Greece: Trade Unions Pushed to Escalate the Struggle

Under pressure from below, a number of unions have started to adopt a program for occupations and escalation of repeated 48 hour general strikes German chancellor Angela Merkel is expected in Greece on Tuesday, 9 October

Greek society is in uproar. Everybody knows that the situation cannot continue. The so-called Troika (European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) have led the Greek economy into a collapse, and are now demanding another round of savage austerity cuts.

The Samaras government of New Democracy with the participation of its fake “left” allies (DIMAR and PASOK) are preparing cuts that will lead to untold misery for millions of workers, pensioners, the poor and the unemployed.

Here are the key statistics that themselves explain the type of war that has been launched against working people:

Official unemployment stands at 23.6% (real unemployment is more like 30%) and among young people is 55%. According to the European statistical agency Eurostat (July 2012), 68% live at or under the official poverty line. Gross Domestic Product has fallen by 22% since the beginning of the crisis. The “national” debt is estimated to be 179% of GDP in 2013, according to the government’s new projected budget, while it was 109% of GDP in 2008 (’Imerisia’ newspaper, 2 October 2012).

In reality, the Greek people have no choice but to try to stop the criminal plans of the Troika leaders and that can only mean trying to bring down the government that collaborates with these criminals. The government (which at the moment faces a serious crisis as scandals are exploding) can be brought down with mass strike action, mass occupations across the country and an indefinite general strike.

Union Militancy

The most significant new development of the last few days has been that a series of important unions have started adopting precisely this militant program based around the need for occupations and 48-hour general strike action, escalating towards an indefinite general strike to bring down the government.

The leadership of GENOP/DEI (electrical workers) has adopted this position. Speaking at a conference of union delegates last week, GENOP/DEI president, Nikos Fotopoulos, spelled out the necessary program: “workers’ occupations of the main ministries, public agencies, all the banks, all tax offices, the airports and ports” and a “coordinated call for repeated 48-hour general strikes and massive daily rallies at Syntagma Square (the main square in Athens outside the Parliament.)

A number of union federations from various sectors (maritime, public transport in tram, overground trains and subways in Athens, workers in the Aristotelian University Salonika, tax workers) are now starting to move in a similar direction to the electrical workers’ union, calling for repeated 48-hour strikes, while the national union of doctors in public hospitals has called for an indefinite general strike. If a significant section of the unions took militant action with strikes and occupations, even without the agreement of the national Confederations of Greek Workers, GSEE and ADEDY, there is no doubt that it would spread like wildfire across the country in a matter of days.

Conservative leaders

The main obstacle at the moment is the official leaders of GSEE (the main union confederation) and ADEDY (main public sector workers confederation.) Nikos Fotopoulos and other trade unionists are calling on the GSEE and ADEDY leaders to take the initiative and call for coordinated action. But it is clear, GSEE and ADEDY leaders will not call for such actions. If decisive strike actions were initiated by the militant federations, they would attract the rest of the union movement to move in the same direction. The three to four main union federations that have called for militant actions should initiate strikes and occupations. The potential is there for a social eruption and strike wave the likes of which have not been seen since the fall of the military junta in 1974. Unfortunately, the only choices that the leaders of the militant unions have at the moment are: either to take decisive action themselves, or to leave this responsibility to GSEE knowing full well that they will not take action.


The current conditions in Europe at the moment indicate that it is entirely possible to coordinate industrial action among European workers, especially in South Europe. The entire southern tier of Europe is at the moment experiencing gigantic mobilizations of workers, youth and the unemployed. In Portugal and Spain, we have seen clashes with the police and the security forces resorting to rubber bullets to contain the protests. In other countries, while the movement is not as advanced as in Portugal and Spain, there is boiling discontent just under the surface. This is not only in countries like Italy and Cyprus but Ireland and Britain, where significant trade union and social struggles are already developing.

All of these events are unfolding from below while the unions are still largely led by well-paid bureaucrats who do not experience the agony of millions of workers and have no desire to really lead militant actions. But despite the treacherous role of such union leaderships, the movement is going forward and learning from experience, toward the necessity of struggles and revolt on a European level.

The role of the Left

Every organization on the left has the duty to support these movements and campaigns that are unfolding. In Greece, ’Xekinima’ calls for:

  • Left unity, with common campaigns towards building for an indefinite general strike to bring down the Samaras government
  • SYRIZA as the largest force on the Left has a special responsibility to call for unity of the left
  • Call for coordination of the movements in south Europe on the basis of working class internationalism
  • For a Left Government in Greece (based on SYRIZA) that can act as a catalyst for the movements across Europe
  • A campaign for the Left to adopt a socialist program as the only serious alternative to the current crisis of capitalism.
  • A common struggle with the workers of the rest of Europe aiming to create a voluntary, federal, truly democratic Socialist Europe

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