Socialist Worker

Mass protests against austerity in Greece as workers prepare for a general strike

by Panos Garganas, in Athens
Issue No. 2397

Tens of thousands gathered in central Athens last Sunday to oppose the latest austerity cuts

Tens of thousands gathered in central Athens last Sunday to oppose the latest austerity cuts (Pic: Workers Solidarity)


Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Syntagma Square outside Greece’s parliament on Sunday. 

The government had hoped to spring a surprise on people as parliament sat in emergency session to vote on yet another austerity package. But a last minute call from the trade unions and the left got this magnificent response. 

The demo’s size brought back memories of the Occupy movement in Syntagma. 

All the sections of the left were there and a wave of strikes is unfolding. Television technicians and journalists struck over the weekend to protest a “reform” that downgrades technicians. There were no main news bulletins. 

Seafarers started rolling 48-hour strikes on Monday morning. There will be a general strike on Wednesday of next week. It will be the 30th general strike in Greece since December 2009. 

Another mass rally is called this Tuesday evening as the European Union (EU) finance ministers meet in Athens. 

Greece currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. 

The coalition government of the conservative New Democracy and the Labour-type Pasok parties narrowly survived Sunday night. It managed 151 votes in a house of 300 MPs. 

But its hopes for a smooth run towards elections in May were shattered. Greece goes to the polls for municipal and district councils on 18 May and for the European Parliament on 25 May.

Prime minister Antonis Samaras is pinning his hopes for electoral survival on a promise that the end of the crisis is near. Greece achieved a budget surplus for the first time in a decade last year. 

The bulk of this will go towards repaying government debt but a small portion will be handed out as a one-off payment to “those most in need”. This is a cheap trick designed to buy a few votes.

Reality is so harsh that even this is not working. 

Official figures show that a million people lost their jobs over the past three years. This is from a workforce of about five million. 

Decline

Those in work lost a quarter of their wages over the same period. A further decline is forecast for this year. 

The latest package included such provocative favours for the bankers that even former prime minister George Papandreou voted against it. This is the man who brought the Troika to Greece.

There are splits in New Democracy. There are two Tory candidates for mayor in Athens. A former conservative mayor was expelled from the party for voting against the government on Sunday night. 

There are two Tory candidates in the District of Central Macedonia that includes Salonica, the second most important city in Greece.

Pasok is sinking so low in opinion polls that now it tries to survive by joining a broader centre-left “Olive tree” formation. This has hardly improved its ratings. 

A new centrist party led by TV personality Stavros Theodorakis is polling higher than the Olive tree.

The government parties do not seem to benefit from the disarray in the far right. 

Parliament has voted to lift the immunity of the neo-Nazi MPs of Golden Dawn. Some of them are already in jail, the rest may follow soon. A couple have quit Golden Dawn hoping to avoid conviction as leaders of a criminal gang. 

Samaras claims this proves that the government is enforcing the law in every direction. But most people believe he is taking an opportunistic stance to win back Tory voters. It is the pressure of the anti-fascist movement that has exposed the neo-Nazis. The success of the demos on 22 March was evidence of this.

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the radical left Syriza, came out of the parliament to address the rally on Sunday. 

He denounced the government for pressing ahead with the vote for the austerity package despite a Syriza motion of no confidence in the minister of finance. 

His message was that the end is approaching for this government. Most people cheered enthusiastically. But they are pressing ahead with the strikes. 

As a speaker from the anti-capitalist Antarsya pointed out soon after Tsipras, our real hope to get back our jobs and reverse the cuts is through continuing workers’ action.


If you enjoy Socialist Worker, please consider giving to our annual appeal to make sure we can maintain and develop our online and print versions of Socialist Worker. Go here for details and to donate.

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.