Trade unions in Greece have called a general strike on Thursday 14 December as parliament is set to discuss next year’s budget.
And the budget is terrible, cutting spending by £2 billion and increasing taxes by £2 billion on top of all the austerity that has already been imposed.
That means cutting funding to the health service by 28 percent in one go. The Athens Metro also faces a cut of 32 percent.
Greece’s government, led by left party Syriza, is implementing a bailout agreement with the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
These institutions, together known as the Troika, say that Greece’s government must reach a primary deficit of 3.5 percent of GDP.
That means that the difference between what it takes in taxes and what it spends must rise to about a thirtieth of the size of the economy.
Before the crisis Greece’s government had a deficit of 11 percent, so an amount equivalent to 15 percent of the whole economy has been taken out since then.
It’s come out of education, health care, public sector wages, benefits and pensions. None of these things were responsible for creating Greece’s debt.
We’re told that “the Greeks” were spending too much and now have to pay.
But not all Greeks are the same. It’s the rich and the banks who were overspending—thanks to the international finance markets—and now it’s the rest who are paying for it.
This would be reason enough to call a strike.
But on top of that, floods hit the Attica region earlier this month and killed 23 people in a working class area west of Athens.
Those deaths could have been avoided. Everyone agrees that the floods were so bad because no money has been spent on infrastructure, on providing an outlet for the waters.
So one might have expected the budget to spend more on infrastructure to prevent further catastrophes. But there’s no prospect of that as they try to reach their ridiculous surplus.
Putting extra austerity on top of such an event is a provocation.
So are plans to bring in a new law making it harder for local trade union bodies to call strikes.
Such measures are demanded by the bailout agreement, and part of the strike is also about trying to stop them getting to parliament.
Syriza has moved to the right rapidly since taking office. The most recent scandal concerned its moves to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.
And there is so much anger that trade unionists affiliated to Syriza haven’t been able to oppose strikes, only to use delaying tactics and the like.
Now the union leaderships have been pushed into action because there is a fightback.
Public sector workers have been fighting against a government ban on new permanent jobs. For some years the public sector has only taken on temporary contract workers.
For the government, this is a way of “recycling unemployment”—getting some people into work some of the time. But it’s not good enough for the workers or for those who rely on their services.
Hospital workers struck across Greece on Wednesday, opposing the sacking of contract workers. They also struck last week, and there have been similar actions by local government workers.
The bailout agreement threatens any state-run utility with privatisation if it doesn’t make enough cuts to become profitable. Athens Metro workers have struck against this blackmail.
And there have been pensioners’ protests and two one-day strikes against the National Bank of Greece’s plans to run down its pension scheme.
So there are many streams flowing into the general strike, and a successful general strike will give them all a boost. It will show workers fighting in every sector that they are not alone.