As our frequent readers probably know, Greece was racked by riots in December, 2008, after a 15-year-old boy was murdered by the police. These riots followed on a series of occupations, which tore through the education sector in 2006-7, spreading from universities to high schools. At the end of 2008, a major question was: would the insurrection spread from the students, youth, and the immigrants — that is, those systematically excluded or marginalized in the production process — to the unionized workforce of regular and semi-regular employees? For an analysis at the time, see The Glass Floor by Theorie Communiste, as well as other writings by TPTG and Blaumachen (available from libcom.org).
For a while, it seemed that the rioters would receive nothing more than repression for their troubles. A socialist government took power in the aftermath of the riots, wasting no time in cracking down on the milieu. At the extreme, government forces continually violated the sanctity of the Exarchia district in Athens (Exarchia had been declared a police-free zone after students played a key role in bringing down a US-backed dictatorship in the mid-1970s). Greece was racked by bombing campaigns, both from the extreme left of the “Nuclei of Fire” and from the extreme right of Greek fascists, who attacked social centers and other movement strongholds.
Now the situation seems to be changing. Over the past year, as a result of the ongoing world economic crisis, Greece has been plunged into chaos. Like many other small, European republics (Spain, Ireland, Iceland, Portugal, etc), its government is heavily in debt after the bursting of continent-wide bubbles. Greece is seeking relief from the EU (led by Germany). The struggle is on to determine who will be left holding the empty bag. The outcome of this struggle, in Greece as elsewhere, will have huge implications for the dying financial order of our dying world-capitalist economy.
Germany is putting major conditions on the disbursement of aid to Greece: the crisis will have to be borne by the class “formerly known as working”. The socialist government of Greece is therefore pushing through a major austerity program — to ensure stability and, of course, to atone for the “guilt” of widespread “overspending”.
As the crisis comes to a head, the regular and semi-regular workers — who had been missing from 2008 riots — are coming out in force. This is happening despite, rather than because of, the leaders of the Greek public- and private-sector unions. On March 4th, public and private workers came out for a first mass (or general) strike. But the differences between this moment and the moment of December 2008 are considerable. When will workers move beyond demands on a dying system? And what role will be played by the non-regular forces of students, youth and immigrants, who made up the main contingent of the rioters? The second general strike in a month took place today, March 11th, with hundreds of thousands of participants. See the description below, from libcom.org.
All to frequently, we have been written off as an attempt to “copy” the situation in Greece. Without making any easy analogies, what do we have to learn, here in California, from the unfolding sequence in Greece? We, too, are being asked to hold the empty bag, as corporate CEOs and their government cronies laugh all the way to the (newly “restored”) bank. But we are far behind Greece in our mobilizations. At the very least, we should be humbled by the number of people participating in their direct action movements. We should also note the time-frame: from occupations in 2006 to riots in 2008 to strikes in 2010. Only the most optimistic think that this sequence will leap towards “revolution” or “insurrection” soon, but it remains a distinct possibility. What do you think?
More articles (and a better historical overview) available from libcom.org section on Greece.
Battle Ground Athens: second general strike leads to pitched battles
Submitted by taxikipali on Mar 11 2010 15:34
More than 150,000 people took to the streets of Athens against the austerity measures in a mass protest marches that have led to extended battles in the greek capital.
On Thursday March 11 all Greece came to a 24h standstill as a result of the second general strike to be called within less than a month (not the third as reported by foreign media, as the first strike in February only concerned the public sector). As a result of the strike called by GSEE (private sector union umbrella) and ADEDY (public sector union umbrella) as well as PAME (the Communist Party union umbrella) no buses, trams, metros, trolley buses or suburban trains exited their stations, while due to air-traffic control workers’ strike no flights are being realised within or in and out of the country.
Only the electric train will function for 4h in Athens in order to facilitate people’s participation in the mass demo at noon. In the health sector, all hospitals are functioning with emergency personnel only, as all doctors, ambulance drivers and nurses are striking. All banks are closed to the public, and all public and municipal offices and services have been shut by the strike. The Corinth Canal has also been shut by the workers controling it, allowing no ships to make the vital crossing. All boats have been immobilised in the harbours and no inter-city trains are running. Post offices remain closed, while National Electricity, National Waters and National Telecoms workers are taking part in the strike with all offices and factories of the above industries closed for the day. All schools and universities remain also closed as teachers and academics are partcipating in the strike. Office workers, factory workers and contruction workers are also participating en mass in the strike. Firemen and policemen are also performing walk-outs, with a policemen demo at the National Police HQ planned for the afternoon. Due to the participation of the TV, radio, electronic news websites, and the press in the strike, there are no news broadcasts for 24h. Thus the information gathered here will be completed by means of Comments after the end of the General Strike when more information become available. In total more than 3 million people (out of a total population of 11 million) are expected to having taken part in the general strike today.
