Greece: New general strike - the working class in revolt

Another massive general strike rocked Greek society on March 15. This came about in a situation of growing class conflict. The result has been a big fall in support for the present right wing New Democracy government. The Greek bosses are now openly discussing the possibility of French contagion in Greece.

On March 15 the Greek working class “showed its muscles” to the bourgeois and their government. This was the fifth general strike in one year and undoubtedly the biggest and most successful. In all the large workplaces (big industries, companies of the public sector, banks, ports, train and bus stations etc.) participation was almost 100%.

This time the rallies had a bigger participation compared to the previous general strike rallies. Around 30,000 workers took part in the GSEE (Greek TUC) rally and around 15,000 in the PAME (CP Union Front) rally. The mood among the workers was very militant and many young workers who had not participated before in a demonstration, turned up for the strike rally.

One of the reasons for the big participation is the feeling that the workers have that the government is in a deep crisis, with its social support collapsing. One recent “Kapa research” opinion poll has revealed that “New Democracy” has lost 20% in the working class areas of Athens.

Also another factor has played a decisive role in stimulating this militant mood among the workers. In February we had some very important strikes that prepared the ground for this change in the psychology of the workers. One of these strikes was that of the Coca-Cola workers where initially a strong fighting spirit was revealed. (Unfortunately after one month of struggle some workers, faced with no alternative posed by the leadership of the union, some of the - older - workers accepted bosses’ offer of a doubling of redundancy payments.) Another big dispute, which has been capturing the imagination of Greek workers, is the bitter struggle of the workers in the fertilizer plant in Thessaloniki which has been occupied. These workers have also been organizing weekly demonstrations.

Above all, however, we have had the sailors’ strike. This strike has become a symbol of resistance against the right wing ND government, which is now openly presenting its real face as a tool in the hands of the bosses. After one week of the sailors’ strike, the government decided to “conscript” the sailors (like soldiers) by using an old reactionary law from the period of the colonel’s dictatorship (1967-1974). This action increased the isolation of the government. Opinion polls showed that 70% of the population backed the sailors. The sailors’ strike came to an end one day after the “conscription”, although there were many sailors that would have liked to continue the strike. It was obvious that although the strike did not achieve a victory, the government has lost much of its support within society as a result of its actions against the sailors.

The GSEE and the bosses

Unfortunately after the big general strike the GSEE leaders have no real perspective of how to go forward. They do not have a concrete plan to move the struggle forward. They are merely trying to use the general strike as a means of increasing pressure on the bosses to grant some minor increases for those on the lowest salaries.

Immediately after the general strike the president of the industrialists’ union (the SEV) launched a new attack against the workers by demanding the loosening up of laws that limit the bosses freedom to sack workers, the abolition of collective bargaining agreements, an increase in the age of retirement and a reduction in the level of pensions. This is an all-out attack on the Greek working class.

The reason for this aggressive stance of the bosses is that they feel they are the rulers of the political scene in Greece. They have “their” party in power and for now they also completely control the PASOK leadership. That is why they are insisting so much on their present aggressive line of shock tactics against the workers. However, all they will achieve with all this will be a renewed explosion of the class war in Greece.

The fear for of French contagion on the political situation

After the general strike the government has tried to find a way of calming the situation down and make some concession to win some time. The Ministry of Labour has called on the bosses to concede bigger wage rises. What is significant is that one week after the general strike a big debate opened up in the media about the possibilities a repetition in Greece of the French generalised social explosion. Is very amusing to observe how the bourgeois politicians and journalists speak with horror about this possibility.

The government is reacting nervously to the news coming from France. Immediately after the movement developed in France they announced the freezing for a month of the so-called “reforms” of the public sector companies. The government media representative Roussopoulos announced that French-style “First Employment Contract” (Contrat première embauche, or CPE) is not envisaged in the plans of the Karamanlis government and then went on to accuse the leadership of PASOK because these kinds of contract were part of their programme! Of course this is true, but what Roussopoulos also conveniently ignored was that the Karamanlis government has already introduced the “French model” in the state owned companies, as these have been prepared for privatisation.

