-party system, which previously secured its interests, is in real danger. Based on the polls over the last couples of months, it would be impossible to have a majority government. PASOK used this fact to call on SYRIZA to ‘work together’ for a ‘common’ government but SYRIZA refused (SYRIZA is an amalgam of various left groups and parties, the biggest one of which is Synaspismos – a party that reached 3% in polls previously).

The Greek section of the CWI, Xekinima, closely collaborates with SYRIZA and called for a vote for SYRIZA, during the last elections. Since last Autumn, Xekinima has discussed working closer with SYRIZA.

A crisis on all levels

To sum up, Greece is faced with a crisis on all levels: economic, social and political.

There is a determined mood amongst workers and youth. They clearly want to continue the strikes and struggles, even if the bill is voted in today. This is indeed unusual, if not quite rare: there is widespread desire to continue the strikes, even after the pensions’ bill becomes law, and as many activists are saying: “Continue until we bring them [meaning the government] down!”

Once again, however, the main obstacle facing the determined mood of the working class is the trade union leadership, who are not willing to go as far.

Rotten capitalism – need for socialist programme

The big industrial movements are a reflection of the rottenness of the capitalist system – in Greece and internationally. The logic of the profit system is endless attacks against the living standards and the past conquests of the working class. Only a socialist programme can provide a way forward to workers and youth. SYRIZA raises the sights of many Greek workers and youth, who hope that SYRIZA may provide an alternative. Of course, workers are, at the same time, suspicious, because they have been repeatedly betrayed in the past by ‘left’ parties. SYRIZA does not have a fully worked-out socialist programme, despite its frequent references to socialism. That is one of the central issues that need to be debated inside SYRIZA. Unless SYRIZA adopts a clear, fighting socialist programme, and call for the overthrow of the capitalist system and the building of socialist society, it will also eventually create disillusionment and betray the aspirations of the working class for an alternative society.

The Greek CWI (Xekinima) participates in local meetings called by SYRIZA, takes part as an observer in local committee meetings of SYRIZA, and was invited to speak at the national meeting of SYRIZA, last weekend. On all these occasions, Xekinima raises the need for an effective struggle against the neo-liberal attacks and the need for a socialist programme.

cwi in Greece

Xekinima website

more articles on Greece

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March 2008