Interview with Stavros S., OKDE militant
LVO: What has been the reaction to the latest measures announced? Which sectors are hit the most by the new plan?
OKDE: There have been some strikes and even some calling for a general strike by the trade unions; most notably in the public sector, which in the first announcement was the most heavily attacked. Of course, this is also a problem because the policy of the trade union leadership/buerocracy has been to try to split the strikes and the mobilisation between the public and the private sector. This was the situation at the beginning of the discussion about the IMF measures; but now the measures are being directed against the whole of the working class. Today’s general strike is very huge. Some estimate that today [i.e. 5/5/10] there were about 300,000, and even 500,000 people on the streets. I think this is the most massive working class mobilisation in the last 35 years. I think that there is a social climate of resistance or even revolt – and that there is much more to come, because I think that now many more people are trying to see how to keep the struggle going, in their work places, … because they are already facing many attacks by the bosses.
LVO: What is the situation among young people?
OKDE: I believe that the situation among the youth can turn out to be very explosive, one similar to the one that we witness in December 2008 and even more explosive. There are many problems now, like the fact that they are in their exam period and this makes the mobilisation more difficult. I also think that there are some problems of how the students’ movement would react in this situation, but I think that the situation overall is one that can turn out to be very explosive, not only among the students. But also in many young people, those with precarious jobs, who are part of a new layer of the working class, who have no social gains from the welfare state, are much more ready to confront the attack of the bosses and the police apparatus.
LVO: And some of them are in very short-term contracts on very low salaries, between 650 or 450 euros…
OKDE: Yes, or even less money.
LVO: who is the leadership of the student’s movement? What are the organisations? Do they have students’ unions?
OKDE: Actually, the students’ organisation in Greece are not subjected to a national form of organisation, like a Confederation or something like this (typically there is one, but it is virtually dead). In each faculty there is a kind of ‘first level’ students’ union, but all the forces – left, right, centre – intervene in it. You have to know that in the Greek students’ movement, which sometimes creates its own rank and file organisations and assembles, sometimes finds it difficult to coordinate at a national level. But the main political factor in the students’ movement is the left. There is the reformist left – which is not huge – but the far left is much more important. This sometimes pushes the movement forward but sometimes creates problems on how to deal with the current situation in the political forums, how to coordinate and how to fight, how to link the struggle with the working class, how lo lead the struggle on its way out of the crisis. But I think that in the days to come the situation can prove to be very explosive with many faculty occupations, which was an important a factor in pushing the struggle forward.
LVO: What is the role and policy of the Trade unions? I.e. ADEDY and GSEE. You have just said that the leadership is dividing the workers; separating the public sector workers from the private sector. Could you explain this to our readership and tell us what is their policy?
OKDE: Before answering that we have to make some clarification. The Greek trade unions [in Greece] are not very important; in the sense that they do not usually play a central role in the way in which the class struggle is expressed in Greece, at least in its most historically important moments. There is much more of a politicised tradition. This is one thing to note. Many times the Greek movement has expressed itself through political forms of organisation rather than through the trade unions. This has to do with the history of the country and the workers’ movement. The second point is that the Greek trade union bureaucracy is not that rooted and strong, like for example in Germany or France. In Greece it is much weaker,much less connected to the struggles which produced the workers’ social gains – and also there is a very important opposition from far left currents within the trade unions. It is also one of the reasons why a certain level of democracy has been preserved in the Greek trade unions. The central leadership of the unions, most notably in the big trade unions – the transport, telecommunication industries and state sectors, etc. – are controlled by the PASOK fraction (PASKE). At the beginning of the crisis, in the private sector the president of the National Confederation (GSEE, General Confederation of Greek Trade Unions) was actually acting more like a representative of the government rather than a trade unionist. For example when the first measures against the public sector were announced, the GSEE was not calling for a common general strike. It said that it was an attack on the public sector and that the private sector would not be much affected. Also, ADEDY, the Trade Union Confederation in the public sector, did not have any real plan to confront these measures… they are incapable of making a plan and not willing to make a plan and confronting the measures. There is some influence of the left currents in the trade unions, like the Greek Communist Party and Synaspismos . They say that they are more militant and more willing to fight, and some times they say they for want to call for more general strikes, etc, but I think…. We think that their limits are being defined by their overall reformist nature and policy, for example, the KKE is always calling for a different strikes’ assemblies and was also openly hostile to the youth revolt in December 2009. Synaspismos is also cooperating quite closely with PASKE in the trade unions.
