The Greek government narrowly managed to pass its latest austerity measures on Wednesday in the face of a 48-hour general strike. Only 153 out of 300 MPs voted in favour of the measures.
Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, set a target of 155 votes to prove the government’s viability. MPs had less than two days to read 700 pages of measures and discuss them.
They were told that if they did not approve them, Greece would lose its next batch of “aid” from the troika of the European Union (EU), the IMF and the European Central Bank. This would leave the country bankrupt.
The government is a coalition of three parties—New Democracy, Pasok and Dimar. Between them they won 179 MPs after last June’s elections. New Democracy, the Greek equivalent of the Tories, is the largest partner.
Pasok is the Greek social democratic party, similar to Britain’s Labour. It has expelled six of its MPs since the June elections, while another has resigned. New Democracy also expelled an MP.
Dimar, which is slightly to the left of Pasok, is caught between those that demanding stronger support for austerity measures and those that advocate resigning from government.
Meanwhile workers are fighting back. A solid transport strike made it hard to join the general strike’s opening march on Tuesday—but it was still very big. Local government workers hired coaches and formed a massive contingent.
On the second day of the strike rivers of demonstrators poured into Athens city centre from all directions. MPs felt under siege as they voted the measures through.
Hundreds of thousands of people took part. For the first time the police used water cannon as well as tear gas in an attempt to frighten and repress demonstrators. But protesters stayed until midnight.
If it wasn’t for heavy rain the police would have had to fight all night. Every time the police tried to disperse the crowd a cheer went up as the left regrouped and headed back to parliament.
The Communist Party broke from its normal practice and joined the main demonstration in front of parliament alongside left wing organisations Antarsya and Syriza.
A previous 48-hour strike in October 2011 forced George Papandreou’s Pasok government to resign. A similar strike this February led to the fall of Lucas Papademos’ “technocrat” government.
This time anti-fascist slogans were more obvious, because everyone realises that the Nazis of Golden Dawn pose as a serious threat.
Many groups of workers are extending their action beyond the 48 hours. Local government workers occupied town halls, continuing the strike through Thursday and Friday.
Metro and tram workers staged another 48-hour strike. Power workers went on for another 24 hours. All workers in Heraklion, capital of Crete, stayed out. Hospitals are organising blockades and strike.
Now militant workers are calling for an indefinite general strike. This call has majority support in many major workplaces—despite the fact that no part of the union bureaucracy supports it.
On Sunday another demonstration is planned in front of parliament as the government votes on the 2013 budget.
Greek unions have officially called a three-hour strike and a demonstration on the 14 November European day of action next Wednesday. Many workers will grasp the opportunity to escalate.
The day after that sees the start of three days celebrating the anniversary of the 1973 uprising that toppled the dictatorship of the Greek colonels. The government is falling apart—and this is an opportunity to finish them off.