Greece: Right Wing Government Launches Vicious Attack on Living Standards

A massive neoliberal attack by the right wing New Democracy (ND) government on the Greek working class and the failure of the economy to develop as hoped by the capitalist class are the most important features of the political situation of the last twelve months

12 DECEMBER 2005

The main goals of the Greek ruling class which were the introduction of the Euro and the holding of the Olympic games last year did not improve the living standards of the majority. On the contrary the government has launched a wave of attacks against working class people. Yet, despite the anger against these attacks, a mass movement has not developed to challenge the government. This is because of the traitorous role of the trade union leaders and the absence of a left opposition and alternative. The Communist Party (CP) and SYNAPISMOS (a party originally formed from a split from the CP) are incapable of playing this role. But the picture might change in the coming period. There are strikes called in the public sector during the week 12 — 16th of December and a general strike called on 14th of the month. There are signs of bigger support for these strikes.

The political mood remains contradictory. On the one hand the apparently easy victories of the government have created a feeling of weakness among layers of the working class. On the other hand anger is growing and any illusions are breaking down. A small, but important, minority amongst young people have drawn anti-capitalist conclusions.


In recent years the Greek economy grew the fastest in the Euro zone. The growth rate was more than 4%. This led to great euphoria amongst the Greek capitalist class. Xekinima explained that this euphoria would not last long. It was the EU money, the Olympic Games and the big public works that produced this growth rate. This growth did not mean a real growth in industrial production with new jobs etc. Greek products were not becoming more competitive. As we explained, Greek capitalism would not be able to overcome its backwardness and compete with more advanced economies around the globe. That was the reason why the period of growth would be followed by a period of stagnation, unemployment and closures.

These predictions have now been confirmed. The number of closures is climbing steeply and so is unemployment. Today unemployment is more than 10.5%, for young people between 15 — 24, it is 26.9% and for women 16.2%. These are official figures. In reality unemployment is about 15%. The public debt has reached 110.5% of GDP in 2004 and the public deficit is growing, now around 6% of GDP. Private debt is also growing and it is no surprise that even capitalist representatives are now pessimistic for the future because the Olympic Games are finished and EU subsidies are being reduced.

Two decades of neo-liberal measures have only helped the ruling class. The ruling class made huge profits throughout the Olympic Games and the public works associated with it, they swallowed huge EU subsidies, but they made no new investments and instead relocated industry abroad, especially in Balkans. Social inequalities have become sharper. The profits of the Greek ruling class are bigger than during the military dictatorship of 1967–1974. But if 11 years of continuous growth of GDP did not solve the big problems of Greek economy and society what will happen in a period of lower growth rates and bigger international instability?

Anti — working class policies

The New Democracy government came to power on the basis of social discontent against the neo-liberal policies of PASOK (Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement — pro-capitalist social democratic party in Greece). ND also promised to take measures to reduce social inequality. The real face of the government was revealed after the European Elections and the Olympic Games. Since the beginning of 2005 the government has passed several laws which abolished job security for telecommunication workers (up until then public sector workers had security of employment); they increased shop opening hours; they reduced overtime payment; and they went ahead with the annualisation of working hours, made jobs more flexible, and attacked the pensions of bank workers. They also increased VAT taxes by 1%, wages grew by less than inflation, resulting in falling working class living standards. Now they are planning to reduce taxes on company profits.

At the same time factory closures and unemployment are becoming a mass phenomenon especially in the textile industry that used to have a strong base in northern Greece. During the last decade in this region more than 80 000 jobs were lost, 3 000 companies closed and 2 000 relocated to the Balkans. Because of the closures there are contradictory elements in the political mood. Some sections of workers have fallen for the right wing propaganda which blames cheaper Chinese textile products for the closures. This has led to certain elements of a new kind of nationalism and racism appearing.

The government is planning to continue the attack. The public sector is their target. They want to privatise all the public companies left: the railways, the post office, the electricity company, and to subsidise private education and health. They also want to crush the strength of public sector trade unions through ending security of employment for this section of workers.

According to the new measures that were recently announced, from now on all the public sector companies will function like the private sector. The newly employed public sector workers will have no job security and the government will fire them whenever they want. Their contracts will be short term and of the same character as those in the private sector. Their salaries will be reduced to the level of private sector. Collective agreements between trade unions and the management of the companies will be abolished because now the government will be able to change working conditions through changes to the law. This is a huge attack against all the public workers rights. If successful it will also be a defeat for the whole of the working class in Greece.

On the matter of the privatizations, the mood has changed rapidly. In June, 63% were in favour of the privatisation of the national airlines. In September a Cypriot aircraft crashed in Greece and all the passengers were killed. The company owning the aircraft was private and a big debate opened up on the safety measures taken by private companies. After the accident public opinion changed dramatically and 73% said that they were in favour of a public airline company.

