Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/736/15370
Europe: Class struggle returns with a bang
Huge response to general strike in Greece
The Greek working class has put up an incredible struggle against the vicious austerity measures raining down on them.
Since 2010 Greece has been rocked by 17 general strikes, three of them lasting 48 hours. A prime minister has been removed and a government brought down. After some quiet months a one-day strike was called for 26 September.
The Independent newspaper reported on new sections of the population joining the action: "Hospital doctors, pensioners, teachers and shopkeepers were among the demonstrators that participated in over 60 rallies throughout the debt-ridden country.
"Even the president of Greece's police officers participated in the trade union march in Athens alongside uniformed colleagues from the fire department and coastguards."
The following day Andros Payiatsos, leader of Xekinima spoke to the Socialist. Xekinima is the Greek section of the Committee for a Workers' International, CWI, the world socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.
See more on socialistworld.net
After a quiet summer is the Greek struggle back on the agenda?
One of the biggest strikes and demonstrations in the recent period in Greece took place on Wednesday 26 September.
There have been small sectional strikes all along but nothing on this scale in the recent months. We estimate about 100,000 in the streets of Athens, which is big, and many tens of thousands in other cities in the rest of Greece.
The mood was good on the demo. It was quite determined and rather optimistic - this is in contrast to the mood in the previous period.
After the victory of New Democracy in June and the formation of the new government a lull developed because there was a feeling of 'we can't get rid of them' following the elections.
But this lull was partially overcome by the size of the demo. Also the Greek people are watching with intense interest what is taking place in Spain and Portugal. This has given them hope.
Given the situation people must have little confidence in the government?
New Democracy is in deep crisis and its supporters are deserting the ship. Prime Minister Samaras was elected on the basis of forcing the Troika to renegotiate the memorandum but in fact he's heading in the other direction.
Is the effect of austerity on people's lives a factor?
It's a desperate situation for the masses because the situation already is extremely bad. According to the EU statistics of July 68% of the population lives below the poverty line - this is a staggering figure. But it's realistic - we know because we live here.
Unemployment is now officially at 23.6%. This official figure, of course, hides all those who have just given up looking for a job.
And youth unemployment is an unbelievable 55%. This is an absolute catastrophe for Greek society.
Then, in these conditions, they try to impose further cuts of €11.5 billion in the course of two years - this is more than 5% of the GDP of the economy.
Unsurprisingly there is a mass exodus into migration and into the countryside; back to the villages where people can survive by living with their families and maybe cultivating a bit of a living from the land.
All the youth are thinking of leaving the country. It's a mass phenomenon - there are no youth, particularly university students who can see any point in staying in the country - although they want to stay in the country.
Even left activists who want to stay and fight - they have no options as this is not just poverty - this is absolute emiseration.
Can you comment on reports that the opposition movement has reached the police and army?
For the whole of September we have seen protest action by state forces. Sections of the police have gone on strike including protesting against the riot police.
Yesterday there was a press statement by the firefighters who said 'we refuse to be used by the state to suppress demonstrations'.
This is a crisis in society and in the economy and it is even reflected in the security forces and we have seen demonstrations by army officers.
What way forward does Xekinima suggest?
We call for a clear plan of a programme of repeated sectional and general strikes and mass occupations of workplaces with the concrete aim of bringing down the government.
This is the slogan we have used for the past weeks and especially yesterday. It is going down very well. You can hear it everywhere.
We especially appeal to the public utility unions which are at the centre of the storm.
The initial response of the Greek people to the call for a 24-hour general strike was, 'this is nothing, this is ridiculous', 'we can't bring the government down with one 24-hour general strike and they won't come down even with one 48-hour general strike'. 'We need something much much more than that'.
So there is a mass tendency in the direction of an all-out strike. If the union leaders were to call it they would get a huge response - but they won't. They just want to let off steam.
You can also say now that nearly the whole of the left - excluding the majority in the leadership of Syriza - accepts the programme (which we initially posed from the beginning of 2010 when the debt crisis came to the fore) that the debt cannot be paid, that the banks have to be nationalised, that the commanding heights of the economy have to be nationalised, and it has to be put under democratic control of society.
It's also accepted by millions of people whether they take part in the demonstrations and strikes or not.
The question now is how to build a movement on the ground to bring the government down and to replace it with a left government which will be pushed by the mass movement to implement this programme.
We also explain the need for the whole of Southern Europe to be united in huge and invincible struggles.
The far-right Golden Dawn has been rising in the polls. What does this signify?
Golden Dawn are the only force in society which is rising in the polls. Apart from Golden Dawn, all the parties are falling in the polls.
While in some polls Syriza is now the most popular party because New Democracy has fallen more, the fact that the left is also falling in the polls is something which should warn the parties of the left.
