Panos Garganas, editor of Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece, explains how workers are reacting to the economic crisis with a wave of strikes
There is a lot of anger among workers here. This was to be expected in a country that had put up fierce resistance to attacks by the previous Tory government.
The situation really exploded in December 2008. Young people outraged at police brutality laid siege to police stations. Thousands of trade unionists took to the streets in solidarity. This finally brought the Tories to their knees.
Pasok swept into office last October. And yet, within a few months, workers were taking to the streets again.
The huge public sector strike on Wednesday of last week saw rallies everywhere. Students joined workers from education, the civil service, local government, and health in a march through the centre of Athens.
The Communist Party says that it organised events in 66 different places across the country.
The Pasok government’s attempts to isolate groups of workers who are fighting back have completely failed and the resistance is generalising.
The strength of last Wednesday’s strike has forced union leaders to call a general strike of all workers – both private and public sector – for next Wednesday 24 February. This will be massive, and similar to the action Greek workers took against pension reform in 2007.
Some workers will move towards all-out strike. Already finance ministry workers have said that they will organise a series of 48-hour strikes back to back – effectively an indefinite strike.
Last week’s action followed militant protests by firefighters and strikes by tax and customs workers.
The government tried to present a tough face to the strikers, in an attempt to show the markets that it is strong enough to push the cuts through. But this failed.
The police tried to block a march of garbage collectors from joining the main demonstration on the pretext that they were going the wrong way up a one-way street. There was a clash and the police fired tear gas but they had to back down.
There is massive opposition to the attacks. While the British media played up opinion polls that showed that the Greek people will accept cuts, the results are different when specific questions are asked.
When people are asked if they would be willing to work longer and take wage cuts the majority always answer no.
People are angry for a number of reasons. Pasok promised before last year’s elections that it wouldn’t freeze wages. This was one of the issues that the election polarised around, as the Tories said the opposite.
But Pasok made a U-turn after the election.
People expected any cuts package to affect the rich, but there is no mention of taxing the wealthy and the bosses.
Pasok has had to face a revolt every time it has been in office, but they usually start a few years in.
This one is happening within a few months. It is an indication of how deep the anger is that the union leaders are now moving to challenge Pasok’s plans.
The Greek TUC was completely opposed to the strike movement when it began in December.
A group of left wing teachers initiated it and the Communist Party had to follow.
At that time, the Greek TUC criticised the Communist Party for being irresponsible and tried to isolate the action.
But a month later the civil service union was calling strikes, and the whole TUC leadership had to back them because of the pressure from below.
I think the government will shift its arguments after the European Union deal. It will now say that Greece is not alone and that there is a general battle taking place to defend Europe from US speculators.
This, they say, means we have to accept cuts to stop the crisis spreading across Europe. I don’t think these arguments will have much effect.
Greek workers are prepared to fight. Next week’s general strike will be a key moment in our resistance.
Workers’ Solidarity» www.sek-ist.gr [in Greek]