This debate in the media about France express two things: the fear of the bourgeois that the class struggle in Greece could escalate and also the huge effect that the class struggle in one country can have on another and spread very rapidly from one country to the other.

The problem facing “New Democracy” is that in September there will be the local elections and if the government continues to escalate its attacks on the workers it is practically guaranteed that it will face a big defeat.

But such a defeat will not come about on the basis of an increase in PASOK support in society. The PASOK has not been growing in any of the opinion polls. This is because it has been in a state of permanent crisis since the Simitis period and also because of the “Blairite” policies of the present party president George Papandreu. This is the first time in Greece that a big fall in support for the government is not producing a corresponding increase in support for the main opposition party.

In the opinion polls the support that the ND is losing is going either to the “don’t knows”, the KKE (Communist Party) and above all to the LAOS, a right wing reactionary party [a small split off from the ND in the past].

All this deos not indicate that society is moving to the right. We should note, for example, that the president of LAOS George Karatzaferis has been using a very “demagogic” populist language and on many occasions even a left phraseology, announcing his support for Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez! But the LAOS these days has been troubled by scandals some of its leading figures have been involved in, so its rise in not so guaranteed.

The KKE has indeed been big increasing its support because of the PASOK’s lack of real opposition to the government but its political influence is limited because of the sectarian tactics of the party leadership. The Synaspismos is in a deep crisis. The right wing of the party has been using the old party president Konstantopoulos who has announced publicly on more than one occasion his support for a coalition with the PASOK, in an attempt to undermine the new left president of the party, Alavanos. In reality only the unification of these two left parties, the KKE and Synaspismos, (who were historically part of the same party – the old, and much more powerful Greek Communist Party) on the basis of a socialist programme could today offer a powerful political solution to the workers.

The perspectives

The Greek economy is facing the prospect of stagnation and after the important GDP growth of the recent period is heading for recession. The GDP growth still stands at 3% but all the elements are present for a recession. In 2005 investment fell by 1.5% although the profits of the big companies (quoted on the Athens stock exchange) increased from between 60% and150%. This is thanks only to a law that the Karamanlis government introduced last July that reduces wages for overtime work.

Since 2002, 5000 companies have closed down and 3500 have shifted production outside Greece to other Balkan countries where wages are much lower. As a result of this process unemployment is officially 10%. The workers have seen their living standards fall dramatically. Today in Greece 45% of the workers earn less than 500 euros per month and 73% of the old workers are getting wages that are on the same level as pensions. If we have this situation in a period of growth what can the workers expect when a recession hits?

The growth of GDP in reality is based on consumer spending based on credit, i.e. by families surviving by getting into debt. This kind of growth cannot be sustained. There is a growing mood of militancy among the Greek workers and with the coming recession this will create the conditions for enhanced class conflicts.

As we write this article the GSEE leadership is trying to find a way of retreating and calling back the workers from struggle by getting the bosses to grant some percentage increases in wages. But they will not be able to calm down the class struggle. Many fronts in the class struggle are open. At “Olympic Airways” the workers have already announce mobilisations against the privatisation of the company for early April. At the big shipyards in Greece, “Skaramagas”, the workers are ready to go into action against the plan for massive redundancies. Above all, 80,000 workers in DEKO (the body that runs all the state owned companies and services) are ready to launch an all-out struggle against changes in their working conditions. There is also the youth that took part in a massive demonstration this month against the plans of the government to change the Greek Constitution so as to allow for the setting up of private universities in Greece.

All this shows that if there is one country in Europe which is set to follwo the road of France that is Greece. The Greek Marxists of “Marxistiki Foni” understand that this is an ideal situation in which to carry out the historical task of the building a strong revolutionary tendency within the mass organisations of the working class and youth in Greece.

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