A joint solidarity delegation of councillors and trade unionists from the London borough of Tower Hamlets visited Greece last month.
It was facilitated by the Greek Solidarity Campaign, led by deputy mayor Oli Rahman and included representatives from the Unison, NUT and Unite Community unions.
People in Greece are facing the might of the bosses’ European institutions. We heard what this means from local authority trade unionists—60 percent pay cuts and 250,000 public sector jobs lost, equivalent to 2 million in Britain.
Even more vivid was hearing from Solidarity4all. It coordinates the social centres and health clinics springing up across Greece around the simple slogan “no-one should be alone in the crisis”. It provides food distribution and basic health care. It’s based entirely on volunteers, not as charity but as active citizenship.
Ruling party Syriza MPs pay 12 percent of their salaries to help fund it and it is open to all—except fascists.
If you want a picture of Britain without the NHS or of racist Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s dreams of blocking migrants from services, visit Greece. Migrant workers suffer most. There is a substantial Bangladeshi community in Greece. It faces shocking levels of racism, as do other migrant workers.
We were told of physical attacks by fascist Golden Dawn members. We heard first hand from Tipu Chowdhury, one of the Manolada strawberry field strikers who struck demanding wages that were unpaid for several months. Hired thugs threatened to shoot them unless they returned to work.
The workers did not believe them, but they did—injuring 35 with buckshot. They are still fighting for justice. And they played a major part in the 15,000 strong anti-racist march in Athens last month.
One evening we crammed into a tiny Bangladeshi restaurant for a solidarity meeting. Hundreds were left outside in the street.
We brought our history of struggle of workers’ organisations and migrant communities uniting against racism in east London, and how migrant communities can provide political leadership.
Seeing the reaction to our delegation in Greece gave a new perspective to our own experience. It underscored how important international solidarity is for the Greek people. I urge other trade unionists and campaigners to arrange a solidarity visit.
A key question in all our discussions was how to apply a counterweight to the pressure from Europe’s rulers on the Syriza government. The first answer was always solidarity—don’t leave the Greek people to fight alone. But there was also a deep sense of the ongoing combativity of the Greek people, sometimes expressed as wariness.
Local authority trade unionists were confident that their mass strikes played a part in contributing to the election of a left wing government in Greece. But they said change was only at a psychological level so far.
As one put it, “Under the old government you didn’t know when you went to bed if you would have your job in the morning.
“Under the new one at least you know they will wake you up and tell you.”
But people expect change—such as the Bangladeshi woman who spoke of Syriza’s promises of citizenship rights, particularly for children born in Greece. That must be delivered.
There is a mood of determination and solidarity in Greece. People won’t just accept whatever conditions the bosses seek to impose on the Greek working class.