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Greece - millions take part in general strike
Greece's 24 February general strike was comprehensive, covering the whole of the public and private sectors of the economy. It was the second strike in two weeks, preceded by a general strike of public sector workers on 10 February, also with massive participation and big rallies.
The strike on the 24th involved two and a half million workers and paralysed society, particularly the main cities, Athens and Salonica, where nothing moved. Transport, shipping and the service sector were all affected. There were no flights in or out of the country. There was no media on 24 February or newspapers on 25 February. Around 50,000 workers joined union demonstrations in Athens.
Greece has a spiralling public deficit of 12.7% of GDP, more than four times higher than eurozone rules allow. The Pasok government has pledged to cut this to 8.7% by cutting public sector salaries by an average of 5%, raising the retirement age to 67 (and the average retirement age to 63) by 2015, cutting pensions (even the lowest ones of around 500 euros per month) and massively increasing taxes on consumer goods.
Power of workers
Overall, the 24 February general strike was a tremendous display of the power of organised workers, showing that they can bring society to a complete halt. It should be the basis on which to build the mass resistance, which with a bold, socialist leadership at the head of the workers' movement could stop the social attacks in their tracks. But in the absence of such a leadership, the current mood and outlook of many workers and youth, including those on the protests, is contradictory.
There is widespread anger at the deep economic crisis, that is not the fault of workers but for which they are being asked to pay the price and there is growing anger at the EU powers' response to the Greek crisis. However, there is also frustration and even despair amongst sections of the working class. Many workers on 24 February remarked how they felt they were being asked to strike almost for the sake of it and they expressed doubt on whether they can win this battle.
The union leaders declare that workers must not pay for the crisis but they do not explain who should pay and how. They make no proposals for further action and say they accept that some "sacrifice" has to be made by the working class. Some Pasok-led union federations have called for meetings to discuss new mobilisations, but no concrete proposals have been made as yet.
So, many workers naturally ask: what is the purpose of the strike calls by the unions? Will they do any more than allow workers to vent their anger, once more, without really developing and spreading the mass struggle? Are they just to put more pressure on the EU powers to give financial aid and breathing space?
The leader of GSEE (General Confederation of the Union of Greek Workers) stressed that the general strike was not directed against the Greek government and that he had confidence in the government's attempt to combat the pressure of the markets, the speculators and the EU!
There is a growing mood against the EU bosses' club amongst Greek workers and youth, alongside strong anti-imperialist sentiments. This is positive, as there were illusions in the EU and the euro until recently. But there are dangers of nationalism entailed - the government exploits nationalism to try to cover up for its cuts package and also to provide scapegoats for the crisis. Also there are signs that the populist, anti-immigrant right and fascists are attempting to exploit the mood of anger and despair amongst sections of the Greek population, brought on by the deep economic crisis and cuts plans.
Only the left MPs in the Communist Party and Syriza (coalition of the radical left) oppose the cuts packages, but they fail to put forward a concrete comprehensive alternative. Supporters of Xekinima (CWI Greece) campaigned for and participated in the 24 February strike and demonstrations, distributing thousands of leaflets and selling papers calling for the movement to be developed against the policies of the government and dictates of the EU bosses' club.
Xekinima calls for a plan of industrial action over the next few weeks, including a 48-hour general strike of all public and private workers and students, around the middle of March, to be followed by more general strikes if the government insists on its plans. Plans for these actions must be based on rank and file action committees and be coordinated and developed at local, regional and national levels.
Xekinima also campaigns for a united front of the left, fundamentally the Communist Party and Syriza, but also other left groups, to form a powerful resistance to social attacks. The building of a mass, internationalist, revolutionary left in Greece can be the basis for a workers' government with bold socialist policies, to end the crisis and transform the living standards of working people.
In The Socialist 3 March 2010:
Youth fight for jobs
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
The Socialist Interview
Socialist Party women
Socialist Party feature