The mass resistance to the cuts being imposed by the Greek government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is shaking the international ruling class. But it needs to escalate rapidly if workers are to win.
Workers in Greece are taking on the might of the European and global ruling classes. If their actions force the bosses back it will spark a European-wide crisis and encourage people in other countries to fight.
They have the power to paralyse the country. But how can they use this power most effectively?
Indefinite general strikes would shut down industries and force the government to respond. People could occupy their workplaces, taking them into their own hands and challenging the power of the state.
Action like this poses the question of who runs the country.
This is not simply about putting economic pressure on the government by shutting down production.
By taking control of their workplaces, workers can begin to create very different forms of power and democracy.
In a prolonged general strike, workers have to be highly organised to ensure that they get the things they need.
Very practical things must be done—such as organising food supplies and transport so that the strike and those taking part in it can continue.
Strike co-ordination committees are vital—involving workers and unemployed people, pensioners and students. They need to meet and discuss strategy, how to overcome the problems that are emerging and so on.
The process transforms workers. The backward, oppressive ideas that divide us—sexism, racism, homophobia—begin to fall away as people stand united in struggle.
But the global ruling class won’t be beaten back in a day. It will be defeated in a process over time—and as it happens workers will gain confidence in their abilities to organise and run society themselves. This confidence is the key to taking the struggle forward.
In Greece there is already mass self-activity of workers. Millions are being drawn into confrontation with the state and being radicalised in the process.
There will be many turning points in the struggle. The Greek government could stick with its public sector pay freeze but back down on raising the retirement age or VAT, for example.
The question will then be—do you carry on fighting to stop all the attacks or be grateful for what you’ve won?
Political leadership and organisation become crucial questions. There have been too many situations where the potential for workers’ struggle to break out into revolution is there, but has not been given a lead, dissipating the mood.
Mass protests overthrew the Argentinean government in 2001 in a situation very similar to Greece today. Argentina borrowed money from the IMF, which demanded cuts in return.
The government introduced a new $9 billion cuts package, which was the last straw for workers who had already swallowed a series of cuts.
Tens of thousands took to the streets. The economics minister resigned. Soon President de la Rua was forced to flee the country. Just days later, protesters invaded the congress and pushed out de la Rua’s successor, Rodriguez Saa.
People organised popular assemblies to coordinate the protests. They unseated four presidents in the space of a few weeks.
Argentina’s government defaulted on its debts to the IMF in 2002 and much debt was effectively written off. A mass movement had created a revolutionary situation and scored a significant victory—but it didn’t take power and topple the system.
Some union leaders played no role in the protests and called on workers to back Saa.
Unfortunately, the people’s assemblies weren’t rooted in workplaces with accountable delegates.
Militant workers from major factories, offices or institutions who are held accountable by their fellow workers are capable of pulling thousands of workers into battle.
This can challenge the conservative machinations of their union leadership if necessary.
Without decisive leadership, people become uncertain of what they can achieve and movements can flounder. And if workers don’t move decisively, the ruling class will.
The ruling class’s confidence is also important. Greek workers have to convince their government, and those across Europe, that they have more to lose by forcing through the cuts than in retreating.
The global economic crisis has created a volatile situation. Struggle can spread easily. There is widespread questioning of the legitimacy of the system—and this means that the ruling class is nervous.
Mass struggle can deepen the splits among our rulers about how to handle Greece. The ruling class is vulnerable. It could decide that the best way out of the crisis—and to protect its power—is to abolish Greece’s debt.
The Greek government could pull out of the euro, take charge of its own currency and defy the IMF’s demands for cuts.
Workers need organisation, confidence and militant action to make this happen.