Greece: Another 48 Hour General Strike Paralyses Society

But how can the struggle against austerity be won?

An interview with Paris Makrides, Xekinima (Greek CWI)

Yesterday was the first day of another 48 hours general strike. How big was the strike and protests of the Greek workers and youth?

The strike paralysed Greece completely. Athens was like a deserted city as nothing moved except the demonstration of the striking workers. Not only workers were on strike but small shopkeepers as well, even taxi drivers, who together with the strike in public transport paralysed Athens entirely. The picture was similar in every other city of Greece.

The numbers on the Athens strike demonstration however were not that big, due to the lack of transport; workers and youth had no means of getting to the centre of Athens other than by foot. Despite this, we estimate that 30,000 to 40,000 people were on the streets of Athens.

Today’s rally at Syntagma Square, which is intended to encircle the parliament building, where MPs will be voting on the new (third) Memorandum [new austerity measures at the behest of the Trioka] at 5.00pm, will probably be much bigger. But there is always an element of uncertainty, as the broad population, including workers and youth, know that most probably there will be violent clashes largely between anarchists and provocateurs (secret police agents), on the one hand, and the riot police, on the other hand. These clashes turn away the mass of the population from taking part in the demos. If this element did not exist, we can safely say that this afternoon one million people, if not more, would be on the streets of Athens surrounding Syntagma Square.

What does the new, third ’Memorandum’ mean for the Greek people?

The third Memorandum will be a disaster, added to an economy and society already devastated by the two previous Memorandums.

According to estimations of the Troika [European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund], Greece’s GDP will be reduced for a sixth consecutive year. And public debt, notwithstanding the austerity measures that have been adopted these last years and “haircut”, for 2013 will reach 346 billion € (189% of GDP) increased by 66 billion since last February!

Over the last years, Greek people have paid much higher taxes, have see their wages slashed, unemployment has reached 24% and youth unemployment 55% (these are the official figures). Public health and education have been destroyed and public services and companies privatized and sold off for peanuts. But European and Greek capitalists have no interest in the terrible social effects their policies are having.

The third Memorandum contains new cruel austerity measures, such as increase on the retirement age to 67 years, massive dismissals of public employees, more taxes, greater so-called “flexibility” concerning labour relations and privatisations. And it is clear this will lead to more social misery and catastrophe, just like the earlier Memorandums.

How do you explain the fact that despite all this huge mobilisations of the Greek people, the Troika is still able to apply its anti-working class policies?

The Greek people’s struggles over the last two years have been massive. People understand that they have to do something to stop the Troika’s policies. So they participated in general strikes, refused to pay taxes and occupied squares. People want to resist and fight. On the other hand, the trade union leaderships don’t. These leaderships don’t want to overthrow the government because they are tied with the government parties.

The parties of the Left support people’s demands but do not have a plan about how the capitalist’s policies will be stopped and how the government will fall. SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) recently called for new elections. But elections are not the Left’s primary field of battle at this moment. What is necessary is an indefinite general strike which, of course, will raise the question of power in society — who decides, who controls and who manages the economy and society. This is the only way to go forward, to overthrow the government, and to pave the way for a government of the Left which will be based on worker’s power, through democratic rank and file committees and assemblies, in every workplace, neighborhood, university and school etc.

Is the huge anger of the Greek working class reflected inside the trade unions?

The role of the leaders of trade union is absolutely exasperating. But whatever they do they cannot stop the class struggle. People are outraged with the Troika’s policies. This anger has pushed several rank and file unions and union federations to call the GSEE and ADEDY (the private and public sector trade union centres) for an indefinite general strike, as the only reply that corresponds to the scale of government’s and the Troika’s vicious austerity attacks.

However, the GSEE and ADEDY refused to call an all-out general strike (which was to be expected) and the unions calling for this action did not try to take the next necessary step, which is to co-ordinate actions between themselves; to prepare for and set a day of strike action and to call on the rest of the union movement to come out in coordinated, indefinite strike activity. We are convinced that such an initiative, given the explosive mood in Greek society, would trigger an avalanche of class action and would push aside the official union federation leaderships. Militant, mass industrial action, as described, could maximize workers’ mass pressure against the government and Troika and give society with a perspective to defeat the attacks.

But what really infuriates working class people and drives them “mad” is that often breaks on the strikes movement are made by the parties of the Left. For example, a resolution for at least one week’s strike action was voted down on the Central Council of the ADEDY federation (civil servants’ union) because of the votes of the KKE (Communist Party) faction. The resolution for a week’s long strike had the support of 19 votes, with 17 votes against, but the KKE used its seven votes to defeat it.

