lightning strikes twice in greece

by David Broder

On 12th February the Evening Standard boards in London proclaimed “Brown: we won’t pay for Greece bailout”, almost as if darkly parodying the left’s slogan “we won’t pay for their crisis”. But much as the Greek government plans harsh austerity measures to appease its European counterparts, millions of workers are refusing to capitulate.

Yesterday a general strike brought Greece’s planes, trains and buses to a standstill; left schools quiet and government offices empty; and brought thousands of raucous demonstrators into the streets of Athens. Not only was this the second nationwide strike against the budget cuts plan in two weeks, but also marked continued defiance against the new social-democratic PASOK government, just over a year after the December 2008 struggle against the right-wing New Democracy administration.

That movement saw a wave of occupations of public buildings, including universities, town halls and libraries, but also the Athens offices of the GSEE trade union federation, which kept a clear distance from the protests. They were unwilling to ‘touch’ such a radical struggle, and indeed cancelled demonstrations against the New Year state budget in case they were diverted.

This February, however, the Greek government is proposing swingeing cuts to reduce their deficit by 4% per year and the unions have had no choice but to mobilise. The GSEE and ADEDY federations both called for a one-day strike, including two million workers of both public and private sectors. Nonetheless, some of the media over here charmingly focussed on the effects on British holiday-makers, customers dissatisfied with that giant tourist destination, Greece.

This was not just a stay-at-home strike. 40,000 demonstrated in Athens and thousands more in towns and cities across Greece. Young people are particularly at risk in a country where unemployment stands at 10%, and there were also clashes between young protestors and riot police. Restaurants, shops and banks were smashed up – or, in the photo below, walled in:

The ‘deep cuts’ agenda is not a specifically Greek phenomenon, with the governments of the so-called ‘PIIGS’ (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), mid-ranking EU states running up huge deficits, all under pressure from the EU to cut their budgets – and thus targeting working class living standards. Of course Britain too faces either ‘Tory cuts’, good-old-fashioned ‘Labour cuts’, or rather less likely Lib Dem ‘savage cuts’.

A further day of action in another two weeks’ time seems likely: but a series of national one-day strikes does not look like a strategy to stop the government. After all, while tolerating occasional demonstrations the state will not shrink from invoking anti-union laws and using riot cops to suppress the most ‘threatening’ wing of the movement. Before the general strike, an indefinite stoppage by 3,200 customs workers saw Greece’s petrol pumps run dry for five days, such that the courts intervened to rule the action ‘excessive’. The union put an end to the strike, even though they could have been given even greater strength by the national strike action.

The BBC commented: “The march was three times bigger than one held two weeks ago during the last 24-hour stoppage, our correspondent adds, but given that two million people were supposedly on strike, it was hardly the start of a revolution.” Indeed a one-day general strike will not bring down capitalism. But in Greece protestors in the streets; youth fighting the police a year ago and today; and those working-class people keeping the cars off the roads and the planes on the ground; have shown a fine example of how to resist the recession.