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Greek activists speak out: ‘We want workers’ power’

This article is over 9 years, 11 months old
Socialists and trade unionists speak to Patrick Ward about fighting against austerity
Issue 2290
Striking workers at the Eleftherotypia newspaper holding a mass meeting
Striking workers at the Eleftherotypia newspaper holding a mass meeting

Panos Garganas, Editor of Workers Solidarity

The experience of 15 general strikes over two years has resulted in a high level of radicalisation.The employers are on the offensive. The IMF and EU say the government must cut wages to be more competitive.

And since the collapse of the Papandreou government in the autumn, more employers are pushing wage cuts.

They say that workers must accept wage cuts or they will close the workplaces.

But people are saying they will not work for reduced wages.

Workers have always respected the general strikes. But with the earlier strikes—while rallies were big—most people would stay at home.

With each new strike this changed. The rank and file began to get more and more involved.

Union meetings and picket lines had to be organised from below, and clashes with the police meant it was important to organise contingents for protests.

A new layer of activists has now developed which is very experienced at organising.

This is how a general strike can be called at a day’s notice and then implemented solidly, as happened on Tuesday of last week.

Many groups of workers are strong enough to say they won’t take wage cuts and are shutting their workplaces down.

Meetings of whole workforces are taking place. They set up committees with the authority of mass workers’ meetings.

The prospect for this to generalise further is very real. We can see it in the latest 48-hour general strike.

If the blackmail continues about a Greek default this is the response they will get.

Before the first general strike two years ago, it was revolutionaries who took the initiative to push unions into a strike wave.

Back in October 2009 an election returned a Labour-type Pasok government. The unions said they couldn’t call a strike against Pasok.

But the rank and file was influenced by the anti-capitalist left to get this going.

And when the IMF came to Greece, revolutionaries raised the demand of not paying the debt. This wasn’t to be done by the politicians but by workers themselves. That’s workers’ control.

So revolutionaries have played a major part in shaping people’s ideas and putting them into practice.

Moissis Litsis, Eleftherotypia newspaper workers’ committee and Athens Journalists’ Union executive member

We have been on strike since 22 December, and we haven’t been paid since last August.

That is not unusual. Many industries leave workers unpaid. The law here is that companies near bankruptcy can stop paying workers the money they owe them.

Eleftherotypia is the second largest newspaper in Greece, and it has a radical reputation. But now its workers are set to launch our own newspaper, called The Workers in Eleftherotypia, on Wednesday.

This is part of a new wave of radicalism in the workers’ movement in Greece. We have seen many ups and downs in the movement, but now people know they need to go further.

At first workers here at Eleftherotypia were very hesitant to strike, partly because we are a left wing paper with a “different” kind of boss.

But we were left unpaid and facing massive layoffs.

We face a court decision on Wednesday over the future of the newspaper. Maybe we will be sold to creditors.

Since we went on strike, people have wanted a strike paper. People called it a utopian idea, but now we will make a newspaper not just for workers here but for the whole of society.

It will be produced by our 800-strong workforce.

We will start with a 50,000 print run. Our usual print run is a maximum of 30,000.

We want to publish our ideas. But we also need to make earnings, to try to help our strike fund.

That’s why the owner of the newspaper wants to open a new front in the war against us. He has tried cutting off our access to facilities in the office.

We are not formally in occupation, but we have access to our offices and printers.

And the unions are giving us money to help with the printing, so we can use a different printer if we can’t use Eleftherotypia’s.

Readers have a strong connection to Eleftherotypia. They read about the opposition to the troika here.

It’s time to take our newspaper into workers’ hands.

In Greece it sometimes feels like we are at war. People are without work, being fed at soup kitchens, without any security.

I hope we see our strike movement continue. We need more to prevent the measures being enforced through parliament.

People are very angry. There is no section of the ordinary population left unaffected by this, in either public or private sector. Even small business owners are desperate.

And without being paid for so long, we are relying on savings and money from our families and friends. This helps, but we have many desperate people.

People in Greece are encouraged to act individualistically, like in most places. But this crisis has drawn people together.

People now realise that we are all in the same boat.

