Two days of national industrial action in February and several sectors staging consecutive 48-hour strikes have created a strong momentum.
This has not been a self-evident development. Only last December the Greek TUC refused to call for any action against the government’s austerity budget. The ascendance of Pasok (the Greek equivalent of Labour) to power in October after five years of Tory governance seemed to foster conditions for consent between the trade union bureaucracy and the new government.
But things do not always go as predicted. The fancy talk about “green shoots of recovery” seems to have deceived even the government itself. Just three months after using the slogan “There is enough money” for their electoral victory, Pasok had to confess that the Greek economy was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Interest rates on government bonds have sky-rocketed in a government attempt to encourage their sale to bankers. This threatens to destabilise not only the domestic economy but even the euro as a whole. The so-called “stabilisation programme” forged by the European Commission for Greece pulled the trigger for working class anger.
The plan prescribes the axing of wages, pensions, benefits and public expenditure for education and care. The government’s estimate is that unemployment will reach 20 percent during 2010, but they threaten to stop all new job intakes to the public sector for this year and later keep a pace of one intake for every five retirements.
The strike staged on 10 February acted both as a mood indicator and as a boost. Officially called by the civil servants’ federation, it swept across schools, hospitals, bin workers and other local authority personnel. Some parts of the private sector joined the strike as well. Customs and tax office workers already staged a 48-hour warning strike in early February and they tapped into the mood around the general strike to organise the next steps of action.
Firefighters also staged their own strike and mass demonstrations against wage cuts. Farmers set up roadblocks with their tractors on the main motorways during previous months, protesting against their loss of income, in an early sign that the new government had no grace period and that it was unable to persuade anyone that the poor should pay for the crisis.
The strike on 24 February provided the opportunity for escalation. This time the bank workers, media workers and several other sections of private sector workers joined in. The crucial battle will be whether there will be sections of the working class able to overcome the hesitation of the union bureaucracies and organise continuous all-out strikes, not just participate in the national days of action. The school teachers’ strike for 8 March may provide a milestone for a new wave of strike action.
All this has turned Greece into a more generalised battleground. Europe’s ruling classes are now focusing on Greece in order to gauge two things: first, how much the weakest link of the eurozone can bear without crashing; second, the level of working class militancy in response to the effects of the crisis.
They have the bitter experience of December 2008, when an incident of police brutality sparked an uprising that led to thousands of young people laying siege to police stations at the same time as unions were striking to demand the fall of the conservative government.
The Greek ruling class and government are trying to prop up patriotic sentiments in order to contain people’s anger. They claim that strikes not only should be out of the question in times of crisis but that they damage the economy as well. Presenting it as a “Greek tragedy”, they are attempting to persuade workers to compromise and hope that another of the so-called PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain) will pay the piper first. Fortunately the majority of the working class doesn’t buy it.
Workers all round Europe and Britain should learn the lessons of the Greek example. When our rulers ask if general strikes are the solution to the crisis, we have to answer with a clear-cut “Yes”. The same governments that provided billions to the bankers in order to bail them out now have the nerve to ask us for more patience and self-restraint.
No self-restraint for strike action – that’s what we hope will be the picture coming out of Greece in the following months. We should work to spread this mood in every European country, even faster than the capitalist crisis spreads.
Nikos is a member of SEK (Socialist Workers Party) in Greece.
Read more on the eurozone crisis: Greece, Ireland and the eurozone crisis
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