Photo: Associated Press
Greece’s unions have declared the general strike a success, with broad participation across the country. According to the Civil Servants’ Trade Union (ADEDY), the turnout among membership was at least 65 percent. Public transportation was very limited; the Athens metro, urban and national railroads, and trams were shut down, while dozens of domestic flights were cancelled. Schools, ministries, public offices, pharmacies and many stores were closed, along with museums and archaeological sites. Hospitals only received emergency cases. Journalists in television, radio and print media also walked off the job.
Left Voice interviewed Gianna Katsiampoura, a member of OKDE-Spartakos in Greece and a researcher at the National Hellenic Research Foundation.
What are the demands and what is the significance of the November 12, 2015 strike in Greece?
The signing of the 3rd memorandum brought new measures of distraction for the working class. On November 20, 2015, the Greek government in Parliament voted in the first laws based on the 3rd memorandum: cuts to pensions and wages, pension retirement requiring 67 years of age (regardless of working years), exhaustive taxation for farmers and low-salaried employees, confiscation of housing properties for those who cannot repay their loans to the banks, massive privatization of public property (airports, seaports, railways). The strike was caused by a reaction to all these devastating austerity measures.
The general strike on November 12, 2015 was the first general strike during the new period of the SYRIZA-ANEL government. This event is very important in itself because it showed the necessity of mass action and the sentiment of the working class to open a new circle of struggles against the memoranda and austerity. This means that the movement is expected to enter a new phase of struggles after the hesitant attitude it showed during the first period of the SYRIZA-ANEL government.
Who participated in the strike and were participation rates satisfactory?
The general strike involved workers and employees in both the public and private sectors, as well as small business owners who have been severely hit by the crisis. Although during the crisis the public sector has been seriously reduced because of the cuts and the layoffs, the mass participation of public sector trade unions is what mainly contributed to the success of the strike. Teachers, municipal workers, transport and communication workers, health workers, etc., are the main public sector unions in which the left is particularly strong and where the balance of forces are in favor of mass action.
The participation in the strike and the demonstration that took place in the streets of Athens the same day was more than satisfactory. This deserves a more favorable assessment, given that the strike was not supported by the pro-austerity opposition parties (New Democracy, PASOK, Potami, Center Union) and propaganda of big media groups, which are constantly trying to convince the people that there is no alternative to the austerity policy and the memoranda and were openly against the strike. Even more interesting is that the success of the strike comes at a time when the General Confederation of Labour – GSEE (trade union confederation) has lost its credibility after the statements of its president in support of the 3rd Memorandum a few days before the summer referendum.
I believe there is a rising mood among workers to overcome the trade union bureaucracies. In this slowly-moving process, the workers’ associations play an important role in the workplaces (we call them “primary unions,” they are like the shop-steward committees). Their militancy shows the way to built an alternative against the bureaucratic union leaderships.
The strike is politically and practically supported by ANTARSYA, LAE (Popular Unity), the KKE and the anarcho-sindicalist organizations. Officially, the Labor Relations Committee of SYRIZA issued a communique in favor of the strike. This fact is inherently contradictory, but also has a rational explanation. SYRIZA wants to present itself as the left that resists by negotiating with the Troika, resisting the pressure of the Troika. SYRIZA wanted to present the strike not as a strike against the government but as a strike against the Troika. I have the feeling that they failed in their tactics. The people knew very well to whom they strike against.
But what is really problematic is LAE’s participation in joint trade union factions with SYRIZA. This is for us a big problem regarding the unity of action, which is our proposal in the framework of our United Front policy.
What was the atmosphere like during the demonstration in Athens and what was your presence?
As I said before, the demonstration was very successful in terms of participation. The contingent of primary unions, which was supported by ANTARSYA, was the biggest in terms of participation in our rally. The foreign audience has to note that the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) always organizes its own separate rally at a different time, called in a different place. The participation of university students, who see that unemployment is the future they have to expect, was also big.
Moreover, big rallies and demos took place in various cities around Greece.
What we consider a very positive element is the potential of workers, unemployed and youth for mass demonstrations to continue, the struggle against austerity to continue growing and overcome the reformist leaderships of the left and the confederation of trade unions. It is now increasingly clear that capitalism in the European Union and Greece is not willing to concede even to the minimum relief measures that the reformist left asks for.
Here, then, the request is one and only: fight against the memoranda and the EU, against the policy of SYRIZA-ANEL, against all the reformist illusions.
What is your assessment of the strike and your proposal for the continuation of struggles? Are there any debates among the left (i.e. ANTARSYA and Popular Unity)?
We, as OKDE-Spartakos (Greek Section of the F.I), member organization of ANTARSYA, estimate that the only way to face the whirlwind of capitalist attack we received in the last five years in the form of Memoranda is through struggle in the streets, strikes, occupations, mobilization, popular assemblies, workers control in occupied factories where possible, and no assignment of the people’s hopes to any bourgeois government.
The case of SYRIZA put an end to the illusions that a “left” government, without relying on the mass action of the working class, can provide a solution. Our strength is solidarity and the common struggle of the workers, the unemployed, youth and immigrants. And this common struggle is the only way to reverse this kind of policy and win our rights to work, health, education, a decent life, ultimately.
As mentioned above, we fight for unity in action. In this context, there are discussions with other political forces of the Left. The key issue for us, however, is for these discussions not to end up in adopting a reformist policy, where theories and policies about a national productive reconstruction of Greece within the framework of capitalism will prevail and be adopted, such as the LAE’s plan is, but to clarify the transitional demands of an anti-capitalist program as the basis for the political independence of the working class.
As I said before, the strike was a good beginning, which continued with the massive participation of tens of thousands of people in the demonstration for the 42nd anniversary of the uprising of the Polytechnic School against the dictatorship in Athens in 17 November 1973. This uprising took place against the reformist intentions and against the illusions of the traditional left parties for a gradual democratic reform. And this is what is still alive in our politics and our tactics: confidence in the revolutionary potential of the working class, no confidence in the bureaucratic and reformist leaderships. Independent working class politics. Unity of the working class in action. These are the guidelines for our way forward and in the coming period that opened favorably for us with the general strike.