At the beginning of October one of the most successful general strikes of the last few years took place in Greece. More than 15,000 workers and youth gathered in front of the headquarters of the General Federation of Greek Workers in Athens with a very militant mood demanding the withdrawal of the government measures against the workers' conditions of work. The demonstration that followed the speeches went to the Parliament and was really very impressive.
This general strike took place after more than two years of a significant lull in the levels of struggle of the labour movement. The reasons for this lull were: 1) the big disappointment with PASOK policies, 2) the degeneration and the capitulation of the trade union leadership, 3) the massive closure of big industries with a rise in unemployment and the widespread feeling of insecurity, affected trade union activity in the private sector, 4) the absence of any alternative on the left.
The reasons behind the general strike
The general strike was the result of a new attack on the part of the government. It wants a new law, to be voted within a month's time, which will change working conditions dramatically. What they want to do is to give bosses the right to sack workers in bigger numbers than before, to force them to work a flexible working week, (with as many hours as the bosses need when there is demand for their products and fewer hours when demand is low), to use more part time workers, to take subsidies for workers that they employ (thus they will be able to sack workers and then hire new ones and get the subsidy!), and to let the bosses pay lower social security contributions for the workers.
This was a very hard attack, so the workers (who were already very critical towards the PASOK government) became very angry and they put pressure on their trade union leaders to respond immediately.
The trade union leaders of General Federation of Greek Workers (GFGW) tried to conciliate but they were faced with a very arrogant reply from the government. As a result they called a 24 hour strike.
The accumulated discontent of the workers was expressed with an impressive participation in the strike (apart from the participation in the demonstration). 50-60% took part in the strike in the private sector (this alone is very important) and 70-80% in the public sector.
It was the first time in the last 6-8 years that the workers in the big factories have been out on strike. The trade union leaders themselves were very surprised with the success and in reality they are worried.
The Greek Communist Party with its trade union organisation participated in the GFGW demonstration for the first time in the last 3 years. During this period the Communist Party decided practically to split the workers' movement and organise its forces in a separate organisation called PAME (Pan Hellenic Workers Front). They failed in attracting the disappointed workers of PASOK (which was their intention), so they were forced to step back and take part in the GFGW demonstration. Nevertheless, they did call for a demonstration of the PAME on its own for 21st October in the same place, in front of the GFGW headquarters.
What are the perspectives?
Already as a result of this successful strike the government has become very worried and has asked the trade union leaders to re-open negotiations with constructive and reasonable proposals! Both the government and the GFGW leaders are afraid of the workers' movement. They will try to find a compromise but it is very difficult to get this accepted by the workers. Besides, the government is preparing the ground for new attacks against the workers in the field of health care (they want to practically privatise it), and more importantly, with an all-out attack on the social security system where they want to raise the age of retirement and increase the amount of money the workers have to contribute and reduce the amount paid by the bosses. At the same time the government is continuing to privatise the state owned companies.
All this means that the GFGW leaders are in a very difficult position. The workers having been already squeezed are not prepared to let the government crush them completely. As we said before, they had already accumulated anger and frustration, they will inevitably react very strongly.
So the perspective that is opening up for the next period is one of intense struggles against these policies. Sooner or later we will see the explosion of a massive workers' movement. This perspective is born out of the high levels of unemployment (officially 12%, but it is growing) and the continuing impoverishment of the people. The decisive factor will be also the perspective of a world recession which in the case of Greece will hit very hard.