Greece: 6 April general strike – conclusions and next steps

On Wednesday 6 April, hundreds of thousands of workers from all over Greece responded to the call of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) and the Civil Servants' Confederation (ADEDY) to join a 24-hour general strike. Tens of thousands of workers, along with unemployed citizens and youth, participated in strike rallies organised in over 70 cities.

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This was the second major labour movement mobilisation since the 24-hour general strike last June against the anti-labour law of Labour Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, and it has demonstrated that the working class is moving, gradually but inexorably, towards mass struggle.

The central slogan of the call to strike action from the two largest union confederations in the country was: “Our salaries are not enough, the bills cannot be paid”; and the main demands were for “salary increases and measures against high prices, so that there is a decent standard of living for all”.

Furthermore, the unions were calling for abolition of Hatzidakis’ anti-labour law and the so-called ‘solidarity contribution’ (an emergency tax measure introduced in 2016); payment of back pay for salary increases for the years 2016-17; the raising of tax-free income to €12,000; the restoration of the 13th-14th month salary (i.e. two annual additional paychecks per year); increased pay for dangerous and unhealthy work, and the extension of such hazard pay to cover a wider range of professions; generous financial support for the ESY (the national healthcare system); the filling of thousands of public sector vacancies; and the cancellation of privatisations of state organisations and companies.

The All-Workers’ Militant Front (PAME) put forward the additional demand for opposition to the imperialist war in Ukraine, and the slogan of no involvement by Greece in the war.

The immediate issue that mobilised the working class was undoubtedly the explosive rise in prices of the basic necessities of life in recent months. According to research by INE-GSEE, published on 31 March, 60 percent of private sector workers say they have been forced to cut back on basic foodstuffs, 74 percent say the same for heating, and 80 percent for entertainment.

The reactionary New Democracy government has shown indifference in the face of this decline in the living standards of working people. In the name of dealing with the financial consequences of the pandemic, over the past two years it has provided a total of €42 billion, mainly to companies, in the form of direct financing or warranties. By 2026, the total handouts from the EU ‘Recovery Fund’ to companies operating in Greece is projected to reach €32 billion in the form of direct subsidies and cheap or interest-free loans. When it comes to inflation and high prices, the government limits itself to laughable measures, such as small subsidies to help paying for electricity and gasoline. It then has the audacity to claim that there is no room for more because of the deficit and the level of public debt.

The changing mood of the working class had been evident for several months now, preceding the growing wave of inflation. Before the successful general strike, there were other victorious worker’ mobilisations, such as the strikes of COSCO dock workers, and the strike of delivery riders last autumn.

Participation in the strike

In most of the biggest workplaces, there was high-to-full participation in the strike. In many factories across the country production stopped; construction sites were idle; most public transport in the capital came to a standstill; no ships left the country's major ports; and public schools were virtually closed.

Indicatively, in the large factories of the press and media sector, participation exceeded 70 percent. Large drug stores and factories such as Johnson’s in Mandra were closed, while high participation was recorded in other parts of the pharmaceutical sector such as FARMA in Anthousa, Boehringer and Lavipharm. In the food sector, participation in large factories was almost 100 percent, such as in EVGA, TASTY and AMSTEL.

In construction, all the large sites were closed. The same was true in the shipbuilding sector, and repair and mechanical sites. There was no movement at COSCO Container Station as the dock workers came out en masse.

It is testament to the militant mood that is developing in sections of the working class that participation overcame the anti-union legal arsenal established by the previous, and especially the current government. This is coupled with an increase in terror from the bosses.

The workers on the trolley buses universally joined the strike, despite the fact that the OSY administration (responsible for the Athens Mass Transit System) had appealed to the courts, which ruled that the strike was illegal. Workers were only notified of this decision the day before the strike was due to take place. In transport and shipping, the unions refused to provide the state and employers with the staff demanded for “minimum guaranteed operation” by the ‘Hatzidakis Law’ – which would have essentially nullified the strike.

