Greece: Society paralysed by a week of major strikes and general strike

Third wave of PASOK government austerity attacks provokes outrage

[see also video footage on CNN’s website]

Wednesday 15 December saw one of the biggest general strikes in Greece in recent years. Nothing moved in the country, apart from public transport in Athens to bring workers to the center of the city to demonstrate against the third wave of austerity attacks agreed between the PASOK Greek government, the EU and the IMF.

The strike was 100% solid in the docks, shipyards and steel works, Coca Cola company and many other sectors, while it was close to 90% in the energy sector, Telecoms, the post, the water company, the banking sector etc. The rail system (not the Athens Metro) came to a complete standstill while all flights were cancelled and no ferries left the ports. The number of sectors which responded to the strike call is too long to list. Suffice to say, even judges went on strike and campaigned for it among other workers in the judiciary system. Taxi drivers went on strike, even private dentists and chemists. Despite a very rainy day and cold weather, close to 100,000 demonstrated in Athens and tens of thousands protested in other cities.

A week of many strikes

The general strike comes in the midst of a serious upsurge in class struggles, which culminated this week. This led to a near paralysis of Greek society. Public transport workers have been on strike most days this week. Rail workers have taken over the central administration of the Rails Authority and the PASOK faction in the railworkers’ union, (which has the majority and controls the union) stated that it no logner wants to have anything to do with the PASOK government policies and those who apply it – implying some kind of split beginning to develop inside the PASOK unions, although this is still far from certain.

There are a number of strikes in the banking sector. The doctors of the social security system are on strike for the whole of this week. There are big piles of rubbish piling up in Athens as a result of the strike of the refuse collectors.

There is ferment in the education sector, with universities under occupation. A national meeting of the heads of the universities opposed proposals concerning ‘education reform’ announced by the education minister. At the same time, meetings between lecturers and left wing students have taken place, for the first time ever, with the aim of co-ordinated struggles of the whole education sector.

The mass media are in turmoil, with the most important strike movement for 30 years in this sector taking place. Apart from the general strike on Wednsday 15 December, journalists and other workers in the mass media will strike on Friday and Saturday. This will hit the “golden goose” of the big media owners – the Sunday papers.

Third wave of austerity attacks

Provoking the industrial action upsurge is the third wave of attack by the government and the EU and IMF since last May, when the memorandum between the ‘Triad’ was signed. The massive reduction of the living standandards of Greek workers, by 20% to 30 %, over the past months, and the extension of this attack to the private sector (attacks having begun with the public sector) is now followed by the destruction of collective bargaining and the speeding up of privatisations of all that is not privatised in the public utility sector (accompanied with new attacks against workers’ wages in this sector).

The, in effect, abolishing of collective bargaining, hits every worker in Greece and in all sectors. Collective agreements signed either by unions of particular trades or by the national confederations (the Greek TUCs) – therefore all the unions in the country – will no longer be binding on bosses. The employers will be free to employ workers on personal contracts.

Huge anger

Anger over these new attacks is enormous. People in the streets interviewed on national state TV speak in the strongest condemnatory terms about the “300 liars and thieves” (i.e. the 300 members of the Greek parliament). Presumably it is impossible to find willing to speak favourably for the political establishment!

The high ranking officers of the PASOK government and the PASOK party leadership are no more free to walk in the streets of the main cities, or go to traditional local tavernas in their parliamentary constituencies. They are not only shouted at and spat at, but even physically attacked by passers by who recognise them. On Wednesday, one of the leaders of the right wing opposition party, New Democracy (ND), who served in the previous government (the ND was in government from 2004 to 2009 followed by PASOK the government) who made the mistake of leaving the parliament building and walking to an expensive restaurant, was beaten up by workers, who shouted, “Thieves, shame on you!”. The New Democracy MP only narrowly escaped severe injuries when a number of cool headed demonstrators “protected” him from the rage of others, realising that the attack on the MP could harm the movement.

Huge potential blocked by leadership

The potential for a huge mass movement which can stop the PASOK government’s policies and get rid of the government of Prime Minister Giorgos Papandreou is understood by all, but there is no leadership to take the struggles forward.

The general strikes called by the national trade union leaders are of a symbolic character and are not really aimed at halting PASOK policies. They are only intended to let off steam and to “scare” the government to make a few concessions.

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December 2010