Greece: Millions take part in general strike against proposed austerity package

Step up the action – link up all sections of workers and youth!

Greece’s 24 February general strike was comprehensive, covering the whole of the public and private sectors of the economy. It was the second general strike in two weeks, preceded by a general strike of the public sector workers on 10 February, also characterized by massive participation and big rallies. The general strike, last Wednesday, involved around two and a half million workers and paralysed society, particularly the main cities, Athens and Salonica, where nothing moved. Transport, shipping, public services and the service sector where all effected. There were no flights in or out of the country. There was no media on 24 February or newspapers on 25 February due to strike action by journalists and other workers in the industry.

Greece currently has a spiraling public deficit of 12.7%, more than four times higher than euro-zone rules allow. The PASOK government has pledged to cut this to 8.7% this year, and also reduce the 300bn-euro national debt, by cutting public sector salaries by an average of 5%, raising retirement age to 67 (and the average retirement age to 63) by 2015, cutting pensions (even the lowest ones of around 500 euros per month) and massively increasing taxes on consumer goods thus cutting further the real standard of living of the workers and the poor.

Public sector strike in January 2010

Around 50,000 workers joined union demonstrations in Athens, with over 40,000 or so making up the main union federation protest and up to 10,000 joining the communist party-led union federation protest.

Overall, the 24 February general strike was a tremendous display of the power of organised workers. It shows that it is the working class can bring society to a complete halt. It should be the basis on which to build and develop the mass resistance, which with a bold, socialist leadership at the head of the workers’ movement could see social attacks stopped in their tracks.

But in the absence of such a leadership, the current mood and outlook of many workers and youth, including those on the protests, is contradictory.

Workers’ frustration

There is widespread anger at the deep economic crisis that is not the fault of workers but for which they are being asked to pay the price, with enormous social cuts planned by the PASOK government and insisted upon by the EU leaders. There is growing anger at the EU powers’ response to the Greek crisis.

However, there is also a feeling of frustration and even despair amongst sections of the working class. Many workers on 24 February remarked how they felt they were being asked to strike almost for the sake of it and they were expressing serious doubt if they can really win this battle.

The union leaders declare that “workers must not pay!” for the crisis but they do not explain who should pay and how. They make no proposals for a plan of further action and go on to say that they accept that some “sacrifice” has to be made by the working class. Some PASOK-led union federations have called for meetings to discuss new actions and mobilizations, but no concrete proposals have been made – as yet, at least. So, many workers naturally ask what is the purpose of such calls by the unions? Will it do any more than allow workers to vent their anger, once more, without really developing and spreading the mass struggle? Is it to enable the PASOK government to put more pressure on the EU powers to give them financial "aid” and more breathing space? In this context we should take note of the official statement of the leader of GSEE (the General Confederation of the Union of Greek Workers) who stressed that the general strike was not directed against the Greek government (!) and that he had confidence in the government in its attempt to combat the pressure of the markets, the speculators and the EU!

Growing mood against EU bosses

The PASOK social democratic government attacks the previous rightwing New Democracy government for hiding the true huge scale of the debt crisis. Yet, it was the PASOK government of Prime Minister Simitis, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, which fiddled the figures to get Greece into the euro zone, but they pretend to have forgotten that. Everybody knows this is the case, including the EU bosses, but they decided to ignore this dubious accounting when it was taking place. After all, all the euro zone countries fiddled the figures, including France and Germany, to fit the “euro – criteria”. Now, they talk about “Greek Statistics”… Didn’t they know? Why didn’t they find out earlier?

PASOK leaders, who are tied to the profit system, also opportunistically attack the international speculators, the global markets and now the major EU states, in particularly Germany, for failing to bail out Greece and for insisting on draconian social attacks.

There is a growing mood against the EU bosses’ club amongst Greek workers and youth

Dangers of nationalism and the far right

There is a growing mood against the EU bosses’ club amongst Greek workers and youth, alongside strong anti-imperialist sentiments. This is an important positive development, as there were illusions in the EU and the euro until very recently, but there are also dangers entailed. The main danger is the development of nationalism. The government exploits this “nationalism”, to try to cover up for its cuts package and also to provide scapegoats for the crisis. The Deputy Prime Minister, Theodoros Pangalos, told the BBC that “Germany should not criticize Athens because it had wrecked the Greek economy and slaughtered hundreds of thousands during the Nazi occupation. They took away the gold that was in the Bank of Greece, they took away Greek money, and they never gave it back. This is an issue that has to be faced sometime in the future".

The opposition to the EU can acquire anti-imperialist characteristics but it can also be utilized by the nationalists and racists, particularly given the “deficit” on the part of the parties of the left, which are not able to provide a fully worked-out solution to the crisis, from a class point of view.