But at the same time it's correct to say that Golden Dawn itself may have gone through its, let's say, golden period.
They've been using violence since the 6 May elections every day - attacking migrants, attacking lefts, attacking LGBT people, etc.
This has been creating an impression that they are a very determined force which contributes to why some people go behind their banner and support them in the polls. But it's starting to consolidate a resistance.
For the first time we have had a number of counter demos that have pushed them back which is very important.
This is the first time they are starting to feel defeat. On one occasion we had migrants mobilising against them and pushing them back when they tried to attack them. This is very important, but needs to be linked to a wider movement.
Xekinima's national initiative to build mass anti-fascist local committees and campaigns is very successful with some fantastic effects.
We think that the movement is beginning to respond. We hope that we'll be able to push them in a corner but at the end of the day the perspectives for Golden Dawn and the far right mainly depends on the role of the parties of the left.
We are fighting to push these parties in a more leftward and determined direction, while at the same time striving to build support for Xekinima and the ideas of revolutionary socialism - this is the only way the crisis can be solved.
The Guardian newspaper reflected some of the anger:
Echoing a view held by many Greeks, Penelope Angelou, an unemployed mother, said passing the measures would be tantamount to a "parliamentary coup".
"These parties were given our vote back in June because they promised to re-negotiate the terms of the loan agreement," she said, referring to the onerous conditions of the bailout accord Athens signed with its "troika" of creditors - the EU, ECB and IMF - earlier this year. "We are all tired," she said. "This is the third year of non-stop cuts and tax increases which have made us poor and divided us as a society. And they have not solved our problem. The recession is going from bad to worse."
The Socialist Party's magazine
October 2012 issue includes:
- The latest temporary fix Lynn Walsh looks at the problems of the eurozone which remain as intractable as ever
£2.50 including postage from: Socialism Today PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD.
www.socialismtoday.org 020 8988 8773
For a European-wide day of general strikes and mobilisations this autumn!
Below is an extract from a CWI statement
Capitalist politicians across Europe returned from their summer cruises to unleash further attacks on working, young and unemployed people, with renewed vigour.
In Portugal, Greece, Britain, France and elsewhere, new austerity measures have been announced.
Meanwhile, Portuguese workers and youth have provided us with autumn's first victory in struggle against such brutal measures.
Über-austerity packages were agreed in Spain and Greece, further steps in the process of bleeding us dry in an attempt to overcome capitalism's crisis.
But these attempts are clearly failing to meet even the capitalist politicians' aims of reducing deficits and returning to growth.
Economic data shows how deepening recessions and slowdowns to a 'zero-growth' position are hitting not only the struggling peripheral 'PIIGS' countries, but are affecting the so-called "strong core" countries, such as France and Germany.
As this economic disaster unfolds, the lords of the system seem no more clued-in as to how to manage or solve it, and are divided among themselves with no clear idea of how to proceed (though they all agree on slashing our living standards).
The increasingly accepted inevitability of a Greek exit from the Eurozone, as well as increasing speculation about the exit of other countries, shines a light on this.
While governments and big business are desperate to avoid such a break-up, they see no lasting way of preventing it.
On the other hand, millions all over Europe are drawing the conclusion that workers' struggle is the only means to resist and avoid a ruinous path.
This was shown when on Saturday 29 September a simultaneous explosion of revolt from below rocked the Iberian peninsula of Spain and Portugal, while tens of thousands took to the streets of Paris the next day.
On 15 September the biggest demonstration since the 1974 Portuguese revolution shook the previously 'stable' coalition government to its foundations.
It was followed five days later by a 'vigil' of tens of thousands outside the Council of State meeting to demand the government's resignation.
On the following Saturday, with hundreds of thousands attending the protest called by the Portuguese TUC, the CGTP, the streets of Lisbon rang with demands for the expulsion of the 'Troika' and for a general strike to kick the government while it's down.
The Portuguese government was forced to withdraw its attacks on workers' wages through increased social security payments, alongside new parallel tax breaks for bosses.
This comes as the first retreat by a cuts government faced with mass mobilisations, and should be a source of confidence for workers and youth continuing to fight back across the continent.
This outcome, although a temporary and partial victory, must be lauded across the continent, as a fitting rebuttal to those who maintain that the diktats of the markets and big business are unchallengeable.
Madrid saw an eruption of rage against the Rajoy government. Tens of thousands encircled the parliament, demanding its fall.
This, the second 'surrounding' within five days, is the latest protest in an intense period of mobilisations - with up to half a million marching in Madrid behind trade union banners on 15 September, and a general strike in the Basque country on 26 September.
