General Strike Shuts Down Greece

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GREEK workers last Thursday staged a massive and militant general strike against the right-wing government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, elected a year ago.

Record high participation numbers were recorded and were emphasised by the Athens capitalist press. Mass demonstrations took place in every single Greek city and town. Not a single ship sailed out of the main port of Piraeus nor a single bus nor train moved out of their depots during the strike and the Athens metro remained completely shut for the 24 hour strike. Trade unions stated that participation in the strike reached 80 per cent in the electricity and communications industry. All post offices remained shut as well as banks, except some branches of the Eurobank; this particular bank has managed in the last few years to set up its own ‘trade union’.

The strike had total support in the construction industry and in the ports. Also closed were museums and archaeological sites.

Particularly successful was the strike in the media; not a paper was published nor a news bulletin was broadcast all day and night last Thursday. The teachers’ union said that over 70 per cent of its members participated in the strike. Most of the civil servants struck as well as local government workers.

Scuffles between strikers and company security broke out outside large department stores and factories where workers from early in the morning set up pickets. Most of the shops in the large cities remained shut.

This was the second general strike in a period of two months. The May 11 strike was declared May Day as May 1 coincided with the Greek Easter.

Ten days ago the Karamanlis government decided to scrap May 1 as a public holiday, provoking angry responses from trade unions.

In the capital Athens – as in all Greek major cities – there were separate rallies and marches, led either by the reformist trade union leadership of GSEE-ADEDY (national workers federations), or by PAME, the trade union section of the KKE (Greek Communist Party). There was also a third march by some left-wing groups and organisations. Some 10,000 workers and students attended the PAME rally, with strong representation of construction workers and engineers, which marched to the US Embassy.

Immigrant workers from Bangladesh and Afghanistan attended with their own banners. There were several speakers at the rally including the president of the Turkish Transport Union Sambri Tomchuk, who called for the unity of the Greek and the Turkish working class against imperialism, and Mohammed Ekmente, of the General Union of Palestinian Workers.

The KKE speakers stated their opposition to imperialism and war but failed to even make a single reference to the Karamanlis government which has instigated the vicious attacks on pensions, the welfare state and wages, and frantically wants to impose ‘flexible’ working hours.

For the Stalinists in the leadership of the KKE there is no world economic crisis today; on the contrary, capitalists are making huge profits and must be forced to share them with the workers. This ludicrous reformist position, truly counter-revolutionary and treacherous in its essence, forms the backbone of the KKE’s politics, along with the call for the formation of a Popular Front against the ‘reactionary policies’ pursued by the Greek government.

Around 3,000 workers, mostly from the public sector, and left-wing parties (the so-called ‘Coalition of the Left’ party, the Greek SWP and others) participated in the GSEE (Greek Federation of Labour) and ADEDY (Public Workers Federation) rally which was addressed by the outgoing general secretary of the GSEE, Christos Polyzogopoulos, who attacked the KKE for holding separate rallies.

In Salonica some 5,000 workers marched through the city past the US Consulate, shouting slogans against imperialism and calling for the victory of the Iraqi resistance. In the port city of Piraeus some 5,000 workers marched from the port to a monument in the city centre commemorating 24 strikers shot dead by the Greek army in a general strike in 1923. In the town of Alexandroupolis, by the Turkish border, workers and youth marched to the burnt down tobacco factory where three workers died a few months ago.

Workplace ‘accidents’ in Greece rose to a staggering 6,235 in 2003. According to a case study, indicative of working conditions in Greece, over 85 per cent of ceramics factory employees died of work-related diseases.

Economic figures released by the Statistics Institute show that the Greek trade gap for 2004 rose to over 30m euros, an 8.5 per cent rise compared to 2003; exports fell below the 30 per cent figure of the total income for the first time since World War II; inflation is now running at an official rate of 3.5 per cent, up 0.7 per cent since only last month. These figures illustrate only the bankrupt Greek economy hit hard by the huge rise in oil prices and the world economic crisis.

In a recent statement the Bank of Greece pointed out that over two thirds of Greek households have taken out large bank loans which are ‘unlikely to be paid back in full’, according to the Bank which sounded the alarm. In the same report though, the Bank of Greece stated that it is due to the bank loans that the ‘economy is still operating’!

Undoubtedly, the very successful Greek general strike is part of a worldwide workers’ movement against the imposition of 19th century work conditions and the total destruction of the welfare state and of the democratic and workers’ rights. The determined action of the Greek working class and mood is clearly the opposite of the reactionary politics of the treacherous reformist trade union leaders and the Stalinist KKE.

This sharp situation imposes rapid changes in the Greek trade union movement and politics and aggravates the weaknesses and contradictions of capitalism in Greece, which has made an expansion into the Balkan countries in the last decade hoping for large and quick profits. But now these investments (made in the main by the Greek state telecommunications and electricity boards) cannot sustain profitability given the explosive political situation in Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

As the Greek government moves even more violently and in a dictatorial manner against the working class and the small farmers, open clashes between the state forces and workers and youth will develop. The Greek working class have a second to none tradition of bloody struggles and revolutions, but betrayed by its past Stalinist leadership.

The building of a Trotskyist revolutionary party is the very central issue of the period. The more the situation of the class struggle develops, the more Greek workers and youth want to break from the reformist and Stalinist parties that have led them in the past. A revolutionary socialist alternative to take them all the way to workers’ power is needed.