Greece: time for a general strike

Submitted by martin on 9 April, 2008 - 12:41 Author: Theodora Polenta

With strikes, demonstrations and direct action the Greek workers can overthrow the Tory government (Nea Dimokratia) and get the anti-working class reforms withdrawn.

This is a longer version of this article than in the printed paper.

The Tory government has finally managed to “win” the battle in parliament (i.e. with the slender majority of 151+1 MPs out of 300) and pass the anti-working class reforms. It could not though hide the truth about the nature of these reforms. These reforms will reduce further the workers' pensions; increase the age limit of retirement for women, especially mothers; attack further the unemployeds’ and immigrants’ access to the health service and in general converge all workers' pensions and health insurance rights to the lowest possible denominator. Especially under attack are the pension rights and working conditions of the traditionally better-off sections of the Greek working class(D.E.H (electricity) workers' ,bank workers' and council workers); which have been won in the past through militant working class struggles.

However, the government has “lost” the battle of ideas in the Greek society. An 80% of the population is against the government’s reforms; including a 60% of the Tory voters. Despite the systematic attempt of the media lackeys to beautify the government reforms and vilify as disruptors and antidemocratic the strikers and demonstrators; the majority of society solidarise with the strikers.

The massive strikes of the 12/12 and 19/3, where a variety of new and old, manual and white collar sectors of the working class participated, brought the country in a standstill. Leading in the vanguard were the three week strikers of D.E.H , the two week council workers( bin collectors) strikers, the bank workers’ strikers followed by the layers, journalists, school teachers, school students, doctors, pharmacists as well as casual workers like the courier delivery boys.

This has exposed that the working class is still the force of change and that class struggle is more vicious than ever. The ongoing strike action of the bank workers (they are already in their 6 week of strike) has already given headaches to city traders and financial speculators. The three week strike action (current called on hold) of the D.E.H (electricity producer, distributor and supply workers) and the council workers(especially the bin collectors) show that the basic needs of society are dependent upon the work of ordinary working class people. Without the D.E.H workers neither the economy nor the society can function. The cut off the electricity supply for the “vital” parts of the industry had the potential to cause serious losses on the capitalist class. Without electricity households, shops, hospitals, schools etc cannot operate. Without the socially valuable job of the bin collectors; Greece resembled a vast land field where rats and well forgotten diseases came back to the foreground. Therefore, the working class has the potential to put a shutdown on the whole system and stop every business of the capitalist parasites. If the strikes of the D.E.H workers and the council workers were not put on hold, when the anti working
class reforms were voted in parliament, but were enriched by other organised forces of the working class, the Tory’s pension reforms would have had the same fate as the their previous PASOK party pensions reforms (the Simitis government was forced to withdraw its pensions reforms proposals).

However, during the peakpoint of the struggle the role and the limits of the Greek trade union bureaucracy (GSEE) was again exposed. When it was at most necessary for GSEE to provide leadership and support to the D.E.H, council and bank strikers as well as to unify and connect their struggles against the pension reforms with the fight for decent wage increases and the fight against privatisation; GSEE went off with SEB (i.e. the union of the Greek capitalist bosses) and sign a two year agreement with the bosses on penniless wage increases(even bellow the inflation rate). GSEE’s helping hand to the bosses in combination with the tiredness of the strikers(mainly financial, as they’ve lost 14 days worth of wages) brought D.E.H.s and the council workers strikes to an end.

A big section of the left was in a hurry to talk about the tiredness of the strikers and to write off the strikes after the big general strike of 19/3. SYRIZA (a left wing coalition of the Greek eurocommunist party and far-left parties) started looking towards the parliamentary road to scrap the reforms, as soon as the parliamentary voting procedures were due to start on 20/3. The leadership of SYRIZA demanded in parliament that the anti-working class reforms should be put on a referendum. This delayed the voting of the reforms in the parliament by 10 days. Furthermore, it was a democratic challenge to the Tory government. The members’ of the public reacted enthusiastically by signing the petition and demanding a referendum. The demand of the referendum should have been supported by every section of the left and by all the major trade unions. However, this should not be viewed as a substitute of the working class strikes. The legalistic parliamentary road on its own (even with the clever proposal of a referendum) cannot lead in the defeat of the anti-working class reforms and its Tory government; as the final voting of the reforms, with a 10 day delayed, in parliament demonstrated clearly. The pressure be put upon the government for the referendum and in general the parliamentary struggle should be viewed as the secondary means for enhancing the real effective struggles that take place in the streets and in the workplaces. The only way to defeat the pension reforms and the anti-working class reforms to come, is through the working class collective struggles, strikes and demonstrations.

The defeated Tory government has to speed up the anti-working class reforms and attacks in the context of a pending international economic crisis. Governement MPs are talking about wage and pension increases below the inflation rates, the sell off of O.T.E(Greek telecom) to Deutche Telekom and D.E.H to RWE, more PFIs for the airport and ports. They are even talking about getting rid of well established workers’ rights such as the minimum wage and the restriction of massive redundancies without compensation.

The neoliberal attacks are expected to increase in the months to come. The government may have won the battle but it looks like is losing the war. The social unrest and the talk about a political crisis in representation with the major two political parties heating a combined low in the polls and the two major left wing parties (SYRIZA and KKE) pulling a combined 25% show the political responsibilities of the left. SYRIZA has to abandon its legalistic talks and prioritise the working class struggles and the direct confrontation with neoliberalism. Equally KKE should abandon its sectarianism and its “socialist escapism” and join and enhance (throught its controlled unions) the united action of the working class. The implementation of the reforms should be face up with the resistance of the organised working class. A strike should be called for each sector of the working class the pension reforms are tried to be implemented in practice. The struggle against the pension reforms should be connected with the struggles against privatization and the struggle for a generous increase in the workers’ wages and pensions (1400 euros per month; as the earlier struggle of the teachers demanded). The continuation of the Greek bank workers strike action(entering their sixth week of strike action) against the pension reforms and the commencement of the O.T.E workers strike action against their company’s sell of to the German multinational Deutche Telekom show the way to defeat the anti working class pension reforms and every neoliberal attack; A general strike should be called to defeat the anti working class attacks and overthrow the Greek Tory government.

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