Socialist Worker

Greek general strike set to bring country to standstill

by Panos Garganas
Issue No. 2606

Public sector workers protest for permanent contracts for all temporary and flexible staff

Public sector workers protest for permanent contracts for all temporary and flexible staf (Pic: Εργατικ? Αλληλεγγ?η )


Public and private sector workers in Greece are set to walk out on a general strike on Wednesday.

It is called by the two biggest union federations fighting against austerity imposed by the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The left wing Syriza government has agreed an austerity programme of huge cuts and privatisation to repay Greece’s debts.

The EU and IMF are demanding that Greece pays £57 billion in loan repayments and interest over the next four years.

But even with this terrible austerity the government can only find £22 billion. It is in a fix and is trying to squeeze everybody harder.

People are not prepared to accept more austerity. Electricity and transport workers are fighting privatisation and there’s a fightback against staff shortages in schools and hospitals.

The state-owned public electricity company is being broken up. Parts of it are being sold off and the remainder is under attack. The power plants say that 2,000 people will be sacked.

The EU bosses and the bankers are in a weak position. If we challenge them on the debt that will encourage the strikes in France, people in Italy and Spain—all over Europe.

There’s a similar battle of bus workers in Athens who also face privatisation. They will continue striking for a day after the general strike.

Seafarers will join the strike, so there will be no ferries between the Greek islands. Ferry employers and the government are pushing for flexible working.

There will also be a strike by media workers. There’ll be no newspapers or news on television. Media workers on state TV channel ERT are demanding an improvement in their working conditions.

ERT was closed a few years back as part of the bailout agreement. They’ve come back to work under the Syriza government and want to get back what was stolen from them.

All this means that pressure from below forced the union leaders to call the action. But they’re trying to dress it up as something different to a general strike.

The leaders of the two union federations are trying to present the strike as a day of action in coordination with some of the bosses. They say that taxation, for example, is bad for the worker and the boss.

Effectively they’re trying to blunt the blow of the strike because there’s an election coming up.

Reducing

The right wing opposition to Syriza, New Democracy—the Tories—say the answer to Greece’s debt is more growth. For them that means reducing taxation on companies so that bosses have a motive to invest.

Their programme is that giving bosses a lower tax rate will mean more jobs and make up for the cuts in the public sector.

Syriza doesn’t put it that way exactly, but it accepts this logic. Syriza says that if we end the bailout agreement in August and manage to get loans on the international finance market, we can start redressing some of the injustices.

The first thing they talk about is reducing taxation. Effectively both the government and the right wing opposition focus on giving “incentives” for bosses to invest. For Syriza it’s no longer about defying austerity, but accepting its logic.

So it’s up to organisations to the left of Syriza to raise the arguments about cancelling the debt—something that’s coming to the forefront.

If the government refuses to pay the £57 billion it can fund all the services and all the workers’ demands.

The argument in favour of striking is very widely accepted. People are not prepared to accept more austerity. In terms of whether we can cancel the debt, people have doubts about that—mainly because Syriza promised to do that and has backed down.

But no matter what the union leaders say, this is a workers’ strike. If it is successful it opens the way for challenging the debt repayments.

The EU bosses and the bankers are in a weak position. If we challenge them on the debt that will encourage the strikes in France, people in Italy and Spain—all over Europe.

They are not so strong—we shouldn’t be afraid of them.


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