‘Can’t Pay-Won’t Pay’

Non-Payment movement reflects explosive situation

Edited translations of articles from Xekinima website

At the end of 2010, a non-payment movement began to develop in Greece with a significant number of people refusing to pay road tolls. Having had enough with the continuous attacks from the government on their living standards, people decided to act and resist.

The movement has spread, to public transport where people refuse to pay ticket fares in the buses and metro. In the last four months, more and more people have got involved in the movement, forming local committees in their workplaces and neighbourhoods, organising big public meetings and days of action. The campaign has been gaining increasing popularity especially amongst the youth. It has become a broad movement of mass disobedience under the general slogan ‘We can’t pay-We won’t pay’.

A day of action was organised on Saturday 9 April by the coordinating body of local non-payment committees. Ticket machines were closed in every metro, train and tram station in Attica and an open meeting followed in the main square of Athens.

According to Reuters, the Non-Payment movement is ‘a major threat to the Greek government’ (10/03/2011) with 56% of the Greek people supporting the campaign and only 39% disagreeing with it (MRB 27/02/2011). The number of drivers refusing to pay the road tolls each day has reached 8.000 people — a significant rise from 6% to 18% within a year — and 40% of public transport passengers refuse to pay any ticket fares in their daily commute (inews.gr 22/02/2011).

We won’t pay for their debt

Using the current economic crisis as an excuse, the government is attacking the public sector, including public transport. Greek people have been asked to pay over and over again for supposedly improved and high quality public transportation through direct and indirect taxation but all they get back is a 40% rise in ticket fares, closures of many bus routes and major inconveniences caused by train line closures in the centre of Athens!

The government’s argument regarding the cuts in the public transport sector is that it is the only way of paying back its debt. But the question is who created this debt? For the last 12 years every government kept under-funding urban transport, giving only a fraction of what should have been invested.

But people are realising that they can no longer afford to accept this. By launching and expanding the Non-Payment campaign, people can actually have their own say in how public transport should be working: for the benefit of all and not for the big companies which, in close relations with the government, are pushing through privatisations in every part of the Greek public sector.

The non-payment campaign calls for a refusal to pay increased transport fares, for free transportation in the morning hours (5–8am), as used to be the case in the 1980’s, as well as free transportation for the unemployed, people with disabilities, low-paid workers and students. Many public transport drivers give their tacit support to the campaign in various ways i.e. by letting groups campaigners on buses and allowing them to ask the rest of the passengers not to validate their tickets, or by not stopping if they are asked to by inspectors who want to give fines to campaigners. Drivers are not yet able to fully express their support for the movement as they are under immediate threat of getting sacked. However, the main goal of the movement at this point is to link itself with transport workers and drivers and fight together for a free, safe and environmentally-friendly public transport system. The main advantage of the non-payment movement is that it is independent of the national union bureaucracy, thus more free to expand and include other public sector services that are being threatened with privatisation, such as the electric and water companies, the railways etc.

Trying to stop the campaign

The government has been trying to break down the movement through intimidatory tactics since its beginning. They started by threatening that it is ‘illegal’ and there have been a few incidents of people being taken to police stations (without any real implications). They have now started creating a new ‘body’ of inspectors closely collaborating with the police and have announced a new type of electronic ticket that will stop any trespassers. This is their way of discouraging and trying to stop the movement!

The response to this should be united resistance, organised by the local non-payment committees. On a bigger scale, the government cannot send to court a mass campaign of hundreds thousands of people. Only a mass united campaign can win!

Xekinima (CWI Greece) has supported and aided the campaign since it started and has also been urging its expansion, against rising water and electricity charges. Xekinima constantly emphasises the importance and big potential of a mass non-payment movement that could lead the way to bringing down the PASOK government, and refers to the example of the Thatcher government’s defeat in the late 1990’s by the anti-poll tax campaign in Britain.

Xekinima calls for the formation of non-payment committees everywhere following democratic procedures; for the linking of the movement with public transport workers and rank and file trade unionists, with the understanding that workers in the public transport company have common interests with the people who use the public transport (workers, pensioners, students etc). We call for taking the non-payment movement to the next level, fighting against all austerity measures taken by the government for its ‘bail out’ by the EU and IMF; for the strengthening of the resistance of the non-payment campaigns, with rolling 24-hour and 48-hour general strikes of the different sectors, culminating in repeated 3-day general strikes.

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