The establishment tried to scare people—what if we are forced out of Europe, they ask.

But people are not afraid any more. They have nothing to lose.

Kostas Pittas, union rep, ministry of energy

Workers occupied the Ministry of Energy and Development in response to government plans to privatise the energy grid.

On Thursday of last week over 50 power workers and civil service workers occupied and 200 protested outside.

We went into the office of the energy minister and surrounded him. We blocked the doors, and forced him to “negotiate”.

He told us, “no privatisation means no loan from the Troika”. We told him he was bullshitting.

The minister was locked in for about three hours before police freed him through the basement and led him out past a picket line.

This wasn’t the first time we have occupied the building.

We occupied 15 ministries for 12 days in October. When the troika came there was no place for them to meet. Everywhere was occupied.

On Wednesday of last week the power workers were still striking and occupying the electricity company offices.

Over the past two years we have had 15 general strikes. We’ve seen strikes in steel, the media, hospitals and elsewhere—some of them all-out.

This has fed everyone’s confidence.

Georgia Koffa, OLME secondary school teachers’ union, Athens

The austerity measures have been terrible for education.

Teachers are losing their jobs, meaning there is a lack of staff in schools.

Students have no books and no heating in the classrooms. And many students are hungry because they cannot afford food. Students are taking exams in these conditions.

This terrifies us, but it also makes us angry.

We have been pushing our union to fight harder, and we are calling for strikes to beat the austerity.

We are set to strike across secondary schools on Tuesday, after the general strike.

Seeing the workers’ occupations in other workplaces has inspired teachers. We are demanding workers’ meetings to argue to take further action.

We are deciding on the most effective way to fight. We have to learn from workers in other workplaces and follow their example.

We are now in the process of deciding whether we can take our jobs into our own hands and run the school ourselves. We want to take this road to resist the attacks.

Whatever action we take, we don’t want to do it alone. We want workers from other public services to join with us in striking.

Kostas Katarachias, Doctor and union general secretary at Agios Savvas cancer hospital, Athens

Last autumn we saw two months of continuous mobilisations. There were all-out strikes, demonstrations and occupations in the hospitals.

In my hospital we set up meetings to organise from below. We held demonstrations of thousands.

Some people’s pay fell by 30 percent when our new wage rates were announced a few weeks ago.

And as many workers also have loan repayments deducted from their wages, they now get paid next to nothing.

Around half of Greece’s hospitals are threatened with closure. The government has already tried to close some hospitals, but we have resisted and have had some victories.

Hospital workers around the country are now coordinating at a rank and file level. Nearly every day there are demonstrations and rank and file meetings.

The government introduced new charges for hospital patients, but many of the collection offices have been occupied. This stops collection.

Workers from 15 hospitals occupied the Ministry of Health in Athens. We held a general assembly, where people demanded an all-out strike.

Another exciting development is at a hospital in Kilkis in the north. Staff have taken control of managing the hospital, and are taking steps to bring the hospital under workers’ control.

Tasos Anastasiades, coordinator of the EPASS solidarity committee

We are now trying to unite the struggles of workers in the different sectors.

Workers in the media are taking steps to coordinate between the TV companies, newspapers and elsewhere. We’ve been pushing for an all out general strike in the media.

At the Alabis pharmaceutical company thousands of workers have struck against redundancies.

There is also an ongoing strike for several weeks against pay cuts at Intracom Defence, an electronics company that also makes missiles.

We are trying to coordinate them all—and win over more factories to join them in united struggle.

We formed the EPASS committee for solidarity.

This is mainly made up of trade unionists active in workplaces.

The pharmaceutical workers’ union’s president and vice-president are part of it, supported by their members.

At the Eleftherotypia newspaper there are five different unions. Workers there elected a joint committee that supports EPASS.

So it’s half official, half unofficial.

This is important because people in different workplaces are learning from each other.

This coordination has pushed union officials to call bigger strikes.

Now we want to go further—we need an all-out strike for all workers. And we want workers’ control. We want the finance books open for workers to see where their money’s gone and what lies we were told about not having any money.

If a boss sacks people the factory should be nationalised, and the boss’s fortune seized and given to unpaid workers.


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