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Strikes Rock Government in Greece
A FEW months before the general elections in spring 2004, the social-democrat PASOK government is in serious trouble.
Elektra Kleitsa, Xekinima, Athens.
The huge public relations effort that was launched last September, when the government appeared to be making a series of concessions to the more vulnerable sections of the population (the unemployed, pensioners, farmers etc), has now almost run out of steam.
Not only has the gap in the polls between PASOK and New Democracy (ND - the main right-wing party) not narrowed - ND remains in the lead by eight percentage points - but also the 'concessions' have only helped to spark off a series of strikes by different public sector workers.
The first workers to take action, two months' ago, were those in education. University and technical college teaching staff went on strike, demanding a 25% increase in government spending on public education. They also demanded the government keeps its promise of a 20% wage increase (to partially cover losses of previous years).
Primary and secondary education teachers soon joined in with a 48-hour strike (3-4 November) and are threatening an indefinite strike after 18 November. They are demanding more money for education, the abolition of the 'Arsenis Educational Reforms' and decent salaries. It is the first time since their strike of 1997 that school teachers seem prepared to wage a determined struggle.
The health sector is also in turmoil. Hospital doctors are holding repeated 24-hour and 48-hour strikes.
Nurses and other hospital workers have decided to take more decisive action (one 24-hour strike to be followed by two 48-hour strikes). They are fighting for more money for public health, the hiring of more nurses and hospital workers, wage increases and humane hours of work (hospital doctors have to work 70-80 hours a week and get no overtime pay - they get days off instead).
The recent decision taken by the Federation of Hospital Workers (POEDIN) for more militant action was a direct result of pressure by the rank and file of the union, who are furious with the actions of management and the lack of action of the top trade union leaders.
On 4 November, 500,000 civil servants struck for 24-hours demanding better pay.
Other important recent strikes have involved state vets, agronomists, forestry workers and municipal workers (70% of who participated in a 10-day strike).
Courts used against strikers
The government took these unions to court and succeeded in getting the municipal workers strike declared illegal. However, the strikers continued their struggle for some time after that.
The striking municipal workers' main demands were for wage increases, no part-time employment, a lowering of the pension age, no privatisation of garbage collection and for their jobs to be classed as a hazardous occupation.
The dispute led to mountains of rubbish piling up in the streets of all major Greek towns. The strike finally ended when trade union leaders linked to PASOK and ND refused to support industrial action any longer.
Despite the significant number of strikes and frequent workers' demonstrations there is no coordination between those taking action.
PASOK-linked trade unionists are trying to stop or sabotage the strikes to save the PASOK government from further ridicule, and the right wing ND unionists try to prove how 'responsible' they are, before next spring's elections.
The Communist Party, which has important influence and positions in the unions, refuses to co-operate with the other left parties on the pretext of having political differences with all of them. But the Communist Party does not propose more radical action.
Xekinima (the CWI in Greece) calls for co-ordination of all workers in dispute and the stepping up and extension of militant strike action. Industrial disputes must be democratically organised and run by the rank and file of the unions.
Also, the negative influence of the PASOK- and ND-linked trade union leaders shows that the working class needs a mass socialist alternative.
In The Socialist 15 November 2003: