A country paralyzed by a 24-hour general strike

Social revolt in Greece

December 21, 2008

A trigger-happy act became the fuse for a social explosion in the streets of Greece, as we relate in these pages. The young people’s explosion in Greece is taking place in a context of chronic unemployment and extremely precarious employment and was preceded by different struggles and mobilizations in recent years. In 2006 and 2007, Greek students led harsh conflicts with assemblies of around 70,000 students, massive mobilizations, and seizure of almost all the schools, and then, following their example, high-school students seized almost 1,000 schools. The neo-liberal policies of the Karamanlís administration were also confronted by the workers with a series of general strikes in the last few years. The current rebellion of young people and students in Greece is not an isolated case. In Berlusconi’s Italy, a privatizing reform of education was answered by "the people of the schools" in the streets, together with other groups of workers in a big national day of struggle. In Gemrany, privatizations also aroused high school and university students, and teachers, who organized a one-day strike with demonstrations in around 40 cities; more than 100,000 students filled the streets. Similar actions were carried out in the Spanish state and Ireland, as we show in this issue. It is clear that the entire European bourgeoisie has been trying systematically to undermine what remains of the conquests, like public education, with the privatizing Bologna Plan, by striking at the youth, that has been one of the groups most affected by unemployment and the results of the economic crisis. But it is also clear that young people in Europe are ready to resist. The revolt by the "Generation of 700 Euros" (as they call young workers with precarious jobs in Greece) is a sign of that.

On Saturday, December 6, the streets of the main Greek cities, like Athens, Hania, Crete and Salonika, were seized by thousands of demonstrators, who were protesting against the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos, 15 years old, by the police. The demonstration, in spite of having been harshly repressed by the cops, lasted for hours, stretching out until Sunday and leaving a toll of 40 wounded.

However, the fierce repression did not manage to intimidate the youth and popular groups that rose up against the brutal murder carried out by the police. After the confrontations, university professors, who were already preparing a mobilization against social security reform and the economic policy of the worn-out Costas Karamanlís administration, the right-wing New Democracy Party, announced that they will join the three days of protests, scheduled to occur beginning December 9, while the University of Thessalonika was occupied by hundreds of students, who responded to the attacks of the police with stones and Molotov cocktails. A march on the night of December 8, at which the main Greek unions should appear, was also called by the Greek Communist Party and PASOK, the socialist party.

The repercussions of the Greek social revolt were already going through the European Union. On the morning of December 8, the Greek consulate in Berlin was occupied by 15young Greek citizens who were carrying a sign that read "The state murders." The Greek demonstrations expressed popular rage against the government and the effects of the economic crisis, which have harshly struck Greece, worsening the already dreadful distribution of the country’s income, and they could be the herald of big onslaughts in the class struggle, and of a profound political crisis of the servile and reactionary Greek government. So the confrontations in Greece are part of the first responses by the movement of the masses to the effects of the capitalist crisis, and they could transform the ancient birthplace of Western civilization into a frontline barricade of the international class struggle, now that it has assumed a political character, to the extent that the government of Costas Karamanlís is being questioned.

Greece: Political and economic crisis

The current Greek political situation is marked by a profound impact from the international economic crisis. Despite the numbers presented by the government, that were certifying advances in the economic indicators beginning with Greece’s entry into the European Union in 2001, from the beginning of this year, Greece, beside countries like the Spanish state, was one of the first to see its economy fall. The Greek economy, which is largely sustained by the service sector, with 74.5% of the national GDP, of which, tourism is responsible for a large part, has suffered with the recession of some of its European neighbors. However, it is the industrial sector, responsible for 20.7% of all economic activisty, that has been the most battered: total exports fell by 13.2% compared with last year, while industrial activity as a whole shrank by approximately 3.5%. The jobs created in the last year are still mostly precarious, not having reversed the proportion of 1 in every 5 Greeks living below the poverty line, earning less than 5,000 Euros/year. Furthermore, Greece was already in the sights of the European Union because it exceeded the deficit permitted to countries of the Euro Zone.

