Greek workers are facing further austerity measures – the largest in the country since World War Two. This will entail huge wage and pension cuts and tax rises. The EU, European Central Bank and the IMF agreed to a 110 billion euro bailout in return for the Greek social democratic Pasok government carrying out drastic social cuts.
Public sector employees’ wages will be frozen until 2014. Holiday bonuses, which are a crucial ‘wages in kind’ and which were already cut in previous austerity packages by 30%, will be cut further.
Currently 65% of Greek pensioners live on less than 600 euros a month and now they are being targeted for cuts to their measly income. The retirement age is due to increase as will the period to qualify for a full state pension.
VAT will rise to 23% (it was 19% in March). In the private sector, laws will be introduced making it easier for bosses to sack workers and to attack severance payments.
Overall, it is estimated that these attacks will entail cutting the incomes of the average public employee by 25%-30% and by around 15%-20% for private sector workers. Workers are furious that they are being asked to pay for the crisis of the banks and the system.
A 24-hour general strike is planned for 5 May, which could be the largest organised workers’ opposition for a long time. However, beyond broad opposition to the cuts, the union leaders are not offering anything concrete. There is no clear alternative put forward. Union leaders instead say the cuts should not be carried out in an “unbalanced way” and that the rich should be taxed more. They call for “plans for developing the economy” that would see economic growth and a planned repayment of the debt burden.
The CWI in Greece, Xekinima, demands, ‘Don’t pay the debt!’ and ‘tax the rich’ (ending tax avoidance and corruption). Xekinima calls for an emergency plan of action, including a massive public works programme that would bring huge numbers of jobs and desperately needed investment to the public sector, public transport and infrastructure.
The key industries and utility companies should be taken into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control and management. The banking sector should be the first to be nationalised. A socialist plan of production would utilise the country’s economy and resources for the benefit of all.
However, the lack of an alternative from the union leaders or any bold call for decisive mass action to defeat the Pasok government attacks means that, at the current time, many workers cannot see a way out of the crisis. Millions of workers will strike on 5 May. But unless this action is developed, with occupations, repeated and longer general strikes, leading to an indefinite general strike if the government does not back down, workers understandably do not see a realistic prospect of stopping the juggernaut of social cuts. There is a mood of anger mixed with fear and even a sense of shock amongst many workers. Yet the Greek unions are only organising limited rallies and ‘festivals’ for May Day, not the sort of mass protest marches and rallies which the situation demands, as a preparation for the general strike.
Parties of the Left
The main parties of the left, the KKE (communist party) and the coalition Syriza, oppose the cuts but again offer no concrete alternative, plan of action or mobilisations. They do not put forward a clear socialist programme.
If the Pasok government manages to get through its cuts package and once it begins to hit working families, the already combustible mood can become highly explosive. A period of intense class struggles will develop, with more strikes and general strikes on the agenda. There can also be an increase in youth street protests and even riots by angry and alienated youth.
Young people have not decisively entered the struggle so far.
This partly reflects the exhaustion and partial defeats suffered by students after months of university occupations in 2007 and the dead-end of the mass youth street revolt at the end of 2008.
It is also the case that young people in education have not yet been hit directly by Pasok’s austerity measures. But with thousands of temporary jobs under threat in education, this situation can change quickly and dramatically.
The leaders of the unions and left parties will come under hard scrutiny from the working class and youth over the next period. A new generation of class fighters will inevitably develop. Mass consciousness will shift to the left, by leaps and bounds, preparing the way for the development of a mass left force, ready to fight against the system and prepare for its overturn and for the building of a just, socialist society, run in the interests of working people.
This is what Xekinima will be fighting for in the next turbulent period.