Greece: An autumn revival of the class struggle beckons

PASOK government pushes ahead with draconian privatisations

Following a summer of relative industrial quiet, after the last general strike at the end of June, Greece is gearing up for a revival in class struggles over the coming months. In particular, disputes are likely to hit public sectors – rail, city transport, electricity and water – that are faced with the PASOK government’s draconian privatisation plans.

The private sector is also severely hit, with mass sackings in many industries, closures of a huge number of small shops in the cities and attacks against groups like lorry drivers and taxi drivers in the name of the “deregulation” of the various trades.

George Papandreou, Pasok Prime Minister

The rail workers’ fight

The attacks on the rail industry, due to be announced in parliament in the first week of October, are monumental: the loss of up to 50% of jobs, and a further loss of 20% wage cut (apart from the previous months’ cuts for all public employees) for those ‘lucky’ to left in work and, staggeringly, the closure of half of the rail lines. To justify this policy, the government uses its usual disgusting slanders, accusing workers of earning huge wages. The truth is that a rail worker, after 26 years of employment and with two kids, will take home a total of 1300€ a month. A minority of workers, like the drivers who very frequently have to work up to 60 hrs a week because the rail authority refuses to employ the necessary numbers (at the same time as doing all night shifts and having to work on Sundays, Christmas Day and Easter Sunday), may get up to 2,500 € a month. The government uses this to distort the picture.

The rail workers’ union has called for daily stoppages of different sectors of the rail system – which usually amount to 24 hour strikes of the whole rail system – in protest and has also decided to go on indefinite strike for as many days as the bill will be discussed in parliament.

But so much more decisive action could be taken by the unions. The rail workers’ action is not linked to a clear call for support from the main union federations and most importantly, the General Confederation of Unions (GSEE – the Greek TUC) is not calling for solidarity action.

Yet the struggle of the rail workers, alongside that of the city transport, telecom, electricity and other sectors, could act as the lightening conductor for wider, generalised mass struggles against the PASOK government’s severe austerity measures.

Six general strikes

Millions of striking workers brought Greece to a standstill during six general strikes, over just a few months, with the last taking place on 29 June. This mass action was in response to the government’s decision, at the prodding of the IMF and the European Central Bank, to make the working class pay for the country’s deep economic crisis: with pension cuts, a rise in the retirement age, new legislation that allows bosses to sack workers more easily, huge cuts to public sector wages, tax rises and an increase in VAT from 19 to 23%.

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

Growing divisions in Syriza

The divisions inside Syriza are growing, with an open split on the electoral field. One faction, that is based fundamentally on the Maoist KOE and the “state capitalist” DEA (a pro-“Trotskyist” grouping that split from the Greek section of the IST – British SWP), supports Alavanos, the previous president of SYN and Syriza in the forthcoming local elections in Attica, which includes Athens. Another faction, basically the leadership of SYN, but against the will of large layers of the party rank and file, and against nearly everybody else on the central secretariat of Syriza, decided to support one of the Pasok “rebels” (due to the policies of the government some individuals have distanced themselves from the party) Mitropoulos. Both sides ignored the proposals made by the (absolute) majority of the central secretariat of Syriza for alternative candidates from within Syriza, who could fight under the banner of Syriza and come forward with a more left wing programme, as an answer to the crisis and the attacks.

These developments do not represent a split on a left/right political basis inside Syriza. The SYN leadership is pursuing opportunist electoral tactics, adopting, in essence, the role of ‘advisors’ to PASOK. The supporters of Alavanos fail to give any kind of left alternative and, as a result, the clash takes an entirely personal character, between Alavanos (the ex president) and Tsipras (the present president) which is nauseating to the majority of rank and file members and makes workers turn their back on Syriza.

