ON Wednesday workers in Greece staged the biggest ever 24-hour general strike against the IMF–European Commission’s imposed austerity measures with millions participating. Planes remained grounded and railways did not move. Rock solid strike in shipyards, railways, post-office, and telecommunications. Record participation percentages in schools, local government and in the civil service.
In the port of Piraeus once again not a single ship sailed and workers demonstrated in their thousands. Museums and archaeological sites all remained shut. Total strike in the whole of the media (press, radio and TV) until 4 pm when journalists decided to cover the strike and the deaths of three bank employees who were at work.
Public transport operated only from 10 am to 4 pm to facilitate workers’ participation to the demonstrations. Nearly all shops – bar some cafes – remained shut in central Athens including the large department stores.
The Athens stock exchange crashed again by 3.9 per cent on Wednesday.
In the capital Athens literally hundreds of thousands of workers flooded the city centre and marched to the Vouli (Greek parliament) and besieged it. Hundreds of workers attempted to ascend the staircases and enter the building.
They were sprayed with tear-gas by scores of riot police and pushed downstairs. They retaliated by throwing stones, fruit and whatever else available against the hated riot police. Now the squadrons of riot police counter-attacked with extensive use of a new kind of concentrated tear gas and smoke and noise bombs.
The time was 1 pm and for the next four hours the centre of Athens was transformed into a battle ground with riot police pushing and clubbing anyone within their reach. The huge crowd of workers and youth dispersed towards two opposite directions but regrouped in several clusters of thousands. In some streets barricades were set up.
As the riot police were pushing demonstrators away from the Vouli building, it became known that three bank employees had died inside the branch of the private bank they were working, despite the general strike.
A statement issued by the Fire Service said that at 2pm they had received a fire call and when a few minutes later fire fighters reached the bank, they found three bodies on the third floor. The statement said that the three persons, a man and two women all in their thirties, had died of fumes.
The leader of the Fire Service said in a press interview that the bank was set on fire by ‘petrol bombs thrown by demonstrators’, without offering any evidence.
According to bank workers, the Marfin Egnatia bank, whose branch was set on fire, is one of the most reactionary employers in Greece. Trade unions are not allowed to operate in the bank and the Managing Director Vgenopoulos, who bought Olympic Airways two years ago following privatisation, has in the past taken law suits against both the Greek Prime Minister Yiorghos Papandreou and against the leader of the Coalition of the Left Alexis Tsipras.
According to a Marfin Egnatia bank employee, in the branch that was set on fire there was no fire alarm nor fire protection system; the branch did not have a certificate from the fire service. The branch’s manager had locked up the bank with seven employers inside and there was no fire exit.
The bank workers trade union OTOE called a national 24-hour strike for Thursday. In a statement the union said: ‘The executors of the attack must be found and punished. The instigators must be looked for in the practical politics of the government, in the operational stand of the police as well as in the Banks’ boards who blackmail their employees and hinder their participation to the mobilisations, and do not take the necessary security measures.’
By late afternoon the police had cordoned off the whole of Athens city centre and carried out a pogrom in the Exarcheia, next to the Polytechnic, an inner city district popular with students and intellectuals.
Riot police entered people’s houses without warrants, and carried our raids on an immigrants’ social club and a squatters’ house arresting dozens. No reasons were given by the police for the arrests. It is estimated that about 70 persons have been taken into custody at the Athens police HQs.
Inside the Vouli, the Greek Prime Minister Yiorghos Papandreou read out a brief statement expressing his grief and called on all parties to agree to a political party leaders’ meeting to forge a national agreement to protect democracy.
The leader of the Greek Tories Antonis Samaras accepted the invitation which he had rejected two days ago. Anastasios Paphilis, a KKE (Greek Communist Party) parliamentary deputy spoke and stated that workers would go on protesting but he, as the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left Alexis Tsipras, failed to condemn the police violence on workers.
