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17 February 2010

Greece: Massive public sector workers' strike against savage austerity plans

HUNDREDS OF thousands of public sector workers took strike action in Greece on Wednesday 10 February. It was an impressive show of strength against the social-democratic Pasok government's draconian social cuts package.

Andreas Payiatsos, Xekinima (CWI Greece), Athens

An estimated 75% of public sector workers took part, rising to 90% amongst bigger concentrations of workers in the state sector. Two workers' demonstrations of around 15,000 in total were also held in Athens, despite heavy rain.

A strike by private sector workers called for 24 February will now turn into a general 24-hour strike, as the public workers' union confederation (Adedy) has decided to join.

There is widespread and very deep anger and rage against the planned attacks on jobs, wages, conditions and pensions and tax rises.

But the mood is mixed, with some workers also expressing resignation and even despair. Many workers are also stunned by the rapid development and depth of Greece's economic crisis.

The leaders of Adedy, who called the strike, say they oppose the government's savage austerity package, but they do not put forward a concrete programme for workers to defeat the attacks or offer a real alternative to cuts. Many experienced activists say that the strike was called mainly to "let off steam" and little else.


Although the Pasok ('Panhellenic Socialist Movement') government is responsible for the savage cuts plan, it still has around 40% support in recent opinion polls. The main opposition conservative New Democracy (ND), is languishing at around 30%.

This is roughly the same as the two main establishment parties received six months ago, when Pasok replaced the hated ND government. The main left parties, the Communist Party and Syriza, are at around 7% and 4% respectively.

The government has partially managed, up to now, to put the blame for the country's economic problems on the previous ND government (which hid the true extent of Greek's huge debts) the policies of the EU and eurozone (which narrow the options in front of Pasok to deal with the crisis), and the predatory actions of hedge fund speculators who are betting on Greece defaulting on its debts.

Prime minister George Papandreou says he has had no choice but to renege on election campaign promises in order to tackle Greece's 300 billion euro public debt, pledging to cut the budget deficit from 12.7% of GDP to within the eurozone's "permissible 3% limit" by the end of 2012.

The Pasok government has also announced some populist measures against the rich, including targeting tax evasion, which is a huge problem in Greece.

These policies are also as far as the main union federations are prepared to go, at the moment. Only Syriza (coalition of the radical left), of the two main left parties, has put forward the demand for nationalisation of the crisis-ridden banks and for nationalisation or re-nationalisation of parts of the public sector economy, under workers' control and management.

However, these demands are generally buried in newspaper articles and the leaders of Syriza do not refer to them when they are on speaking on television, for example. This means that most workers do not know what demands Syriza is putting forward.

The Greek Communist Party (CP), in contrast, which has bigger electoral support than Syriza and a more solid working class base, uses strong phraseology to say that workers must defeat the attacks of the government, the EU and the bosses.

But the CP does not explain how to stop the attacks - it makes no concrete proposals either in relation to political and class demands or in relation to how the struggles should develop.

At the same time, the CP continues to apply sectarian splitting tactics, organising separate demonstrations and claiming that everyone else (on the left and in the unions), are agents of the capitalists.

By contrast, supporters of Xekinima (CWI in Greece) clearly put forward a socialist alternative to the crisis [see full article on].

The Xekinima newspaper sold on Wednesday's Athens demonstrations carried headlines and articles that called for workers to fight back, to "make the bosses pay!", to "plan a series of general strikes", and demanding "a socialist fightback on the part of the left parties".

EU 'bailout'?

EU 'rescue action' is not being planned in the interests of workers in Greece or anywhere across Europe. Statements from Van Rompuy (president of the European Council), insists that it will come with ruthless "stringent conditions", ensuring that the Pasok government sticks to its austerity plans. German chancellor Angela Merkel added that Greece will "not be left on its own, but there are rules and these rules must be adhered to".

Supporters of Xekinima call for an internationalist response by the working class in Greece, linking up with workers in the rest of Europe who face similar attacks.

To develop the movement against the Pasok government and dictates of the EU bosses' club, Xekinima calls for industrial action to go from partial strikes to coordinated 24-hour and 48-hour general strikes, of all public and private sector workers.

Socialists in Greece must fight against the splitting tactics of sections of the left, particularly the CP, and campaign for a left 'united front' to form a powerful resistance to the social attacks.

This needs to be linked to bold socialist policies to stop the attacks, and for democratic workers' planning and management of the economy to serve workers, poor and youth - not profits - and to build a socialist society.

Xekinima calls for the building of a mass, internationalist, revolutionary left in Greece and for a workers' government with bold socialist policies, to end the crisis and to transform the living standards of working people and youth.