Sunday, June 6, 2010
General strike, March.
In early March, after a three-month media bombardment about the country’s economic crisis, the Greek government — backed by conservative opposition parties, the European Union (EU)and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — announced harsh austerity measures for ordinary people.
These included unprecedented salary, pension, job and public services cuts and large-scale privatisation. The government offensive entails an enormous income transfer from workers and pensioners to big business and the State Revenue Office.
It will result in a rapid increase unemployment and widespread misery. For the younger generations, this will mean an insecure future with highly inadequate services and less jobs — or, at best, jobs with little work rights.
PASOK Prime Minister George Papandreou stresses the need to collect €5 billion (about $7.2 billion) to cut Greece’s deficit by 4% this year. Yet the government makes no attempt to force the bankers and industrialists to pay even their legal financial dues.
Nor does Papandreou consider increasing corporate tax (which has been reduced dramatically from 45% in the 1980s to 25%) or impose taxes on the huge church property holdings.
The government has made it clear there will be no foreseeable end to these cuts, which are the most savage by far in a long series of brutal neoliberal policies implemented by right-wing governments of the New Democracy (ND) party as well as social democratic PASOK governments.
The Greek people have not been taken in by the media propaganda about the need to go along with this offensive to “save the country”. The injustice is too glaring, especially after a string of shocking financial scandals involving vast amounts of money squandered by the state — embezzled, given as a gift to banks or illegally acquired by the church in the form of real estate.
The most shocking of these scandals concerned ND and PASOK politicians taking bribes. The left played a major role in exposing these scandals.
After the announcement of the cuts, there have been a number of strikes (including general strikes). The people’s anger forced discredited union leaderships to organise.
The union leaders, affiliated to the two main capitalist parties, have helped weaken the workers’ movement in recent times by deliberately setting up struggles that were doomed to fail.
This, combined with the inability of the left to inspire people due to its lack of unity and effectiveness, is the greatest obstacle to fighting the government attacks successfully.
The demonstrations in a number of major Greek cities on May 5, the second day of a 48-hour general strike against the measures, were the biggest in years. More than 200,000 people marched in Athens.
This showed that people’s anger can turn into a powerful force to defend the gains won through decades of struggle. The chants and banners included slogans such as, “We won’t pay for your debt” and “The crisis is theirs — the solution is uprising”.
Protesters came from a wide range of unions, and even from workplaces with no union representation, or with precarious working conditions. They also included migrants, pensioners, university and secondary school students.
On the same day, in the centre of Athens, three Marfin Bank employees died by asphyxiation, after Molotov bombs were hurled into its offices by unidentified persons.
Whoever was responsible, it was an act of provocation, harmful to the resistance movement. Left-wing groups, including anarchists, have denied responsibility and pointed the finger at the government and the infamously unscrupulous bank owner who forced the employees to work that day.
This disregarded a police order to close the bank at 11am (the start time of the march, well before the incident happened). Moreover, the bank building was unsafe, lacking even an emergency exit.
Despite allthis, the government used the tragic accident to smear the resistance movement and guilt-trip people, blaming the deaths on the left and peaceful demonstrators.
The bankers and industrialists have been shedding crocodile tears over the deaths, declaring they condemn violence no matter where it comes from. They seem to forget about their own huge-scale violence when they slash wages, close down hospitals, violate workers rights and workplace safety conditions.
And, to add insult to injury, through police violence and the threat of dismissal, they terrorised the workers angered by the injustice of the austerity measures.
What happened at the Marfin Bank proves the slogan of the left: “Their profits cost human lives.”
During the marches, the police were more violent than usual. For one thing, they used huge quantities of chemicals on protesters in all cities with no obvious excuse (though without managing to stop the people marching).
The special police squads were expanded. In Athens and Thessaloniki, new squads on motorbikes, which appeared for the first time, attacked peaceful parts of the demonstrations in an attempt to break them up.
This was all part of a well-prepared government repression plan to discourage protesters from future action.
The police violence continued after the march, especially in Athens, where more than 25 people were arrested. The centre of the city was occupied by police for two days, with police invading houses, breaking windows (as well as some people’s arms).
Police broke into the Network for Political and Social Rights headquarters. They broke doors and windows and destroyed anything they could.
It is obvious the democracy of the capitalists and their governments stops at the “democratic right of citizens to go to their work, unimpeded by demonstrations”.
The new levels of state violence are indicative of the fears of government and its corporate friends of the popular uprising.
It is a fear shared by the EU, the IMF and European governments. They dread the example of resistance in Greece inspiring peoples of other countries where they intend to implement similar financial measures.
They are determined to enforce the Greek austerity program in any way they can. It is going to be a long, tough struggle, setting challenging historical duties for the revolutionary left. This includes ensuring union leaders continue and escalate the strike movement.
On May 20, there was another general strike in Greece against the dismantling of the public social security system and the introduction of a new pension plan. Participation levels were comparable to those of May 5.
No more major union mobilisations over the new austerity measures associated with the bail-out plan have taken place since May 5, except for some action by particular unions and two all-workers evening marches across the country.
There haven’t been any serious police attacks on demonstrations since May 5, either.
However, general strikes and mass demonstrations have been set for June 5 and June 15 respectively. The struggle continues.