The youth revolts in Greece confirm the development of the class struggle

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The explosion of anger and revolt by the present generation of proletarianised young people in Greece is not at all an isolated or particular phenomenon. It has its roots in the world crisis of capitalism and the confrontation between these proletarians and the violent repression which has unmasked the real nature of the bourgeoisie and its state terror. It is in direct continuity with the mobilisation of the younger generation on a class basis against the CPE law (Contrat Première Embauche - first job contract) in France in 2006 and the LRU (Law on the Reform of the Universities) in 2007, when the students from universities and high schools saw themselves above all as proletarians rebelling against their future conditions of exploitation. The whole of the bourgeoisie in the main European countries has understood all this very well and has confessed its fears of the contagious spread of similar social explosions with the deepening of the crisis. It is significant, for example, that the bourgeoisie in France has retreated by suddenly suspending its programme of "reform" for the high schools. Furthermore, the international character of the protests and the militancy among university students and above all high school students has already been expressed very strongly.

In Italy, two months of mobilisation included massive demonstrations on 25th October and 14th November behind the slogan "we don't want to pay for the crisis" against the Gelmini decree, which is being challenged because it involves budgetary cuts in the education sector, resulting in the non-renewal of the contracts of 87,000 temporary teachers and of 45,000 ABA workers (technical personnel employed by the Ministry of Education) and in reduced public funding for the universities.[1]

In Germany, on 12th November, 120,000 high school students came out onto the streets of the main cities in the country, with slogans like "capitalism is crisis" in Berlin, or laying siege to the provincial parliament as in Hanover.

In Spain, on 13th November, hundreds of thousands of students demonstrated in over 70 towns against the new European directives (the Bolgona directives) for the reform of higher education and universities, spreading the privatisation of the faculties and increasing the number of training courses in the enterprises.  

The revolt of young people against the crisis and the deterioration of their living standards extended to other countries: in January 2009 alone, there were movements and riots in Vilnius in Lithuania, Riga in Latvia and Sofia in Bulgaria, meeting with harsh police repression. In Kegoudou, 700km south east of Dakar, Senegal, in December 2008, violent clashes took place during demonstrations against poverty, where demonstrators had called for a share in the mining profits exploited by ArcelorMittal. Two people were killed. At the beginning of May in Marrakech, Morocco, 4,000 students had risen up after 22 of them were poisoned by food in the university canteen. The movement was violently repressed and was followed by arrests, long prison sentences and torture.  

Many of these movements see their own reflection in the struggle of the Greek students.

The scale of this mobilisation against the same kinds of measures by the state is not at all surprising. The reform of the education system being undertaken on a European level is part of an attempt to habituate young working class generations to a restricted future and the generalisation of precarious employment or the dole.

The refusal, the revolt of the new educated proletarian generation faced with this wall of unemployment, this ocean of uncertainty reserved for them by capitalism in crisis is also generating sympathy from proletarians of all generations.   

Violence by a minority or massive struggle against exploitation and state terror?

The media, which are the servants of the lying propaganda of capital, have constantly tried to deform the reality of what's been happening in Greece since the murder by police bullet of 15 year old Alexis Andreas Grigoropoulos on 6th December. They have presented the confrontations with the police as the action of a handful of anarchists and ultra-left students coming from well to do backgrounds, or of marginalised wreckers. They have broadcast endless images of violent clashes with the police and put across the image of young hooded rioters smashing the windows of boutiques and banks or pillaging stores.   

This the same method of falsifying reality we saw during the anti-CPE mobilisation in 2006 in France, which was identified with the riots on the city outskirts the year before. We saw the same gross method used against the students fighting the LRU in 2007 in France - they were accused of being "terrorists" and "Khmer Rouge"!

But if the heart of the "troubles" took place in the Greek "Latin Quarter" of Exarchia, it is difficult to make this lie stick today: how could this uprising be the work of a few wreckers or anarchists when it spread like wildfire to all the main cities of the country and to the Greek islands of Chios and Samos and even to the most touristy cities like Corfu or Heraklion in Crete? The riots spread to 42 prefectures in Greece, even towns where there had been no demonstrations before. More than 700 high schools and a number of universities were occupied.