Living standards of the majority have changed for the worse quite sharply, especially for workers in the private sector, immigrants and the young people who have jobs. According to official statistics more than 2 100 000 are completely poor (21% of the population), 1 000 000 workers have no health, social security or pension insurance, 750 000 are forced to work in two jobs and 1/3 households find it difficult to pay their bills. Half of all new jobs are temporary “McJobs”

Of course the capitalists thirst for profit is endless. Their representatives have recently asked the government to create special industrial zones with very low labour costs. In these zones they propose salaries should equal those in the Balkan countries, and the employers’ insurance obligations will be reduced by two thirds. Of course the government is seriously discussing this demand.

Class Struggle

All these attacks passed without a mass movement developing amongst the working class. This is not because of illusions in the government’s policy or because the workers don’t want to fight. The one month strike of bank workers during the summer and the struggle against the closures of textile industries that involved local general strikes, show that workers are ready to fight.

The main obstacle remains the trade union leadership and bureaucracy which is controlled by PASOK which is now in reality a capitalist party. They agree with the ND government policies and all they say is that they would do the same job better. The situation inside PASOK is reflected in the trade union bureaucracy. As a result their failure to give a lead means the absence of opposition to the government attacks is more obvious than ever.

In many cases the trade union leaders openly align themselves with the government and play the role of traitor. In the case of the telecommunication company, the trade union leaders signed an agreement that abolished job security for newly employed workers. This agreement opened the way for the complete abolition of job security and the lowering of wages in the whole public sector.

In other cases the trade union leaders did nothing to organise struggle. All the general strikes they called in the last period were not built for at all and on many occasions workers were only informed of the calling of general stoppages through TV announcements. In case of the law that annualized the working hours and drastically reduced overtime payment, the trade union leaders called for a general strike at the end of July without any chance of winning. In the case of attacks on the bank workers they did not back the one month strike. Only after almost 3 weeks of strike the trade union leaders called for solidarity action. They have also failed to challenge the government’s arguments that bank workers have privileges that they should not have.

The lack of a lead demoralises big layers of workers and holds back the development of political radicalisation. An important part of the reason for this demoralisation is the divisive tactics of the CP. To give an example: during the bank workers strike the CP did not participate in the demos organised by the union but called for separate demos. They also lack of a concrete program of struggle. In the cases of the textile industry sector, where they control the union, they only called for a general strike of the sector after months of continuous closures. Moreover they do not call for the nationalisation of the factories that close, which is the only solution to the problem, leaving the workers with a feeling of weakness in the face of the closures. On the 12 November they organized a quite successful demo of 20 000 workers (mobilising them from the whole country) in Athens. But given the attack such demos alone cannot stop the government, unless these are linked with a rolling programme of strike action.

Political Situation

The lack of resistance and the lack of a genuine democratic and mass left alternative are the main reasons why ND is still leading in the opinion, despite its attacks. Displeasure is growing because of the neo — liberal attaks and because of several scandals involving the new government.

PASOK cannot play the same role as in 90–93 when they led the social explosion against the ND government both inside the trade unions and in society. Today the majority of society identifies PASOK as a party of the rich which has shown this to be the case when it was in government. Even if PASOK returns to power, this won’t mean new illusions about its policy and character, as happened in 1993.

The two big parties which claim to be on the left, CP and SYNAPSISMOS, are completely incapable of taking advantage of this situation. Temporarily they may increase their electoral support by about 1%–2% but they cannot become the new mass parties that are needed because of their incorrect policies, strategy and tactics.

The CP remains a Stalinist party. Their model for an alternative society is the undemocratic bureaucratic former Soviety Union. The workers movement and especially young people are not prepared to accept their undemocratic methods. Their divisive and sectarian methods isolate them from the majority of the working class people. This doesn’t mean that they are about to fall apart. Their historic traditions of struggle in Greek society, their working class base, their strong party apparatus, the anti-capitalist language and the absence of another mass or semi-mass alternative to their left, are the reasons why they still exist.

SYNASPISMOS remains a party which believes it is possible to get change through reforming capitalism with a left and a right wing that disagree on all important issues. They play no independent role in the trade unions and they collaborate with the PASOK bureaucracy. Moreover they take no initiative in order to mobilise the working class. None of the wings feels strong enough to split the party and they always compromise. This means they never have a clear approach especially on working class issues. Despite a small turn to the left, SYNASPISMOS cannot attract broader layers, especially workers.

Signs of a changing situation are visible. The brutal attack against the public sector will play a key role in the development of class struggle the next period. Under pressure from below, the unions of private and public sector have called for a general strike on 14 December. Apart from that, public sector unions are calling for a 5 hour strike on 13 December and a general sector strike on 15 December. There is dynamic developing around these strikes. The need for a clear program of struggles and demands is crucial for the working class, but neither the trade unions’ bureaucracy nor the left parties (CP and SYNASPISMOS) can propose such a program. The main task of rank and file workers and genuine fighters is to build a new leadership in the unions and a new mass genuine socialist party.

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