The government insisted of carrying out the parliamentary programme for a vote on the austerity measures dictated by the IMF on Thursday evening, despite deputies’ protests that for such an important issue discussion is necessary.
The ADEDY (public sector trade unions federation) called on all workers for a mass rally outside the Vouli for Thursday, May 6th evening. Local government workers have decided to extend again their strike, now in its fourth day. It became known that ADEDY and GSEE are to call another 24-hour general strike for next Tuesday, May 11.
The biggest ever workers’ march in Athens was dominated by hatred, rage and fury against the IMF, the European Commission and the Papandreou government. The demonstration had three distinct sections of many tens of thousands. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) and its trade union section PAME organised its own separate rally and formed the first section of the march. Large contingents of construction workers, engineers, clothing, health, services, local government workers and thousands of students formed the bulk of the march. The KKE marched to the Vouli, passed it and dispersed.
Then came the colossal GSEE-ADEDY march with very large contingents of industrial, shipyard, communications, electricity and mines, post office, health, transport, civil service, local government and port workers.
At the GSEE-ADEDY rally before the march, tension was growing as trade union speakers refused to call for the government to take back the austerity measures as workers expected. Then as the President of the GSEE Yiannis Panagopoulos spoke, booing started, it became louder and louder and he was not able to finish his speech.
The GSEE-ADEDY march filled the whole square and eight-lane avenue in front of the Vouli building. Hundreds of armed riot police were stationed next to the building high up from the square.
Demonstrators started shouting ‘thieves, thieves’ again and again, expressing their rage and anger against the parliament and the Greek government which is to vote on large cuts on their wages and pensions as well as taking away hard won labour rights. There were no other slogans as all their GSEE and ADEDY trade union leaders had disappeared and the tens of thousands of the KKE march had gone away earlier.
When the riot police started their attack, the bulk of the third section of the march, organised by various smaller trade unions and left-wing parties, was still at the Athens Polytechnic two kilometres away.
As the riot police attacked workers, youths attacked several government buildings and banks in central Athens. The Athens Region local government building was set on fire as well as a Ministry for Finance offices complex which was burned out. No-one was inside. Several cars were attacked and destroyed as well as scores of spy cameras.
The President of Greece Karolos Papoulias, the nominal head of the state, said that the ‘country has reached the edge of an abyss’.
The General Secretary of the KKE Aleka Paparigha appeared on television and accused the leader of the right-wing racist party LAOS of being a ‘professional provocateur’ against the KKE.
Paparigha claimed that her party did not stay outside the Vouli because of the infiltration of some fascist thugs! She too refused to condemn the riot police’s violence and called the day’s events ‘a provocation’.
Big demonstrations were held in the industrial Greek cities of Salonika, Volos and Patras. Workers and youth clashed with police and banks and government buildings were attacked. Marches were also held in all other cities and towns.
The riot police attack has further enraged workers and youth in Greece. They now realise the task ahead when they find themselves again in front of the Vouli in their tens of thousands.
They have booed the treacherous trade union bureaucrats and they have seen how the Stalinist leaders of the KKE walked away from the fight.
The Revolutionary Marxist League (RML), the Greek section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, called for an indefinite political general strike against the austerity measures and for the bringing down of the IMF-European Commission-Papandreou junta.
Its newspaper and its leaflets pointed out the treachery of the trade union bureaucracy and of the Stalinist KKE.
It also warned the working class in Greece that, ‘this junta prepares the police, the secret services and the army against workers and youth. These forces will attack, with a mania hitherto unseen, strikes, demonstrations and occupations.’
The RML called for the overthrow of capitalism and for the establishment of a workers’ and small farmers’ socialist government based on Councils of Action (Soviets).
The most successful ever general strike in Greece, the biggest ever workers’ demonstration and the police attack outside the Vouli, are historic events.
Revolution is now on the workers’ agenda as the ‘socialist’ Greek Prime Minister pushes through the Vouli the hated austerity measures dictated by the IMF and the EU Commission Junta.
• See pictures on photo gallery