The General Strike comes as a new climax to labour struggle against the new austerity measures the greek government has announced in response to its notorious credit crisis. In the days before the General Strike, stage workers have occupied the Ministry of Labour on Peiraeos street, while the continuing occupation of the General State Accountancy by layed-off Olympic Airways workers has caused the intervention of the state persecutor who has demanded their arrest. No such move of repression has been made yet by the police, and Panepistimiou street remains cut in two by the protesters for more than a week now. In Salonica, the General Industrialists Bureau was occupied yesterday by workers, while radicals from the left dropped a huge banner in the Acropolis reading “take the measures back”. Troughout the week, tax officers performed a 48h strike, school traffic wardens in Northern Greece performed a 3-day strike, while judges and other judicial officers performed 4-h work daily stoppages. No garbage has been collected since last Saturday in Athens, Patras and Salonica as refuse collectors have blockaded the great garbage depot of the three major cities. Finally, in the city of Komitini ENKLO textile workers are mounting an ever more intense labour struggle, with protest marches and strikes: two banks were occupied by the workers last Monday.
The first demo in Athens was performed by PAME, the Communist Party union umbrella, just before noon. PAME allied workers first formed small demos across Athens, then marched to Omonoia square and all together in a 50,000 strong march to the Parliament. At the same time, people started gathering at Patision and Alexandras junction for the demo called by GSEE and ADEDY. The demo which soon gathered over 100,000 people set to march to the Parliament at 12:30 when just outside the Polytechnic riot police forces tried to cut-off a large anarchist block from the march by brutal force. Clashes ensued with extended use of tear gas and molotov cocktails. Despite the air being thick with smoke and CS gas, the march continued its way along Patision avenue and on to Stadiou street where many corporate shops came under attack. After reaching the Parliament, the march turned to Panepistimiou street where renewed clashes erupted at the height of Propylea. With the march coming to its final distination, protesters who continued their way to Omonoia where attacked by Delta team motorised forces. The Delta-team thugs tried to hit the protesters in full speed sparking more pitched battles with police squads encircled and beaten by the angry crowd and several Delta-team motorbikes destroyed. At the time of writing, the battles have moved to Exarcheia where protesters have erected flaming baricades and are confronting riot police and Delta force cops by means of rocks and molotov cocktails. Many protesters have sought refuge at the Polytechnic from which they are confronting police forces on both Patision and Stournari street. During the clashes many protesters have been wounded with one reported to be in intensive care with heavy wounds on the chest. The number of people arrested remains unclear but there are about 16 people detained and 13 cops hospitalised.
In Salonica 6 different marches took place by different unions and umbrella unions. Protesters of the Worker’s Centre march, which numbered 7,000 people in total, attacked corporate and church-owned shops on Egnatia avenue, while two super-markets were looted with the commodities distributed to the people. Despite the police firing tear-gas, the march continued and attacked the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace with paint and rocks before reaching the Worker’s Centre.
In Ioannina despite the pouring rain around 1.500 people marched against the measures with no news of clashes. Similar protest marches took place in Sitia, Naxos, Veroia, Patras and other cities. In Heracleion, Crete, shops that did not allow their workers to strike were blockaded and several banks came under attack by protesters. In Volos, protesters blockaded the gates of the METKA factory not allowing security-staff (i.e. scabs) to enter the premises, with many more corporate chain shops that did not allow their workers to strike blockaded and shut by the protesters. The official union-bosses of Volos were forced to leave the march after mass heckling by the workers.
Despite anti-strike war waged by the bourgeois media, amongst which the more bloodthirty ones like Kathimerini is urging the government to crush the protests “even if some protesters die”, the Athens march is estimated to be the largest in 15 years, and has demonstrated the resolve of the working class to fight back against the capitalist onslaught.