Strikes must be democratically controlled by rank and file
The announcement by the Greek PASOK government, last Friday (7 October) of a new bill savaging the jobs and conditions of public sector workers provoked an explosion of struggles, strikes and occupations in almost every part of the public sector in Greece. The measures that the government announced, in line with the directives of the ‘Troika’ (the IMF, EU, ECB), amount to more huge attacks on the living standards of Greek workers, particularly those who work in the public sector.
According to the government’s plans, public sector workers will suffer further wages cuts of between 20% — 30%. Already, over the last 18 months, workers in the public sector have seen their income fall by an average of 40%, according to ADEDY (the union of the public sector workers. The fact that thousands of workers, who have loans and mortgages to pay, received wages of between 10 and 30 or 40 euros for the first half of October (wages are paid fortnightly) shows the scale of the attack, which throws hundreds of thousands of families into absolute poverty and desperation. The declared plans of the ‘Troikans’ (as they are referred to in Greece and which includes the PASOK government) is to drive down public sector wages to the level of 500 to 550 euros net.
The government also intends to make 30,000 civil servants “reserve labour” — a euphemism for job losses– by the end of 2011. These workers will stop working and for the next year will take 60% of their (already reduced) wage. After that period, “if they don’t find a job” — which is more or less certain in the current economic crisis — they will be sacked.
Huge job losses
This means mass layoffs in the public sector. The government intends to extend this measure to include a further 70,000 public sector workers for 2012, but the troika demands that the total number of workers is increased to 250,000. The total number of workers in the public sector is less than 700,000 (687,723 to be precise, costing much less than the average in the 27 EU states, and including the police, the army, the judiciary and the priesthood). Therefore they want to sack more than 1/3 of the public sector workers!
All these huge cuts are in return for the latest (6th) tranche of bailout funds by the IMF and the EU (of 8 bn euros).
But the truth is that the Troikans want also to crush the workers’ movement, especially the union organisation in the public sector, which has been the most militant in the last couple of decades. The social democrats (PASOK) leadership of the unions have discredited the role of trade unions in the eyes of many workers for years because of their bureaucratic manoeuvres and betrayals. Now their government wants to finish the job by crashing more workers’ rights.
These vicious attacks have led to, in the last few days, the largest wave of workers’ action in the public sector since the beginning of the debt crisis two years ago. It started two weeks ago when a number of union activists in different government ministry departments occupied ministry buildings and prevented the Troika’s officers (who were in Athens to discuss the details of the attacks with the PASOK government) from entering. It was certainly a new experience for the highly paid IMF, ECB and EU apparatchiks to have to move from place to place, in their luxurious limousines, in an attempt to find somewhere to hold meetings!
But the change in the mood of civil servants was clearly shown during the general strike called by the public sector TUC (ADEDY) on the 5 October. The participation in the strike was higher than 85% and the demonstration in Athens was, according to ADEDY, the biggest show of strength by the public sector workers since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974. The announcement of the new cuts’ programme by the government, last week, led to a new wave of anger and a tsunami of strikes, protests and occupations in the public sector.
Wave of struggles
Since the start of October there have been continuous and determined strikes and mass struggles, during which almost the entire public sector is shut down. Every day, there are massive protests, strikes and working stoppages in different areas. The majority of the government ministries and buildings are occupied by workers. This will culminate in the a 48 hour general strike, called by the private and public sector unions, for the end of next week on 19–20 October.
Just taking a walk around the center of Athens or any of the other big Greek cities is enough for anyone to see the situation on the ground: the streets are full of garbage because of a strike by refuse workers, which is in its second week. Many government buildings are closed and decorated with a banner saying, “Occupation!” Nearly every day there is a demonstration by some sector of the workforce.
This situation and the combative mood amongst rank and file workers are pressing the leadership of the unions to take more decisive action. The civil servant’s union federation, ADEDY, was compelled to change their initial call for a 24 hour strike, on 19 October, to a 48 hour general strike on 18–19 October. Then, the private sector and public utilities union confederation, the GSEE, also changed its initial call for a 24 hour general strike and now calls for 48 hour action. Thus both union confederations are now calling for a 48 hour general strike on 19–20 October.
A number of union federations, lead by PASOK, have been forced to call for important industrial action. For example, the leadership of the primary school teacher’s union proposed to its local branches to go on “indefinite strike action” and also called on ADEDY (the civil servant’s union confederation) to organise an indefinite general strike in the public sector. Many rank and file local union branches are passing similar resolutions, asking the union federations, in the public and private sectors to hold repeated general strikes.
Perhaps the most important development is the decision of 23 trade unions federations in the wider public sector (including public utility companies) to co-ordinate their action against the government, particularly given the refusal of the two union federations to call for this action.
As well as that, a number of trade unions, where the left play a leading role, have called a meeting on Sunday 16 October to co-ordinate all strike action. Formally speaking, nearly 200 trade unions are represented in this first major attempt at co-ordination of struggle from below on a mass level.
No trust in the union leadership — democratically organize from below!
It is clear that even if at the present time the leadership of the unions (especially in the public sector) appears to be combative, workers do not (and cannot not) trust them. If we want to continue and intensify the struggle, workers need to control it democratically. This is clear from the fact that in quite a number of workplaces the decision to go into industrial action, by assemblies of the rank and file workers was taken against the will of the union leaderships.
In every workplace it is necessary to democratically organise the struggle by electing committees controlled by workers’ assembles. This is the only way to conduct a successful struggle and to keep a check on the leadership.
It is clear that the workers’ movement in Greece is at a critical point. What happens next is fairly open. We could see, over the next few days, a workers’ movement which will escalate its struggles, put enormous pressure on the unions’ leaderships and even cause the PASOK government to fall. We could also see more betrayals by leaderships, as they retreat after gaining just minor concessions, or even no gains at all, from the government.
To aid the workers’ struggle, the CWI in Greece (Xekinima) calls for:
- Follow the 19/20 October 48 hour general strike with a 3-day general strike for the following week
- For workers’ action in every public sector workplace: every public sector union federation to call repeated 2- 3 day strikes, on a weekly basis, linking this to indefinite occupations of ministries, city halls, public buildings etc, and towards all-out indefinite action by all sections of workers, if necessary, to decisively halt all cuts and attacks
- Co-ordinate and develop the different struggles, with the common aim of bringing down the government
- For full democratic organization of the workers’ movement, based on elected rank and file committees leading the struggles
- Link these struggles to political demands, including refusal to pay the debt and nationalization of the banks under workers’ democratic control and management, as part of a socialist programme to get rid of the barbarism of capitalism and to plan the economy for the benefit of the majority, instead of for huge profits for a handful of bankers and multinationals.
Xekinima fights for the building of a mass, democratic political force, based on the struggles taking place and on the programme above, which can channel the discontent radicalisation of workers and youth to struggle for a socialist alternative — for a government of working people, the poor and youth — in opposition to the growing misery of life under Greek and Troika capitalism.