Then on 30 September over 50,000 took to the streets of Paris against the EU's rotten austerity treaty which enshrines cuts policies into national law. This followed the events in Greece on 26 September.
There, all those suffering perhaps Europe's worst devastation of lives and livelihoods under the boot of austerity and the Troika, provided one of the most powerful displays of workers' power in recent years, a colossal general strike.
Even outside of these countries, in themselves epicentres of the fightback in Europe so far, a new stormy phase is opening up, shown by the British TUC's decision to consider general strike action - which would be the first of its kind in over 80 years!
The Committee for a Workers' International calls on all forces in the European working class movement and the left, to unite around a coordinated programme of struggle, to translate this organic Europe-wide revolt against austerity policies into an organised European-wide blow to capitalist governments, the Troika and the markets and bondholders.
Calls from the leaders of the European Trades' Union Congress (ETUC) for European-wide actions and initiatives have drawn tens of thousands of participants.
However, these actions, called under pressure from below, have mainly been of a symbolic character.
There have been a whole series of missed opportunities. For example, a European trade union leadership serious about organising an international fightback could have relatively easily, through the movement's international structures such as the ETUC, coordinated the Spanish and Portuguese general strikes to take place on the same day. Not seven days apart.
This action could have been extended to Greece and Italy where the general strike, in the face of capitalism's offensive, has been consistently fought for by militant trade union activists. This would have had an electrifying impact, and could have transformed the situation.
It would have both showed the power of our class, mobilised in its international strength and dimensions, and immeasurably boosted working class people's confidence.
It could have begun to combat the isolation of workers in countries like Greece, whose heroic resistance to Troika austerity provides an inspiration.
As has been shown in Britain with the example of the National Shop Stewards' Network, organised opposition from below can force even the most conservative trade union bureaucracies into action.
An international day of struggle in the coming months could feature a coordinated general strike in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Britain and elsewhere, with mass solidarity demonstrations and actions in all countries.
As European capitalism languishes in chaos and crisis, such a day would send a mighty message of strength and determination from a united working class movement, which must be armed with an alternative to the attacks and misery imposed by the capitalist EU.
This could also bring the spectre of an all-European general strike, to mobilise the full power of our movement on a continental scale, within reach.
Workers and youth will continue to resist, faced with the social nightmare of mass unemployment and growing impoverishment, including of the middle classes.
This makes itself felt particularly among the young generation, with youth unemployment taking on massive proportions (over 50% in Greece and Spain), and the spectre of mass emigration returning to countries like Portugal and Ireland.
The promises of a better future, or of a short-lived period of 'sacrifices' which would give way to economic growth, are being shattered by the day.
Governments, elected on the basis of such promises, are quickly thrown into crisis. In recent months, governments in the Netherlands and France joined the list of those already disposed with.
Mass radicalisation and the search for political alternatives to the austerity consensus have been reflected in the rise (and setbacks) of the Dutch Socialist Party, and the Front de Gauche in France.
This followed the rapid rise of Syriza in Greece, to challenge for power in the June elections. In Portugal, the parties of the anti-capitalist left (Left Bloc and Communist Party) are scoring a combined 25% in opinion polls, putting a struggle for power on the basis of a united front, within reach.
Following the transformation of the former Social Democratic workers' parties into completely capitalist formations in the last decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the CWI has consistently explained the need for new mass parties of the working class to be built.
Formations like the Front de Gauche and Syriza are potentially crucial steps in this direction. This necessity is now ever-more sharply posed, as the situation of capitalist crisis places so bluntly on the table the need for workers and youth in struggle to mount a challenge for political power to implement an alternative socialist programme.
The ominous gains made by 'Golden Dawn' in Greece, show the danger of the fascist and racist far right partially filling the vacuum left open if the working class movement and left do not show a clear way out. This must also be actively resisted in an organised way across Europe.
The CWI believes that the trade unions must adopt a programme that begins with the need to reject the payment of the illegitimate national debt - an instrument of capitalist blackmail which the rich are responsible for, but try to hang around our necks.
This must be linked to a call for massive investment in public works and jobs programmes, funded by massive taxes on the idle trillions held by the super-rich.
The nationalisation of the banks and commanding heights of the economy, under the democratic control and management of the working class, could allow for this wealth to be put to work in the development of an economic plan for the regeneration of national economies and the European economy, create jobs and guarantee a decent future to the young generation.
The euro and capitalist EU, as shown by the new quasi-legal commitment to austerity enshrined in the "fiscal pact treaty", is no mechanism within which such a solution can be fought for.
A coordinated struggle across Europe, against EU/Troika austerity and for a socialist alternative, would show the basis for an alternative European democratic socialist confederation of countries.
In The Socialist 3 October 2012:
Education news & analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaigning
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party news and analysis