Over October 19-20 there was a general strike in Greece. The overwhelming majority of Greek workers took part in the strike with dynamic demonstrations and other forms of action. In that way, Greek people expressed their anger and despair over the devastating measures carried out in Greece in the past year and a half.
The relentless, vicious austerity measures have been imposed by the PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) government and the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Union.
The 48-hour strike had the highest participation and made for the biggest demonstrations since the end of the Greek dictatorship in 1974.
October 28 was the national commemoration day of the resistance to the German occupation of Greece during WWII. Two days before, a decision had been made to appoint troika representatives in all Greek ministries to supervise the running of the country. Greek people across the country grabbed the opportunity of the commemoration celebrations to say “No” to the new occupation by the troika.
During the customary October 28 parades, the Greek people’s resistance to the anti-people policies was expressed through banners, slogans, chants and marching students turning their heads from the officials.
In many cities, protesters drove away government representatives who arrived to attend the celebrations. In Thessaloniki, Greek President Karolos Papoulias and the accompanying officials were forced to leave. The protesters repeatedly chanted slogans such as, “You are not wanted by the people — Take the memorandums and leave”.
The people’s mobilisations sent a clear message to the government and the troika. But in response, the PASOK government dismissed the October 28 protests.
It accused the protesters of disrespecting sacred institutions and bringing down democracy. This is an interesting point, considering the PASOK government has repeatedly violated the constitution and people’s basic human rights. It was also claimed that the protesters represent only a small minority of Greek citizens — a huge lie.
The government tried to play down the importance of the protests. However, its ensuing actions showed the Greek people’s message had clearly got across.
If it were a genuinely democratic government, it would respond by trying to satisfy its people’s demands. Instead, this government has opted for less democracy and more oppression.
Its role has been exposed. It is acting in favour of domestic and foreign corporate interests at the expense of most Greek people.
Prime Minister George Papandreou asked for a referendum during a PASOK leaders meeting on October 31. The exact question for the proposed referendum was unclear.
By bringing up the possibility of a referendum the government was likely bidding for time. It was aiming at appeasing, confusing and manipulating the people.
The announcement brought on a strong reaction by troika representatives. They didn’t want to risk an unfavourable outcome for their policies. The markets were also adversely affected.
Then the likelihood of elections was mentioned, but taken back immediately. On November 4, Papandreou asked for a “vote of confidence” for him to resign so that a transitional coalition government could be appointed by parliament party leaders.
He explained that the purpose was the approval of the loan agreement. He added that elections would be disastrous at this point.
In other words, he showed his determination to curb people’s resistance and make sure that the impending tough European package is passed against people’s wishes.
It is quite plain now that ordinary people would vote against the troika’s policies and the political parties representing these policies. Accordingly, elections were ruled out to keep people out of the decision-making process.
Papandreou won the vote of confidence. He subsequently stepped down to clear the way for the new government.
On November 10, Lucas Papadimos was named Prime Minister. He has been closely connected with past PASOK governments. He is also a banker and has served as a vice president of the ECB. His credentials are fitting for the job he has been called to carry out.
The initiative for his appointment was taken by PASOK with the active participation of two other parties, the traditional right-wing New Democracy (ND) and Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS), an extreme-right party.
Power-thirsty LAOS has been enjoying a great deal of mass media exposure in the past two years. This has made crypto-fascist views appear acceptable so that the government could incorporate them in its agenda.
Both ND and LAOS are to take part in the arbitrary collaboration coalition government. The new government was sworn in on November 11. Most ministerial positions stayed with PASOK (13 of 16). Two ministries went to ND.
Makis Voridis, a top LAOS member, also became a minister. Three other LAOS members became alternative or deputy ministers.
The main groups of the left, namely the Communist Party of Greece and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) have called for elections. All other opposition parties have said they will support the new government.
This top level maneuvering about something as important as the change of government is highly undemocratic. It denies ordinary people the right to have a say in decisions seriously affecting their lives.
In stark contrast, the troika’s close supervision and guidance has been omnipresent. Some of its intervention in Greece’s affairs is made public. Beside that, the activity of Greek and troika politicians undoubtedly includes behind-the-scenes decision-making.
The tricks that may be played on Greek people are not always easy to discern. Consequently, it is hard to give a complete and definitive account of the recent developments.
On November 8, vice-president of the European Commission, Olli Rehn put his foot down to show who runs Greece. He declared the sixth bailout loan would be handed out on condition that the new “national unity” government signs a written pledge of commitment to the creditors’ goals.
It is not the first time this kind of blackmail has been used to hold possible public outcry in check.
The disregard for the people should be ample reason for a strong reaction on the part of the left.
In these critical times, the leadership of the left should be actively supporting the anti-memorandum movement. It should be pushing for real change through a specific program, as well as politically advanced demands and means of struggle.
The parliamentary forces of the left are not taking advantage of the historical opportunity to push things forward. Consequently, the movement cannot be further built and people’s militancy is held back.
In the present circumstances, the left cannot earn people’s trust by timidly asking for elections. Much more is needed for a change that would benefit the majority of people. To this end, united action of the whole of the fragmented left is also needed.
The time is right for stepping up the struggle, but the Greek left seems unable to deliver. It is absolutely imperative that it comes out of its political stupor to help put an end to the country’s ongoing devastation.
If it fails to do this, an alternative might have to be sought, possibly by rank-and-file members and forces of the revolutionary left.