The reasons for the anger

All the conditions were there for the discontent of a whole mass of young proletarians, full of disquiet about their future, to explode in Greece, which is a concentrated expression of the dead-end into which capitalism is steering the present generation: when those who are called the "600 Euro generation" enter into working life, they have the feeling of being ripped off. Most of the students have to get paid work in order to survive and continue their studies, most of it unofficial and underpaid jobs; even when the jobs are slightly better paid, part of their labour remains undeclared and this reduces their access to social benefits. They are generally deprived of social security; overtime hours are not paid and often they are unable to leave the family home until they are 35, since they don't earn enough to pay for a roof over their heads. 23% of the unemployed in Greece are young people (the official unemployment rate for 15-24 year olds is 25.2%) as an article published in France indicates: "these students don't feel in any way protected; the police shoot at them, education traps them, work passes them by, the government lies to them".[2] The unemployment of the young and their difficulties in entering the world of work has thus created a general climate of unease, of anger and generalised insecurity. The world economic crisis is going to bring  new waves of massive redundancies. In 2009, 100,000 job-cuts are predicted in Greece, which would mean a 5% increase in unemployment. At the same time, 40% of workers earn less than 1,100 Euros net, and Greece has the highest rate of workers on the poverty line out of the 27 EU states: 14%.   

It's not only the students who have come out onto the streets, but also poorly paid teachers and many other wage earners facing the same problems, the same poverty, and animated by the same spirit of revolt. The brutal repression against the movement, whose most dramatic episode was the murder of that 15 year old, has only amplified and generalised feelings of solidarity and social discontent. As one student put it, many parents of pupils have been deeply shocked and angered: "Our parents have found out that their children can die like that in the street, to a cop's bullet".[3] They are becoming aware that they live in a decaying society where their children won't have the same standard of living as them. During the many demonstrations, they have witnessed the violent beatings, the strong-arm arrests, the firing of real bullets and the heavy hand of the riot police (the MAT). 

The occupiers of the Polytechnic School, the central focus of the student protest, have denounced state terror, but we find this same anger against the brutality of the repression in slogans such as "bullets for young people, money for the banks". Even more clearly, a participant in the movement declared: "We have no jobs, no money, a state that is bankrupt with the crisis, and the only response to all that is to give guns to the police".[4]

This anger is not new: the Greek students were already mobilising in June 2006 against the reform of the universities, the privatisation of which will result in the exclusion of the least well-off students. The population had also expressed its anger with government incompetence at the time of the forest fires in the summer of 2007, which left 67 dead: the government has still not paid any compensation to the many victims who lost houses or goods. But it was above all the wage-earners who mobilised massively against the reform of the pension system at the beginning of 2008 with two days of widely followed general strikes in two months, and demonstrations of over a million people against the suppression of pensions for the most vulnerable professions and the threat to the right of workers to claim retirement at 50.

Faced with the workers' anger, the general strike of 10th December, controlled by the trade unions, was aimed at putting a damper on the movement while the opposition, with the Socialist and Communist parties to the fore, called for the resignation of the present government and the holding of elections. This did not succeed in channelling the anger and bringing the movement to a halt, despite the multiple manoeuvres of the left parties and the unions to block the dynamic towards the extension of the struggle, and despite the efforts of the whole bourgeoisie to isolate the young people from the other generations and the working class as a whole by pushing them into sterile confrontations with the police. For whole days and nights, the clashes were incessant: violent charges by the police wielding batons and using tear gas, beatings and arrests in huge numbers.

The young generation of workers expresses most clearly the feeling of disillusionment and disgust with the utterly corrupt political apparatus. Since the end of the war, three families have shared power, with the Caramanlis dynasty for the right and the Papandreou dynasty for the left taking it in turns to run the country, involving themselves in all kinds of scandals. The conservatives came to power in 2004 after a period in which the Socialists were up to their neck in intrigues. Many of the protestors see the political and trade union apparatus as totally discredited: "The fetishism of money has taken over society. The young people want a break with this society without soul or vision".[5] Today, with the development of the crisis, this generation of proletarians has not only developed a consciousness of capitalist exploitation, which it feels in its very bones, but also a consciousness of the necessity for a collective struggle, by spontaneously putting forward class methods and class solidarity. Instead of sinking into despair, it draws its confidence in itself from the sense of being the bearer of a different future, spending all its energy in rising up against the rotting society around them. The demonstrators thus proudly say of their movement: "we are an image of the future in the face of the sombre image of the past". If the situation today is very reminiscent of May 1968, the awareness of what's at stake goes well beyond it.

