Dealing with divisions in the Greek movement
Greece’s 48-hour strike on 19-20 October was the biggest success for the workers’ movement here in decades (Socialist Worker, 29 October).
It was more than a general strike—it had elements of a mass strike. A million people marched through the streets while dozens of ministries and public buildings were occupied.
Despite this, friends and comrades living abroad tell me that the foreign media coverage of the Greek strikes has focused on clashes at Syntagma Square outside the parliament building.
The Greek media has attempted to play a similar game. On previous strike days they focused on clashes between riot police and demonstrators. This time they used the fights between anarchist groups and the Communist Party (KKE) contingent.
It is important to understand the context of the clashes. On the second day of the strike the KKE decided to participate in the demo in front of the parliament instead of staging separate protests in other parts of the city.
This is the first time in a decade that the KKE has joined the wider movement. The Communists have also adopted the slogans of the anti-capitalist left, such as “Stop paying—cancel the debt” and “Down with the government”. This shift has to be credited as a political victory for the workers’ movement and the anti-capitalists.
Despite this, the way the KKE chose to encircle parliament angered many demonstrators, who felt that they were being blocked from reaching their usual assembly point. Massive blocks of striking refuse collectors and nurses came face to face with KKE stewards, exchanging political slogans.
The situation was picked up by the media and the government, which tried to paint it as the Communists “protecting the parliament”. This was a dirty lie—the KKE contingent were demonstrating just like everybody else.
Some anarchist groups, totally unaware of all this, channelled their anger against the KKE demonstration. They started pelting stones at KKE stewards, and went on throwing bottles and firebombs at anyone demonstrating behind the KKE cordon.
It was a disgrace to use this kind of violence on strikers, no matter what the political differences between us. But the day was also a blow to KKE claims that their macho stewards are the best protection for every demonstration.
Instead of protecting the demonstration, the police took advantage of the clashes to tear-gas the lot of us. A Communist Party militant died as a result of this police violence.
This episode must be a lesson for the most militant sections of our movement. Violence between sections of the movement is not helpful. Let’s keep the focus of our anger on our enemies—the capitalists and the state.
Nikos Lountos, Athens, Greece
Wall Street is a focus for anger
I was struck by the quote in your Occupy Wall Street article (Socialist Worker, 29 October) about people who voted for Barack Obama as president but now see that “the whole system was the problem”.
This is the key to the question: why now? People have tried creating a moment like this before, such as last year’s trade union-backed One Nation rally in Washington DC or events in several cities after the Wisconsin protests earlier this year.
Each of them disappeared without a trace. But after the budget debates, disillusionment in Obama and the system has finally found a focal point—Wall Street.
A majority of people in the US support the Occupy movement. The 1 percent slogan is part of this. Although the 1 percent is not the same as the ruling class, the phrase has opened up a national conversation on inequality.
In the US we are now constantly hearing that the top 1 percent of earners receive about a fifth of all US income, or that the top 1 percent by net worth hold about a third of US wealth.
During the Wisconsin protests Michael Moore pointed out that, “Just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.” But despite this, the figures did not become talking points until Occupy Wall Street.
While it might not be the language we are used to, the “We are the 99 percent” slogan has reintroduced class into the centre of US political debate.
Eric Fretz, New York
The police tactics used to shut down Occupy Oakland in California were truly shocking.
Hundreds of riot cops smashed up the camp on Wednesday morning last week, using batons and flash grenades against unarmed and peaceful protesters.
One of those critically injured with a skull fracture was protester Scott Olsen, a veteran who survived two tours in Iraq.
The Oakland general assembly called for a city-wide strike this Wednesday in response.
Virginia Rodino, Washington DC
Clegg wants to rip up safety at work rules
Nick Clegg announced a “mission to liberate small business” last week. He attacked the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), accusing it of stifling enterprise with red tape.
He condemned HSE inspectors for having the right to turn up at workplaces unannounced to carry out inspections. He declared that workplace regulators must now encourage economic growth.
Clegg did not once mention workplace accidents or ill health caused by work. On average 500 workers suffer a major injury at work and one construction worker is killed every week.
HSE is supposed to regulate around a million workplaces in Britain. But last year it carried out only 33,000 visits, and HSE managers have agreed to cut even this figure back by a third.
