Despite persistent rain, pre-demo arrests, blockage of roads, and the threat of police truncheons and gas, the protest outside parliament at Syntagma Square on the 7 November, the second day of a 48-hour general strike, was one of Greece’s biggest ever demonstrations.
Tuesday 6th started with the whole of Greece being brought to a halt. Taxis, buses, trams, and underground railways were stationary. The ships were tied up at the ports. At airports dozens of flights were cancelled and delayed.
On Wednesday 7th, hundreds of thousands of protesters besieged parliament.
By early afternoon, long before the official call of the unions at 5 pm, workers’ unions, student associations, leftist organisations, neighbourhood assemblies and other collectives were assembling in Syntagma square.
Loud cheers and salutes greeted the doctors and hospital workers who are on continuous strike; the council workers who have been occupying town halls and government buildings against redundancies, and who on Wednesday morning symbolically occupied the Interior Ministry; the power workers who have started a rolling programme of 48 hour strikes; and the transport and media workers.
For hours, despite the heavy rain, the protesters besieged parliament. The riot police began attacks with tear gas. The workers’ bloc stuck it out on Syntagma Square until late at night.
The demonstration did not prevent the voting-through of the “third memorandum”, which is an even worse attack on the working class, but it escalated the crisis of the government, which is a coalition led by New Democracy (Tories) and including Pasok (similar to Labour) and the Democratic Left (soft left).
Pasok’s strength has dwindled from three million voters in 2009 to 750,000 in June 2012 and, according to polls, fewer than 500,000 today, so the zealous support for the third memorandum and the 2013 budget by Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos resembles the bee that stings and then dies.
Democratic Left leader Photis Kouvelis, vaguely remembering his old left-wing reflexes, backed all the measures of the “third memorandum” and the 2013 budget with the exception of the legislation on working conditions.
Kouvelis asked for the labour-law changes to be taken separately from the rest of the austerity package. The government insisted on including the labour-law changes in the “third memorandum”, and so the Democratic Left decided to abstain on the new package and to vote for the 2013 budget.
For the first time since June 2012, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras asked for the overthrow of the three party coalition government and fresh elections, and connected the call, at least timidly, with the strike movement.
On Wednesday 7th, as the bills were being discussed in parliament, the Syriza MPs came out of the parliament to join the protests with a banner that called on the people to overthrow the coalition government.
The KKE, moving even more firmly towards sectarianism and isolationism, spend most of their speeches attacking not the government, but Syriza. Their paper Rizospastis calls on the working class not to be fooled by the threat of the “new reformism”. In one crescendo of anti-Syriza hostility KKE general secretary Aleka Papariga accused Syriza of supporting these sections of the Greek capitalism that will profit outside the eurozone, and claimed Syriza was the party of the drachma lobby.
The “third memorandum” was voted through parliament on Wednesday 7th with 153 “Yes”, 128 “Nos” and 18 abstentions.
Six Pasok MPs who voted against the memorandum were expelled by Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos. Another Pasok MP, Mimis Androulakis, voted for the memorandum, but voted against the 2013 budget, and has left Pasok to become an independent MP.
Senior Pasok MPs are calling for the resignation of Venizelos and a reshaping of Pasok’s profile.
14 of the Democratic Left MPs abstained on the memorandum, and two voted against.
On Sunday the 2013 budget was voted through with 167 votes. So the coalition government comes out weakened and unstable. Within five months the government’s base has been cut from 180 MPs to 167 MPs.
ND and Pasok combined had 162 MPs, but five months on are down to 151 MPs, the smallest possible majority in the 300-seat parliament.
This is today’s Greece, as has been transformed by both the external Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) and the internal Troika (Pasok, ND, and first Laos, now Democratic Left).
According to Unicef 500,000 children are hungry.
68% of Greeks live below the poverty line. They are hungry.
25% of Greeks are unemployed and well above 50% of under 25s are unemployed. They are hungry.
