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Greece: Workers And Bosses On A Collision Course
PETER TAAFFE, Socialist Party general secretary, recently attended the Congress of Xekinima, the Greek organisation of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated).
Here he explains the recent developments in Greece and the role played by Xekinima in the workers' movement.
THE GREEK capitalists are basking in the glow of the highest official growth rate (4%) in the European Union (EU). The main reason for this is the substantial aid from the EU to Greece (as the poorest country in the EU), with Portugal, and the extra expenditure, again partly financed by the EU, on preparations for the 2004 Olympic Games.
Now, however, "EU donor states (ten out of the 15) have become increasingly stingy, especially Germany" [Kath-imerini, English edition].
Greece is currently the EU country most dependent on aid. The Greek ship of state has been buoyed up until now by a 'generous' Europe.
But beset by their own grave difficulties the 'stingies' have now holed the Greek boat below the water line. More water will be taken on by the waves of economic recession emanating from the crisis of US and world capitalism.
The main burden will be carried by working class people. Rolandos, a leading member of Xekinima, told me: "Unem-ployment is around 10% officially and, despite an alleged investment boom, has remained 'stable' at this level for a few years. These figures do not include the one million immigrants (between 7% and 10% of the population)."
There is no grant or 'safety net' as we understand it in Britain, even for the poorest students. This is one of the reasons why the Greek family still retains a greater allegiance than in most of Western Europe, as an economic reservoir, particularly in difficult economic circumstances.
TAKIS, ANOTHER leader of Xekinima, explained the other side of the Greek 'boom' as seeing "one of the biggest increases in working hours" in Greek history. "Debt has piled up, where it is now 107% of GDP" [national income]. The Greek workers have the lowest wages in the EU today. There has also been a dramatic rise in accidents at work; 3,500 people were killed in accidents from 1975 to today.
In the 1990s the right-wing 'New Democracy' government of Mitsotakis pursued the same sort of mad de-industrialisation policy as Thatcher in Britain. He maintained that Greece could not compete with the industrial giants of northern Europe and should therefore settle for being one big tourist resort! Tourism accounts for just 15% of Greek GDP.
The Greek capitalists believe that a way out of their difficulties can be found in the greater economic penetration - which is already considerable - of the neighbouring region, the Balkans.
It already plays a mini-imperialist role, particularly in its exploitation of the ruined economies of Eastern Europe. For over a decade, beginning with Romania, Greek capital has seeped into Eastern Europe: into 'Macedonia' (Skopje), Bulgaria and other countries.
Despite this, particularly given the world economic stagnation, Greece faces a return to the cycle of economic backwardness, decline and with it the social and political convulsions of the past.
IN THE 1970s and 1980s the working class battered at the foundations of the enfeebled Greek bosses, demanded improvements in their living standards and challenged the very foundations of capitalism.
They also raised on their shoulders mighty mass parties, particularly PASOK, which initially stood on the 'extreme left' of the political spectrum, even compared to other left parties in Europe.
Led by the at times charismatic Andreas Papandreou, it promised socialism in words, but in action proved to be a bulwark of the system. The process of moving to the right was evident even before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
But the ideological counter-revolution of the 1990s which followed in its wake shifted the centre of gravity of this party and all 'official' parties in Greece dramatically to the right.
There is now nothing to choose in fundamentals between PASOK, which has been in power for 18 out of the last 21 years, and the traditional right-wing party of New Democracy.
On top of the worsening conditions has come the extra burden of the introduction of the euro. Many food prices are roughly equivalent to those in London, one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Yet wages are considerably below those of Britain, actually half or even less.
I asked Rolandos why, despite this situation, there has not been an explosion on the part of the working class, through strikes, protests, etc.
"The main reason is because of the attitude of the right-wing trade union leadership. However, we should not forget that in Spring 2001 there were a series of magnificent strikes, unprecedented for many years, which brought back into struggle many who had been out of action for a long time, some of them since the 1970s.
"This could be repeated in the next period if the government provokes the working class with the kind of measures it has imposed in the last period."
UNDOUBTEDLY, GREECE'S presidency of the EU in the six months to June of this year, during which it will be hosting a series of summits, has become a focal point for the Greek working class and particularly the growing anti-capitalist globalisation movement. This will culminate in a mass all-Europe demonstration in Salonika in June.
Already, there has been a 20,000-strong demo in Nafplion, at an 'informal meeting' of EU officials.
At the same time, scenes of a remarkable demonstration were carried on the main TV news, of more than 500 police officers and firefighters demanding higher wages and better working conditions: "They fought their way through the cordon set up by their riot squad colleagues and took their protest to the foot of the hill where the luxury hotel hosted the meeting" [Kathimerini].
Unfortunately, also on the main demonstration the disunity of the Greek labour movement and the anti-capitalist movement was once more on display.
There are five competing anti-capitalist committees in existence: those of the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party (involving nobody but themselves until recently), one Stalinist/Maoist committee, one anarchist committee, and the Social Forum, in which the supporters of Xekinima participate.
Despite the efforts of Xekinima and others to unite, at least in one unified demonstration for the June demo for instance, and similarly against the war, these efforts have been stillborn until now.
Despite these sectarian barriers, it will not stop the Greek working class and the youth from moving into action in the next period under the whip of the attacks of the bosses and their governments.
As Rolandos commented: "Whenever there is a pole of attraction such developments have led to more persistent local strike action or activities, and a growth of votes for the left in trade union elections. For example, a Xekinima supporter in Sismanoglio hospital played a leading role in bringing hospital workers out on strike. This led to his recent election to the presidency of the union representing 1,500 workers."
Greek capitalism is heading for the rocks. The fear that this will drag the working class and the middle class back to their pre-1970s position is more than enough motive for the resurgence of the mass movement. This will be compounded by the war with Iraq.
This situation will set the scene for a massive collision between the classes in Greek society.
In the course of this movement, the new generation, who form the overwhelming majority of the ranks of Xekinima, will play a decisive role, particularly in the Marxist-Trotskyist movement.
In The Socialist 28 February 2003: