Crisis in Europe

General strike in Greece

May 10, 2010

On Wednesday, May 5, the Greek workers led the third general strike this year, while the Giorgos Papandreou government is preparing to approve the austerity plan. From the morning, tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the massive march that went across the center of Athens and around noon tried to burst into the parliament to prevent the voting, thereby expressing their opposition to the "socialist" PASOK government directly. With the center of Athens militarized, confrontations took place between the demonstrators and the cops; in the context of these confrontations, three people died. On May Day, tens of thousands of workers had already gathered in Athens and Thessaloniki, predicting the state of mind before the general strike. On May 4, a group of workers hung a gigantic banner on the temple of the Parthenon, that said, "Peoples of Europe, Rise Up," and, to condemn the layoffs of 17,000 teachers, a teachers’ protest interrupted a television program where the Education Minister was speaking.

La Verdad Obrera interviewed Stavros, a militant of the Greek Trotskyist organization OKDE (Organization of Internationalist Communists of Greece), that is participating in the process of mobilizations against the austerity plan. He edits the monthly newspaper "Workers Struggle" and his internet page is www.okde.gr

What has been the reaction to the latest measures announced by the government?

There were several strikes and even calls from the unions for a general strike, mainly in the public sector, which has been the sector most strongly attacked. The policy of the union leaderships has been to divide the struggles and mobilizations between the public and private sectors. But now the measures are directed against all the workers, against the entire working class, and that is what has created the climate for the general strike that we are experiencing now. Some media estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 people demonstrated today. I believe that it is the biggest mobilization that we have seen in this country in the last 35 years. My impression is that in the social climate we are experiencing, there is still much more ahead, and an ever-increasing number of people are wondering what to do to continue the struggle in the workplaces.

What is the situation among the youth?

I believe that the situation of the youth can become very explosive, like what happened in December 2008 [when the police murdered the 15 year-old youth Alexis Grigoropoulos] or even more acute. Although it is exam time at the university, it is difficult to foresee how young people are going to react, but I believe that the general situation could be very explosive. There are also many young people, workers, that are not benefiting from the "welfare state," and they are much more willing to confront the attacks from the bosses and the police apparatus.

What was the May 5 general strike like?

The ministries and the central public offices are completely paralyzed. The same thing is happening in some of bigger industries. In places where the working class is less organized, the level of compliance [with the strike] is slightly less, but there is a better state of mind anyhow. The mobilizations are massive, and they are not organized by the unions. Compared with the two previous strikes, those of February 24 and March 11, this is much bigger, very advanced. In some neighborhoods the people are organized to go to the march and confront the harsh attacks from the employers.

What is the role and the policy of the unions?

Before answering this question, we have to make a clarification. Unions in Greece are not very large; they do not play a central role in the way class struggle gets expressed in this country. There is a much more politicized tradition, this is something to emphasize. The second point is that the union bureaucracy is not very deeply rooted; there is no tradition of strong and powerful unions, like, for instance, the German Gewerkschaftsbund [Confederation of Labor], or the unions in France. In Greece, the unions are much weaker, and there is more of an opposition by the forces of the left inside the unions. This is the reason that also explains why a certain level of democracy inside the Greek unions has been preserved. The union leaderships, especially in the big transport and telecommunications unions and in the public sector, are controlled by [the union fraction of] PASOK. At the beginning of the crisis, the President of the National Confederation of the Unions of Greece, GSEE, that brings together the private sector, was acting more as a representative of the government than as a trade unionist. For instance, when the first cuts in the public sector were announced, the GSEE did not call a joint general strike. It was saying that it was an attack on the public sector, and that the private sector would not find itself very affected by the belt-tightening. But the leadership of the Confederation of Public Sector Unions, ADEDY, did not have a serious plan to confront these measures either. There is some influence from the tendencies of the left in the unions, as is the case with Synaspismos [the name of a party, mainly of former Eurocommunists, that, together with other organizations of the left, forms the coalition SYRIZA], although we believe that they are promoting reformist politics.

Could you tell us what the composition of the left in Greece is like?

In what we could call the Greek reformist left, there are two main organizations, the KKE (Greek Communist Party), which says it has policies for the working class, but is reformist and tries to keep its mobilizations, marches, and actions separate from those of the rest and wants to turn its mobilization into votes, with an electoralist policy.

The other big organization is Synaspismos, around which there is a broader formation called SYRIZA, in which some parties of the left participate. They also call for the struggle, but in reality their policy is very close to the PASOK trade unionists. In many unions, they co-chair with PASOK. They do not call for spreading the struggle. Nor do they want to raise slogans against the European Union, because they are in favor of it and have an electoralist orientation.

What program is OKDE raising in this situation?

Our program begins with a list of emergency demands, which we would call an "Emergency Program," that raises the abolition of the measures of the austerity package and the extension of the struggle, up to defeating the IMF and the EU, that are acting like dictators over the Greek people. We are trying to promote the idea of the widespread struggle for overthrowing the government, and we are also fighting in the workplaces, where we are for strengthening the struggle and confronting the bosses. We are proposing the nationalization of banking without compensation; our central slogan is abolition of the debt ... We are also calling for prohibiting layoffs. We are trying to promote these slogans in all the workplaces and unions where we are present.

We are also trying to explain that there cannot be any other solution to this crisis outside of a socialist way out. This requires the accumulation and organization of a political force, a revolutionary Marxist organization. And we try to combine all these aspects.

What would your message be for workers in other parts of the world that are reading this?

Every worker and every young person should understand that we are confronting the bankruptcy of a system that has caused many disasters. We have to fight for an emergency program in the face of the crisis, but we also have to open the discussion in the workers’ movement, because capitalism is in crisis, in Europe, for instance, this is the case. There can be no other solution than a socialist way out, and, certainly, that socialism has nothing to do with the experience of the former Stalinist countries and regimes.