Greece – Hundreds of thousands join public sector strike against savage austerity plans

EU ‘rescue’ comes with ruthless “stringent conditions – workers’ mass resistance must continue! Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took strike action in Greece, on Wednesday 10 February, in an impressive show of strength against the social democratic PASOK government’s draconian social cuts package. An estimated 75% of public sector workers took part, rising to 90% amongst bigger concentrations of workers in the state sector. Two demonstrations by trade unionists and workers were also held in Athens, despite heavy rain, with a total of around 15,000, which are big demonstrations compared to similar protests in recent years, particularly given the bad weather conditions.

A strike by private sector workers called for 24 February will now turn into a general 24 hour strike, as the public workers’ Union Confederation (ADEDY) has decided to join.

There is widespread and very deep anger and rage against the planned attacks on jobs, wages, conditions and pensions and tax rises. The austerity measures include a freeze on public sector pay and serious cuts in bonuses, which make up a large part of Greek public sector wages (sometimes up to 90% of the formal wage), heavy taxes on fuel, tobacco and alcohol, to replace only one in five of those employees leaving the civil service, to raise the retirement age by two years, on average, and above the age of 65 (now formal retirement age) by giving “incentives” to workers to stay longer in jobs (incentives means the lowering of pensions so that workers are forced to stay working longer. Foreign journalists described last Wednesday’s main marches as a “river of fury”. A worker commented: “What they are trying to do is roll back our hard-earned rights, rights like the eight-hour day and a decent pension after a lifetime’s work. This is a crisis that is going to make the poor even poorer and the rich even richer. It’s totally unfair.” But the mood is mixed, with some workers also expressing resignation and even despair. Many workers are also stunned by the rapid development and depth of Greece’s economic crisis. The leaders of the ADEDY union federation (of public employees) which called the strike, say they oppose the government’s savage austerity package, but they do not put forward a concrete programme for workers to defeat the attacks or offer a real alternative to cuts. Many experienced activists say that the strike was called mainly to “let off steam” and little else.
PASOK’s pollings

Although the PASOK (‘Panhellenic Socialist Movement’) government is responsible for the savage cuts plan, it still has around 40% support in recent opinion polls, compared to the main opposition, New Democracy (ND), which is languishing at around 30%. This is roughly the same as the two main establishment parties received six months ago, when PASOK replaced the hated right wing ND government. The main left parties, the Communist Party and SYRIZA, are at around 7% and 4% respectively.

How can PASOK’s polling lead today – in the midst of a deep economic crisis, huge cuts plans and protest strikes – be explained? The truth is that the Greek ruling class was very fortunate (or accurate in planning early elections) about the timing of New Democracy’s ousting from government. If the hated, right wing ND had remained in power and announced similar cuts to PASOK’s, the situation in Greece would have been much more explosive. A New Democracy government presiding over cuts in the early 1990s provoked huge mass movements and rocked society.

Instead, the current PASOK government has partially managed, up to now, to put the blame for the country’s economic problems on the previous ND government (which hid the true extent of Greek’s huge debts) and the policies of the EU and euro zone (which narrow the options in front of PASOK to deal with the crisis), and the predatory actions of hedge fund speculators who are betting on Greece defaulting on its debts.

Prime Minister George Papandreou says PASOK has had no choice but to renege on election campaign promises in order to tackle Greece’s 300bn euro public debt, pledging to cut the budget deficit from 12.7% to within the euro zone’s “permissible 3% limit” by the end of 2012.

The PASOK government has also announced some populist measures against the rich, including targeting tax evasion, which is a huge problem in Greece, and by stating that the government will tax higher the richest parts of society (for example it has announced taxation on bank executive and financiers’ bonuses of 90%). These policies are also as far as the main union federations are prepared to go, at the moment. Only SYRIZA (coalition of the radical left), of the two main left parties, has put forward the demand for nationalisation of the crisis-ridden banks and for nationalisation or re-nationalisation of parts of the state sector economy, under workers’ control and management. However, these demands are generally buried in newspaper articles and the leaders of SYRIZA do not refer to them when they are on speaking on television, for example. This means that most workers do not know what demands SYRIZA is putting forward.

