GREECE: The Crisis Continues

— Nikos Tamvaklis

WHAT’S HAPPENED IN Greece after the explosive strikes and street protests that erupted over the terms of the European bailout in 2010?

Following the district and municipal elections of November, the government of G. Papandreou saw its margins for political maneuver become very narrow. As a first reaction, he tried to find support in the two new political formations that emerged before the elections: from the right the Democratic Alliance of Dora Bakoyannis, a split from the main right-wing party ND (New Democracy), and from the left the Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis, a split from the left reformist party Synaspismos.

Although both political formations, according to the polls, appear to have a rather weak and unstable social base, they nevertheless possess a small number of deputies in the present Parliament that would be a valuable reserve for the government. Moreover they endorse “#8220;consensus and understanding” to resolve the economic difficulties the country is confronted with, along with the need to implement the “#8220;Memorandum” policy. [“#8220;Memorandum” is the name of the contract signed by the Greek government in order to achieve the loan from the “#8220;Troika” (International Monetary Fund, European Union, European Central Bank) in spring 2010]

As the time approached for the Troika’s approval of the third part of the loan, the Memorandum-imposed target of reducing the budget deficit to 7% had not been achieved. The government therefore had to enact a new wave of violent and restrictive economic measures against the workers.

On the other hand the general strike scheduled for December 15 scheduled by GSEE (Confederation of Greek Workers’ Unions) and ADEDY (Confederation of Unions of Public Employees) provoked fears and nervousness inside government headquarters.

The government, under pressure, had to promote the adoption of new measures in Parliament, called the “#8220;multi bill,” through an emergency procedure on 14th of December. The “#8220;multi bill” has two basic aims

1) A further drastic reduction of the average income of public utilities workers (the DEKO) — workers in urban public transports, Public Power Corporation, Water Supply, etc. — beyond the reduction already imposed last spring. The working population in this sector now constitutes the backbone of GSEE, since trade unionism in the private sector has been shrinking for many years. At the same time these workers constitute a key pillar supporting the ruling PASOK.

2) The imposition of new working conditions in the private sector, with the abolition of the “#8220;sectoral” collective labor contracts and their replacement with company-imposed contracts. Such a system leaves workers in small firms virtually unprotected, since the trade unions in the private sector are largely controlled by the employers. These workers constitute the vast majority (around 90%) of employees in the Greek private sector.

The bureaucratic leadership of GSEE reacted in its customary way, i.e. secret consultations with the representatives of employers and government ministers. When these secret consultations became known, a general outcry burst out which led to the resignation of the GSEE vice president, a member of Synaspismos.

Despite their collaborationist perspective, both new political formations (led by F. Kouvelis and D. Bakoyiannis) were forced during the discussion of December 14 to raise a note of opposition in Parliament and to denounce the “#8220;multi-bill.” One additional government deputy declared his opposition and was immediately erased from the PASOK by the party leadership.

The December 15 Mobilization

The bill was finally approved, but the government was dramatically isolated. On the other hand the general strike of 15 December had to confront the fait accompli of a voted bill. Nevertheless the mobilizations were massive and combative. The protest march in the centre of Athens, in front of the parliament, assembled about 100,000 workers (50,000 according to official sources), certainly smaller than the corresponding demonstration on May 5th but with a much more combative attitude.

The main characteristics of the mobilization can be summarized as follows:

a) The Coordination of Primary Unions (CPU, an initiative for the cooperation of trade unions and trade unionists of the anti-capitalist left) gathered the most massive and combative blocks of the trade unions/workers. The bureaucrats of GSEE and ADEDY did not dare to appear in the streets of Athens. PAME, the coordination of trade unions controlled by the Communist Party (KKE), as usual, organized a parallel separate protest march, without any particularly massive turnout or dynamic results.

b) Blocks of protesters of CPU and ANTARSYA (the front of political anticapitalist organizations) marched the entire way without being divided — despite the police attacks, the extensive use of tear gas and chemicals, and the usual, uncontrolled actions of people who call themselves “#8220;anarchists” or, according to the media, “#8220;the masked people.”

c) After the end of the march a massive block of demonstrators headed for the GSEE central offices and ran up against the police forces, which did not allow them to enter the building.

d) Private citizens who did not participate in some particular trade union or political block and watched the demonstration from the pavement instead, beat a former minister and now ND deputy, Kostas Xatzidakis. This deputy is portrayed by the mass media as an “#8220;honest and gentle” politician. The incident forced the mass media to focus their attention this time on the massiveness and the combative spirit of the main demonstration, not exclusively on the actions of the “#8220;masked people.”

This incident was a shock to the politicians of bourgeois parties as well as to the journalists of mass media who propagandize continually for the necessity of Memorandum measures. All of them suddenly realized not only the depth of the popular anger, but also that this accumulated anger is directed against them in a most threatening way.

The strike of urban transport workers (metro, buses, tram), the following day transformed the streets of Athens into a giant traffic jam. Workers of urban transport demanded the withdrawal of the “#8220;multi bill.”

The government for its part tried before Christmas to promote another bill concerning the “#8220;opening up of closed professions.” It is, however, designed in fact to open this particular market to large companies and firms which provide the corresponding services or products.

This bill threatens mainly the income of middle social layers (lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, bakers, notaries, electricians etc.) in the name of “#8220;healthy competition of the free market.” These are social layers and trade guilds that constitute another pillar of PASOK’s electoral base. Their strong opposition created a climate of tension inside the governing party and forced the government to postpone a vote on this bill until after Christmas holidays.

Trapped in the policy of the Memorandum on the one hand and the unbearable pressure of the reaction of the party base on the other, prime minister G. Papandreou appears again ready to use the blackmail of early elections against his party deputies as well against the Greek people. But such threats lose their effectiveness the more they are repeated.The forces of the anticapitalist front ANTARSYA, after their success in the November elections and during this new stage of workers mobilizations, are beginning the reorganization of the alliance through the registration of local committee members, the election of local leaderships, and the preparation for a nationwide conference of representatives in early spring.

ATC 151, March-April 2011