Greek workers face brutal austerity package

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One year ago, there were three weeks of massive struggles in the streets of Greece over the police murder of a young anarchist, Alexandros Grigoropoulos. But the movement on the street and in the schools and universities had great difficulty linking up with the struggles in the workplace. There was only one strike, that of primary school teachers for one morning, in support of the movement, even though this was a time of massive labour unrest, including a general strike, and the links still couldn't be made.

However, in Greece the workers' actions have continued beyond the end of the protest movement up until today. Indeed Labour Minister, Andreas Lomberdos, has been warning that the measures needed to lift the national debt crisis that is threatening to kick Greece out of the euro-zone might result in bloodshed. The new Socialist government is talking of uniting all of the bourgeois parties and is seeking to forge an emergency national unity government that will be able to suspend articles of the constitution protecting the right to public assembly, demonstration and strike.

Even before the government announced its ‘reforms' (read attacks on the working class) to reduce the budget deficit from 12.7% to 2.8% by 2012, there was a large wave of workers' struggles. There have been strikes of dockworkers, Telecom workers, dustbin men, doctors, nurses, kindergarten and primary school teachers, taxi drivers, steel workers, and municipal workers, all for what seems like separate reasons but actually all in response to attacks that the state and capital has already been forced to make to try to make workers pay for the crisis.

Before the austerity package was put forward (and approved by the EU) Prime Minister Papandreou warned that it would be "painful." And on 29 January, before any details were announced, in response to the existing "stability programme" there was an angry demonstration by firefighters and other public sector workers in Athens.

The government's 3- year plan included a comprehensive wage freeze for public sector workers and a 10% reduction in allowances. Estimates put this as equivalent to a pay cut of anything from 5-15%. Retiring government workers will not be replaced, but there is also the prospect of the age of retirement being raised as a way for the state to save on pension costs.

The fact that the state is now being forced to implement even more severe attacks against an already combative working class show the depths to which the crisis has effected Greece. Minister Lomberdos spelled it out very clearly when he said that these measures "can only be implemented in a violent way". However, attacks made against all sectors of workers at the same time open up the real possibility for workers to make a common struggle over joint demands.

If you examine carefully what the unions in Greece have been doing you can see that their actions are keeping the struggles divided. On 4/5 February there was a 48-hour official strike by customs officers and tax officials that shut down ports and border crossing points, while some farmers were still maintaining their blockades. The Independent (5/2/10) headlined "Strikes bring Greece to its knees" and described the action as the "first of an expected rash of rowdy strikes"

This ‘expected rash' of strikes involves plans for a public sector strike and march to parliament to protest against the attacks on pensions by the Adedy union on 10 February ; a strike called by PAME, the Stalinist union, on 11 February; and a private sector strike by the GSEE, the largest union, representing 2 million workers, on 24 February.

Divided in this way the working class is not going to bring the Greek state to its knees. The Financial Times (5/2/10) thought that up to now the "unions have reacted mildly to the government's austerity plans, reflecting a mood of willingness to make sacrifices to overcome the economic crisis" but identified "a growing union backlash against the government's austerity programme." In reality the unions have not neglected their support for the Socialist government, but, with the growing anger being expressed by the working class, they know that if they don't stage some actions then there is the possibility that workers will begin to see through the union charade. At the moment the unions have put on their radical face, broken off dialogue on future plans for pensions and scheduled one and two day strikes on a variety of dates. The unions were indeed willing for workers to make sacrifices, but now they have to take account of the backlash from the working class.

For workers, in the future development of their struggles, there is a need to be wary not only of the unions but of other ‘false friends.' The KKE (Greek Communist Party), for example, which does have some influence in the working class, was, a year ago, calling protesters secret agents of ‘dark foreign forces', and ‘provocateurs'. Now they say that ‘workers and farmers have the right to resort to any means of struggle to defend their rights'. Should they return to their old tune there are other left-wing forces like the Trotskyists who will be there to rally workers against fascists or other right wingers, or against the influence of American imperialism - for anything except workers moving towards taking their struggles into their own hands. With strikes in neighbouring Turkey happening at the same time as strikes in Greece, the unions and their allies will be particularly concerned that all the problems facing workers are portrayed as being specifically Greek, and not affecting workers internationally.

One thing that is distinctive about the situation in Greece has been the proliferation of various armed groups that bomb public buildings but, in the process, create little more than a flaming alternative to mainstream spectacles, while encouraging further state repression. These groups, with exotic names like the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, Guerrilla Group of Terrorists or the Nihilist Faction, offer nothing to the working class. Workers build class solidarity, consciousness, and confidence through taking part in their own struggles, and developing their own forms of organisation, not through sitting at home and watching bombs set by leftist radicals on TV. The sound of a workers' mass meeting discussing how to organise their own struggle scares the ruling class more than a thousands bombs.   

DD (updated by WR 5/2/10)