LVO: What is the composition of the left in Greece?
OKDE: In the Greek reformist left there are two main formations. The KKE, the Greek Communist Party, they try to look like having a very “ultra” class policy but actually they are very reformist because they are trying to separate their mobilisation from the rest, and they try to translate this mobilisation into votes in the forthcoming elections.
The other main reformist formation is the party Synapsimos around which there is a more broad formation called SYRIZA, in which some far left groups participate; actually they have been satellites themselves around Synapsimos. In words, they are also calling for more struggles but actually they are quite close to the PASOK trade unionists in many cases. In many trade unions they manage the union together with PASOK. Neither do they call for a generalisation of the struggle, with a call, for example for a 48 hours general strike. They also do not want to pose any issue against the EU because they are very pro European Union and they also direct their work towards the elections.
LVO: What can you tell us about ANTARSYA?
OKDE: We could call them a centrist formation. ANTARSYA was proclaiming for itself that this far left unity would be a decisive factor to spread and organise the struggles in an anti-capitalist direction. But the reality is very far away from this. The first thing is that in practice they do not seem able to play such a role. The second point is that it looks like this formation is also mostly electoral. The third point (issue), which is important for all the rest, is that there is quite an [important] internal division within the group, and they do not seem able to introduce the level of unity that they proclaim.
Last but not least, we estimate that there will be a period opening up for them in which their reaction towards reformist policies (usually applied under pretextes for “broad unity”) will be tested . There are some signs, which look a little bit dangerous, of them taking a more reformist stand, but this is an open estimation. At an organisational level it looks like they have as a model the French NPA – which makes it difficult to have any real common intervention, even less an anticapitalist or revolutionary intervention, in the class struggle.
LVO: Going back to the General Strike. The media has been reporting that it has been massive. Could you give us an idea of the level of the general strike?
OKDE: I cannot give a very detailed picture. I think that the whole of the central sectors, ministries, state sectors, were really paralysed. In some big industries it was the same too. In the newer industries or less organised working places I think that there was an increase in the mood of resistance. This is the only way to explain this massive number [of people on the streets], but usually there has been little organised form of participating with the trade unions contigents and banners.
LVO: What about the transport, airports? We have read that all airports are closed, there are no flights and no trains.
OKDE: I think that wherever there is some level of centralised working class, yes, everything was paralysed. We have noticed quite new but less organised parts of the working class in the private sectors.
LVO: If we compare today’s general strike with the previous ones – on 24/2 and 11/3, this is one is much bigger, isn’t it?
OKDE: Yes, of course, I would say that this strike is may be 10 times bigger (the demonstration)… this was a real social explosion of the working class.
LVO: There have been a series of struggles and strike by different sectors over the last weeks. How has been the level of struggle? Which sectors have been involved? What is the level of mobilisation of the masses and workers in Greece?
OKDE: Actually we are expecting that some struggles in various sectors and workplaces or even in some neighbourhoods, universities, etc, will strengthen or explode. The people are confronting a massive attack by the bosses.
LVO: Who is controlling this social explosion and these partial strikes? Are they spontaneous? Who is leading them?