Every day 2800 people are being sacked. They will become hungry.
This is the Greece of people queuing to buy expired food from the supermarkets. Of kids fainting at school from hunger. Of shops shut down and more pawnshops open.
Of pensioners whose pension cannot even cover their food, electricity and medication. Of tens of thousands of homeless people. Of tens of thousands of marginalised and destitute people who form long queues for charity handouts and soup kitchens.
And with the new memorandum comes an escalation of the class war against the working class.
Wages, pensions, allowances, welfare provisions, benefits will be cut at least 7.5 billion euros. Health, education and other public services and welfare provision will be cut by at least another 4 billion.
Transport costs will increase 25%. Universities and hospitals will be merged or closed down. Fees will be imposed on postgraduate students and free textbooks abolished for undergraduate students. School teacher recruitment will be frozen.
Taxes on the majority will be raised. But the Samaras government is reducing the top rate of income tax from 45% to 35%, and corporation tax from 42.5% to 35%.
This tax cut for big business and the rich show everyone what is the real issue with the cuts and the “third memorandum”: improving capital’s position and weakening the position of workers.
Public assets will be sold off for pennies, and the plan is to sack at least 25,000 public sector workers by the end of 2013. Collective bargaining agreements will be abolished and the minimum wage reduced.
The warning time for dismissals will be cut from six months to at most four months, Redundancy pay will be cut. The maximum legal work week will be increased to six days and 13 hours a day.
Greece’s debt is due to reach 179% of GDP in 2013. In 2008 the debt stood at 109% of GDP.
However, assessed from a class perspective the memoranda have been very successful for the Greek capitalist class. Their aim is not “to let a crisis be wasted”. Their aim is to grab as much as they can, via the privatisation spree, and to “recreate from scratch a business-friendly habitat”.
“Capitalist development” in the sense of positive rates of growth of the economy will return at some time. But it will be a development of capitalist numbers and profits, with the workers’ wages squeezed at a few hundred euros a month.
The carrot accompanying this stick is the Troika’s 31.5 billion bailout fund. But of those 31.5 billion euros, 25 billion will go to bankers in the so-called “recapitalisation” of the banks; five billion will go to interest repayments and expired bonds, with the lion’s share, about four billion, to return to the ECB; and only approximately one billion will be used to cover Greek government spending.
The left needs to have confidence in the Greek working class movement which, despite the shock and awe of the memoranda, the stress of survival and the devaluation of everything, have organised 23 general strikes and have toppled two governments.
The fight to defeat the three party coalition government via the industrial and social struggles of the working class and neighbourhood movements should be linked with the call of a government of the left.
It is the responsibility of the forces of the radical and revolutionary left, whether they are inside or outside Syriza, to determine whether Syriza will be transformed into a party of the Radical Left and will fulfil the promises and expectation of a government of the Left as a starting point for workers’ control and self-emancipation.
We need a workers’ government, which would be based on workers’ democracy, workers’ and social control, and workers’ militias. The main axis of struggle should be the following:
1. Fight for the development and escalation of industrial and social struggles against the attacks of the government and Troika, with rolling strikes, occupations, stoppages, demonstrations, and reinvigoration of the neighbourhood non-payment movements
2. Fight for the overthrow of the coalition government
3. Anti-fascist struggle, with the formation of committees in every square, neighbourhood, and workplace.
4. Fight for a united front and cooperation of the left in the industrial and in the political sphere
5. Fight for a government of the left and a workers’ government
6. Fight to alert and prepare the working class for the prospect and the consequences of exit or expulsion from the eurozone or EU.
7. Fight for a program of transitional demands based upon workers’ self management and control and the social planning of the economy to meet the needs of the people, not the profits of a handful of capitalist parasites.
8. Fight alongside the European working class. and particularly the working class of southern Europe unevenly affected by the capitalist crisis as expressed in the debt crisis, for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the United Socialist States of Europe.