250,000 Protest in Athens During General Strike

Brutal and provocative police response The ’indignant’ or ’enraged’ masses started swarming into the central square at parliament buildings from early in the morning on 15 June

Eyewitness report from Eleni Vetsika

Brutal and provocative police response

The ’indignant’ or ’enraged’ masses started swarming into the central square at parliament buildings from early in the morning on 15 June. About 250,000 people were in the streets of Athens yesterday. Yet it is impossible to estimate with precision how many people congregated at parliament, as those on strike and the ’indignant’ became one mass of people from very early in the day. Those who were unable to come in the morning made it to the square later in the afternoon or the evening.

The mood was very vibrant. People are angry and have no illusions that the Establishment political parties have any concern for their rights or care about their incomes being squeezed down to a minimum. People who never before went on demonstrations came onto the streets yesterday, participating in both the strike and the Syntagma Square ’indignant’ movement. They see no way out of the crisis. They demanded that they should not have to pay for a crisis that was not of their making.

The police attacks on demonstrators were brutal and their presence very provocative. They strode among protesters shouting abuse. On past demonstrators many people were often indifferent about the presence of riot police but this time, whenever a police platoon made its appearance, people followed them and booed loudly. Due to our large numbers, we managed to keep the riot police away from the demonstration, for the first few hours, at least.

In many cases, crowds either physically or verbally opposed violent anarchists, in some cases removing them from the protests, marginalising them, making clear they see they have no place on a workers’ protest.

The police, constantly deploying teargases and violence (33 people were injured and hospitalised and 16 arrested) to force the protesters away from the parliament square. For a couple of hours, there were only anarchists left on the square. But it was amazing to see huge crowds staying on the streets around the Syntagma Suare, for hours after the end of the march, slowly approaching Parliament to try to re-establish their presence, despite the police teargas attacks. Even though the ’battle’ seemed lost during the afternoon, the crowds reclaimed the square, insisting that they were not leaving their fate to the 300 MPs in the Greek parliament, who gave only empty promises for years.

A relatively new type of riot police -the ‘Delta team’ — who ride large motorbikes around the city, also made their appearance yesterday, especially when Syntagma Square was in the hands of the rioters and the riot police. They roamed the streets in the centre of Athens looking for groups of demonstrators to attack. There was one incident that I witnessed, when five or six riot police pinned a protester on the ground, beating him although he was not resisting arrest, all this while other protesters jeered at the police actions and some people tried aid th protester on the ground. The Delta team police accelerated their bikes and tried to run us over to disband us.

There are also many photos and video photage on the internet and television, exposing undercover police dressed in ‘anarchist’ clothing. They were responsible for a big part of the mayhem. Footage also showed riot police equipping ’anarchists’ with baseball bats and iron bars.

The government badly shaken

The Greek Prime Minister, G. Papandreou, realising that resistance to his planned new austerity cuts will not subside, spent all day yesterday in talks with President Papoulias and later with Samaras, the leader of the conservative opposition party New Democracy (ND). Papandreou offered to stand aside as PM and to establish a coalition government to be able to create some “stability” and to carry out the ‘memorandum’, i.e. the huge cuts. He hopes to be able to give that impression that he tried to resolve the issues, and will rename the memorandum (i.e. amend it slightly), showing that political leaders are determined and united to go ahead with the further attacks against the working class.

But the ND leader, Samaras, is confident that he can win the next elections (which seem to be approaching much sooner than originally expected) said that his party will not participate in Papandreou’s proposed coalition. After his plans sank, Papandreou announced a cabinet reshuffle, hoping to contain the explosive situation Greece has been in for days.

But no matter how much the cabinet is reshuffled or how many coalitions from the establishment parties are established, the rights and livelihoods of working class people and youth will not a be protected or improved by these political forces.

More general strikes and rotating strikes need to be organised immediately, as well as, a further, stronger and clearer link between the rank and file of the unions and the movement of the ’enraged’.

This government will soon be reaching its end, yet, instead of replacing it with another government of the establishment pro-capitalist parties workers, youth, the unemployed and activists need to replace it with a workers’ government. Such a government would stop bailing out the big banks and would re-organise the economy in the interests of workers, youth, and the poor.

Recent Articles