250,000 workers, youth and professionals demonstrated outside the Vouli (Greek parliament) in central Athens last Wednesday evening against the Austerities Measures Bill.
They were demanding the overthrow of the tripartite coalition government.
The action was called by the GSEE (Greek TUC) who organised a two-day general strike last Tuesday and Wednesday.
The demonstration, one of the biggest ever in Greece, was a magnificent manifestation of the determination of the Greek workers and youth to get rid of the government, a tool of the troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and of the European Central Bank.
The sheer mass of workers and their determination, despite the riot police’s tear-gas attacks, almost defeated the police’s plans to forcibly clear demonstrators out of the square in front of the Vouli, and came close to overthrowing the government as parliamentary deputies were told either it’s ‘Austerities or chaos’ by the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
The vote for the Bill in the Vouli on Wednesday midnight was a huge political defeat for the coalition government and fully revealed its crisis.
The Bill was passed by just 153 votes to 150 in the 300-seats Vouli, with several government deputies voting against while the deputies of the Democratic Left, a government partner, abstained.
Immediately, at the end of the voting procedure, the leaders of the New Democracy conservative party and of the PASOK social-democratic party issued decrees expelling those deputies who either voted against or abstained.
The Greek government has passed the Bill but has suffered a huge blow and it is unlikely to survive for much longer.
It faces a furious and determined working class and youth who are now confident that they can beat the government despite the treacheries of the trade union bureaucracy and of the Coalition of the Radical Left party, and of the Greek Communist Party who are refusing to lead an all-out assault on the government.
Last Tuesday’s mass demonstration in Athens – dominated by ‘overthrow the government’ calls through a ‘permanent strike’ – gave notice of what was to come on Wednesday evening.
By 7.00pm hundreds of thousands had filled the square in front of the Vouli and more were coming despite rain and the closure, on police orders, of all Metro stations in the centre of Athens.
Metro workers had lifted their strike for Wednesday evening to facilitate people going to the demonstration.
Earlier, local government workers occupied the Interior Ministry building next to the Vouli while about 20 town halls and depots throughout the Athens metropolitan area were also occupied.
Electricity workers of the Sate Electricity Board occupied the Board’s HQ in Athens.
But the ADEDY (public sector trades union federation) and the civil servants’ unions refused to issue a call for the occupation of ministries and other government buildings.
Around 7.30pm on Wednesday night the mood of workers and youth in front of the Vouli was becoming more and more determined as the size of the demonstration grew.
It was then that the riot police opened their attack with stun and tear gas grenades, as well as water cannon for the first time, against a group of anti-state power demonstrators who threw stones, fruit, plastic bottles and petrol bombs outside the luxury hotels next to the Vouli building.
But the masses refused to be intimidated and refused to retreat.
They stayed put and remained determined.
Then the riot police opened a second and a third front of attack on the lower side of the square, their obvious plan being to push the demonstrators out of the square.
For half an hour the riot police attacks failed; but the huge amount of tear gas thrown into the crowd finally forced demonstrators to leave the square and fill the side streets.
The riot police continued their attacks and the lower part of the square was cleared.
But in the upper part, right in front of the Vouli building, tens of thousands remained where they were.
The large contingents of the Greek Communist Party that had moved out of the lower part of the square, now turned and marched back into the upper part of the square.
That was the critical point of the night’s action, as up till then it was clear that the riot police action would not be able to stop a demonstrators’ counter-attack to reclaim the square.
The riot police then unleashed a shower of tear gas grenades into the crowds which coincided with torrential rain that forced the demonstrators to backtrack.
However, the leaders of the Coalition of the Radical Left party and of the Greek Communist Party refused to organise demonstrators to re-group and stand fast in the side streets in their tens of thousands, but allowed a disorganised withdrawal.
The riot police intensified their attacks and kept pushing demonstrators further and further away from the square assisted by the very heavy rain.
It is clear that the sheer violence of the riot police and the cowardly and treacherous stand at the time of the police attack by the SYRIZA and KKE leaders allowed the vote to be taken inside the Vouli, and the government to claim a victory and boast about its survival.
However, workers and youth have seen and felt how close they were to victory, to storming the parliament and overthrowing the hated troika-led coalition government.
Things are coming rapidly to a head in Athens and in the other cities of Greece where large demonstrations were held during the days and nights of the general strike.
Several sections of workers – local government, hospitals, Athens Metro and electricity – are continuing their indefinite strike to at least the end of the week. along with Education and Culture Ministry employees.
Taxi drivers too are continuing their solid national strike.
The trades unions have called for another mass rally this Sunday night when the vote on next year’s Budget will be taken in the Vouli.
Under the sustained resistance of the working class, the Greek coalition government is reeling.
Despite the lack of determined leadership, the Greek workers and youth are determined to organise the smashing up of the troika and the government.
They have nothing to lose now.