LAST Wednesday and Thursday saw the biggest general strike of all workers, public and private sector, shopkeepers, and transport workers, which brought the whole of Greece to a standstill.
Anger erupted against the latest austerity bill by the Papandreou government which was being discussed and voted upon in the Vouli on Thursday.
This Bill proposes:
• 30% cut in wages
• extra taxes for everyone
• 150-200,000 sackings in public sector
• cuts in pensions.
Last Thursday a huge rally of over 100,000 workers and youth gathered in the square in front of the Vouli (Greek parliament) in Athens.
It was viciously attacked by the armed riot police with noise bomb grenades, tear gas canisters and truncheons following a sustained onslaught of hundreds of ‘anti-state power’ youths on the Greek Communist Party (KKE) contingents.
Dimitris Kotzaridis, a 53-year-old building worker, secretary of the Construction Workers Trades Union branch at the Athens district of Vironas and a member of PAME, the KKE’s trade union section, collapsed and died at the Evangelismos hospital where he was taken.
The hospital stated that he carried no wounds and died of heart failure. Many other workers were injured.
The KKE issued a statement which said that ‘organised anarcho-fascist groups armed with petrol bombs, chemical gases and noise and lightning grenades attempted to break up the great rally of workers and people in the square and attacked the PAME. As a result of this attack the PAME trade unionist Dimitris Kotzaridis died.’
When the news reached the square about 4.30pm the riot police were carriying out their plan of dispersing the rally by all barbaric means possible.
It was clear to workers and youth participating in the rally, that the death of Kotzaridis was the result of the policies of the parliamentary junta of Papandreou, and in informal discussion groups they were saying that the IMF, the EE and all the government are morally and politically responsible for Kotzaridis’ death.
The Trotskyist Revolutionary Marxist League demanded that the trade union movement and the GSEE (Greek TUC) should immediately set up a committee to fully investigate the circumstances of Kotzaridis’ death.
The enormous rally in front of the Vouli on Thursday, the second day of the 48-hour strike called by the GSEE and ADEDY (public sector trades union federation), clearly showed the absolute determination of workers and youth in Greece to fight all the way for the overthrow of the hated Papandreou government.
The slogans, banners and placards of the many trade unions that participated in the rally, all demanded action, the most popular slogans shouted being ‘Papandreou get out and take with you the troika of IMF, EC and ECB!’.
The vast majority of the workers participating was made up of local government workers, health workers, civil servants and state school teachers.
Large contingents of taxi drivers and industrial workers participated, as well as culture workers.
But several powerful trade unions, who follow closely the treacherous line of the GSEE-ADEDY leaders, such as electricity and power, telecommunication, miners, shipyards, refineries, and post office workers, failed to turn up at the rally.
About 3pm large sections of trade union contingents were withdrawn from the rally by their leaders, a treacherous practice of the GSEE-ADEDY bureaucrats.
In the void left, hundreds of ‘anti-state power’ youth congregated and started the attack on the KKE-PAME contingents stationed in front of the Vouli building.
For about two hours a section of the square was transformed into a battle scene as the KKE-PAME contingents repelled the attack.
But then, as the anti-state power forces retreated, the battles spread to the rest of the square and the riot police started an orchestrated attack on the rally with massive use of noise bombs and tear-gas.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators moved off the square to the nearby streets where they stayed shouting slogans against police violence, the IMF and EC and calling for the overthrow of the ‘junta of PASOK’.
At 5pm the KKE-PAME contingents were also withdrawn from the square.
About 10,000 demonstrators remained on both sides of the square despite the riot police’s continuous attacks.
The fighting went on throughout Athens city centre well into the night.
Mass demonstrations were also held in all the Greek cities and towns.
Inside the Vouli the 154 parliamentary deputies of the ruling PASOK party voted for the Bill – a majority of four.
One PASOK parliamentary deputy voted against an article of the Bill and she was immediately
expelled from the PASOK parliamentary group.
Late on Thursday, the local government workers’ union POE-OTA, whose members have been put under ‘emergency civil conscription’ by a government dictatorial decree, decided to call another 24-hour strike for Friday.
Many town halls remain under occupation.
Several other trade unions are carrying on with strikes and a number of ministry buildings remain under occupation including the Finance Ministry.
On the eve of the general strike, News Line visited the main government ministries that were under 100% occupation to discuss with these workers their very grave concerns.
Every government ministry in Greece was under occupation.
At the Public Service Registration Office, part of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, Vicky, one of the leading occupiers, told us:
‘We cannot continue like this.
‘Our wages are being cut, and our lives are going down.
‘Public health department, and education departments are all occupied.
‘We want everyone to stand together.
‘This is supposed to be a socialist government but these new laws being rushed through in parliament are against the workers.
‘We want new elections.’
At the Federation of the Interior Ministry, Nikos Alexopoulos, who is President of the trade unions there explained:
‘There are mass sackings, cuts in wages and, for example, everyone’s personal situation has been cut by 30% or more.
‘This is on top of 25-30% cuts we had last year.
‘Our wages are below E600 a month.
‘We are occupying and on Wednesday and Thursday we will be taking part in the general strike.
‘This Bill on Thursday must be defeated or the government must go.’
At the Labour Ministry of Social Security, Panagiotis Kontarakis, President of the unions, explained about the huge loss of wages his members were experiencing.
‘At the higher end, people were cut down to about E750 a month and at the lower end of the scale, down to E500 a month, which affects pensions as well.
‘This Bill on Thursday should not be passed.
‘We are occupied solidly as the Bill will mean that at least 150-200,000 of us will be sacked.
‘We are waiting for the sack!
‘Those due for retirement are being forced out early.
‘The 50% wage-cut that is being proposed is making more people retire early.’
Nikos Panousis, Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions at the Ministry of Finance, General Accounts of the State, explained that they were on strike for 10 days, until 27 October.
They had previously occupied but had taken the decision to strike and were out solid.
‘Unless the Bill is withdrawn we will stay out.
‘We face E400 reduction in wages if it is passed.
‘We are only earning now about E700 – they are taking the bread out of our mouths.
‘Those with mortgages, our pay is going straight into the bank leaving nothing for food and living expenses.
‘Our last pay cheque was for just E20 for two weeks, once they took off money for being on strike, taxes etc.
‘They are bankrupting the working class.
‘This government, the European Union must all go.
‘Greek people cannot tolerate the IMF and European banks determining our lives.
‘If these people had carried out these drastic measures in their own country, they would have been beaten up.’
At the Ministry of Commerce, Yiannis Siomos, President of the trade unions there, confirmed that workers were not accepting the latest austerity measures proposed by this Bill on Thursday.
‘We are not concerned at what the government wants, only what our workers want.
‘There is going to be a huge strike over these next two days (Wednesday and Thursday).
‘The workers will be united and this will force the government to withdraw the Bill.
‘They have put everything on to the backs of workers.
‘Over the last four weeks there have been occupations, strikes, mass rallies – every day.
‘We are 100% strong.
‘We have full support from the public, they understand as they are affected just as much.’