Massive general strike in Greece – A new stage in the class struggle

On May 11th a massive general strike took place in Greece. The trade union leaders were forced to call the strike as the anger of the workers mounted. The ND government has come out with an all-out attack on the working class and the workers have responded. Report from Marxistiki Foni.

Editorial Statement of the Greek Marxist Tendency, Marxistiki Foni

On Wednesday, May 11th, there was a massive general strike in Greece. This confirms that we have entered a new stage in the class struggle in Greece. The leadership of the GSEE (the Greek TUC) was forced to call this general strike under the pressure of the working class. The workers are facing a vicious attack from the New Democracy government (the Greek Conservative party).

This right-wing “New Democracy” government announced a series of anti-working class measures last month. This is an attempt to react against the real threat of a new recession in the Greek economy. The tendency towards economic slowdown became more apparent once the Olympic games were out of the way. In fact Greek GDP growth is now “running” at a rate of 2,5%. Last year it was 3,9%.

Part of the government measures was to raise taxation on basic goods, those essential goods for ordinary working class people. They announced their plans to abolish the 8-hour working day, thus liberalizing the working day and allowing the bosses to force workers to work longer hours. They also presented their plans on pensions. In line with other countries, they are proposing to raise the age of retirement. So workers will have to work more years before they will be able to get their pensions.

On the other hand, we have the behaviour of the GSEE leadership. Instead of replying with mass mobilisations, instead of giving a militant, fighting lead, they agreed to enter into a dialogue with the government. The president of the GSEE went as far as to propose a special tax on workers’ wages to finance social security spending!

This unpreparedness to take up a serious struggle on the part of the trade union leadership invited further aggression from the government. This year the May Day celebrations were delayed in Greece, because May 1st fell on the same day as the Greek Orthodox Easter. The government had announced that the May Day holiday would therefore be delayed officially until May 11th. Under pressure from the bosses, on May 6th it finally announced that May 11th would be a normal working day, de facto abolishing May Day for this year!

It had been calculated that the bosses would lose 150 million euros if the official holiday was to go ahead, and this was becoming an obstacle to the plans of the trade union leadership to enter into a dialogue with the government. But the decision to cancel May Day celebrations was thwarted by the growing anger of the workers. The workers saw this step as an open provocation and finally the pressure from below forced the trade union leadership to call a general strike for May 11th.

Big participation – Militant mood at rallies

Although they did nothing to prepare the general strike, and in spite of the fact that the KKE (Communist Party) Trade Union front, PAME, once again organised separate rallies in all the towns, thus helping to undermine workers’ unity, the general strike and the rallies saw a massive participation.

Even according to the figures published in the bourgeois press, the level of participation in the public sector and in the publicly owned banks was 90%! What was even more important was the participation of the private sector and especially in the big industries and in the large companies. In many places participation was 100%, as was the case in “Chalivourgiki”, the company that belongs to the husband of the famous organiser of the Olympic games, Yiana Aggelopoulou. This was also the case in all the Shipyards and in the State Vehicle Manufacturing Company (EVO).

In Athens about 3,500 to 4000 workers attended the rally of the of GSEE majority (organised by trade unionists of the PASOK, SYNASPISMOS and N.D). This was the biggest turnout in the last ten years for a May Day rally, with the exception of the year 2001, when we had the big movement against the anti-working class measures of the PASOK government on social security. Even in the previous 4-hour stoppage on March 17th the GSEE rally was much smaller with 1000 to 1500 workers taking part. The PAME rally was about 5,000 to 5,500 strong and this had a demoralising effect on its organizers. The PAME rally on March 17th had been bigger and their rallies in 2003 and 2004 were double this figure. This is a result of the scepticism among the party activists produced by the separatist tactics adopted by the KKE leaders.

There was also a big participation in all the other major cities of Greece. In Thessaloniki all the major industries were closed and the rally was the biggest May Day rally since the 1970s. In Patras, Iraklio and Larissa we also saw a big participation in the strike and rallies.

The speeches of the GSEE leaders at the rally in Athens were directed against the government with an aggressive tone, reflecting the big pressure of the workers. The workers participated in the rally with a fighting mood, but on their faces you could see quite clearly the lack of trust in their leadership.

An interesting detail was the fact that for the first time there was a large contingent of workers in the Synaspismos section of the rally, who displayed a very militant mood.

At the PAME rally in Athens the KKE trade union leaders vehemently defended strongly their tactic, which reminds us somewhat of the classic ultra-left “Third period” tactics of the Communist Party leaders in the early 1930s that led the working class to suffer big defeats, especially in Germany. However, it was also clear that this tactic does not convince all the KKE workers, many of whom were clearly perplexed, especially the older workers present at the rally.

Conclusions and political perspectives

This general strike marks the beginning of a new period of widespread class struggle in Greece. This comes after a short period in which there had been very little working class mobilisation. Now the trade union bureaucracy’s room for manoeuvre has been limited. Its attempt to enter into a dialogue with the government has been stifled and it will be forced to call for a new round of mobilisations.

Also the movement will have an impact on the leaders of PAME. The pressure from below is for unity and thus the PAME leaders will be more careful and it will be much more difficult for them to put into practice their plans to transform the de facto split in the labour movement into an official split.

The Karamanlis government after one year without any important working class mobilisations against its policies will now be facing the storm of working class mobilisation and strikes. This will bring closer the perspective of a serious government crisis, and even the fall of this ND government.

All the factors demonstrate that in Greece we have all the preconditions for a repeat of the Portuguese example, but with the working class on the move. The leadership of PASOK is actually worried by this perspective. The opinion polls show falling popularity rates for this government and, incredibly, what they are afraid of is that they may be dragged back into power by the workers even before the ND government has finished doing the “dirty work” for the bourgeoisie.

All the opinion polls show that the ND are now only 2.5 points ahead of PASOK and the two left parties (the KKE and Synaspismos), as well as the extreme right-wing LAOS party are also making small gains.

However, the more important question to emerge from the opinion polls is the degree of alienation of the people from both of the two main parties (ND and PASOK). This underlines one thing: the masses disapprove of the bourgeois policies carried out by both of the main political forces in Greek society.

After May 11th the Greek working class is returning to its place at the centre of the class struggle in Europe. A new period is opening up and this will give the workers that historical opportunity to transform society from top to bottom. What is lacking is the leadership. The Greek Marxists, gathered around the journal “Marxistiki Foni”, will fight together with the advanced workers in Greece to build that mass revolutionary alternative that the workers need to transform society.