There are signs that the populist, anti-immigrant right and fascists are attempting to exploit the mood of anger and despair amongst sections of the Greek population, brought on by the deep economic crisis and cuts plans. Well-groomed far right wingers have been seen on the national train lines, gathering signatures from passengers for a petition calling for a national ‘plebiscite’ on the ‘question of immigrants in Greece’.

Xekinima calls for working class internationalism, linking up the fight of Greek workers with workers across the rest of Europe, like the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Irish workers, who are faced with similar attacks. Xekinima explains the need to fight against the EU of the capitalists and for a workers’ Europe – a socialist united Europe. European unions and left parties must lead mass action against the cuts and against divisive nationalism. The left parties across Europe should name a day for an all-European workers’ and youth demonstration and other possible actions, involving as wide layers as possible, as a way to build for more action, including all-European co-ordinated strikes. Xekinima calls for working class internationalism, linking up the fight of Greek workers with workers across the rest of Europe, like the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Irish workers, who are faced with similar attacks. Xekinima explains the need to fight against the EU of the capitalists and for a workers’ Europe – a socialist united Europe.

Sooner or later … PASOK will face fury of workers and youth

The EU capitalist leaders have taken a hard-line with Greece, demanding drastic cuts over the next 3 years. This is partly intended as a warning to other crisis-ridden euro-zone states, like Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, not to expect EU bailouts and to apply brutal cuts against their populations. This allows the PASOK government some scope to present itself as a victim of big powers.

Public sector strike in January 2010

Such is the depth of the Greek crisis and growing tensions with EU powers, ‘senior’ Greek capitalists are raising the previously ‘unthinkable’ prospect of Greece leaving the euro-zone. One representative of a multi-national company, Andreas Vgenopoulos, of the Marfin International Group, which owns Olympic Airlines and major shipping, banks, private hospitals, telecom and mobile phone interests, stated publicly that “we should be open to the idea of leaving the euro for a while”.

Although still riding quite high in opinion polls, PASOK will face the fury of the Greek working class as its cuts policies come into effect. Despite PASOK venting its anger towards the EU and global market speculators, the government has already passed legislative bills to allow the carrying out of enormous cuts (the hugely controversial pension plus a new taxation bill are yet to be decided upon but the savage plans are quite openly discussed in the daily press). The PASOK government is under huge pressure from international markets to carry out cuts, with its ministers stating they will have to “apply necessary policies” at the same time as complaining “against the role of the markets”. In the Greek parliament, the opposition capitalist party, New Democracy, has gone along with the cuts bills, raising only secondary differences.

Tasks for the left

Only the left MPs from the communist party and SYRIZA (coalition of the radical left), opposed the cuts packages but failed to put forward any concrete comprehensive alternative.

Supporters of Xekinima (CWI Greece) campaigned for and participated in the 24 February general strike and workers’ demonstrations, distributing thousands of leaflets and selling papers calling for the movement to be developed against the policies of the PASOK government and dictates of the EU bosses’ club.

Xekinima calls for the need to strike back, with a plan of industrial action, over the next few weeks, including a 48-hour general strike of all public and private workers and students, around the middle of March, to be followed by more general strikes if the government and the EU insist on their plans. Plans for these actions must based on rank and file action committees and be coordinated and developed at local, regional and national levels.

We also campaign for a ‘united front’ of the left, fundamentally the communist party and SYRIZA, but also other left groups outside SYRIZA, to form a powerful resistance to social attacks. The building of a mass, internationalist, revolutionary left in Greece can be the basis for a workers’ government with bold socialist policies, to end the crisis and to transform the living standards of working people and youth.

Xekinima supporters in SYRIZA (Xekinima is one of the 11 organizations that make up SYRIZA) argue that the party must become concrete in its demands and strongly campaign for (among other things):

  • Nationalization of the banks
  • Make the rich pay, impose heavy taxation on profits and stock exchange transactions
  • Make the bosses pay back the (well over)100 billion euros stolen workers’ pension funds in the past decades, which is the root cause of the present crisis of the pension funds
  • Nationalize all privatised public utility companies and the main planks of the economy
  • Apply democratic workers’ control and management across the economy, which includes the only way to fight corruption, tax evasion by the bosses and non payment of insurance fund obligations
  • Stop payment of the debt (300 billion euros now, projected to 350 billion euros in next few years) to the international bankers and speculators. Use the money to safeguard the income of the working class, to increase the wages of low paid workers, to save jobs, and to develop the economy through major investments in productive industry and agriculture in housing, health and education

These demands have a clear revolutionary dynamic. More and more workers and youth are becoming open to these ideas, as they understand that the capitalist system is in a blind alley. The need to built a mass internationalist revolutionary left in Greece is an absolute must, it is the only way forward for the workers and the youth in Greece but also in Europe, to get rid of capitalist barbarism and lay the basis for a Socialist United Europe.

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