Greece: Fifth general strike against savage austerity measures

Workers warn Pasok government and IMF – “We will be back in September!”

Millions of striking workers brought Greece to a standstill on 29 June, as the national parliament prepared to debate legislation on ‘reforms’ to the country’s pension system and labour laws. This will see pension cuts and a rise in the retirement age and will allow bosses to sack workers easier. This follows big cuts in public sector wages, tax rises and an increase in VAT from 19 to 23%. The Pasok government is also planning privatisation of public utilities.

Greek workers are fighting back, with this week seeing the fifth general strike over the last few months. Andreas Payiatsos, Xekinima (CWI Greece), spoke to

“The general strike was solid. All private and public trade union confederations called the action, as well as the confederation of small businesses (who even produced posters for the strike and campaigned for it). The whole of Greece was paralysed on this fifth general strike, since the beginning of the year, against the government’s austerity cuts.

“Around 20,000 were on the main Athens union demonstration, with another 10,000 on the communist party linked unions’ demonstration (who always, scandalously, march separately from the rest of the working class). This was an important display of workers’ anger but smaller than the protest demonstrations last May when the demo in Athens was well over 200.000.

“Xekinima (CWI Greece) supporters had their own contingent of the demo, sold papers and handed out thousands of leaflets, summarizing the stage of the current mass resistance and putting forward the steps. We call for: no payment of the debt; opposition to the dictates of the IMF, European Central Bank and Pasok government; nationalization of the banks and the main industries, under workers’ control and management and for workers to join the struggle to build a socialist society.

Xekinima (CWI in Greece)

“Important strikes in various sectors are taking place almost continuously throughout Greece. Nearly everyday there are strikes and protests in Athens and other cities. Hospital workers, teachers, journalists, dock workers, bus, metro and rail workers, the workers in the Electrical Company, post office workers, local council workers, small shopkeepers, pensioners, even sections of the army, have all mobilized in the past few weeks.

“Workers are extremely angry at the Pasok governments’ attacks. They feel it is necessary to take strike action now even if there is no real prospect that the attacks will immediately stop. Many workers say, ‘We will be back in September!’ indicating that they feel that this phase of the struggle is not winnable, but that they see the autumn as the start of a new wave of a huge resistance to the austerity plans.

“Youth have still not yet decisively entered the stage of struggle, partly because of exhaustion and even a certain disillusionment following waves of youth and student struggles over the last 2-3 years which did not lead to victories. Currently, many students are engrossed with exams. But the whole education sector – which is volatile and with militant traditions – could come out in the autumn.

Anger over privatisations

“The union leaders use militant phraseology to attack the government, the IMF and the European Central Bank. But they do no go any further. In some cases, union leaders act to stop radical workers’ action spreading. A recent sit-in-strike by hospital workers quickly spread from one hospital to about 30 hospitals, with Xekinima (CWI Greece) members playing an important role in its initiation. But the action was sabotaged by pro-Pasok union leaders.

“Anger amongst workers facing privatization is enormous. Electricity workers recently occupied their bosses’ offices for 48 hours and 3,000 marched on parliament, protesting against the sale of their industry. The president of the electricity workers’ union has stated publicly that if the government wants to get its plans through it will have to be prepared to arrest and put in jail every member of the his union’s leadership. This, it should be noted, is a pro-Pasok leadership, and although there is always distance between words and deeds, it is a reflection of a more general mood.

“The left has an opportunity to build its influence during these months of mass workers action. But Syriza, the left coalition, in which Xekinima (CWI Greece) participates, is not putting forward a clear socialist position, even following the recent defection of right wing forces from the coalition’s biggest affiliate, Synaspismos. Xekinima supporters argue for more concrete policies to be put forward by Syriza, including calling for debt cancellation.

“The left – Syriza, the communist party (KKE) and other far left forces which have a significant presence in Greece – have the opportunity to carry out ‘united front’ work against the traditional sectarianism and separatism of the Greek left, and to develop socialist policies as an alternative to the government’s drastic attacks. They have a duty to act now, during these hot summer months, and in preparation for the probably even hotter – in class terms – autumn months”.

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July 2010