SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 153 - November 2011

Greece: more cuts and a new wave of struggle

THE PASOK government announced on 7 October a new bill savaging the jobs and conditions of public-sector workers. This provoked another explosion of struggles, strikes and occupations in almost every part of the public sector in Greece. The measures announced, in line with the directives of the ‘troika’ (the IMF, EU, ECB), amount to further huge attacks on the living standards of Greek workers.

According to the plan, public-sector workers will suffer further wages cuts of 20-30%. Already, over the last 18 months, they have seen their income fall by an average of 40%, according to ADEDY, the civil servants’ union federation. The fact that thousands of workers, who have their mortgage payments deducted from their pay, received wages of between €10 and €30 or €40 for the first half of October (wages are paid fortnightly) shows the scale of the attack. Hundreds of thousands of families are being thrown into absolute poverty and desperation. The declared plans of the ‘Troikans’ (as they are referred to in Greece, and which includes the Pasok government) is to drive down public-sector wages to the level of €500 to €550 net.

The government, which is hanging by a thread, also intends to make 30,000 civil servants ‘reserve labour’ – a euphemism for job losses – by the end of 2011. They will stop working and for the next year will receive 60% of their (already reduced) wage. After that period, if they do not find a job – which is more or less certain in the current economic crisis – they will be sacked.

This means mass layoffs in the public sector. The government intends to extend this measure to include a further 70,000 public-sector workers for 2012, although the troika is demanding that the total number of jobs cut is increased to 250,000. The total number of workers in the public sector is 687,000, costing much less than the average in the 27 EU states, and includes the police, army, judiciary and priesthood. Therefore, they want to sack more than one third of public-sector workers! These huge cuts are in return for the latest (sixth) tranche of bail-out funds by the IMF and the EU (of €8bn).

The truth is that the Troikans want also to crush the workers’ movement, especially union organisation in the public sector, which has been the most militant in the last couple of decades. The social-democrat (Pasok) leadership of the unions have discredited the role of trade unions in the eyes of many workers for years because of their bureaucratic manoeuvres and betrayals. Now their government wants to finish the job by crushing more workers’ rights.

These vicious attacks have led to the largest wave of workers’ action in the public sector since the beginning of the debt crisis two years ago. It started when a number of union activists in different government departments occupied ministry buildings and prevented the troika’s officers (who were in Athens to discuss the details of the attacks with the Pasok government) from entering. It was certainly a new experience for the highly paid IMF, ECB and EU apparatchiks to have to move from place to place, in their luxurious limousines, in an attempt to find somewhere to hold meetings!

The change in the mood of civil servants was clearly shown during the general strike called by ADEDY on 5 October. Participation in the strike was higher than 85%, and the demonstration in Athens was, according to ADEDY, the biggest show of strength by public-sector workers since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974. The announcement of the new cuts’ programme led to a new wave of anger and a tsunami of strikes, protests and occupations in the public sector.

Since the start of October there have been continuous and determined strikes and mass struggles, during which almost the entire public sector is shut down. Every day, there are massive protests, strikes and stoppages in different areas. The majority of the government ministries and buildings are occupied by workers.

Just taking a walk around the centre of Athens or any of the other big cities is enough for anyone to see the situation on the ground: the streets are full of garbage because of a strike by refuse workers. Many government buildings are closed and decorated with banners saying, ‘Occupation!’ Nearly every day there is a demonstration by some sector of the workforce.

This situation and the combative mood of rank-and-file workers are pressing the leadership of the unions to take more decisive action. ADEDY was compelled to change its initial call for a 24-hour strike, on 19 October, to a 48-hour general strike. Then, the private sector and public utilities union confederation, GSEE, also changed its initial call for a 24-hour general strike to 48-hour action. Thus both union confederations are now calling for a 48-hour general strike on 19-20 October.

A number of union federations led by Pasok have been forced to call for important industrial action. For example, the leadership of the primary school teachers’ union proposed to its local branches to go on ‘indefinite strike action’, and also called on ADEDY to organise an indefinite general strike in the public sector. Many local union branches are passing similar resolutions, asking the union federations, in the public and private sectors, to hold repeated general strikes.

Perhaps the most important development is the decision of 23 trade unions federations in the wider public sector, including public utilities, to co-ordinate their action against the government, particularly given the refusal of the two union federations to call for this action.

Even if at the present time the leadership of the unions (especially in the public sector) appears to be combative, workers do not (and cannot) trust them. If we want to continue and intensify the struggle, workers need to control it democratically. This is clear from the fact that in a number of workplaces the decision to go into industrial action was taken by assemblies of rank-and-file workers, against the will of the union leaderships.

In every workplace it is necessary to democratically organise the struggle by electing committees controlled by workers’ assembles. This is the only way to conduct a successful struggle and to keep a check on the leadership.

It is clear that the workers’ movement in Greece is at a critical point. What happens next is fairly open. We could see a workers’ movement which will escalate its struggles, put enormous pressure on the union leaderships and even cause the Pasok government to fall. We could also see more betrayals by the union leaders as they retreat after gaining just minor concessions, or even no gains at all, from the government.

To aid the workers’ struggle, the CWI in Greece (Xekinima) calls for:

* Follow the 19/20 October 48-hour general strike with a three-day general strike for the following week.

* For workers’ action in every public-sector workplace. Every public-sector union federation to call repeated two- or three-day strikes, on a weekly basis, linking this to indefinite occupations of ministries, city halls, public buildings, etc, and towards all-out indefinite action by all sections of workers, if necessary, to decisively halt all cuts and attacks.

* Co-ordinate and develop the different struggles, with the common aim of bringing down the government.

* For full democratic organisation of the workers’ movement, based on elected rank-and-file committees leading the struggles

* Link these struggles to political demands, including refusal to pay the debt and the nationalisation of the banks under workers’ democratic control and management, as part of a socialist programme to get rid of the barbarism of capitalism and to plan the economy for the benefit of the majority, instead of for huge profits for a handful of bankers and multinationals.

Xekinima fights for the building of a mass, democratic political force, based on the struggles taking place and on the programme above, which can channel the discontent and radicalisation of workers and youth to struggle for a socialist alternative. For a government of working people, the poor and youth, in opposition to the growing misery of life under Greek and troika capitalism.

Dimitris Pantazopoulos

Xekinima (CWI), Athens


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