International action against extreme police violence and austerity
More than 60 Greek people, living in over 16 European cities, met online several times over the past three weeks, mobilized by the increasing wave of violence and police repression that has been unfolding in Greece in recent months.
During the past few weeks, actions against police violence had already been organised in several European cities, like Edinburgh, Gothenburg and Copenhagen, by Greeks living there. Greek collectives intervened in local mobilisations against the repression in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona, putting the spotlight on what is happening these days in their home country.
Following these sporadic actions, Greek collectives from different countries met online in order to coordinate with each other in a more organised way. A Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/787436118854376) was created and it already has more than 2,000 members. A letter of protest was initially circulated in this group and information is being exchanged.
Collectives and individuals participate in the group. Some of the collectives already existed during the memorandum years, while others are newly established. Indeed, during the years of the deep crisis in Greece in the 2010s, in many cities, such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, Lyon, Brussels, Barcelona, Berlin, Florence, etc., collectives in solidarity with the Greek movement had been created, working on spreading information and organising protest actions, also trying to act as a link between the movements in their countries and those in Greece. The highlights were the major mobilisations of 2011–12, but also the referendum period in 2015. These collectives included people who had been living abroad since before the crisis, but were significantly enriched by the many Greeks who emigrated during the crisis years.
In the years following the referendum and the capitulation of SYRIZA, these movements retreated, following the decline of mobilizations in Greece. But in recent years, on the occasion of events such as the murder of the gay activist Zak Kostopoulos or the trial of Golden Dawn, they have become active again.
This is how this Facebook group was created and through it, online assemblies were convened, with the participation of more than 60 people from over 16 cities (even from Sydney, Australia!). In these meetings, anger against the extreme police violence and repression in Greece was obvious, but so was a significant combative mood. There was a general agreement on the opposition of all who attended to the fact that vast amounts of money are being spent on police and military equipment in Greece, while health spending is being cut, but also a strong anger against the omertà in the official media, the misinformation and climate of censorship, and the destructive environmental policies and laws being implemented. In addition, all present pointed to the inhuman policies applied in the refugee crisis and the sell-out of the country’s property through a massive programme of privatisations.
Extreme Police Violence
Extreme police violence has been observed during the past months. The government has used the sanitary crisis in order to apply authoritarian measures, but also to pass reactionary bills . Some examples are a reform in higher education in which a special police corps for universities is included or bills on destructive environmental exploitation. The government’s budget for 2021 included a rise of spending on police and army equipment and substantial cuts on health, alongside other austerity measures.
It was clear that the Greek population, already significantly impoverished and oppressed by 10 years of extreme austerity measures imposed by the infamous Troika (EU-IMF-ECB) would react. The Greek workers and youth have defied demonstration bans and have taken to the streets on several occasions, like the impressive demonstration at the Golden Dawn trial (https://internationalsocialist.net/en/2020/10/greece), the anniversary of the uprising against the dictatorship on 17 November 1973, weekly students’ demonstrations organised in February and March, demonstrations in defence of a political prisoner on hunger strike, workers in the health sector and artists’ demonstrations. Artists in particular mobilised against the pitiful handling of the economic and health crises, which has led them to spend one year practically without income.
Greek migrants’ collectives in several European, American and even Australian cities came together united behind the objective of expressing solidarity with the Greek people and also creating links between the struggle in Greece and the struggles in the countries they live in.
Thus, Greeks from London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Dublin, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Bologna, Reykjavik, Oslo, Barcelona, Uppsala and New York, agreed on a joint call for a global weekend of actions against police violence and repression in Greece on 17 and 18 April.
In Belgium for example, they intervened trying to link the protest against the Greek government and solidarity with the workers and youth of Greece with the struggle of the “Santé en Lutte” campaign. Santé en Lutte is a network of health workers, which after over a year of struggles has become a driving force for the movement and has achieved a significant increase of the national budget for health. Through organising workers in hospitals and making links with workers of other essential sectors, they called a series of protests and demonstrations, demanding that hospitals are not run as private businesses and a massive increase in public funding for the health sector, the hiring of additional staff and salary increases.
This is how the health movement achieved an additional 2 million euro for salaries and bonuses (part of a total of 4 million euro in budget increases). Even though these amounts are far from what is needed to cover the real needs of the sector, this is definitely a clear victory of the movement. Their struggle is very important, but is also significant for the cause of the Greek collective: the slogan used for the action organised on 17 April in Brussels, in the framework of the global call for actions, was “Money for health, not for the police”.
The global coordination will continue with more actions, aiming both at resisting repression and authoritarianism, demanding democratic rights and substantial funding for health, defending press freedom and expressing opposition to the destructive new laws on education, environment and culture. At the same time, efforts will be made for this global coordination to contribute to creating links and establishing cooperation between the movements in the different countries they live in and those in Greece.
The anger at the developments unfolding in Greece and a combative mood were very evident at the action in Brussels, where 70 people participated (in Belgium there is a limit of maximum 50 people attending organised public gatherings). This was also the case in the other cities according to the reports. The actions were very diverse. In London for example, the Greek group took part in a demonstration of the “Kill the bill” movement; in Sydney, New York and Reykjavik, a small group hung a banner in front of a symbolic building, in The Hague and Oslo static public gatherings were called. It is very important that people organise and coordinate actions of course, not only to express their anger, but also to demand change.
How to Win
In order to win battles though, specific demands are necessary, and so is the connection with the organised workers’ movement and the other movements and struggles developing in society. In this case, specific demands related to the reality of the country these Greek migrants live in need to be linked to the demands for Greece.
Defunding the police and using this money for the health sector is one of them, which applies in many countries at the moment. Respect for basic human and citizen rights or press freedom are important demands for Greece right now. There have been several cases of extreme police violence in demonstrations or against ordinary citizens in a random street, because they protested against a fine. There have also been reports about activists arrested by the police in dubious ways and then tortured at the police station.
One important political demand a united mass movement needs to put forward, should be to force a change in the legislative framework restricting democratic rights which has been passed in the last few months. This includes laws allowing police forces to intervene in the universities (which was forbidden since the end of the dictatorship), the law imposing restrictions and demonstrations and the law on the establishment of a special university police corps. These bills are clearly pointing to a more authoritarian society, in which the government will have the tools to crush any hint of possible reaction or movement; these bills must be cancelled. They also show the government’s intentions in applying a very reactionary program and crush any possible resistance to it. This is not an exclusively Greek phenomenon unfortunately. Across the globe, many governments have used the health crisis to pass reactionary bills, authoritarian measures and austerity, privatisations, etc. This is also a useful link to be made by the Greek collectives, with the situation facing the population wherever they are active.
It is therefore necessary to organise actions and struggles against such measures and bills. Solidarity from abroad would give courage and optimism to the struggling Greek people. The initiative for this global coordination also proves how important internationalism is. Capitalists exploit the working class in all countries, therefore it is essential that the working class links its struggles on an international basis. Connecting struggles across different countries is an essential advantage of this specific initiative. It is also important that these actions interact and coordinate with the local movements and the wider workers’ movement; putting forward demands for affordable housing, for the creation of decent jobs through recruitment in the essential sectors and with a collective reduction of working hours without loss of wages, for free access to quality health and education services. These demands should point in the direction of a radical social change where a centrally planned economy is established, for the benefit of the working class and the environment towards a just, socialist society.
Pictures from the actions can be found in the public FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/787436118854376
Pictures from our action in Brussels: