Greece: Anti-austerity struggle grows amid police violence, government panic

Issue 
General strike in Athens, June 15.

The Greek parliament defied huge popular opposition, including a 48-hour general strike, to pass the latest set of extreme austerity measures demanded by the “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) in return for fresh loans.

However, many commentators have pointed out it is one thing to vote up the measures and another to force them on an increasingly discontented populace.

Last year, after years of savage neoliberal attacks, Greek people were subjected to heavier blows. The troika lent money to the PASOK government ostensibly to save the country from financial catastrophe.

The accompanying agreement brought about a rapid deterioration in people’s lives.

Unemployment has risen steeply and it’s predicted to reach 20% by the end of the year (40% for those aged 18-25).

Taxation has become unbearable for ordinary people, while banks and big enterprises have been enjoying ever-increasing tax reductions.

Working conditions have worsened rapidly, while wages have been shrinking dramatically.

Public spending has been slashed to an extent not seen before. Schools and hospitals have been closing down with dire consequences for the whole society.

The plan linked to the present memorandum agreement, “Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy Program”, sets out the conditions for the payment of the fifth loan installment. In keeping with the second memorandum agreement with the troika, it contains the most barbarous austerity package in 35 years.

On June 15, the new agreement was debated in parliament. A general strike on the same day gave people a flicker of hope. It showed that the people have the power to reverse the situation.

At the same time, the “Indignant Citizens” called a day of action.

The Indignant Citizens movement started on May 25 with thousands of people continuously occupying the central squares of Greek major cities. It has adopted an anti-government, anti-memorandum stance.

The participants are protesting the austerity measures imposed by the troika.

The decisions of its people’s assemblies, for instance in Syntagma Square in Athens, have been moving in a left-wing direction. There are calls for strikes and demands that are traditionally expressed by the left.

After all, it is arguable that the left had tirelessly paved the way for this movement over the years through its numerous mobilisations and abundant printed material.

Participation is very big, often with 200,000 people or more in Athens alone. A recent survey found more than 2.5 million people around Greece (out of a population of 10 million) have either joined or expressed their intention to join protests in the squares.

Polls show a very high percentage of Greek people (87%) express a positive view of the movement in opinion polls.

In most major cities, the protest on June 15 took the form of joint action between the Indignant Citizens and trade unions. Political organisations also took part.

The feeling has been that they are all fighting for a decent life for themselves and their children. Getting rid of the memorandum agreement, the troika and its Greek stooges is seen as the necessary condition for that.

The huge participation and the militant mood threw the government into a state of panic. It has obviously become a highly unpopular government, a fact confirmed by recent opinion polls.

To make matters worse, some of its own MPs had been voicing their disagreement with the memorandum. One of them stepped down the day before. Some had also stated they would vote against.

Furthermore, some trade unions affiliated to the governing PASOK party had officially disassociated themselves from PASOK.

All this added to the government’s state of panic.

The extreme police violence during the protests was just an expression of the government’s insecurity.

In Athens, the police used large quantities of tear gas in the adjoining streets in an effort to stop people going to the rally. Later, they used tear gas directly on the demonstrators in Syntagma Square.

They raided the main body of the demonstrators on motorbikes. They bashed and arrested people.

Many of the Indignant Citizens were experiencing police brutality for the first time.

Over the next few days, the PASOK government tried to find a way out of the bind with a view to passing the new austerity measures at all costs.

The vote on the austerity package was deferred. There was talk of snap elections.

Prime Minister George Papandreou announced he was going to quit, but he didn’t.

He also initiated negotiations with the leader of the other major party, the right-wing New Democracy, sussing out the possibility of an alliance between the two parties.

Finally, he opted for a government reshuffle, maybe hoping to appease people’s anger.

The new ministers did not differentiate themselves from government policy. Consequently, the anti-memorandum movement is still going strong.

New Democracy joined the dissenting PASOK MPs with strong criticism of the agreement. It was highly uncertain whether the “Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy” would pass through parliament.

In this climate, deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos, notorious for his aggressive, offensive, mud-slinging, outrageous statements, spoke to the Spanish paper El Mundo.

He said that if Greece restructured its debt and returned to the drachma (the Greek currency before the euro was adopted), people would panic.

He added that as a result, “on the following day banks would be surrounded by terrified people trying to withdraw their money and the army would have to protect them [the banks] with tanks because there would not be enough police”.

Explaining himself in parliament, he made a reference to similar experiences during the military dictatorship in Greece and the 42 people killed in Argentina during a comparable protest.

His chilling allusions were condemned even by high-profile PASOK members.

Along with the general strikes, there has been ongoing industrial action like the rolling strikes in the National Electricity Company. The workers there are resisting privatisation plans.

A new general strike was planned for June 28-29 to coincide with the parliament vote on the “Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy”.

On June 28, during a peaceful protest of hundreds of thousands, the police attacked the demonstration, taking advantage of the actions of a few provocateurs.

The brutality was out of proportion. Shocking amounts of chemicals were used to disperse the protesters.

The next day, after the “Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy Program” passed through parliament, the police violence got much worse, particularly in Syntagma Square.

They are obviously trying to smash any protest against the memorandum.

Apart from attacking the protesters, they even raided shops hitting people who had nothing to do with the rally.

On top of the bashing and the unprecedented quantities of tear gas, police attacked the makeshift medical treatment areas.

They also gave protection to members of the neo-nazist organization “Chrissi Avgi” outside Parliament House.

There is plenty of evidence that the few people who provoked the police had nothing to do with the rally. They were used to give a pretext for the police action.

By June 30, at least 500 people were hospitalised and the police brutality is still going on.

The role of the police ― to protect corporate interests against ordinary people ― and the tricks they employ to that end became glaringly obvious.

On the other hand, it is quite amazing that the police was called to account for its actions, even by mainstream media. The police denied they had set up the provocations.

Broad layers of society have had an insight into the ways repression and misinformation work under capitalism.

They have begun to realise they are receiving the same treatment reserved for the left in previous years. During those years, most Greek people were taken in by government and mass-media lies and anti-left propaganda.

Despite the widespread opposition, the law passed parliamentary on June 28. The markets responded positively, with Greek bonds jumping in price. In Greece, however, people responded by occupying Syntagma Square.

On July 9 and 10, representatives of popular assemblies from across Greece met for a panhellenic People's Assembly in Syntagma Square. Called by the Popular Assembly of Constitution Square, the assembly was organised to assess the struggle and plan the next steps.

It is clear the struggle against the savage austerity measures, which aim to make ordinary people pay for a crisis they did not create, is continuing.