Europe

General strike in Greece

February 13, 2010

Offices, schools, universities, and public hospitals were brought to a standstill by a general strike on February 10. This strike, called by the main public-sector workers’ union ADEDI, confronts the austerity package of the government of the "socialist" Giorgios Papandreou.

This belt-tightening plan is an attempt to "reorganize" the accounts of the state, a requirement that the countries of the European Union (EU) are making of Greece, to grant the country economic assistance. This is shown by the statements of Michael Meister, representing the German government, that is preparing the aid package: "If Greece receives aid, it will only by under strict conditions, and if the Greek government and state impose substantial reforms."

Greece is one of the countries most battered by the economic crisis and one of the economies with the biggest debts in the EU: Greece’s public debt exceeds 120% of its GDP. With a youth unemployment rate of 25%, Greece is the poorest country among the original members of the EU. In this framework, the EU is pushing a plan to reduce the Greek budget deficit from the current 12.7% of GDP to 2.8% in 2012, which only means budget cuts and wage reductions.

The recipe of the "socialist" Papandreou does not greatly differ from the old neo-liberal recipes: raise the age of retirement, freeze wages, and increase taxes on the popular masses. While banks and businesses, whose "bad" deals caused the current economic crisis, have received billion-dollar bailouts from the state, all the workers get is wage cuts, layoffs and attacks on their rights.

The February 10 general strike brought the entire public sector to a standstill, and air traffic controllers, who joined the strike, forced the closing of airports and cancellation of all flights. The protest had great support among university teachers and professors, doctors at public hospitals, government office workers and garbage collectors, who led the first confrontations of the day, when they tried using their trucks to break up the police cordons that were preventing sanitation workers from reaching the central mobilization of the strike in Athens. Public workers are facing a plan that includes 20% wage cuts (while university teachers face 40% pay cuts), hiring freezes (even in critical fields like health care), and increasing the retirement age to 65.

Papandreou’s government, that arrived in power in October 2009 with almost 45% of the votes and support from the unions, is now facing the wrath of the workers, who feel tricked by the campaign promises of the candidate from the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, known as PASOK. In recent years, this party brought together massive opposition to the conservative Costas Karamanlis government, that had already faced numerous strikes and protests. Now, however, many groups see that this "socialist" government is responding to the crisis with the same steps as the conservatives: austerity measures and layoffs.

The February 10 general strike is the first of several organized mobilizations, that include another national strike of public- and private-sector workers for February 24. For several years, young people, and the workers’ and students’ movements have been leading protests and mobilizations against austerity plans that seek to put Greece in line with budget demands from the EU. The PASOK "socialist" government has displayed absolute continuity with the belt-tightening plans implemented by the conservatives. Now the mobilizations of working men and women in Greece are setting out, on a national scale, the way to defeat the plans of the European governments and to make the capitalists pay for the crisis.