In the journalists’ union, two days ago, a similar role was played by the SYRIZA faction, which is the biggest faction in that union. The PASOK vote split, with half supporting the demand of the anti-capitalist Left for indefinite strike action. But SYRIZA voted, together with the conservative section of the union, to have only one 24 hour strike and some three hour stoppages.

These examples show the extent to which the mass parties of the Greek Left are far behind the needs of the situation and the mood of the working masses.

What impact do these developments have on the political landscape?

Despite dissatisfaction with the Left, a big section of the population now regards a new government of the Left as the only hope on the horizon. There is thus a huge turn in favour of SYRIZA (although opinion polls reveal that Syriza’s support has not essentially grown, but it is the largest party because support for the New Democrats, the main party in government, has fallen). But this turn towards SYRIZA is not enthusiastic. This is not without reason. SYRIZA’s political platform is not clear. People do not know exactly what SYRIZA is going to do if it takes the power, and that makes them suspicious. On the other hand, the KKE (communist party) is continuously isolated from the bulk of the working class because of its sectarian tactics. The KKE speaks, in general, about the need for “revolution” and “socialism” but it refuses to link this call, in any way, to today’s reality and to mass consciousness. On the contrary, the KKE say that things are not ‘mature enough’ yet for system change. So, in practice, they have ‘maximum and minimum’ approach (i.e. make radical and general rhetoric for ‘socialism’ etc, while only putting forward minimum demands and without linking the two concretely), rather than a transitional approach (campaigning on the key class demands of the day, while linking this up with the need for a workers’ government and to change society). In reality, as we can see from the union votes mentioned above and other actions, the KKE leadership functions like a strike breaking force.

Despite SYRIZA’s inadequacies, the struggle for a government of the Left is what the movement needs to campaign for and this is the approach of Xekinima. Of course, we link this struggle to the absolute need for a socialist programme and the need to base this on rank and file assemblies and committees of action. We emphasise that if a government of the Left, based around SYRIZA, fails to adopt a socialist platform this will represent a massive defeat for the Greek Left and the working class, particularly given the fact that the neo-fascist Golden Dawn received around 12% to 14% in recent polls.

How is Golden Dawn being combated?

The far right, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn is not invincible, however. Opposition to it is growing. There are many anti-fascist committees being set up. The mass parties of the Left do not really understand how to tackle the problem of rising fascism, which requires working class unity, combating the real danger and propaganda of the far right and also fighting for an end to cuts, and for jobs, decent homes, a living wage and for decent public services, health and education for all etc.

But things are changing. In September, every proposal made inside SYRIZA to create anti-fascist committees (usually made by members of Xekinima who participate in local branches of SYRIZA) was voted down. In the course of the last week, however, the central secretariat of SYRIZA changed its stand and is now in favour of anti-fascist committees. The KKE, on the other hand, makes no such call but it has a sectarian, abstract approach towards resisting Golden Dawn and the need for a united front against the far right threat. The KKE continues to live on its own isolated planet, refusing to understand what is happening around it.

How is the Left responding to the crisis?

SYRIZA is not the only field where developments are taking place. In the rest of the Left important developments are taking place. It is correct to say that the Greek Left, in general, is in a state of crisis, which takes different forms for different parties of the Left. There are splits inside ANTARSYA (the anti-capitalist Left Alliance); there is a mass exodus from the KKE; there are major clashes inside SYRIZA as the leadership turns to the right; and the Left Current of SYNASPISMOS (the main constituent force making up SYRIZA) is reacting to this rightward turn but without clarity as regards what should be done; and, of course, the huge mass of Left voters remain outside the Left parties and formations.

In this context, Xekinima (CWI in Greece), came together with other forces of the Left, from ANTYARSYA and the rest of the anti-capitalist Left and we have also linked up with forces inside SYRIZA, to create the ‘Initiative of the 1000’, as it has become known (1013 individuals signed the launching statement before it became public). This initiative bases itself on the need for a radical anti-capitalist programme, as the only way to come out of the devastating social and economic crisis. This includes calling for a repudiation of the debt, nationalisation of the banks and the commanding heights of the economy, and for a planning of the economy, on the basis of social needs, and under workers’ control and management. The programme also calls for a united front of the parties of the Left and for support for a Left government i.e. a government based around SYRIZA. At the same time, this means fighting against the reformist programme of the leadership of SYRIZA. The majority of the leadership think they can manage the crisis better than the ruling class and do not prioritise fighting to get rid of the capitalist system and for a socialist society.

The Initiative of the 1000 has only been publically alive for a few days but it has already been noted by the whole of the Left. It is an entirely new innovation, uniting forces from all sections and parties of the Left, on the same programme and with similar aims for the mass movement in the immediate period ahead. Its development and potential are not yet clear. But it is certainly worth the attempt to build the Initiative of the 1000. We will be able to say more about its role and perspectives in the very near future.

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