The radicalisation of the movement

On 16 December, the students managed to take over part of the government TV station NET and unfurled banners on screen saying "Stop watching the telly - everyone onto the streets!" and launched an appeal; "the state is killing. Your silence arms them. Occupation of all public buildings!" The HQ of the anti-riot police in Athens was attacked and one of their patrol wagons was burned. These actions were quickly denounced by the government as "an attempt to overturn democracy", and also condemned by the Greek Communist Party, the KKE. In Thessaloniki, the local branches of the trade unions GSEE and ADEDY, the federation of civil servants, tried to keep the strikers cooped up in a rally in front of the Labour Exchange. High school and university students were determined to get the strikers to join their demonstration and they succeeded: 4,000 workers and students marched through the town's streets.  On 11th December militants of the KKE's student organisation had tried to block assemblies to prevent occupations (Pantheon University, the school of philosophy at Athens University). Their attempts were a failure and the occupations in Athens took place. In the district of Ayios Dimitrios the town hall was occupied and a general assembly was held, with 300 people of all generations taking part.  On 17th December, the building which houses the main trade union confederation of the country, the GEEE, in Athens, was occupied by proletarians who called themselves "insurgent workers" and issued a call to make this a place for general assemblies open to all wage earners, students and unemployed.

There was an identical scenario, with occupations and assemblies open to all, at the Athens University of Economics and the Polytechnic School.

We are publishing the declaration of these workers in struggle to help break the "cordon sanitaire" of the lying media which surrounds these struggles and presents them as no more than violent riots led by a few anarchist wreckers terrorising the population. This text clearly shows the strength of the feeling of workers' solidarity which animated the movement and which linked different generations of proletarians: 

"We will either determine our history ourselves or let it be determined without us

We, manual workers, employees, jobless, temporary workers, local or migrants, are not passive TV-viewers. Since the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos on Saturday night we participate in the demonstrations, the clashes with the police, the occupations of the centre or the neighbourhoods. Time and again we had to leave work and our daily obligations to take to the streets with the students, the university students and the other proletarians in struggle.

WE DECIDED TO OCCUPY THE BUILDING OF GSEE

To turn it into a space of free expression and a meeting point of workers.

To disperse the media-touted myth that the workers were and are absent from the clashes, and that the rage of these days was an affair of some 500 "mask-bearers", "hooligans" or some other fairy tale, while on the TV-screens the workers were presented as victims of the clash, while the capitalist crisis in Greece and Worldwide leads to countless layoffs that the media and their managers deal as a "natural phenomenon".

To flay and uncover the role of the trade union bureaucracy in the undermining of the insurrection - and not only there. GSEE and the entire trade union mechanism that supports it for decades and decades, undermines the struggles, bargain our labour power for crumbs, perpetuate the system of exploitation and wage slavery. The stance of GSEE last Wednesday is quite telling: GSEE cancelled the programmed strikers' demonstration, stopping short at the organization of a brief gathering in Syntagma Sq., making simultaneously sure that the people will be dispersed in a hurry from the Square, fearing that they might get infected by the virus of insurrection.

To open up this space for the first time - as a continuation of the social opening created by the insurrection itself - a space that has been built by our contributions, a space from which we were excluded. For all these years we trusted our fate on saviours of every kind, and we end up losing our dignity. As workers we have to start assuming our responsibilities, and to stop assigning our hopes to wise leaders or "able" representatives. We have to acquire a voice of our own, to meet up, to talk, to decide, and to act. Against the generalized attack we endure. The creation of collective ‘grassroot' resistances is the only way.

To propagate the idea of self-organization and solidarity in working places, struggle committees and collective grassroot procedures, abolishing the bureaucrat trade unionists.

All these years we gulp the misery, the pandering, the violence in work. We became accustomed to counting the crippled and our dead - the so-called ‘labour accidents'. We became accustomed to ignore the migrants - our class brothers - getting killed. We are tired living with the anxiety of securing a wage, revenue stamps, and a pension that now feels like a distant dream.

As we struggle not to abandon our life in the hands of the bosses and the trade union representatives, likewise we will not abandon any arrested insurgent in the hands of the state and the juridical mechanism.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF THE DETAINED!

NO CHARGE TO THE ARRESTED!

SELF-ORGANIZATION OF THE WORKERS' GENERAL STRIKE!

WORKERS' ASSEMBLY IN THE ‘LIBERATED' BUILDING OF GSEE

Wednesday, 17th December 2008, 18:00 General Assembly of Insurgent Workers".

