Socialist Worker

Eyewitness report from Syriza rally in Athens as rage spreads across Greece

by Dave Sewell, in Athens
Issue No. 2437

Part of the crowd at Syrizas rally in Athens on Thursday

Part of the crowd at Syriza's rally in Athens on Thursday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The crowds surged and the flags swayed in Omonia Square, central Athens, as Alexis Tsipras announced, “Don’t be afraid. It’s time for change”.

The leader of the radical left party Syriza was speaking last night, Thursday. Syriza is expected to win Greece’s general election on Sunday amid anger at a hated “memorandum” imposed by the country’s creditors.

This relentless programme of cuts and austerity has devastated lives and living standards over the last five years.

The Tory New Democracy party and Labour-like Pasok have united to do the bidding of the “Troika” – the European Central Bank (ECB), European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Their apocalyptic election campaigns have insisted that any let up in austerity will spell disaster. But Tsipras said, “From Monday on there will be no more memorandum, no more blackmail, no more fear.”

Workers, students, unemployed people and refugees filled the square and the streets feeding into it to join Syriza’s rally. Whenever Tsipras talked about making history, he had to pause for the chants of, “History is made by those who disobey”.

Blocks of purple, yellow, and blue and white flags announced the arrival of cleaners, school guards and workers from the old state broadcaster ERT. These workers struggles’ to get their jobs back following coalition cuts symbolise the broader fight against austerity.

School guard Ikaros told Socialist Worker, “Syriza will get us our jobs back – and more than that, it will bring democracy back to Greece.”

Andrea, a worker at Greeces state broadcaster ERT

Andrea, a worker at Greece's state broadcaster ERT (Pic: Socialist Worker)

ERT worker Andrea added, “There’s no way with the other parties. They won’t listen to our strike. But maybe if we vote them out that will make them listen!”

Many people hope a Syriza victory can end to cuts. But this was rarely the only issue. The government has used racism, repression and deals with the far right to push through austerity – and fed anger over a number of issues.

Unemployed Christos hoped Syriza can create jobs. But he added, “I’m gay, and we have a lot of problems. Why can gay people get married in Britain, France, Germany and Albania but not in Greece? I hope Tsipras will change this.”

College student Christine said, “We were demonstrating in November, to honour those who rose up against the dictatorship 41 years ago, and police attacked and beat us. These are the problems we have with New Democracy and Pasok. It’s time for another party.”

Omonia is at the heart of central Athens’ immigrant quarter, and has seen many a violent police raid. Palestinian Aloufi was glad to have the rally there.

Palestinian refugee Aloufi is backing Syriza

Palestinian refugee Aloufi is backing Syriza (Pic: Socialist Worker)

He told Socialist Worker, “I’m here to support a party that stands with refugees. The way we are treated in Greece is like we are not human. When I came here the first Greek people I could work with were in Syriza, helping organise a boat to Gaza.”

The international left was also out in force. There were delegations from France, Spain, Portugal and Turkey. Tsipras promised to bring change in Europe, and was briefly joined on stage by Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos party in the Spanish state.

From afar it can seem that Syriza is the whole Greek left. Yet an even bigger mobilisation filled Athens’ central Syntagma Square with the red flags of the Stalinist Communist Party, KKE.

KKE is less successful in elections than its offshoot Syriza. But it has a huge activist base and a powerful presence in the unions.

Elsewhere in Athens the anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya held local rallies.

Student Vangelis explained that he would vote Antarsya. “It’s good that New Democracy and Pasok are going, but I don’t believe Syriza will be able to deliver,” he said. “I also think it started with a very radical programme and has moved a little to the right every day.”

Syriza’s opponents claim a victory for the party will turn the world upside down.

Former fascist turned Tory minister Makis Voridis last week told supporters the election was a continuation of the 1940s civil war against the Communists. “Then we fought them with bullets, this time we’re fighting them with the vote,” he said.

Many of those at the Syriza rally also expected a radical clash between classes. Some of the liveliest moments saw supporters moshing to Italian partisan song “Bella Ciao”.

The slogans on the main stage were respectable. But Syriza banners on the fringes of the square featured Karl Marx, Che Guevara and slogans such as Rosa Luxemburg’s warning of “Socialism or Barbarism”.

There is some tension among Syriza supporters about what should happen after the election.

Christina - we will need to strike, whoever wins the election

Christina - 'we will need to strike, whoever wins the election' (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Christina told Socialist Worker she would vote Syriza but added, “Strikes will be just as important under a left wing government as a right wing one. If the people don’t remind them, they might forget what they were elected for.”

One Syriza MP told BBC radio it was “a matter of national pride” for Greece to pay its debt to the “Troika” of the European Union, ECB and IMF.

But Cristos said, “This debt isn’t the Greek people’s problem, it’s the bankers’ problem. They’ve been taking our money for five years and it has to stop—I want the Troika out of my country.”

Tsipras is determined that his opposition to the memorandum mustn’t lead to Greece leaving the euro.

But Ikaros said, “If Europe is to mean anything to us, it has to be about democracy, equality, and helping the poor.”

The real question isn’t whether Syriza wins on Sunday. It’s how, when the Troika brings all its pressure to bear on a on a Syriza government, workers can push it to deliver on their hopes.

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