As of last April, whole industries have been “liberated” from unannounced inspections, including the entire public sector, agriculture and light engineering.
HSE is already being hollowed out. Now Clegg is signalling its demise. All this is part of a wider attempt to roll back employment rights we have won over decades.
Today I voted yes to a strike over pensions. But the stakes are much higher than that. I want to see 30 November launch a movement that can sweep away Clegg and all the ideologues of free market deregulation.
Simon Hester, vice-chair, Prospect HSE branch (personal capacity)
A lacklustre Irish presidential race
Michael D Higgins will become the ninth president of Ireland following elections held on Thursday of last week.
He is the former president of the Labour Party of Ireland and a well-known human rights campaigner.
Labour is the junior party in Ireland’s coalition government, which is implementing austerity measures to shore up banks and repay a 85 billion euro loan.
The election campaign was utterly lacklustre, despite widespread popular anger at austerity. Sinn Fein’s candidate Martin McGuinness came third, leaving the party well placed for future elections.
David Norris, an independent senator and gay rights activist was subjected to a vicious homophobic campaign which forced him out of the race.
The candidate of the main government party, Fine Gael, ran on an anti‑gay, “law and order” ticket but polled only 6 percent.
A by-election held on the same day in Dublin saw Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party and United Left Alliance coming joint second.
It is a shame the United Left Alliance did not run a candidate in the presidential election to give a national focus to public anger at the cuts.
Aine Dillon, Dublin, Ireland
Was Gaddafi good for Libya?
I am sure that Colonel Gaddafi was a ruthless leader, but he did have the support of many Libyan people (Socialist Worker, 29 October).
He also did a lot of good things for the country, such as providing schooling and healthcare. Life expectancy in Libya is similar to that of the US.
Once again we have regime change decided by the West. I’d like to know why the West feels the need to interfere so much in the region. Is it really about oil? There must be a reason.
Nick Agnew, Leicester
West won this ‘revolution’
Which part of “the right of nations to self determination” do you not understand?
Libya’s “revolution” was backed, organised and won by the West. It is a racist reoccupation of Libya for its oil wealth.
And it is part of a broader latter-day imperialist scramble for Africa’s resources.
Dave Roberts, by email
My respect for Giles Fraser
I found an article you published five years ago by Rev Giles Fraser (Socialist Worker, 16 December 2006). It explains very clearly how the early church became corrupted.
Fraser resigned last week as canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral on a point of principle. He did not want to be a part of moves to remove the Occupy London protest camp by force.
Although I’m an atheist, I do have respect for Christians like Giles Fraser who have the courage of their convictions.
Paul Gardner, By email
The Travellers’ fight goes on
Here in America, it is the “illegal immigrant” that is demonised.
In Britain, it is not only immigrants but Travellers who seem to be considered not worthy enough for human rights.
In America we fight against the label “illegal”, stating that no one is illegal. In England the fight continues for the rights of the Traveller.
Hopefully it is a fight that we will win some day soon.
Nelson Robison, Pennsylvania, US
Appalled over Dale Farm
It’s appalling the way the Dale Farm residents have been treated. It’s tantamount to ethnic cleansing—a whole way of life under threat because it doesn’t conform to the capitalist norm.
Dyana Rodriguez, Hereford
How many chances?
David Cameron indulged his spin doctor Andy Coulson as deserving a “second chance”. And he refused to rush to judgment over defence secretary Liam Fox.
No such delicacy or fellow-feeling is available to alleged rioters.
They are to be summarily banged up, even if minors with no previous, and their family homes threatened.
It’s not just one law for the rich, and another for the poor.
It’s bankers’ law for millionaires, and unlimited liability for the millions.
Nigel Coward, West London
Stopping the war machine
I feel I have to reply to Evey (Socialist Worker, 15 October). I work in the defence industry but it does not stop me taking a strong anti-war stance.
Capitalism causes war by its very nature. And under capitalism we all have to work somewhere.
You have every right to fight for your job and decent working conditions, no matter where you work.
In fact, working in defence means I have more chance of stopping a war going ahead, as we can strike. Then the war machine does not get built.
Charlie Dowthwaite, Barrow-in-Furness