On the evening of 17th December, fifty odd union bureaucrats and heavies tried to get the HQ back under their control but they ran away when student reinforcements chanting "solidarity", the majority of them anarchists, came from the University of Economics, which had also been occupied and transformed into a place for meetings and discussions open to all workers. The association of Albanian immigrants, among others, distributed a text proclaiming their solidarity with the movement, entitled "these days are ours as well!"

Significantly, a small minority of those occupying the trade union HQ put out the following message:

"Panagopoulos, the general secretary of the GSEE, has decaled that we are mot workers, because workers are at work. Among other things this reveals a lot about the reality of Panagopoulos' ‘job'. His ‘job' is to make sure that the workers are indeed at work, to do all in his power to make sure that the workers go to work. But for the last ten days, workers haven't just been at work, they are also outside, in the streets. And this is a reality which no Panagopoulos in the world can hide...We are people who work, we are also unemployed (paying with lay-offs for our participation in strikes called by the GSEE while the representatives of the trade unions are rewarded with promotions), we work for insecure contracts in one small job after another, we work without any formal or informal security in training courses or jobs subsidised to keep the unemployment figures down. We are part of this world and we are here.

"We are insurgent workers, full stop. All of our wage cheques are paid for in our blood, our sweat, in violence at work, in heads, knees, hands and feet broken by accidents at work.

"The whole world is made by us, the workers...

"Proletarians from the liberated building of the GSEE"

There were repeated calls for an indefinite general strike from the 18th onwards. The unions were forced to call a three-hour strike in the public sector on that day. 

On the morning of the 18th, another high school student, 16, taking part in a sit-in near his school in a suburb of Athens, was wounded by a bullet. On the same day, several radio and TV stations were occupied by demonstrators, notably in Tripoli, Chania and Thessaloniki. The building of the chamber of commerce was occupied in Patras and there were new clashes with the police. The huge demonstration in Athens was violently repressed: for the first time, new types of weapons were used by the anti-riot forces: paralysing gas and deafening grenades. A leaflet against state terror was signed "Girls in revolt" and circulated in the University of Economics.

The movement began to perceive, in a confused way, its own geographical limits: this is why it welcomed with enthusiasm the demonstrations of international solidarity that have taken place in France, Berlin, Rome, Moscow, Montreal or New York and declared "this support is very important to us". The occupiers of the Polytechnic School called for an "international day of mobilisation against state murder" on 20th December; but to overcome the isolation of this proletarian uprising in Greece, the only way forward is the development of solidarity and of class struggle on an international scale.    

A maturation that points to the future

On 20th December, more violent street fights took place and the vice tightened around the Polytechnic School in particular, with the police threatening to launch a raid. The GSEE occupation handed back the building on 21st December, following a decision by the occupation committee and a vote in the general assembly. On 22nd December the occupation committee of the Polytechnic School then published a communiqué which declared: "We are for emancipation, human dignity and freedom. No need to throw tear gas at us because we are crying enough already".

Showing a great deal of maturity, and following a decision taken at the general assembly of the University of Economics, the occupiers used the call for the demonstration of the 24th against police repression and in solidarity with imprisoned comrades as a suitable moment to effect a mass evacuation of the building and to do it in safety: "There seems to be a consensus on the need to leave the university and to sow the spirit of revolt in society in general". These examples would be followed by the general assemblies of other occupied universities, thus springing the trap of being closed in and pushed towards a direct confrontation with the police, which could only have resulted in a bloodbath. The general assemblies also denounced the use of firearms against a police car, claimed by a so-called "Popular Action" group, as being a police provocation.

The Polytechnic occupation committee symbolically evacuated the last bastion in Athens at midnight on 24th December: "The general assembly and the assembly alone will decide if and when we leave the university...the crucial point is that it's the people occupying the building and not the police who decide on the moment to quit"

Before that, the occupation committee published a declaration: "By bringing the occupation of the Polytechnic School to an end after 18 days, we send our warmest solidarity to everyone who has been part of this revolt in different ways, not only in Greece but also in many countries of Europe, America, Asia and Oceania. For all those we have met and with whom we are going to stay together, fighting for the liberation of the prisoners of this revolt, and for its prolongation until the world social liberation."

In certain areas, residents took over the speakers installed by the municipal authorities for broadcasting Christmas carols to call, among other things, for the immediate freeing of all those arrested, the disarmament of the police, the dissolution of the anti-riot brigades and the abolition of the anti-terrorist laws. In Volos, the municipal radio station and the offices of the local paper were occupied to talk about the events and their implications. At Lesvos, demonstrators installed a sound system in the centre of the town and broadcast messages. In Ptolemaida and Ionnina, Christmas trees were decorated with photos of the young high school pupil killed at the beginning and with the movement's demands.