The Greek “communist party” (CP), in contrast, which has a bigger electoral support than SYRIZA and a more solid working class base in Greek society, uses strong and “bold” phraseology to say that workers must defeat the attacks of the government, the EU and the bosses. But the CP does not explain how to stop the attacks – it makes no concrete proposals either in relation to political and class demands or in relation to how the struggles should develop. At the same time, the CP continues to apply sectarian splitting tactics, organizing separate demonstrations and claiming that everyone else (on the left and in the unions), except the CP, are agents of the bourgeoisie.

By contrast, supporters of Xekinima (CWI in Greece) clearly put forward a socialist alternative to the crisis. The Xekinima newspaper sold on Wednesday’s Athens’s demonstrations carried headlines and articles that called for workers to fight back, to “Make the bosses pay!” to “plan a series of general strikes” and demanding “a socialist fight-back on the part of the left parties”, explaining that “the left parties in Greece are faced with historical responsibilities”. These demands got a warm response from strikers, even in the cases of workers who clearly felt “tired” and rather disillusioned.

Xekinima also puts forward more detailed public demands, including, no cuts in wages, no attacks on pensions, no increase in indirect taxation; stop tax evasion by the bosses ; stop repayment of the debt, use this money for public investment, to raise living standards; make the bosses pay back the 100 billion euros stolen from workers’ pension funds; for workers control and management to stop endemic corruption in the state sector and by big business; and nationalise all privatised public utility companies and all strategically important (commanding heights) of the economy.

EU ‘bail-out’?
The announcement by EU President Herman Von Rompuy, on Thursday 11 February, that the EU leaders agreed a deal on “helping” Greece tackle its debt crisis may lead to temporary hopes and illusions amongst many Greek workers that the crisis can be overcome and that maybe the worst cuts can be avoided.

However the EU action is not being planned in the interests of workers in Greece or anywhere across Europe. The EU states fear that if Greece was allowed to default on its debts or to leave the 16-member euro zone, the contagion could spread to other EU states with big public deficits, including Spain, Portugal and Ireland, with financial speculators targeting theses economies, and the whole euro project could blow apart.

The EU bosses also fear that if they take no action to ‘aid’ the Greek economy, and leave it to PASOK’s savage austerity cuts, as well as continuing plummeting economic crisis in Greece, this could unleash much greater social explosions, industrial movements and class struggles that could spread like wildfire to other crisis-ridden economies and, in general, throughout Europe.

The details of the EU ‘rescue package’ plan have yet to be seen, but it is clear from statements from Van Rompuy that it will come with ruthless “stringent conditions”, ensuring that the PASOK government sticks to its austerity plans. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, added that Greece will “not be left on its own, but there are rules and these rules must be adhered to”.

It will become clear to the working class and youth in Greece that the EU institutions will not provide an escape from savage cuts. In fact, anger and animosity against the EU establishment will most likely grow, as this bosses’ institution will demand the most atrocious attacks on the Greek people.

Supporters of Xekinima call for an internationalist response by the working class in Greece, linking up with workers in the rest of Europe who face similar attacks and suffering. Xekinima fights against the EU of the capitalists and for a socialist united Europe.

To develop the movement against the PASOK government and dictates of the EU bosses’ club, Xekinima calls for industrial action to go from partial strikes to 24 hour and 48 hour general strikes, of all public and private workers. Plans for these actions must be coordinated and developed at local, regional and national levels. The governing PASOK party, despite blaming everyone but itself for the attacks facing workers, will not show a way out.

One of the key tasks for socialists in Greece is to fight against the splitting tactics of sections of the left in Greece, particularly the CP, and to campaign for a ‘united front’ of the left, fundamentally the CP and SYRIZA, to form a powerful resistance to social attacks.

This needs to be linked to bold socialist policies to stop the attacks, and for democratic workers’ planning and management of the economy to serve workers, poor and youth – not profits – and to build a socialist society.

Xekinima calls for the building of a mass, internationalist, revolutionary left in Greece and for a workers’ government with bold socialist policies, to end the crisis and to transform the living standards of working people and youth.

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