OKDE: This is a quite central issue for what is happening now in Greece. The first thing is that the social bloc of bourgeois power is being virtually shattered because of all these attacks on people’s rights, on petit bourgeoisie layers, and even on the working class aristocracy. This is a very central issue, and there is much agonising over what is to be done, over how are we going to control the forthcoming situation. There is no reformist apparatus (party or trade union bureaucracy) that has enough membership and influence to control or even to manage this social explosion. This is an interesting situation which provides great space for revolutionaries to work in the struggles and try to give some elements of leadership to some of them, so they can also both win and also become a centre of focus on the need to build a strong revolutionary Marxist organisation – a revolutionary party. There is a big social current exploding and saying “We don’t want these measures”, and starting to struggle even with forums and confronting the police, etc. But actually, you cannot say that there is anybody who leads or controls them. There are some efforts from the far left to play some role, but I think it is just the beginning of it. We will see what is going to be done in the next period.
LVO: Are there forums springing up in neighbourhoods?
OKDE: Not in a very clear and organised manner. There are also some forums organised at that level. Also there are many people are tempted by the anarchist current, which is understandable because of the social dissolution and chaos that is going on. They provide something that looks like a way out, but of course it is not a way out. This explains some of their influence.
LVO: What is your programme given the current situation? What policies do you think ought to be introduced in order to resolve the crisis?
OKDE: Our programme starts what with we call emergency demands or an Emergency Programme. So we are saying that we have to abolish these measures. We have to push the struggle to the point of throwing out the IMF and the EU, which have come as dictators to the Greek people. We are trying to push forward the notion of the generalised struggle, the strike to overthrow the government, but also to make people understand that we will have to strengthen the struggle in every workplace and in every sector, so that there is a real confrontation with the bosses.
We are also trying to put forward some demands like making the banks public without paying back the capitalist owners. Our central slogan is of course the abolition of the debt, so the Greek society and the working class can breathe. We also pose demands like banning the layoffs, and we are trying to promote these slogans also in everyday struggles in trade unions. And we ourselves are also trying to organise some of these struggles in the workplaces and trade unions in which we are active. And, of course, we are trying to explain that the final resolution to this crisis cannot be anything else other than a socialist way out. And that this also requires the accumulation of political and organisational force in a Marxist revolutionary organisation or even a revolutionary party. We are trying to combine all these things.
LVO: What do you think about the idea of abandoning the euro or leaving the eurozone?
OKDE: In our view, there is a need that the Greek working class movement and the Greek people break with the imperialist rule of the IMF and the EU. This is an actual need and we think that now this is becoming part of the emergency rescue programme because otherwise you cannot continue. But of course we are trying to explain that such a break, such a way out also requires very concrete anticapitalist measures like making the banks property of the state -as I explained before- and abolishing the debt. So we are trying to give a perspective not confined to the limits of the “national economy, as some stalinist and/or maoist currents do.
LVO: What would be your message to workers in other parts of the world?
OKDE: Every worker and every young person should understand that we are faced with a bankrupt system and this will cause many disasters for society, the working class and youth, even for the planet itself (ecology crisis). So, in this sense we have to fight to defend every inch of our gains and rights. This is a part of what we call the emergency programme against the crisis. But also we must reopen the discussion in the workers’ movement because capitalism is in crisis and this crisis is spreading around Europe for example, or even in the US. There can not be at the end any other solution than a socialist way out, and of course, this socialism must have nothing to do with what we have experienced in the ex Stalinist countries or Stalinist regimes.
LVO: What can you tell us about OKDE? Where are you based?
OKDE: Our organisation belongs to the Trotskyist current and the current of the Fourth International. We are trying to apply a policy of unity of the struggles on the basis of class independence. We are trying to push forward the self organisation of the working class and also on this basis the coordination of common actions of the far left and every militant, but also in doing so, we always have in mind that in this difficult situation in which a very hard struggle is going on we will need a strong revolutionary organisations and parties to confront the state and the bosses’ attacks. So, we always have in mind the need to build such organisation.
OKDE stands for Organisation of Communist Internationalists of Greece. We produce a monthly paper and its name can be translated as “Workers Struggle”. Our website is www.okde.gr. We are mainly based in Athens, in Thessalonica and some other major cities and our organisation is mainly of workers’ composition.
This is a transcription of the telephone interview.
Interview held by Alejandra Rios for the FT on 5/5/10