Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Lessons as the battles rage on in Greece

At the start of the month, the Greek government announced a swathe of crippling "austerity" measures imposed by the European Union. They included "rises in sales taxes, a cut in holiday bonuses paid to civil servants, and a pensions freeze." The immediate response from workers, as PM George Papendrou put it, put the country into a "state of war."

Taxikpali, a prolific contributor to LibCom on the subject of Greece, tells us how this unfolded;
Just hours after the announcement of the new measures, layed-off workers of Olympic Airways attacked riot police lines guarding the State General Accountancy and have occupied the building, in what they call a open-ended occupation. The action has led to the closing of Athens' main commercial street, Panepistimiou, for long hours.

On Thursday morning, workers under the Communist Party union umbrella PAME occupied the Ministry of Finance on Syntagma square (which remains under occupation) as well as the county headquarters of the city of Trikala. Later, PAME also occupied 4 TV station in the city in Patras, and the state TV station of Salonica, forcing the news broadcasters to play a DVD against government measures.

On Thursday afternoon, two protest marches took to the streets of Athens. The first, called by PAME, and the second by OLME, the teachers union and supported by ADEDY. The latter gathered around 10,000 people despite less than 24h notice, and during its course limited clashes developed with the riot police which was pilled with rocks outside the EU Commission building. Also two protest marches took to the streets of Salonica at the same time.A protest march was also realised in the city of Lamia.

Finally, the party offices of PASOK in the town of Arta were smashed by what it is beliaved to be people enraged by the measures


All buses, trolleys, the metro, intercity trains, and trams as well as most flights of Aegean and Olympic Airways apart from a few security flights [will] be halted, as workers in means of mass transport have called a 24h strike. The strike will immobilise the country.

All schools will remain closed, as teachers have called a 24h strike.

All public TV and radio, as well as the Athens News Agency, all municipal radio stations and the Ministry of Press have declared a 24h strike and a demo in front of the Journalist Union building in Athens.

All hospitals across the country will be serving only [e]mmergency cases, as doctors have declared a 24h strike.

No garbage will be collected on Friday, as refuse collectors have declared a 24h strike, while they have also announced another strike and a protest march for March the 10th.

Pensioners will be performing a protest march in Salonica on Friday morning.

Students are holding assemblies in their schools to decide their participation in the struggle, with many schools already having decided to move to occupation and participate in the marches.

It is indicative of the climate of public rage that even cops have announced a demo outside the Athens Police Hq for the 11th of March.
He offered the prediction that the situation was "expected to further explode" as further measures were unveiled, and could "bring the country on the brink of social insurrection." As further reports have confirmed, he was not far wrong.

The first round of strikes saw running battles between protesters and the police, resulting in several attacks. The assault upon a union leader can be seen here, and upon an elderly antifascist war veteran here. More pitched battles followed a second general strike. The latest news is that a "48h strike of the National Electricity workers has seen 7 major power-factories shut their engines, with workers threatening to shut-down more and plunged Greece in black-out." The workers' demands are "a reversal of the austerity measures" and "the freezing of 2,000 new positions in the industry." As part of this action, they have "occupied the Unemployed Office Headquarters in Athens, the Company's offices in Ptolemaida and Megalopolis (both major power producing units) and a production unit in Agios Dimitrios."

Yet again, this group of workers are not alone and solidarity is strong;
Meanwhile, nurses who have gone on a 24h strike against the austerity measures marched in Athens today. The Minister of Health has promised not to implement the cutting of subsidies and salaries in their sector, to initiate many new working positions and to include nursing within the list of "heavy and unhealthy" jobs, which provides with better pension and salary. At the same time, doctors across greece's public hospitals have began an open-end withdrawal of labour in reaction to the austerity measures. The doctors' labour action is forcing many hospitals to work with emergency personnel.

At the same time workers of WIND formed a demo outside the LAbour Inspection headquarters in Athens in protest to the firing of one worker by the company, while workers of the textile industry ELITE blockaded the entrance of the Ministry of Labour. Meanwhile in the north of the country, textile workers of ENKLO industries occupied two major banks of the city of Komotini, as well as the County headquarters of Imathia.

Tonight ADEDY is organising a central protest march against the measures in Athens. Reactions to the measures are expected to climax as the Minister of Labour has gone public proclaiming the feared reform of the social security system a one-way road.

Moreover, taxi drivers and gas stations have called a 24h strike for Thursday.
The level of militancy and solidarity in Greece should serve as a lesson for workers across the world. Though, at present, the measures being imposed there are beyond anything seen elsewhere in the West, this may not be the case for very long.

Today, BBC News has reported that the EU has, as in Greece, intervened in Britain's economy by demanding even harsher cuts than the ones already on offer. Thus far, the government has rejected the suggestion for a further £20bn of cuts, but there is no guarantee that they won't change this position. With a General Election looming, the fact that both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have agreed with the EU is a sign of the way things will go should the government change.

Already, under Gordon Brown, public sector cuts and other economic measures are taking their toll, and worker discontent is growing. PCS members will be out on another strike next Wednesday, Budget Day, BA have seven days of walkouts planned, and the RMT is the latest trade union to announce industrial action. However, thus far all strikes have taken place within the framework of the mainstream trade unions, compliant with the law. There is little evidence that, faced with similar "austerity" programmes to Greece, union members would be as quick to take the class war to the streets.

Other elements of the working class, however, offer more promise. In Sussex, "hundreds of students have staged a snap occupation in defiance of management and the state, following the granting of a High Court injunction banning ‘occupational protest.’" This is just one example of a growing trend of occupations and radical protests across Britain, and it demonstrates how to continue the fight outside of organisations hamstrung by law and bureaucracy.

The likelihood is increasing that the impact upon workers of the capitalist "recovery" will be brutal. Livelihoods and services will be ravaged in the name of private profit and "growth." If we are to stand any chance of resisting and reversing this trend, British workers must learn the lessons of Greece and ditch reformist trade unionism for anarchic radicalism.