Greece: A trial of strength

Greek unions announce 48-hour general strike ahead of parliament cuts vote

The Greek establishment was shocked by the general strike on 15 June combined with the continuation of the occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens and other major squares in other cities and the generalised demand of the Greek people to get rid of the government of “liars and thieves”, as they are widely called.

In the course of the day of the general strike, Prime Minister Giorgios Papandreou offered his resignation and to form a government of "national unity", only to later withdraw his resignation. Pasok, the governing party, is now trying to close ranks and to regain some stability. Re-shuffling government ministers is hoped to be enough to win a vote of confidence for Papandreou, on Tuesday, 21 June (debate starts on Sunday, 19 June, in the parliament). After an exodus of Pasok MPs – some stepping down, others leaving the party – the Pasok group in the parliament is now sticking together in fear of loosing more and more.

However, that is an extremely weak government. It has a majority of only 155 out of 300, but this is not all – its worse problem is that the Greek masses realise its weakness, they understand that it has been shaken and rally behind the slogan “get out”.

Assembly on Syntagma Square, 18 June

The government and the forces behind it – the "troika" of the EU, ECB (European Central Bank) and IMF, as well as Greek big business – are now threatened with days of intensified mass resistance to their savage cuts.

On Sunday, 19 June, demonstrations and the ongoing assembly in central Athens will peak again in Syntagma Square, in front of the parliament building. Since the start of the occupation of the square by the ‘Enraged’ on 25 May, Sundays are always used to show the strength of the movement and discuss in a huge assembly, of more than 5,000 people, what to do next.

On Monday, 20 June, GENOP, the union of electricy workers will start a 48 hour strike. This strike will be evaluated after two days and continued immediately, if needed. The company, DEI, is, so far, still mainly state owned (the state owns 51% of its shares) but is threatened with further privatisation in the course of the cutbacks now imposed by the troika and agreed by the Pasok government.

The council workers union (POE/OTA) is calling for strike action and occupations of the local governmental buildings and for assemblies to held, following the example of Syntagma Square. It is not clear however if this announcement will be followed by any real action.

48 hr general strike called by the Trade Union Confederations

Last Friday, 17 June, the Trade Union Confederations of the public and private sector met and called for a 48 hour general strike, two days before the vote on the ‘second memorandum’ – the new package of severe cutbacks – will be taken in Parliament. This is expected to take place on or around 28 June.

Under the pressure of the mass movement – the Enraged joining with workers on general strike, 15 June – the trade union leaders were forced to escalate the resistance. The example of the GENOP workers can trigger further action from below. After nine general strikes since the beginning of the crisis, which were only used to protest and let off steam, this is a significant change. Workers, unemployed and young people displayed a real battle determination, with the clear objective of stopping more cuts. The assemblies offered an opportunity to act more independently of the trade union leaders and to put immense pressure on them to act.

Role and power of Assemblies

In Athens, activists have tried to set up local assemblies in a number of neighbourhoods. Sometimes they are initially small and more a gathering of left activists. In some areas, 100 to 150 people meet locally on a public square and start to take action: trying to organise for the big demonstrations, and to offer local resistance against attacks on hospitals, putting forward demands how to protect the unemployed, etc. These local assemblies are still at an initial stage and their future development is not yet clear. It will depend on the general development of the movement and the class struggle.

The assembly on Syntagma Square is at the centre of this movement. Decisions taken there are landmarks for the movement and especially the local assemblies.

The speakers are chosen by lottery. Everyone who wants to speak is given a number and the numbers are drawn by random. After the discussion, votes are taken on the proposals.

Some issues have been agreed over the last three weeks. For example, it is now more or less agreed that the sovereign debt should not be paid. After a lot of understandable scepticism in relation to the trade union leaders, a clear majority now welcomes and aims to forge strong links between their movement of the Enraged and workers in struggle. The question of the nationalisation of the banks is an ongoing debate and a majority is in favour of it, but without complete agreement about what to do next.

Other issues are under debate. Last Wednesday, the question whether to leave the EU and euro-zone was put to a vote and a majority supported it, but without a clear alternative. While the supporters of the KKE (Communist Party – who do not attend the assembly, describing it as “petty bourgeois”) argued on the demonstration that Greece can solve its problems better if it is just left alone, others argued taking into account the Greek economy in the context of the global economy.

As long as the question is just posed as a ‘choice’ between the euro, dominated by the strong imperialist powers in Europe, and a return to the drachma on a capitalist basis – still dominated by the big capitalist economies – it is a hard choice between two evils.

Xekinima (the CWI in Greece), argues for a European-wide, workers and youth resistance against the capitalist EU and all its institutions, opening the way for socialist co-operation, on all levels, as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of workers’ states of Europe.

Other issues debated concern the role of political parties, how to get rid of the Pasok government, and with what to replace it – where only a very few answers are provided.

If these assemblies spread locally and especially to the workplaces and the Syntagma assemblies bring together delegates from all these assemblies the embryo of a future alternative can be created: the basis for a government working in the interests of workers, unemployed, the poor and young people.

For the moment, the assemblies offer a chance to organise the resistance against the attacks, to be a check on the trade union leaders and to actively involve more people to stop the agenda of the Greek and international capitalists.

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June 2011