Xekinima’s stand in the local elections

Supporters of Xekinima inside Syriza argued against both of the above candidatures and called for strong socialist contestants. Xekinima acted together with other groups and independents (left individuals in the leadership of Syriza not belonging to any of the political groups) making up the majority in the central secretariat. The majority was ignored by the two contesting “gladiators” inside Syriza, causing huge damage and exposing (not to say ridiculing) Syriza in the eyes of wider Greek society.

As a result, Xekinima decided not to stand candidates with Syriza lists (most of them being split or a result of rotten deals between the Maoists and the SYN leadership) in the coming local government elections, but to campaign, in general, for the parties of the Left. That is, give critical support not only to Syriza, but also to the KKE (CP) and, in some cases, to candidates of the far left, with the main aim of weakening PASOK, New Democracy, the right wing parliamentary opposition, and the far right LAOS.

The mass parties of the left in a mess

Overall, Syriza is trailing very badly in the polls, sitting at just 2-2.5%, compared to “abstention” or “blank” at around 30%! But there is no real growth in the support of the KKE either – it remains stagnant at around 8%! In the midst of the most severe crisis of capitalism, the left parties fail to grow! The main responsibility for this lies with the leaders of the Left parties, who have failed to present a socialist programme to meet the urgent needs of the working class.

Thus, despite its huge attacks against working people, the governing PASOK party remains topping the polls! This is partly due to the disarray of New Democracy but mainly because of the Left’s incapacity to mount a strong socialist opposition.

The Greek GSEE (General Confederation of Workers in Greece) does not provide a strategy to defeat the government either. It is not calling out workers on 29 September, during the European TUC’s day of action. Instead, the GSEE calls only for a demonstration in Athens on 29 September. Worst of all, the president of GSEE, Panagopoulos, speaking to Reuter’s press agency on 22 September, stated that Greek workers held many strikes but could not force the government to retreat, so there was no point in calling for more strike action.

Federations and sectors on the move

Despite the attitude of the leadership of GSEE, a number of important unions are calling for strike action today, 29 September. This includes the Rail Workers’ Union, the Telecom Workers’ Union, the National Union of Doctors’ in Public Hospitals, as well as some other layers of workers like temporary contract workers sacked from Olympic Airways, the Athens Metro, etc.

Beyond 29 September, it is possible that despite the desires of the ridiculous and hated (by the politically advanced workers) Panagopoulos, it is possible that the GSEE may call another or even two more 24 hour general strikes, in October and November, due to the pressure from below.

In the context of the militant traditions of the Greek working class and the recent six general strikes, this call by the GSEE is nowhere near enough to stop the government onslaught against jobs, services and pensions. Most workers are sceptical about the GSEE’s proposals and openly express that they feel they are just an attempt to let off steam.

What we may see however in the autumn is the entry into the struggle of different sections and union federations, coming out in determined action against the attacks, struggling to save their jobs and against the slaughter of their rights. The dimensions that these will take cannot be foretold. But it is certain that we will see a number of important struggles in the coming months.

Workers’ mood for decisive action

There is a mood for decisive action amongst workers and many youth. Militant action by rail and telecom workers and other sectors facing privatisations could easily become the catalyst for generalised mass struggles, if it was not for the role of a break applied by the leadership of the GSEE. This is particularly the case as the Greek economy is facing deepening recession and renewed crisis.

The CWI in Greece (Xekinima) demands, “Don’t pay the debt!”, “Nationalise the banks!” and “Tax the rich!” The capitalist system in Greece has failed spectacularly and working people should not pay the price for that failure. Apart from the banking sector, other key industries and utility companies should be taken into public ownership, nationalised under democratic workers’ control and management. On this basis, massive investment by the public sector into the economy, in public works, education, health and the productive sectors of the economy, which are collapsing as private capital has flowed to the Balkans to take advantage of cheaper labour, is the only way forward. A socialist plan of production would utilise the country’s economy and resources for the benefit of all.

Xekinima argues that 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 in contrast to 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, as class struggle again is reaching a decisive turning point.

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September 2010