Socialist Worker

Workers’ action paralyses Greece

by Panos Garganas, in Athens
Issue No. 2275

Migrant workers join a march in Athens during a 48-hour general strike in Greece last week. Some half a million demonstrated in the capital city, Athens (Pic: Workers Solidarity)

Migrant workers join a march in Athens during a 48-hour general strike in Greece last week. Some half a million demonstrated in the capital city, Athens (Pic: Workers Solidarity)

A 48-hour general strike saw the biggest turnout ever in every Greek city on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.

Everything was shut. Half a million people took to the streets of Athens, with another half a million across the rest of the country.

The day marked the peak of the whole strike wave—and it was different.

There was more rank and file activity than during previous strikes. And the idea that Greece should not pay its debts is now popular.

The general strike took place as parliament voted on the government’s latest austerity bill.

The so-called “troika”— the European Central Bank, the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—demanded the bill.

The government survived—just. It lost one more from its group in parliament and now has a majority of just three MPs.

Now the EU is debating a massive “haircut”, or partial write-off, for Greek debt. This has infuriated people. It would have a huge impact on workers’ pension funds, for example.

Prime minister George Papandreou has escalated a programme of privatisation.

And part of the troika agreement is to review public sector redundancies—and escalate them if they don’t match IMF projections.


This is one of the reasons why the strike days were so big. People are angry because, after so many bailouts, they end up with new attacks while the banks are cushioned.

Many groups of workers held extended strikes before the general strike. Sea port workers started a strike on Monday and were still out a week later.

Lots of government workers were out for the whole week until Saturday morning.

Many rank and file workers are going further than the trade union leaders who called the general strike.

They are electing strike committees at union meetings. This is a new development.

Rank and file initiatives were mostly limited to the most left wing unions in the past.

This time they were widespread. So ministry occupations took place after local union assemblies elected strike committees. These developed their own momentum and escalated into strikes.

There was no rubbish collected for ten days.

The government initially tried to get private firms to collect garbage, but that failed completely. The firms tried to use migrant workers. But the Union of Immigrant Workers refused to break the strikes.

Then the government tried ordering strikers back to work under military discipline.

Even this didn’t stop the rubbish strike immediately—it continued on Friday, after the general strike had ended.

It was only called off after a local authority minister promised a review of sackings.

On Wednesday police tried to provoke widespread violence in Athens, but they failed because of the size of the demonstration.


On Thursday, police teargassed protesters and cleared the square in front of parliament.

One Communist Party trade unionist died.

The official report says it was a heart attack. But his family and comrades say he died after tear gas exploded at his feet.

He was a victim of police violence—but the media reports exclude this.

Some 6,000 government ministry workers demonstrated against police violence the following day.

The Labour-style Pasok ruling party is weak. The only thing keeping it going is its negotiations with the EU. After that an election is expected.

Most unions affected by planned public sector redundancies will start an all-out strike if their members are handed redundancy notices. Transport workers struck last Tuesday to underline this decision.

What happens next depends on whether the government pushes through the troika’s demands. The idea of breaking the agreement with the troika is very popular. The whole left has shifted in that direction.

This is a shift in terms of the parliamentary left, which now calls for cancelling the debt. Until now that was seen as an extreme, ultra-left position.

The solution to this crisis is workers’ control of banks and public companies. More people are now open to these arguments.

Panos is editor of Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece

Nikos Fotopoulos, general secretary of a Greek electricians union, will speak at the Unite the Resistance Convention in London on Saturday 19 November.

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Tue 25 Oct 2011, 17:45 BST
Issue No. 2275
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