On Tuesday 11 June, after Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras announced that he would shut down ERT (the Greek equivalent of the BBC), and sack all its workers.
He would set up a new public broadcaster, with fewer staff and lower wages, in due course.
In a sudden operation on the stroke of midnight, police cut off electricity to the antennas and threatened the workers with arrest if they did not leave the building. The ERT workers responded by occupying the station’s main building in Athens and broadcasting a protest program via satellite and internet.
Thousands of protesters gathered within hours around the ERT’s main Athens building to support the workers.
On Monday 17 June, the government backed down, by way of a court ruling that ERT must be kept open for the time being. Samaras still plans to replace ERT by a new, hugely-cutback service, but his government has been thrown into crisis.
The same day, the left-wing coalition Syriza organised a rally in Athens to demand new elections.
Now is the time to put into action the statement by Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras after the defeat of the teachers’ struggle in mid-May. “From now on the government will not have to deal with the trade union leaders. They will have to deal with all of us.“
As with other recent battles (metro workers, teachers, etc.), the ERT workers’ fight combines different fronts: trade unionist, political, and ideological. We now need the Left - united in action - to “declare” civil disobedience and unyielding combat.
Alexis Tsipras’s statement that “the government will be overthrown by the people and not by parliamentary means” is correct. The pictures of a coalition of the Left forces (Pame, Syriza, Antarsya) in the courtyard of the ERT headquarters prove that unity is not unattainable, but it is built in action.
We need a social, political, trade unionist front of all the forces of the Left (mainly Syriza, KKE , Antarsya), with a program of transitional demands, aiming to overthrow this government and establishing a government of the Left as the starting point for a workers’ government with workers’ power and workers’ control.
Some political observers have argued that the three coalition partners are almost certain to arrive at a compromise formula in connection with ERT, in order to avoid calling new elections, despite the fact that any such formula will make all three look even more ludicrous!
Some other observers do not exclude the possibility that a “formula” will not be found, and a new coalition government will be created, with another prime minister in place of Samaras.
Yet others think that a radical government reshuffle, with the direct involvement of leading political activists from all three coalition parties, should not be ruled out; and others again expect Samaras to call new elections.
The government was shaken by a great surge of solidarity with the ERT workers. Celebrities like the singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki sang for the protesters. The broadcaster’s orchestra performed for some time in the building, and their music was relayed over loudspeakers outside.
On Wednesday 12th, Greek newspaper journalists stopped work in solidarity with the ERT workers. Workers at private broadcasters blocked all news programs until noon and reported exclusively on the ERT protests in later news programs.
On Thursday 13th, Greece’s two main trade union federations, Gsee and Adedy, went on a 24-hour strike. Tens of thousands of workers demonstrated throughout Greece. In Thessaloniki thousands gathered in front of the building of ERT3, also occupied by the workers.
Bus drivers, railway workers, and seamen struck in solidarity with ERT employees. Some schools were closed, and hospitals worked on emergency cover only. Air traffic controllers struck for two hours. Journalists announced plans to strike until ERT was reopened.
On Thursday evening a joint meeting of representatives of the different media unions voted to continue a strike on all media until Monday, with the sole exception of the media which put themselves in the service of ERT’s workers struggle.
The decision took hours of intense debate. The trade union bureaucracy argued the futility of the ERT workers’ struggle, due to the strength of the state’s strike-breaking mechanisms, and claimed that the media workers should break their strike in order to inform the public about the ERT workers’ struggle.
The most militant of the media worker trade unionists explained that media workers could not backtrack. They could not betray the tens of thousands of workers who stood with them. They could not betray the workers of ERT. They had no right to sell out the struggle as did the leadership of the teachers’ federation, OLME.
The same day, Thursday 13th, the Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union (EBU) took the ERT signal from a studio in Thessaloniki and transmitted it back to Greek homes over satellite. KKE also offered the channel of its party broadcaster to transmit the signal from the ERT program. 50 European TV broadcasters that signed a joint declaration against the shutdown.
The government not only threatened to jail ERT workers if they did not leave the building, but also tried to stop broadcasting. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) station that was broadcasting the ERT programme was shut down.
All the left wing websites and newspapers dedicated their electronic spaces to coverage of the ERT occupation.
The ERT workers’ action upturned the “normal” situation where a handful of owners, contractors and bankers control information.
The strikers have answered or started to answer the pressing question: How can the monopoly of media and dissemination of information to the society belong to individuals and not to the democratic institutions of society? What gives the government the right to shut down ERT at the same time that the government has granted asylum to the private channel media barons to continue to use the frequencies belonging to the Greek people?
On Sunday 16th a special festival was organised: “We expect you all to join our voices to the defence of ERT against the erosion of freedom of speech and the intended abolition of democracy”.
The activities outside the ERT’s building Radiomegaro evoked memories of the May 68 movements. The Sunday programme started off with the youth orchestra of the youth followed by a kids’ zone with theatrical and other workshops, puppet theatre, juggling, and more.