The feeling of solidarity was expressed again spontaneously and with considerable force on 23rd December, after an attack on an employee of a cleaning firm subcontracted by the Athens metro company (ISAP). Acid was thrown at her face while on the way home from work. Solidarity demonstrations took place and the HQ of the Athens metro was occupied on 27th December, while in Thessaloniki the GSEE HQ was occupied. The two occupations organised a series of demonstrations, solidarity concerts and "counter-information" actions (for example, occupying the loudspeaker system at the metro station to read out communiqués).

The Athens assembly declared in its text:

"When they attack one of us, they attack all of us!

"Today we are occupying the central offices of the ISAP (Athens metro) as a first response to the murderous acid attack to the face of Konstantina Kuneva on 23rd December as she was coming home from work. Konstantina is in intensive care in hospital. Last week, she was in dispute with the company demanding a full Christmas bonus for her and her colleagues, denouncing the illegal acts of the bosses. Before that, her mother had been sacked by the same company. She herself was moved far away from her first workplace. These are very widespread practices in the cleaning companies which pay the casual workers...Oikomet's owner is a member of PASOK (the Greek Socialist Party). It officially employs 800 workers (the workers say it's double that, while over the last three years over 3,000 have worked there). The illegal, mafia-like behaviour of the bosses there is a daily phenomenon. For example, the workers are forced to sign blank contracts (the conditions are written in by the bosses afterwards) and they have no opportunity of reviewing them. They work for 6 hours and are only paid for 4.5 (gross wage) so that they don't go beyond 30 hours (otherwise they have to be put in the high risk category). The bosses terrorise them, displace them, sack them and threaten them with forced resignations. The struggle for DIGNITY and SOLIDARITY is OUR struggle".

Parallel to this, the assembly of the occupation of the GSEE in Thessaloniki published a text which said: "Today we are occupying the HQ of the trade unions of Thessaloniki to oppose the oppression which takes the form of murder and terrorism against the workers...We appeal to all the workers to join this common struggle...the assembly, open to all occupying the union office, people coming from different political milieus, trade union members, students, immigrants and comrades from abroad adopted this joint decision:

"to continue the occupation;

"to organise rallies in solidarity with Konstantina Kuneva;

"to organise actions to spread information and to raise awareness around the city;

"to organise a concert in the city centre to collect money for Konstantina".

This assembly also declared "Nowhere in the platform of the trade unions is there any reference to the causes of inequality, poverty and hierarchical structures in society...The general confederations and the trade union centres in Greece are an intrinsic part of the regime in power; their rank and file members must turn their back on them and work towards the creation of an autonomous pole of struggle directed by themselves...if the workers take their struggles into their own hands and break with the logic of being represented by the bosses' accomplices, they will rediscover their confidence and thousands of them will fill the streets in the next round of strikes. The state and its thugs are murdering people.

"Self-organisation! Struggles for social self-defence! Solidarity with immigrant workers and Konstanitina Kuneva". 

At the beginning of January 2009, demonstrations were still taking place across the country in solidarity with the prisoners. 246 people had been arrested and 66 were still in preventative prison. In Athens, 50 immigrants had been arrested in the first three days of the uprising, with punishments of up to 18 months, in trials without interpreters; all of them are threatened with expulsion.

On 9th January, young people and police were again confronting each other after a march in the city centre by around 3,000 teachers, students and pupils. On their banners were slogans like "money for education, not the bankers", "Down with the government of murderers and poverty". Large anti-riot forces charged them several times to disperse them, resulting in a number of further arrests.

In Greece as everywhere else, with the insecurity, the redundancies, the unemployment, the poverty wages imposed by the world crisis, the capitalist state can only offer more police and more repression. Only the international development of the struggle and solidarity between industrial workers and office workers, full-time and casual workers, school pupils, university students, the unemployed, pensioners, all generations together, can open the way to a future perspective of abolishing this system of exploitation. 

W (18.1.09)

 



[1]. See our article "Noi la crisi non la paghiamo!"

 

[2]. Marianne n° 608, 13/12/08, "Grèce: les leçons d'une émeute"

 

[3]3. Libération 12/12/08

 

[4]. Le Monde, 10/12/08

 

[5]. Marianne, op cit.