Extremely significant is the fact that the strike was widely observed in those areas where the terrorism of the bosses was particularly intense, such as Praktiker department stores, where participation exceeded 70 percent nationally. At the main warehouses of the well-known multinational supermarket Lidl, participation in the strike exceeded 90 percent. It is worth noting that, immediately after the general strike, Lidl workers participated in a 48-hour strike for the signing of a collective bargaining agreement and salary increases.

However, participation in the strike was very limited in offices and services, with the coffee and catering sector (which employ a significant part of the working youth) seeing only negligible turnout rates. In general, in most private-sector workplaces, where there are no strong unions, participation was low.

The reason for these low rates is not simply fear of the bosses, but also the huge pressure on the workers’ living standards, which is even greater in the private sector where wages are lower. This extra pressure means that workers – and especially those with families – are unable to afford the lost income of even a day’s wage. And this obstacle to participation in strike action is multiplied by the fact that there is no specified plan from the workers’ leaders to escalate the struggle in such a way that could lead to tangible victories.

The average worker knows that the bureaucratic leaderships of the unions has been using the 24-hour general strike for years like “blank shots” – they only give the appearance of doing something, without the determination to fight on until victory. The latest example of this tactic was the 24-hour strike last June against the ‘Hatzidakis Law’, which, although massive, came very late and saw no follow-up. Underpaid and at risk of being sacked, private sector workers in conditions of explosive inflation, feel that there is no real point in taking the risk of participating in such a strike.

The rallies

The largest rallies and demonstrations were, of course, organised in Athens. There were three different gathering places. The leadership of GSEE and ADEDY called an assembly in Klafthmonos Square; PAME in Syntagma Square; while a grouping of trade union forces around the extra-parliamentary left assembled in Propylaia. However, the very short distance between the three different gathering places meant that the three separate calls did not substantially divide the workers’ forces in the capital.

In Athens, the strike rallies and demonstrations started at 10.30am, with the three pre-rallies by PAME. Even after 14.00, when the last blocks of protesters passed through Syntagma Square – that is, over a period of almost 4 hours – the main streets of Athens were flooded with protesters.

The largest gathering and demonstration in Athens was undoubtedly that of PAME, which involved about 20,000 people. The GSEE and ADEDY demonstrations were less massive and less militant. This fact is further proof of the great dissatisfaction that has accumulated in the rank-and-file of the labour movement for the collaborationist attitude of the labour movement bureaucracy towards the government and the capitalists. The leadership of the GSEE had not made a general call for action for more than two years, despite the working class suffering the effects of a very deep economic crisis and criminal management of the pandemic by the government, which has resulted in Greece suffering one of the highest mortality rates per capita from COVID-19.

Remarkable in terms of participation and militancy was the gathering organised by the trade union forces of the extra-parliamentary left. This to a certain extent reflects the radical processes taking place among the younger sections of the working class, and the deep distrust that has developed in their ranks towards all the old leaderships of the unions, including that of PAME.

There were large rallies in all the major cities of the country, including Thessaloniki, Patras, Larissa, Volos, etc. Here, the PAME rallies prevailed in numbers and militancy. The demonstration of PAME in Thessaloniki had a very strong presence from parts of the labour movement that have recently displayed great militancy, including delivery riders for the companies ‘e-food’ and ‘Wolt’. The rally also had a strong anti-imperialist character. The demonstration headed to the US consulate with the slogan, “Neither land nor water to the murderers of the people”, and then ended at the port of the city, from which a NATO ship had transported military equipment to Ukraine. There, the demonstration was attacked by the police, who arrested eleven activists, eight of whom were held for more than a day and released only after mobilisations by PAME in Athens and Thessaloniki.

This bold anti-imperialist action came as a natural consequence of the refusal of TRAINOSE employees from the city to work for the purpose of transporting NATO munitions outside the country, as part of NATO’s war plans in Ukraine.

Why was participation not higher?

The general impression that one takes away from the participation in the strike and the rallies and demonstrations is that, although it was a significant indicator of growing working-class militancy after the general strike of last June, it fell short of what one might expect considering the enormous attack on living standards by the scourge of inflation. This can principally be explained by looking at the role of the leadership of the mass organisations of the working class, both political and industrial.

