CWI Summer School: Greece in turmoil

Lessons of the Movement of the ’Enraged’

CWI supporters from over 30 countries were attending a CWI Summer School in Belgium. As well as comrades from across western and eastern Europe and Russia, visitors are attending from North and Latin America, Nigeria, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Middle East.

Below, is a summary of a plenary discussion on Greece.

The boiling anger of the working class and youth towards the establishment means that the political elite can no longer be seen on the streets of Greece without being surrounded by enraged protesters.

One example of this anger was when Greek PM’s and various European colleagues were being wined and dined in an exclusive restaurant on the island of Corfu. Word quickly spread about their presenece and within minutes a protest of hundreds of people outside resulted in them having to be airlifted out by helicopter by security.

Andros, the General Secretary of Xekhinima (CWI in Greece), provided an inspiring account of the explosive movements that have engulfed Greece over the last year in response to the growing economic crisis and the consequences of the EU/IMF bailout for the working class and youth.

Andros explained that the reason for this bailout had nothing to do with protecting the interests of the Greek people, rather it is a bail-out the bankers. None of the money will go to support the Greek workers and youth instead it will go straight into the pockets of the banks. The government and the European capitalists’ only interests lie in minimising the losses of European banks and to attempt to protect the future of the Euro.

Incredibly, even with the bailout and the sacrifices that the Greek people are expected to make, it will do nothing to improve prospects for the economy or indeed the Euro. The first ’memorandum’ was signed in May 2010 and predicted that the national sovereign debt would rise to 147% of GDP by end of 2013 and then decline to 120% by the end of 2020. Therefore after 10 years of an avalanche of attacks, the Greek sovereign debt would be 120% of GDP. This was the optimistic perspective – the reality is that after just one year after the first bailout, it is 160% and is heading towards 198% by 2015, which is why they needed the second bailout.

This new bailout that is being celebrated by the EU ruling class will do nothing for the Greek masses. The attacks already begun as a result of the last bail out will continue – but instead of the Greek people being under the heel for 10 years, this will be extend, and expanded to 30 years!

Even before these austerity measures began the conditions of working class people was already very difficult. The minimum wage was a miserly €670 a month, 65% of pensioners received less than €600 per month.

Under the terms of the new bail out, wages will be slashed by 50%, pensions will fall to €500 per month, the minimum wage will fall to €520 per month and unemployment will continue to be a fact of life for 17-25% of the population. The government have also have signed up to the widespread selling off of public companies but for 30% less than their value.

The Greek ruling class, in an attempt to cut across the growing movement of the working class, have also begun to attack basic trade union rights, like the right to take collective action and already there has been wide spread sacking of union activists.

But you cannot keep people under the boot for very long without people resorting to basic human survival instincts of ’fight or flight’. As we have seen, millions of Greek working class and youth have taken to the streets and the squares to protest against the devastating impact that the cuts are having on their lives.

During June, 29% of the population participated in two general strikes and mass mobilisations, inspired by the North African and Middle East revolutions, in central Athens, and other squares around Greece.

There has been a mass non-payment campaign against highway tolls, transport fares and the new ‘entry fee’ to hospitals, which involved two million people. The people of Karate, a small city, have been in revolt for four months over the attempts to build a waste disposal land fill site in the area, and won a partial victory. We saw the struggle of the bus workers who were on strike for 3 months, the occupations of the Athens city hall by contract workers and a hunger strike of 300 immigrants.

Of course, these movements are not being met without resistance, on the contrary, they have been met with sometimes very brutal repression. Andros described how on the 29 June, the government decided to ‘clean the square’, and how the police used a policy of “unleashing terror” on demonstrators outside the parliament. But the response at end of day was the mobilisation of the biggest assembly ever with 10,000 people.

However, there are police that are supportive of the movement. Andros described how, on the same day, as the government ordered the ‘cleaning of the squares’, a police officer in the front line of riot police at the parliament buildings, threw down his shield and baton and said “I refuse to attack the people!” He was severely beaten by his own colleagues. He was forced to stand back in line, tearful. This was not an isolated incident.

Movement of the ’enraged’

The movement of the ’Enraged’ – of youth and others occupying city and squares – is very much a movement from below. The CWI participated in the protests from their initial stages. The movement has a very contradictory character. It can be anti-political, anti-party and very ’patriotic’, but can also attract the masses. Xekhinima comrades aimed to influence the movement with class and socialist ideas and not leave it in hands of nationalists. However, CWI supporters did not just intervene into the squares, but also went out into neighbourhoods, encouraging people to come to the square.

When taking part in discussions in the squares, CWI supporters were very skilful and concise with their ideas, programme and demands to move the struggle forward – not an easy task when you have just 90 seconds to speak!

In the first stage, CWI members argued to link the movements in the squares with the workers and the strike movement – and this required a debate – but this case was won. The comrades campaigned on the question of the debt and for the nationalisation of the banks, by the end of a month of intervening and discussing, the assemblies agreed to the following demands, which are very close to Greek CWI policies:

  • Down with the new (so-called ’intermediate’) Memorandum (imposed in order for the Troika to release the 5th instalment of the initial bailout)
  • Down with the government
  • Link with the working class – invite striking workers to the Square, expand the assemblies to the work places and the workers’ neighbourhoods
  • Refuse to pay the sovereign debt
  • Nationalise the banks
  • Put the economy under control of the people with social ownership and control.

Andros described how one aspect of our programme, the demand for a workers government – which can be difficult to explain, particularly in the context of a lack of mass socialist struggle – with the growth of the assemblies in the squares became widely understood and well received. CWI members discussed the role of the assemblies, argued for the expansion of the assemblies to workplace and neighbourhoods, for local assemblies to elect people to a central assembly to develop democracy. Comrades added the case for a ’parliament’ of elected delegates from the assembly, open to the right of recall at any time – to have the best fighters and workers in such a representative parliament.

Ultimately, these movements failed to stop the government voting through the austerity measures. One of the weaknesses of the assemblies is that they have not expanded into the working class communities or workplaces. The working class is also not the represented adequately in the assemblies – it was not possible when the assemblies ran for four to five hours a day, when people have to work!

Role of the Left

During the plenary discussion, a Greek comrade spoke about the lack of leadership from Left parties and from within the trade union movement. There is no mass left party in Greece that is providing the political leadership that is vital to take the movement forward. The left coalition formation, SYRIZA has, in reality, been non-existent since Autumn 2010.

The left tendency, SYN, within SYRIZA, has been very weak in relation to the movements of the working class. They have refused to put forward a radical programme for the movement, and while they support the cancellation of the debt in the neo-colonial world, they have have not supported this in Greece. In reality, how they operate demonstrates that their programme is aimed at the government, not for the movement.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE), which failed to participate in the movements, merely caricatured the square occupations as “petite bourgeois”! The KKE, however, does not like participating in movements or demonstrations it does not control.

This vacuum on the left and the complete hatred of the Pasok government was reflected in a recent poll which showed that 40-50% of people said there is no-one they would vote for. This shows that the building of a new mass party of the working class still remains a vital task.

The critically positive approach of comrades meant the Greek CWI won dozens of new people, of all ages, to its ideas. One older worker said “joining was the most important thing I’ve done in my life”.

These successes are due to political clarity, a correct understanding of perspectives and approach to programme.

It is clear that the bailout will not solve the problems of the Greek working class. In the coming weeks, months and years we will see the working class and youth being faced with further attacks and entering brutal struggles.

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July 2011