Greece: Biggest general strike in two years – the beginning of the end of Karamanlis

In December there was a massive general strike in Greece with huge participation both in the public and private sectors. This is less than two years into the right-wing New Democracy government. The strike was against a new bill affecting workers’ rights. A militant mood is once more growing among Greek workers and it is destined to get stronger in the coming period.

On Wednesday, December 14, the Greek working class demonstrated its power, by participating in the biggest general strike since the right-wing New Democracy government came into office two years ago. The main demand of the general strike was for the abolition of the new bill that the government is introducing on state-owned companies. But there were also demands against poverty (25% of the population according to official statistics lives in extreme poverty), against unemployment (11% officially) and also against high prices (incredibly, in spite of the low level of wages, Greece is the fourth most expensive country in Europe according to “Eurostat” figures).

This latest law of the Karamanlis government was a direct attack on workers’ rights, splitting the workers into two categories: those who will continue to have some of the “old rights” that the bourgeois press defines as “privileges” (safeguards against dismissal, social insurance, decent salaries etc.) and those who will be on more or less half the wage levels of the others and who will also have no protection against dismissal.

With these measures the government is preparing the ground for the total privatisation of the state-owned companies such as the Water company (EIDAP), the Electricity board (DEI), public transport companies (ISAP, ILPAP, OSE, ETHEL) and many others.

The general strike saw a big participation of the workers from the large private sector companies (80%) and those of the public sector companies (100%). About 20,000 workers were present on the two major rallies of the GSEE (Greek TUC) and of the PAME (the Communist Party front in the Unions. The numbers were more or less equally divided.

Thus once again the Greek labour movement was not united in one central strike rally. This unfortunately has been the case over the past five years. The responsibility for this situation lies on the shoulders of the leadership of the two main parties of the Greek working class.

The first of these is the leadership of PASKE (the PASOK faction in the unions) that has let the workers down many times over the last decade. They regularly supported many of the measures of the previous PASOK government, a government similar to the Blair government in Britain.

However, the PASKE leaders continued to make concessions to the bosses even under the present New Democracy government. The last example of this was their acceptance of the ND government’s bill on the Greek Telecommunication Company (OTE), last May. This was the prelude to the present bill that will destroy the workers’ rights in all the state-owned sector of the economy.

The second force that is responsible for this division in the Greek labour movement is the leadership of PAME. They exploit the justified hatred that the vanguard of the Greek workers feels towards the PASKE leaders. But what they do is to apply a kind of Stalinist “Third Period” tactic, whereby they split the movement, calling separate strikes and rallies in the name of the “real class interests”.

After the strike the government and the bosses were terrified. Although the bill was finally passed in Parliament, the president of the SEV (the biggest bosses’ union, the Greek equivalent of the British CBI) declared that, “this bill is very harsh and cannot be put into practice”. This reaction on the part of the Greek bourgeoisie reflects their fear in the face of this new wave of strikes.

The day after the general strike, the public sector (DEKO) workers extended their strike with a 24-hour stoppage. No buses or trains moved and the economy was once again paralysed. This strike also saw a very high participation in the main companies (90-100%)!

The government is facing a serious crisis

Apart from the labour movement, which is a constant source of pressure on the government, Karamanlis has another serious problem: the corrupt nature of the bourgeois ministers that is leading to one scandal after another. After twenty months in government the ND has seen 35 government officials (ministers, ministerial secretaries, managers of state-owned companies and so on) lose their positions because they have been involved in corruption scandals.

In the opinion polls the ND has lost 4 percentage points in one year and now only one percentage point separates it from the PASOK (31% for ND and 30% for the PASOK). But the process isn’t a simple straightforward one. The PASOK has also suffered a small decline in support of about 1 percent compared to one year ago. This phenomenon can be easily explained. The new leadership of the PASOK has done everything it could to support the policies of ND. The latest example of this was their decision to abstain in the vote in Parliament on the anti-working class bill on the state-owned companies.

Of the other two left-wing parties, only the Communist Party (KKE) has made some gains since last year. The opinion polls show that the party’s electoral support has grown since the last elections by 1.5 percentage points and now stands at 7%. This is a positive development for the party. In spite of its divisive tactics within the labour movement, it shows that a layer of the working class is seeking a left alternative. But it is still far from what would be possible if the party adopted a different policy within the labour movement. On the basis of a genuine socialist programme and the Leninist tactic of the “United Front” the authority of the party would be much greater in society.

The other small left party, the “Synaspismos” continues to be in crisis. The party is divided into different tendencies and the right wing is exploiting the fact that the opinion polls give it a “poor” 3,8 %. It is preparing for an open struggle against the “left current”, the left reformist tendency that controls the party. This right-wing tendency is pulling the party more towards collaboration with the PASOK, which of course would be disastrous for the party, for it would not be a revolutionary “United Front” tactic but a bending to the pressures from the bureaucracy of the PASOK.

Perspective is one of major class conflict

This New Year will be a “very hot” one for the class struggle in Greece. Now at the centre of the battle we have the public sector workers. The DEKO unions have in fact announced a “fight to the end” against the anti-working class ND bill and its plans for massive privatisations.

At the same time the weakness of Greek capitalism on the one hand and the attempt of the bourgeois to secure big profits, exploiting the “favourable political situation” that and ND government provides them with, on the other are already producing an escalation of the attacks against the working class in Greece.

The Greek capitalists are in second place, after the Mexican bourgeoisie, in the international league table of profit levels but in spite of this they are demanding even more. On December19, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, the president of the SEV officially demanded the removal of the minimum wage, and the very next day the government announced that the shop workers will have to work more Sundays during the year.

Because of all this, at this moment in time the hatred the workers feel towards the capitalists and the ND government has never been higher. The successful general strike of December 14 showed without any shadow of doubt that the Greek working class is determined to put a halt to the reactionary plans of the bourgeoisie. What is lacking is not the militancy of the working class. The Greek workers have shown over and over again that they are prepared to struggle. What is lacking is a leadership that is up to the task of giving the workers the fighting lead they need.

The Greek Marxists gathered around the journal “Marxistiki Foni”, have full confidence in the historical role of the working class. The working class could easily remove the ND government and move on to transform the whole of Greek society if it were not for its present “leaders”. The Marxists are working systematically to build the factor that is missing in Greek society, a mass revolutionary tendency within the workers’ organisations. And the conditions for the accomplishment of this historical task will be extremely favourable in the next period in Greece. Every workers’ organisation, from the unions to the parties, will be put to the test over a period. In the end the Greek workers will draw revolutionary conclusions as they have done several times in the past. If we can successfully fuse the mass movement with the genuine ideas of Marxism then no one will be able to stop the Greek workers.

Athens, December 22, 2005

See also:

Join us

If you want more information about joining the RCI, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.