We must first reject the typical, simplistic interpretation given in such cases by various “disaster analysts”, in and outside of the labour movement, that “the masses do not want to fight” – or worse – “the workers have become conservative”. Nine times out of ten, these interpretations are made by individuals merely projecting their own passivity and conservatism onto the working class. They fail to see the real, overall mood of the working class that is developing, and the deeper processes that define it, and its contradictions. In other words, these observers are trapped in a vulgar empiricism.

Golden Dawn eviction Image Better MindIn the last year and a half, we have seen plenty of evidence that the mood of the working class and youth is becoming more militant and radical / Image: Better Mind

In the last year and a half, we have seen plenty of evidence that the mood of the working class and youth is becoming more militant and radical. As well as the two major 24-hour general strikes, we’ve seen a number of promising – and even victorious – strikes, such as those of delivery riders and COSCO workers, and the mass strike and rally of teachers in the autumn. We have also seen massive youth mobilisations, such as the anti-fascist rally at the Court of Appeal in favour of convicting the Golden Dawn in the fall of 2020, and the mobilisations that broke out against the police crackdown in the aftermath of extreme state violence in the N. Smirni neighbourhood in the spring of 2021.

To those who foolishly speak of the conservatism of the working masses, we point to the radical tendencies developing in the working class, as evidenced in this very 24-hour strike on 6 April. This can be seen in the tendency to overcome employer and state terrorism (by trolleybus and transport workers general, as well as workers in Lidl and other department stores) and the adoption of anti-imperialist demands (by TRAINOSE workers, and participants in the Thessaloniki demonstration).

The pandemic for obvious reasons slowed down this process of developing militancy. The current shock to living standards is certainly having an explosive effect on the development of the consciousness of the working and poor masses. But this also makes them more reluctant to participate in symbolic strikes, since even the slightest additional loss of income in conditions of suffocating pressure on income, as well as threats of dismissal, are even more intolerable. This explains the greater participation in the strike in the public sector and private workplaces where there are strong unions, and the very small to non-existent participation by more precarious workplaces with less powerful trade unions in the private sector, such as cafes and restaurants.

However, the working class has historically created mass organisations, trade unions and parties, as necessary ‘tools’ that will help it overcome these objective difficulties, allowing it to defend its standard of living effectively. The hesitations to strike could well have been overcome had the unions and parties that speak in the name of the Left and the interests of the workers today employed more radical and determined tactics.

The bureaucratic trade union leaders of GSEE (and to a lesser extent ADEDY) have convinced the working class that, even when they are forced by the scale of attacks from the ruling class to call mobilisations, not only do they not want to fight to the end, they do not even plan for the most elementary escalation. They do not have the prestige to lead the necessary mass workers’ struggles encompassing the widest possible layers of society.

For their part, in a period when the working class is close to boiling point, the strong opposition forces around PAME, which controls dozens of labour centres and federations, could win a majority of the labour movement to militant mass struggle until victory. But the leaders of PAME undermine this possibility by stubbornly refusing to put forward a specific, long-term and convincing programme of escalation. They simply make sure that they are one small step ahead of the proposals of the main trade union bureaucracy. Their actual proposals for action are weak and vague, and cannot convince the wider mass of workers to make the financial sacrifices that even more massive strikes would incur.

We must emphasise that the main way to give the strikes the necessary mass participation is not to propose a ‘perfect’ and detailed plan of escalation, but through convincing the workers that escalation can succeed. PAME has more than enough forces at its disposal in the unions to convince the workers of this perspective. Unfortunately, the leadership does not seem willing to move forward with such a plan.

While speaking of escalation, the PAME leaders are not advancing a specific proposal with which to arm their activists, and thus win over other workers through systematic and patient persuasion. It suffices to mention the announcment, issued by PAME, immediately after the 6 April strike. It speaks of “immediate escalation” at the beginning, only to end with a call for a May Day rally. But the May Day rally would have been organised anyway, regardless of the suffocating inflation and this first 24-hour general strike against it.

In other words, a worker is fully entitled to ask the leadership of PAME: what is your plan for ‘immediate escalation’ comrades, when the only specific thing you suggest is a dynamic and massive gathering on May Day, 25 days after the general strike? The workers are not little children. They understand that this announcement does not propose any such escalation, let alone an ‘immediate’ one.

