Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Workers in Greece Battle Bosses' Austerity With Two General Strikes

Workers in Greece battle bosses’ austerity with two general strikes

By G. Dunkel
Published Feb 12, 2012 10:35 PM

Feb. 12 - For the big-business media like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN television, the big news from Greece involves what is going to happen to Greek bonds, the euro, the European economy and the world economy. For these media and their owners, the hundreds of billions, even trillions of dollars at stake explain this emphasis.

But the true essence of the events in Greece is the heroic struggle of the Greek working class, in this small country of 11 million people, to defeat the cruel, draconian austerity being imposed by the European big banks.

This struggle is vitally important for workers and the poor throughout the world and deserves solidarity and support worldwide.

Economists predict that given the recent vicious cuts imposed by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and accepted by the Greek government, the Greek economy — already in five years of recession — won't come out of its spiraling downturn until at least 2015.

Four right-wing cabinet ministers and two socialists resigned from the coalition regime because they refused to identify themselves with this new round of austerity. For its own ultra-nationalist reasons, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), a small, near-fascist party, left the cabinet.

The coalition cabinet still managed to patch itself back together, and the Greek parliament voted Feb. 12 to accept this austerity plan.

Meanwhile, 25,000 union-organized protesters were demonstrating outside Parliament, which was protected by 3,000 police, who used tear gas against the demonstrators. On the edges of the protest, youth battled police, some throwing firebombs, and parts of Athens were on fire.

Vicious austerity cutbacks

What people now call the Troika — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — is demanding the following vicious cuts in return for a bank bailout:

• Cutting the minimum wage for private sector workers by 22 percent and for those newly hired at the minimum by 32 percent; workers at the minimum have already lost 45 percent of their 2009 wages;

• Collective bargaining agreements between the unions and companies in a particular sector of the economy are abolished;

• Cuts in supplementary pensions, soon to be followed by cuts to basic pensions;

• 15,000 public sector employees will lose their jobs this year followed by 150,000 two years after this, in an economy where unemployment is officially over 20 percent;

• Cuts in social services; those in health care will place human lives in danger;

• Stepped up tax enforcement against self-employed workers and small businesses in order to support the tax exemptions of big capital.

Since the minimum wage is the benchmark for most union/company agreements in Greece, lowering it will lower all private sector wages.

Workers fight back

In a working-class response to this latest wave of austerity, the three main unions in Greece called for a general strike on Feb. 7, which was widely followed. The strike stopped train and ferry services nationwide, while many schools and banks were closed and state hospitals worked with skeleton staff.

The steelworkers union, which had been on strike for 100 days, led a march on Parliament. There were some scattered sharp skirmishes between protesters and cops on the edges of the crowd, which drew a lot of press attention — more attention than did the tens of thousands who were protesting.

Some demonstrators burned a German flag, reflecting popular anger at the German government's role in imposing this new round of austerity. According to the website of the Greek Communist Party, there were protests and demonstrations in 62 cities around the country. (

The E.U. finance ministers then called for “implementation before disbursement” (additional cuts), for the Greek Parliament to endorse the measures on Feb. 12, and for the Greek parties in the coalition government to sign promises to maintain this agreement even after the upcoming election.

All three Greek unions reacted by calling another general strike, this time for 48 hours on Feb. 10 and 11. The strike protested the depth and extent of the cuts being imposed, as well as the deadlines the Greek government had to meet.

PAME, the union confederation associated with the Greek Communist Party (KKE), broke the ground for the general strike by leading a large march through Athens in a driving rain storm the night of Feb 9. Ilias Stamelos, a leader of PAME, condemned the new austerity measures as barbaric and called on the working class not only to drive out the parties in government but also to overthrow the class which is in power. (

Feb. 10 strike even stronger

The strike on Feb. 10 was even more solid than the earlier one. Two major unions – GSEE, which represents workers in the private sector, and ADEDY, representing civil servants – marched on Syntagma Square, while PAME marched to the Ministry of Labor.

PAME workers occupied that building, and others hung a big banner on the outside of the ministry, reading: “No to the new massacre of the people, Down with the government, The Troika must go, Disengagement from the EU.”

There were also large rallies in ThessalonĂ­ki, Piraeus and other major cities throughout Greece.

The next day, Feb. 12, the unions held a big demonstration in Athens' main Syntagma Square that encircled the Parliament building to try to prevent members from entering and approving the austerity plan.

Aleka Papariga, the general secretary of the Greek Communist Party, released this statement: “Even if the workers give their own flesh to pay off the debt, the savage bankruptcy will not be averted. Consequently, there is one solution: Disengagement from the EU and unilateral cancellation of the debt. This is the solution; anything else will constitute a tragedy for the workers.” (

The two parties in the coalition government — PASOK and the New Democracy — have formally agreed to uphold this austerity plan after the upcoming elections, which could come as early as April. There is no guarantee they will win the election, according to some polls.

According to the Kathimerini newspaper, there is a sharp rise in support for left parties. Its early February polls show 12 percent supporting the Democratic Left, 12.5 percent supporting the Greek Communist Party and another 12 percent supporting the Coalition of the Radical Left. Greece's Green party might also enter parliament for the first time, Later polls showed an even bigger leftward movement.

View Greek protests at
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