Greece: 8th general strike against austerity cuts

Economic, social and political situation becoming explosive

This Wednesday’s twenty-four hour general strike in Greece, the eighth general strike since January 2010 protesting against the Pasok government’s austerity measures, was also one of the biggest. Small shop owners overwhelmingly joined the protests on 23 February, which saw Greek society paralysed. Public transport, docks, telecommunications and the electricity industry were amongst those sectors at a complete standstill.

A workers’ demonstration in Athens on the same day, attracted at least 100,000 people (according to Reuters) one of the largest since last May’s general strike. It was a lively and angry event. Rioting at the end, involving police and some anarchistic youth, was often the only aspect of the day’s magnificent display of workers’ power that the international media decided to report.

The Pasok government has carried out four waves of austerity attacks against the working class as the price of getting a huge financial bail-out agreed with the IMF and EU, last May. But the economic crisis continues and deepens. Gross Domestic Product fell by 6% in the last quarter of 2010.

Industrial upheaval and mass non-pay movement

Industrial action by public transport workers has continued for the last three months, since the Pasok government cut their wages and went through with a privatisation bill in parliament. The Pasok-dominated leadership of the public sector unions are coming under huge pressure from public sector rank and file workers who are furious at the attacks launched against them by the government.

This is taking place at the same time as a developing mass non-payment campaign, involving not only youth but also older workers, in opposition to a big rise in road tolls and public transport ticket costs. In response, the government passed a law introducing big fines and even imprisonment for non-payers. But the scale of the non payment movement means that, so far, the authorities have not been able to impose these sanctions.

Supporters of Xekinima (CWI in Greece) participated from the start in the non-payment campaign, calling for the movement to link up with organised workers in the public transport industry. About 70,000 leaflets have been produced by Xekinima on this issue, getting a good response from trade union activists and non-payment campaigners. Xekinima supporters are regularly interviewed on the media on the issue. The campaigning organisation, Green Attack, which was initiated by Xekinima supporters, also gets a lot of media attention. It links the fight for affordable, quality and integrated public transport with environmental issues.

Mass hunger strike

The Pasok government is also under pressure over a mass hunger strike by three hundred immigrant workers, who summarily were deprived by the authorities of their right to work and live in Greece (for more information, see previous articles on socialistworld.net). Pasok ministers try to play ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ in relation to the hunger strike. One minister said ("off the record") that she and the PM, George Papandreou, wanted to “find a solution” to the crisis, while the hard-line interior minister attacked the immigrants and their solidarity campaign and said there would be “no negotiations”.

The hunger strike has now passed thirty days and is beginning to reach a critical stage that could endanger the lives of many of the protesters. Supporters of Xekinima have been involved in the solidarity campaign since the immigrants took the desperate decision themselves to go on hunger strike, including helping to successfully internationalise the issue by organising appeals to workers’ organisations across the world.

An explosive situation

The mass hunger strike and the mass non-payment campaign, like the latest general strike, are all indicators of the deep sense of anger and alienation felt by millions of workers and youth in Greece facing austerity attacks and falling living standards. They see no way out on the basis of this system. The economic, social and political situation is becoming explosive.

Xekinima calls for a stepping up of mass action by the working class to resist Pasok’s austerity packages. The union leaders’ one day strikes every few months are not forcing back the savage attacks. They are only intended to let off steam and to “scare” the government to make a few concessions, which are not forthcoming.

A plan of decisive strike action is needed, included a 48 hour and longer general strikes, organised by mass committees of action from below, in workplaces, colleges and neighbourhoods. This can unite all sections of workers and young people, and the middle layers, like the small shop keepers, forcing the Pasok government to either retreat or fall.

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