Greece: it is time for struggle!

In the recent period Greece has been gripped by a wave of strikes involving ever wider layers. The PASOK government is facing more and more opposition as the effects of its austerity measures bite into the living standards of ordinary working people. This has opened up the prospect of the PASOK possibly losing the next general election.

In the recent period Greece has been gripped by a wave of strikes over wages and social benefits. On October 6, public sector workers including refuse collectors, hospital workers, doctors, teachers, university professors and judges came out on strike. On the same day the workers took part in a protest demonstration in Athens. The degree to which the protest movement has reached wide layers of society is shown by the presence of police officers who also took strike action on that day! This action was immediately followed by that of the taxi drivers. The firefighters have also raised their own demands

The PASOK government in a desperate attempt to boost its flagging support among the electorate recently increased wages for the lower paid workers, but this in no way makes up for the losses of the past, and in any case involves only one part of the working class, while at the same time the attacks on living standards continue.

In general, the position of the government has been that it cannot afford major increases for all workers, and that sacrifices need to be made. This has further enraged the workers. Another strike erupted on October 10, which saw a major armed confrontation between the special riot police and ordinary police officers who were protesting. Some of the protesting police were injured by the special riot police. The government accused the ordinary police of mutiny!

There followed further protests on October 13, with many public sector workers coming out. The government initially presented the same position as before, saying they could not afford further wage increases, but was then forced by the pressure of the workers to reach an agreement with the unions, who then called off the strike on October 16.

This strike wave is continuing and is bringing to the surface all the contradictions of Greek society that had accumulated over a long period. The PASOK government is proving that it is no longer capable of holding back the workers and the trade union movement. In these conditions the possible return to government of the hated right wing New Democracy is not ruled out. Such a development would see even bigger struggles unfolding in Greece, and would open up a completely new and unstable epoch for Greek society, where the working class would clearly put its imprint on society.

We are here publishing the editorial statement of the latest issue of Sosialistiki Ekfrasi, the Greek Marxist journal. (November 3, 2003)

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Only four months after their supposed triumph in Iraq, the American imperialists are facing a tempest of resistance and are being forced to count the number of dead soldiers that are the result of the wind they have sown. The situation more and more reminds us of Vietnam. The problem of the invaders is characterised by the commander of the occupying American forces, lieutenant general Ricardo Sanchez, who stated on October 2, that, “my forces face an enemy that is more and more organised, more and more complex, more and more homicidal, an enemy mixed in with the population”. He stated this while giving an account of the dead and the injured soldiers since the war ended.

At home, in the countries of the main protagonists in the Iraqi holocaust, of Bush and Blair, the exposure of the lies they spread about the supposed weapons of mass destruction is followed by the outburst of one scandal after an other. Sooner or later history, through the struggle of the people, will find the way of taking revenge for the unspeakable crimes carried out by these barefaced neo-crusaders and it will be merciless on them.

In our country [Greece] history is now taking revenge on the “modernisers” [the right wing of the PASOK, equivalent to the Blairites in Britain, Editor’s note], because of their policies against the workers. It is painfully true that it seems that they are going to lose power in the next parliamentary elections and let in New Democracy [the traditional right-wing party, the Greek Tories, Editor’s note].

The battle of K.Simitis [PASOK leader] before the elections for control of the party has been characterised by the removal of K.Laliotis from the position of General Secretary and the imposition in his place of Chrysohoidis. This is an indication that they are preparing for the period after the defeat in the next general elections.

After this summer the government took steps to avoid defeat through the announcement of its package of “bonuses” and the “charter for the social and financial agreement”. This was a last ditch attempt to overwhelm the huge distance that now separates it from New Democracy.

The announcement of the package of “bonuses” worth 1.7 billion Euros, which is aimed at those social layers which the PASOK government had hit the hardest in the past, along with the pre-electoral promises made in the “charter for agreement”, do not seem to have convinced anyone. The opinion poll results published after it had announced these measures showed that the distance between the two parties, the PASOK and New Democracy, remains at about 7 percentage points.

This was inevitable, because the “bonuses” are in reality a joke, a mere 1 euro per day per workers! And they were also announced together with very favourable concessions to big business (exemptions for the use of motor vehicles, fuel for the farmers, transfer of cultivated land and a cut in insurance contributions for the employers). Also, the promise of financial and social integration with Europe is just a very simple pre-electoral promise, which is based on pre-conditions that are very unlikely to become real, such as the projected economic growth of more that 4% per year for the next few years.

On top of all this - and using as an excuse all the above supposed “social” policies - the government has set in motion a new series of scandalous privatizations, selling off whatever is left of state-owned property, companies, land and real estate.

Moreover, far away from this world of fantastic promises, in the real unpleasant everyday world, the cost of living is galloping ahead for ordinary working people. This is adding more and more problems to the already existing ones of poverty and unemployment.

The Super-Markets owned by the multinational chains have announced that they are freezing prices, but they have done this only after they already increased them massively in the previous period. They did this in spite of the fact that here they sell their goods at prices that are 20% higher than in the other European Union countries, where living standards are almost double those of Greece! And yet the government, that is fully aware of all these facts, merely limits itself to asking them to “hold back” and at the same time it sends one of its ministers to run around the local markets and the kiosks!

The workers in the public sector have replied to the government’s “bonuses” with a series of strikes. These have involved the university professors and technical school teachers, the secondary school teachers and the hospital workers and has even involved the police-officers taking strike action, as well as the fire-fighters and the dock workers, just to mention some of the sectors that are involved in strike action.

The workers in the public sector understand very well that now is the right time to take back at least a part of what they have lost in the years since Simitis formed his government.

The chairman of the Greek TUC (GSEE) has been raising the question of the number of people who have lost their jobs in the private sector, but at the same time he continues his policy of passivity. He has congratulated the government for its “bonuses” and has announced that he will demand wage increases of 6%(!). He does this at the same time that the so-called “privileged” workers in the education sector have rejected wage increases of 10% and are demanding twice that amount.

The present struggles and all those that will inevitably unfold over the next weeks and months in the lead up to the elections, give us a good picture of what will happen after the elections. No matter which party will win the elections, it will try to take back any gains the workers may achieve in this period (this will be even more the case if it is a New Democracy government). That will be the period when the struggles in the public and the private sectors will find their real spring reawakening!