Between 3 and 6 in the afternoon a social open dinner was organised under the slogan, “Let’s eat together” (a reference to the infamous quip by former Pasok minister Theodoros Pangalos when asked about the cause of the crisis: “We all ate together”).
Then there was a music festival, with folk bands, traditional music, songs, lyre, violin, dulcimer, and more. The evening concluded by a concert with figures from the Greek indie, rock and hip hop alternative scene.
In another moving event the National Symphony Orchestra and Choir of ERT performed, knowing that they will not fit into Samaras’s plan for a cut price broadcaster.
The ERT workers had also decided to publish a newspaper, named Independent Opinion. Over the weekend 15th/16th, that was the only newspaper sold, apart from the Suns and Daily Mails of the Greek press.
The newspaper covered the ERT issues and carried broader articles on the privatisation spree of the government and the selling-off the collective wealth and resources of Greece, the record of the coalition government, articles of support and solidarity of intellectuals, the role of the media barons in Venezuela, and the Turkish rebellion and protests against the autocratic regime of Erdogan.
The front page declared:
“We are the laid-off workers from ERT. We are the striking journalists, technicians, reporters, photographers, directors, musicians. We are the unemployed who are paying for the crisis and the profits of our bosses.
“We are the casual workers who are working overtime with no insurance on newspapers, radio, TV, and magazines.
“We are all of you who are fighting for a free and democratic press outside the lies, propaganda and slander of the Memorandum government and all Memorandum parties. We are all of you who refuse to be subjugated and who fight back against this government and austerity policies.
“We are the voice of the conscripted metro workers, the seafarers, the teachers... of the overexploited immigrants and the millions of the oppressed.
“We are the echo of Tahrir and Taksim Square…We are yesterdays oppressed, today’s rebels and protesters, and tomorrow’s winners”.
The title of the newspaper referred back to the media workers’ strike in 1975. Then too striking workers published a newspaper called Independent Opinion.
On Monday 17 June, the day before the court decision keeping ERT open, the media workers called off their strike.
Nonetheless, the week showed that workers do not need bosses to run the media. They can create their own media, which will not be propaganda weapons in the hands of the employers, but weapons in the hands of workers and society, instruments of truth, and the democratic and free exchange of views.
Already, before 11 June, the government owed the ERT workers accrued overtime and nightwork pay, and over 10,000 pending days off in lieu.
In the last five months, the Greek government has already three times used a law enabling to conscript workers into the armed forces and put them under military discipline, in order to crush strikes. Demonstrations and protests are regularly attacked by riot police, and journalists are blocked from reporting on them.
These reactionary policies are the direct result of the brutal social attacks dictated by the Troika and implemented by the Greek government.
The latest data released yesterday show a new rise of unemployment to 27.4 percent in the first quarter of 2013. More than 850,000 jobs have been wiped out since the beginning of Greece’s six-year recession, with average wages falling 35 to 50 percent in the same period.
On Thursday evening 13th, Samaras met with senior EU officials to discuss obtaining the next tranche of €3.3 billion in loans. In order to get the money, Samaras has to move ahead with sacking 2,000 public sector workers by the end of the month.
The EU/ECB/IMF Troika have placed observers in every Greek ministry and are involved in every single decision taken. Some 13,500 more public sector workers are to be dismissed by the end of 2014.
Within the coalition, Samaras and his conservative ND party were criticized by the two junior partners, Pasok and the Democratic Left. Pasok and Democratic Left made clear, however, that they support deep attacks on ERT workers, and have only minor objections to Samaras’s policy on layoffs, but that they want the ERT to stay open while restructuring is carried out. “We support a radical restructuring of ERT”, Evangelos Venizelos, the chairman of Pasok and former finance minister said, “but not with blacked-out screens.”
Should Pasok and Democratic Left withdraw their support for ND, which seems unlikely, it can count on the fascistic Golden Dawn party. Its deputy, Ilias Panagiotaros, tweeted: “ERT, that Socialist-Communist shack, is finally closing.”
Golden Dawn conceded that “Among the ERT workers who lose their jobs they are family men, who made an honest day’s wage, and really worked their hours”, but added, “not like the majority of the supposed ERT workers who did not even know the location of the studios.”
The fascists viciously attacked ERT as a vehicle for “propagating communism and other subversive ideas”, not saying a word against the private TV channels and the atrocious working conditions of their workers. They do not care about all the Greeks who live in remote areas, for whom ERT is their only connection, as there was no profit for the private channels to broadcast there. They ignore the Greeks living abroad for whom their only contact with their homeland has been the state radio and TV show “The Voice of Greece”.
Samaras has underestimated the Greek working-class movement. The movement has showed once again that despite the defeats, and despite the successive civil mobilisation orders against strikes, it can stand on its feet and stage grandiose new battles.