Greek Workers, Youth & Farmers Demonstrate To Continue The Struggle To Defend Pensions!

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The civil engineers’ banner at last Thursday’s Athens march. It reads ‘No to the Bill that throws us onto the streets’
The civil engineers’ banner at last Thursday’s Athens march. It reads ‘No to the Bill that throws us onto the streets’

GREEK workers, youth, farmers and professionals are continuing and developing the struggle against the government’s Pensions Bill. 

On Tuesday night over 5,000 workers and youth participated in a march through Athens called by the trade union section of the Greek Communist Party (KKE). A rally called by the ADEDY, the public sector trades unions confederations, attracted just 250 people from left-wing groups. Not a single trade union branch participated in the ADEDY march – an indication of the complete mistrust of public sector workers for the bureaucracy.

Athens Polytechnic students, secondary school teachers and hospital workers held a separate small march from the sacked short contract workers tent camp outside the Labour Ministry to the Vouli (Greek parliament). The Polytechnic students shouted ‘down with the government and its Bill – make the bosses pay for the crisis’ and carried a banner stating ‘Down with the government-EU-IMF’, the first time that a clear call is being voiced by either students or workers for the overthrow of the Alexis Tsipras treacherous austerity government.

In central and northern Greece, farmers are carrying out blockades of all motorways and national roads every three hours. At their mass meetings last Tuesday, they decided not to accept Tsipras’ invitation for talks until the Pensions Bill is withdrawn. Farmers decided on a mass demonstration in Salonica on Thursday. But some right-wing big farmers in the north are pushing for a compromise with the government.

In Athens, the presidents of the Athens Bar, the Doctors Association and the Civil Engineers Association, representing tens of thousands of freelance or state-employed professionals, met with Tsipras last Monday and afterwards made remarks for a compromise.

But the Athens Bar and all-Greece president Vassilis Alexandris once again described the Pensions Bill as ‘unfair and unworkable’. Lawyers have decided to extend their abstention from the courts, strike, until next Monday.

The Greek seafarers continued their struggle with yet another 48-hour national strike last Wednesday and Thursday. These were solid 100% strikes, not a single ferry or boat sailed or was allowed to enter Greek ports. Seafarers were joined last Thursday by local government workers who occupied Town Halls and by journalists, printers and media workers who were also staging a 24-hour strike.

Still the Greek government insist on the Pensions Bill, with ministers stating that this is an obligation contained in last August’s Austerity Accord signed by Tsipras with the EU, the IMF and the ECB. This was verified on Tuesday by EU Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici who, in a reply to a Greek European Parliament Deputy’s question, stated that the Greek government must carry out all ‘reforms’ agreed last August.

Moscovici also stated that the Greek government must introduce another Tax Bill and further Labour Bills to allow mass sackings and lock-outs, restrict strikes and demonstrations and abolish collective national agreements.

• Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner says that Europe’s passport-free travel system in the 26-country Schengen area may collapse. Mikl-Leitner made the comment following an eight-hour-long EU interior ministers meeting held in the Dutch capital Amsterdam.

The talks were held over the possible extension of national border controls in the Schengen zone to deal with the influx of refugees pouring into Europe. In a bid to curb the influx of asylum seekers, several EU states, including Germany and Austria, have introduced a border checking system due to expire in May.

According to Dutch Migration Minister Klaas Dijkhoff, EU governments are calling on the European Commission for authorisation to extend the border controls past the May expiry date. Such a move would deal a severe blow to the Schengen system’s main principle of free travel within Europe.

‘These measures are inevitable at this point in time,’ said Dijkhoff. The EU is facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II with more than a million estimated to have entered the continent in 2015 while a record number is expected for this year.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised Europe’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis gripping the continent, saying the European governments’ reaction to the problem has resulted in a crackdown on basic freedoms. HRW director, Kenneth Roth, made the remarks in his introductory essay to the New York-based rights group’s annual report released on Wednesday.

‘Fears of terror attacks and of the potential impact of refugee influx led to a visible scaling back of rights in Europe and other regions,’ Roth said. The official further warned that ‘a polarising us-versus-them rhetoric’ adopted by Europe and the United States has moved from ‘the political fringe to the mainstream’.

‘Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonising of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance,’ he added. The HRW report raised concerns about the situation in France, where exceptional measures have been put in place under a state of emergency, giving authorities extra powers to keep people in their homes without trial and search houses without judicial approval.

The measures were adopted after terror attacks in and around the French capital city of Paris on November 15, 2015. Some 130 people lost their lives and 350 others injured in the assaults claimed by Daesh Takfiri group. The HRW report warned that these ‘potentially indiscriminate policing techniques’ risk exposing blameless young Muslims to racial profiling.

The right response to the inflow of refugees is not more repressive border and immigration enforcement, but a better controlled programme for the resettlement of asylum seekers, according to the report. The effect of European policy so far has been to leave refugees with little choice but to risk their lives at sea for a chance at asylum,’ Roth said.

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. While a few European leaders support an open-door refugee policy, others prefer controlling the external borders of the EU, deporting more people and paying third countries to keep asylum seekers on their soil.

More than one million refugees have reached Europe’s shores in 2015, while over 3,700 people either died or have gone missing in their perilous journey to the continent, according to figures released by the International Organisation for Migration.