The Costas Karamanlís government has been one of the most determined to unload the crisis on the backs of the workers. As a way to heed the opinions of the main imperialisms of the European Union, the government is trying to privatize difference businesses, including the state-owned airlines, besides carrying out reforms that immensely attack the pension system, with a plan that increases retirement age and reduces the value of pensions. The New Democracy government is alos responsible for cutting investments dedicated to social programs, increasing taxes, and attacking higher education. So the popular reaction that exploded in recent demonstrations is also a response to the rescue costing billions, announced by the Greek government to save the finanical system and the banks, following the US and the European Union. Thus, contrary to the bourgeois discourse of greeting Greece’s entry into the European Union as a means of economic growth, in view of the crisis, it is obvious that countries with less economic power, besides continuing to keep structurally the same disparities that impose immense sufferings and privations on the masses, entry still means for these countries attacks on historically won rights, in the name of "seeking competitiveness," and "modernization" imposed by the European imperialist powers. This confirms that the European Union, as we have already discussed in other articles, is only an attempt by the main European imperialisms to subjugate their own proletariat and those of other countries of the Continent.

Inside Greece, the effects of the economic crisis are added to a big political crisis that is beginning among highly-placed officials in the New Democracy government. As if the goverment’s attacks were not enough, and the harsh situation to which a immense part of the population and the Greek workers are subjected, an endless number of ministers are being accused of corruption. Together with the explosion of the international crisis, in September of this year scandals came to the surface that involved the Merchant Marine Minister, Yorgos Vulgarakis, who was forced to resign after the discovery that hidden, lucrative deals of his family were based on abuses of power. Other institutions that were favored by the New Democracy government, like Orthdox Church itself, were also targets of corruption scandals, which weakens the allies of Costas Karamanlís. In an attempt not to appear even more weakened, the Greek President, after having lost a series of other collaborators, was forced to refuse the request for resignation of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Minister of the Interior, who was ready to hand over the job because of the murder of the youth in Athens. However, this decision could increase popular rage, contributing to his government still more.

Recover and strengthen the tradition of struggle by workers and young people

Greece has been one of the most unstable countries of Europe, and it was already the stage for several confrontations by workers and popular groups with the government. The social revolt that has exploded in recent days is one more episode that shows the immense fighting spirit of the Greek youth and people. The workers’ entry on the stage could raise the demonstrations to a higher level. In spite of the treacherous pacifist line adopted by the PASOK bureaucracy, than, when it was in government in 2001, tried to pass similar attacks on the pension system and was also almost overthrown by popular demonstrations, and of Communist Party (the KKE, according to its Greek initials), it is possible that the mobilizations could break out again, that oculd force the leaderships to go much further thna they wished, giving continuity and radicalizing the different mobilizations that occured since the beginning of this year.

These mobiizations were very large, like the 24-hour strike on October 21, that had the support of 90% of service sector workers and culminated in a march with the participation of 15,000 people in Athens, against the government’s attacks, and with the slogan, "We cannot tolerate any more." The high-school and university students’ movement actively joined in protest against the privatization of higher education and against cutting budget items for education, culminating in the occupation of 250 institutes and schools throughout the country. The strike ended with the occupation of the central building of Olympic Airways by workers, who were also harshly repressed by the police. The shutdowns continued on October 22, and this time included rural groups, that had almost 100% participation.

Today, many people are already comparing the social revolt detonated by the murder of the teenager with the demonstrations led by the students in 1985, when the police also murdered a young man who was participating in the tributes to the November, 1973actions. It is a tradition of the Greek youth, popular groups and workers to go out to the streets to remember the fall of the so-called "Colonels’ dictatorship," a regime led by General Yorgos Papadópulos, that had subjugated the Greek people and workers with great brutality since the coup d’état promoted by the colonels on april 21, 1967. The 1973 demonstrations, with the students as vanguard quickly became massive, including broad popular and workers’ groups, that made the occupation of the Athens Polytechnical School the epicenter of the mobilization. This movement collaborated enormously for the fall of the Colonels’ dictatorship in 1974.

So it is necessary that the workers enter the stage with their historical methods of struggle, equiping the soical revolt that was setting the streets of the main cities of the country on fire, with a program capable of imposing a workers’ solution and finishing the road opened in 1973, preventing the economic crisis from being unloaded on the backs of the workers and the Greek people. The combative working class and the Greek youth need to surpass their leaderships, now in the hands of the KKE and PASOK, and unify their ranks, by struggling to impose a definitive solution to the misfortunes imposed by the Costas Karamanlís government and its bourgeoisie connected to the interests of the European Union. Let us follow attentively.

Translation by Yosef M.