Health workers in the national health service struck in Greece on Wednesday. Hospitals had a 24-hour strike and a demo in the centre of Athens.
They were mainly striking over a shortage of hospital staff. The bailout agreement—a demand for austerity by Greece’s creditors, implemented by the left wing Syriza government—has imposed a ban on hiring. So people are retiring and not being replaced.
There was a separate strike against privatisation by power workers in a public power corporation. A number of plants are being sold off.
Wednesday was the day that parliament voted on breaking up the corporation and initiating the selloffs.
Then there was a third mobilisation. A mining group is being privatised and the workers organised a rally in Athens at the ministry of finance.
A fourth event was a demonstration by pensioners against cuts to pensions.
Traffic had to be diverted away from the centre of Athens practically throughout the day. But there was little coordination between the workers.
Power workers and hospital workers held a joint rally outside parliament. The mining workers were outside the ministry of finance. And the pensioners were outside the ministry of labour.
This is the major problem facing the workers’ movement. Although the Greek trade union federation has such powerful sections of workers out in the streets, they did nothing to coordinate. The fact that they were striking on the same day was a coincidence, up to a point.
The only people who were pushing for coordination were a rank and file group of hospital workers. So there was an initiative from below, and that was important. But the problems of a lack of coordination are there.
One reason for this is Greece’s tension with Turkey (see below). The media is creating an atmosphere that suggests Greece is on the verge of war with Turkey. That puts pressure on trade union leaders not to call action.
The other factor is that trade union leaders are focussing on the coming election. The government was elected in 2015, and the end of its term is next year. So there will be an election in the next 12 months.
The trade union leaders don’t say this openly, but they effectively argue that the solution is not strikes but a change of government.
A whole section of the leaders are allied to the Labour-type Pasok party. That was a strong party that was in government for many years. Nowadays it is a small group that haemorrhaged support after implementing harsh austerity.
It’s trying to set itself up for a coalition with Syriza or the right wing New Democracy party. One section of the union leadership agrees with this sort of electoral plan.
Then there’s another section allied to New Democracy. For them a change of government means the return of the Tory government.
Pasok and New Democracy are completely discredited by their record of implementing austerity, which led to the election of Syriza in 2015.
But Syriza has caved in on every demand by the bosses and the European Union (EU) for privatisation and cuts. After three years of austerity implemented by Syriza, there’s an opening for Pasok and the Tories to make a comeback.
Now the third bailout agreement—which the “Troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund used to demand austerity—runs out in August.
This means Greece will be on its own to front the payments on its debts.
There are only two options when this comes up. Either there is going to be a new agreement with the EU and the IMF for another bailout. Or Greece has to find its own money on the open market.
Raising funds at the minute means Greece will have to pay high interest rates of over 4 percent. The question of whether this is viable is unclear.
The Syriza government argues that the economy is picking up, so the markets will bring the interest rates down and Greece won’t need a new bailout agreement. This is a gamble.
So anything goes as to what will happen after August, and this is what will determine whether we have an early election or a late election.
The odds are on an election in the autumn. The main problem for the left is whether it focusses on struggle or on the election. It needs a clear focus on struggle. But so far this is lacking.
‘We want jobs, not warships’
The Greek media has played up the threat of war with Turkey recently. Two Greek soldiers are currently in Turkish jail.
They were on patrol on the land border between Greece and Turkey in the north. They chased refugees to make sure they didn’t cross into Greece from Turkey and overstepped the border, and were arrested by the Turkish forces.
This has become a big issue. The press keeps saying that these Greek lads are in Turkish prison because Turkey is preparing to attack Greece.
They are trying to create an atmosphere of war. This comes after nationalist rallies organised by the far right over the question of Macedonia three months ago. So we’ve had three months of an attempt to create a nationalist atmosphere by the press and right wing forces.
Traditionally the Greek and Turkish ruling classes have been at odds over territorial waters in the Aegean Sea which lies between them. This dispute has been going on since the 1970s.
Maritime law says Greece can expand its waters to 12 miles from its shores. Currently they are six miles. If that happens practically most of the Aegean will be a Greek sea, with just a few lanes for international waters.
This is also linked to drilling rights in the Aegean. But what’s more important nowadays is drilling rights offshore from Cyprus. This is another long-standing dispute between Greek and Turkey.
The island was divided in 1974. The north became occupied by Turkey, and the south is controlled by the Greek Cypriots who are allied with Greece.
The Greek Cypriot government has made agreements with oil groups to proceed with drilling just offshore of Cyprus. Turkey is objecting to this. Its government says the Greeks must have an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots before they can go ahead.
These are the official reasons why there’s tension between Greece on Turkey. The real reasons are what’s happening in the Middle East.
The war in Syria has destabilised the whole area, and Greece and Turkey are jockeying for position.
Turkey invaded Syria in January. This created tensions between Turkey and its Nato allies because it had the backing of Russia, and Greece is firmly on the West’s side. Despite the fact we have a left wing government, it has provided facilities for the US, France and Britain to bomb Syria.
In terms of the real threat of war, this is unlikely. Turkey is preoccupied fighting the Kurds in eastern Turkey and northern Syria. The idea that it will fight two wars at the same time is far-fetched.
And Greece wouldn’t get the green light to initiate a war from the European Union or the US. The growing relationship between Turkey and Russia is a nuisance for the US, but it isn’t such a big problem that it would create a war over it.
But when there’s a threat of war it means that the union leaders are under pressure not to call action.
Yet in terms of the rank and file the response to the strike calls was successful. People were out on strike and joined the demonstrations. People are saying the last thing we need right now is a war with Turkey.
Our newspaper’s front page says, ‘We want jobs, not warships’. Greece is supposed to buy more warships from France, to patrol the sea lanes between Greece and Cyprus.
People are opposed to this. They’ve been suffering cuts for ages—they don’t want money to go to more weapons.