Lawyers across Greece began an indefinite strike yesterday, Thursday, against pension cuts the Syriza government is pushing through to appease its creditors. Up to 15,000 lawyers and supporters marched through the streets of the capital Athens.
Thanassis Kampagianis is a socialist lawyer on the prosecution team for the trial of Nazi party Golden Dawn—currently on hold for the strike. He told Socialist Worker, “This was a massive eruption of the whole profession to stop the pensions bill going to parliament.
“Participation was massive. Everyone was on strike—from the salaried lawyers at the big law firms to their bosses, as well as self-employed lawyers and law students.”
After a deal signed as part of Greece’s third “bailout” last year, European Union (EU) institutions and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded swingeing pension cuts. These will hit everyone, but in different ways.
Thanassis described a “class polarisation” among lawyers.
“The wealthiest are protesting because they will have to pay for their pensions for the first time and they say this is ‘communism’,” he explained. “Of course the government attacks these rich lawyers.
“But the majority of lawyers earn much less. They will now have to pay 60 percent of their salary in pension contributions and tax. Many will not able to afford their offices—it essentially means the whole poorer section of lawyers will vanish.”
Just like the Tory legal aid cuts in Britain, these will affect ordinary people’s access to justice. Thanassis explained, “The justice system is far too expensive for working class people to use and there is no legal aid.
“For example, in the trial of a far right organisation in Germany the victims’ lawyers are paid by the state—that doesn’t happen in Greece.”
He added, “But there are left wing and radical lawyers who do represent victims of racist violence— and they are not the wealthy ones. If the pension cuts go through, there will no longer be that ‘critical mass’ of progressive lawyers and people won’t get justice.”
The Syriza government is under immense pressure from above and below.
Greece’s creditors say they won’t talk about restructuring its debt until the pension cuts are implemented. But workers have already held some of the biggest general strikes in several years against them, with more threatened.
Other struggles are bubbling too. Temporary workers, hired to plug local government cuts, marched on the ministry of labour and then occupied the bosses’ building, today, Friday. Their contracts are about to expire.
The lawyers’ strike can add to this resistance. Thanassis said, “The direction of the strike is contested politically.
“The wealthiest parts of the profession largely support the right wing opposition parties. Under the influence of this small minority, the lawyers’ association preposterously called for a yes vote in last year’s referendum on austerity measures.
“But the poorer lawyers can orient their struggle towards the working class and raise demands to drop the debt and tax the rich.”
The lawyers’ strike is set to continue until at least Friday of next week—and could be extended until the pensions bill goes to parliament.
No date has yet been set for the vote in parliament. A battle the government had hoped to get out of the way before Christmas now looks likely to drag on until at least February.
Electing a left government last January didn’t stop the EU’s austerity blackmail in Greece. But workers’ resistance can.