SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 166 March 2013

Greece: martial law used against strikers

ANOTHER GENERAL strike is sweeping through Greece as workers continue to fight savage cutbacks and the catastrophic collapse in living standards. Recent developments have shown how the government, led by the right-wing New Democracy, and state forces are ratcheting up the repression against workers’ action.

The Greek government deployed military-style conscription against striking maritime workers to force an end to their industrial action. The ferry workers are fighting against wage cuts, job losses and months’ long non-payment of salaries. The strike started with a series of three 48-hour strikes which severely disrupted ferry crossings to Greece’s myriad islands. On the evening of 5 February, however, the police were mobilised under so-called ‘emergency legislation’ to break up picket lines.

This draconian 2007 legislation allows the government to rule strikes illegal and to place the workers under ‘civil mobilisation’. Workers are threatened with being forced back to work or face the sack and possible imprisonment. The government used the same anti-democratic legislation recently against striking Metro workers in Athens.

To stop these attacks on fundamental labour rights, an appeal for the mobilisation of the full might of the wider workers’ movement across Greece needed to be made by the trade union leaderships and the left parties. Instead, the two main union federations, the GSEE and ADEY, only organised limited regional solidarity action with the maritime workers on 6 February, including a protest demonstration in Piraeus.

The setback for the ferry workers will only encourage the New Democracy-led government, with support from its coalition partners, the ‘social democratic’ PASOK and the Democratic Left, to resort again to martial law against the organised workers’ movement. Successive Greek governments have deployed the legislation against workers in ‘essential services’ since the country’s economic crisis and deep austerity cuts began. It shows the lengths to which the Greek ruling class is prepared to go to force through the programme of the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank) in return for financial bail-outs. These may have saved the big banks and financial institutions but they are impoverishing huge parts of the population.

The government’s actions should also act as a warning to the working class throughout Europe. To force through deeply unpopular cuts and to defend its profits and interests, the ruling class will use ever more coercive, repressive measures against democratic and union rights, particularly the right to strike.

Below are extracts from an editorial from the newspaper of Xekinima (CWI Greece) on the Greek government’s recent attacks against striking workers.

THE GREEK government is resorting to state terror to break the workers’ movement, using repression, including ‘emergency’ legislation. All the government has to offer is a system that works for bankers, ship owners and big contractors, while giving us mass unemployment, poverty and hunger, and attacking basic democratic and trade union rights. In reality, however, the mass movement has such potential power that it could brush aside all these hypocrites. Unfortunately, the leaders of the trade unions and left parties refuse to organise the struggle properly.

In just two weeks, emergency legislation has been used against striking Metro, subway and tram workers, and now against maritime workers who took industrial action. They were threatened with imprisonment and sackings. The ferry workers have not been paid for between six and twelve months. They do not have collective labour agreements. New legislation removes mandatory ten-month deployment of sea vessels which means ferry workers have to find seasonal work. Each shipping owner will be able to operate commercial or passenger ships for as long as they wish (usually only in the summer months).

Poor farmers also face impoverishment, as the cost of production (expensive oil and electricity, interest on loans, etc) rises, making even their meagre incomes disappear. To ensure the profits of bankers, the government is willing to transform the country into an enormous military camp, using its draconian laws!

As Apostolis Kasimeris, a Xekinima member on the executive committee of the bus workers’ union, correctly told a recent mass meeting of Athens bus workers: "They cannot send 6,000 workers to prison. They cannot fire us all. And we are not alone. The Metro workers may resume protests, the dock workers are out, the ferry workers are planning strike action, and farmers are already taking to the streets..."

What would happen if urban transport workers simultaneously took industrial action along with the ferry workers and farmers, especially if this united action was supported by workers in municipalities and shipyards, etc? No government could stand against such a movement!

But the GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers) and other trade union leaders are not willing to take such action, to widen, co-ordinate and escalate strikes, to force the government to retreat. And, while it is time for the left to take action, the mass parties of the left are far behind the needs of the moment. The KKE (Greek Communist Party) insists that only the KKE should lead the movement and denounces all other parties and forces on the left as ‘traitors’. At the same time, the majority group in the leadership of SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left), which expects it will be in government over the coming months, waters down even more the party’s formal anti-cuts and pro-socialist policies and programme.

Nonetheless, there are positive signs from the recent workers’ struggles and the broad resistance movement. Last week, bus workers voted by an overwhelming majority to continue their strike, with over 1,000 votes in favour. The proposal of the pro-government union factions only got about 750 votes. Unfortunately, the vote was lost, but only because of the split in the ballot between the forces of the left.

Through their struggles, which are often difficult and painful, workers will draw conclusions about what to do next. They will conclude that they need to act together and to coordinate mass action. But the current union leaders resist this. Therefore, workers need to take initiatives from below, to force the unions to take determined action to overturn the government’s policies and to drive them out!

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