GREEK GENERAL STRIKE – over 100,000 workers march in Athens

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OVER 100,000 workers flooded the entire Athens city centre on Thursday March 11th, in a magnificent demonstration on the day of a 24-hour general strike called by the GSEE (Greek TUC) and ADEDY (public sector trade union federation) against the Greek government’s austerity measures.

The demonstration was bigger than that held during the last general strike three weeks ago.

Again, there were two separate rallies held in Athens, one by the GSEE-ADEDY, the other by PAME, the Greek Communist Party’s trade union organisation.

The strike proved to be 100 per cent rock-solid in transport where no buses, trams, tubes or trains operated; all flights were cancelled at Athens airport; not a single ship sailed from the port of Piraeus.

Likewise in the refineries and shipyards.

And it was the same in education, media and culture; all universities and colleges were closed as were the vast majority of schools; not a single newspaper was printed and there were no news or current affairs programmes on radio and television; all museums and archaeological sites were closed and theatres remained dark.

A total strike was reported in electricity, communications, water authorities and the post office.

According to the relevant trade unions, the strike had very high levels of participation in the building industry, engineering, hospitals, the civil service and local government, and in the clothing and food sectors.

The strike was less successful in banks and department stores although in the Athens city centre all of them were shut.

Thousands of students and youth, as well as immigrant workers, joined the Athens march.

There were large contingents of railway and post office workers, teachers, civil servants, printers and journalists, building workers and courier services workers.

Once again, the trade union bureaucrats did not mobilise the thousands of electricity, communications, health and engineering workers who were represented by small contingents. Likewise there few local government and no bank nor shop workers on the march.

Banners called for a fight to defend wages, pensions and jobs.

Railway workers shouted ‘no unemployment no wage cuts – the rich must pay for the crisis’; while justice courts workers shouted ‘we are workers we are fighting we will win’; air traffic controllers shouted ‘no to the sell-off of Greek air-space to the Germans’; civil servants shouted ‘down with the laws of the markets’; and post office workers shouted ‘hands off collective contracts’.

There were also chants for the withdrawal of Greece from NATO and the European Union and against privatisations.

A contingent of workers carried placards which read ‘Iceland 98 per cent.’ Many workers and youth came to the march carrying anti-tear gas masks and had applied protective cream on their faces. It proved to be useful as the armed riot police decided to stage a provocation early on by splitting the march. Youth and workers shouted ‘police out of the march’ and clashed with the police as they made liberal use of noise bombs and tear gas.

For a few minutes it looked as though a major clash was developing but then the riot police withdrew. Following this, youth attacked branches of banks and supermarkets with stones.

The march passed by the State Accounts Office which has been occupied for over a week now by ex-Olympic Airways workers who are demanding jobs and proper pensions.

They have set up a barricade blocking the busiest avenue in central Athens.

But the huge Greek workers’ rallies and demonstrations and the general strike have been used by the trade union bureaucracy and the Stalinist PAME as ‘safety valves’ and they have channelled the revolutionary fury of workers into protest marches.

The slogans on the PAME platform read ‘down with the new taxes, hands off our wage supplements,’ while on the GSEE-ADEDY platform the slogan was ‘we are not going to pay for the crisis’.

Neither the bureaucrats nor the Stalinists posed the question of an indefinite political strike to smash the government’s austerity measures nor did they pose the issue of bringing down this counter-revolutionary government.

They led over 100,000 workers and youth on a stroll around Athens city centre while the riot police was allowed to attack the youth.

Neither the GSEE-ADEDY nor PAME proposed a fighting programme for the next few days and they just sent workers home. It was left to some trade unions to organise a mass picket in support of the Olympic workers’ occupation and a mass Athens demonstration next Tuesday evening.

Early this week, the Greek Finance Ministry announced that a 24-page document had been sent a week ago in a letter to the European Commission accepting the recommendations of the EC and of the IMF for still more austerity measures against the working class.

The document outlines ‘reforms’ and huge cuts in health, pensions. These ‘reforms’ also include public sector sackings, new wage cuts and retirement age rises.

The document admits just a 1.2 per cent GNP reduction for 2010, but the Deutsche Bank says that there will be a reduction of over four per cent.

On Friday March 9th the Greek government issued five billion euros worth of state bonds that were sold at a very high 6.4 interest rate, some 290 points above the rate that the German government borrows money.

It has been estimated that the interest that will be paid to the international banks for this loan in ten years, equals the wage cuts imposed this year by the Greek government on public sector workers.

The latest figures show the bankruptcy of the Greek economy: income from tourism down 15 per cent last year as compared to 2008; building construction down 25 per cent in 2009; exports down 17.5 per cent, imports also down by 21.1 per cent.

In 2009, Greek exports were just 30 per cent worth of imports, the third worst ratio on record.

• See photo gallery for more pictures