The reluctance of the main sections of the trade union leaders to advance a necessary plan of escalation, and to persuade the wider working masses to come to the fore, is not independent from the political front. In fact, this reticence expresses the attitude of the left parties within the labour movement.

The leadership of KINAL-PASOK, to which the core of the GSEE bureaucracy belongs, is openly at the service of the ruling class. It simply wants to win the most well-paid and conservative elements of the working class in the state sector over, away from SYRIZA, and to co-govern once again with ND. This was the meaning of the hasty election of the new president of KINAL-PASOK, N. Androulakis, supporter of the right-wing reformist and former leader, K. Simitis. It also explains the memorandum on alliances between PASOK and ND, while N. Androulakis was simultaneously sending his “warm greetings” to the 6 April rallies.

The leadership of SYRIZA, whose ranks encompass a group of leaders of the strongest trade unions, despite calling for participation in the strike and having a party bloc (consisting of only about 500 people) in Athens, in its public statements emphatically denies the need to escalate and strengthen the workers’ struggles. They fear cultivating radical expectations among the workers, and they fear any possibility of riding to power and forming the core of a new government on the back of a mass movement, which would interrupt their plans for “peaceful” compromise with the ruling class and capitalism. Such a peace would, of course, be beneficial to the careers of SYRIZA politicians and the bourgeois state apparatus.

The general political line of the KKE leadership, meanwhile, is responsible for the deadlock in the tactics of the leaders of PAME, who are leading party members. The refusal of the PAME leadership to actively support “immediate escalation” of the labour struggle reflects the absence of a truly revolutionary, Marxist political line from the party. This is the result of the line of “defensive struggles”, which the party bases on the idea that the current objective conditions, and indeed the working class itself, are not ripe for a serious fight to transform society. All that can be achieved in the given conditions, therefore, are small victories through rearguard struggles.

This political line fails to understand the dialectical relationship between a defensive and an offensive (revolutionary) struggle, and the possibility of the latter – through the mass participation of the workers, and in which the presence of a mass revolutionary workers’ party is decisive. As a result, the party’s programme for fighting high prices precludes any challenge to the capitalists’ ownership, such as demands for workers’ control or the expropriation of large energy companies. The programme is basically limited to calling for “more relief measures” for the workers.

At the core of this weakness is an underestimation of the revolutionary potential of the working class, as reflected in all statements of the KKE leadership (especially congressional ones) on the domestic and international situation. These tend to highlight the power of the ruling class and imperialism, and to underestimate the revolutionary possibilities that exist in the class struggle today. Moreover, behind these repeated expressions of weakness is a hidden fear on that part of the leadership that the struggling working class might overtake them, and that the KKE party ranks might overtake their leaders.

How should the struggle be immediately escalated?

The working class cannot wait. It must engage in mass struggle to protect its standards of living now. In place of passivity and vague calls for ‘escalation’, we propose the following steps:

  • An immediate call for assemblies in all workplaces and all unions to discuss the results of the strike on 6 April and determine the next steps.
  • A well-prepared escalation to a 48-hour general strike in early May. This means that systematic work needs to be stepped up to get even more workers involved in strikes and rallies. In order to carry out this work, the forces of the left in the unions, with the main ones being those of PAME, need to act in a unified manner to create Committees for Escalation of the Workers’ Struggle in every workplace, which will immediately begin the systematic action in those workplaces where there was little or no participation on 6 April.
  • A successful 48-hour general strike presupposes that the workers understand that, if the conquest of the most basic demands for dealing with high prices is not achieved, specific steps will be undertaken to prepare for an all-out general strike.

Above all, the forces of the left in the unions must stress that, in order to firmly and definitively conquer all vital demands in the struggle against inflation, the workers must strive for a workers’ government in power, which will take up a comprehensive socialist economic programme, including the nationalisation of the banks and all other large enterprises. Moreover, with high prices in energy and other commodities being primarily the result of international factors, only an internationally coordinated struggle against capitalism, with a socialist perspective, can permanently end this intolerable cost of living crisis.