GREECE: General strike signals radicalisation

Issue 

BY JAMES VASSILOPOULOS

On June 18, Greek workers paralysed the country with a massive general strike against a government attempt to increase the age of retirement and reduce pensions. This militant action underscores the radicalisation that is occurring among the working class in Greece.

Prime Minister Costas Simitis — from the social-democratic Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) — and his government are attempting to implement the new pension bill.

The General Union of Greek Workers (GSEE) and the public sector union, ADEDY, called the June 18 strike. According to the Workers Left newspaper on June 26, the strikes were overwhelmingly supported by workers. Public sector workers across many departments struck. Doctors walked out for 48 hours. Bank workers, bus drivers, train workers and scientists all protested. All transport ceased on the day.

Perhaps the most militant sector was the seafarers, organised by the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Seafarers. They struck for at least four days, beginning from June 18, in support of the demand that their pensions remain at least 70% of a worker's wage at retirement.

The ministers of labour and sea transport signed an agreement with the union but the measures have not been enacted. The seafarers' strike would have lasted longer but was broken by the government's use of its emergency powers.

The June 18 strike was the culmination of many disputes over the recent period. The Workers' Centre, a more radical federation of unions, organised protests on April 18. There were also public sector strikes on April 11 and May 29. Seafarers have organised ongoing industrial action. The April 26, 2001, general strike was also against the attacks on the pension system.

Protests were also held across Greece on June 18, from Evro in the north to Kalamata and Crete in the south.

Around 120,000 people protested in Athens, the largest demonstration for at least 20 years. Half a million protested around the country. The large turnout revealed that many trade union leaders linked to PASOK had revolted against the government. PASOK's popularity, often at 38% or more in polls, took a dive to 27%.

On June 19, parliament voted in favour of the bill "in principle". The conservative party, New Democracy, and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) voted against the bill.

Also on June 19, Greek air traffic controllers joined with others in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Hungry for a 24-hour strike over pay and conditions, and against privatisation.

The militancy of Greek workers was reflected in a survey conducted in 2000 which found that 95% of workers surveyed supported a reduction in the work week to 35 hours without a drop in pay. This is one of the union movement's key demands.

Around 30% of workers in Greece are unionised. However, 85% of respondents believe workers need unions and 61% consider unions to be the most effective bodies to defend their interests. This is compared to 7.4% for political parties.

The largest international contingent at the anti-G8 protests in Genoa last July came from Greece, another reflection of the left radicalisation that is occurring.

In this context, the left in Greece can potentially make significant gains if it can take advantage of the political crisis facing PASOK. Unless there is a viable left alternative to PASOK, workers' militancy may end up bolstering New Democracy.

However, the sectarian Stalinist KKE has failed to grasp the opportunities and is only maintaining about 5% support in the polls. Synaspismos (the Alliance) has a right wing that is attempting to build a "centre-left" alliance with PASOK and a left wing that is working with revolutionary forces.

The revolutionary and radical left has been attempting to coordinate its forces with the development of the Space of Left Dialogue and Action. It could provide a radical political alternative.

The Space of Left Dialogue and Action has brought together left sections of Synaspismos, militants who have left the KKE, important social movement organisations like the anti-racist DIKTYO, the International Workers' Left (a split from the London-based International Socialist Tendency) and activists from the Fourth International.

These forces have also formed a coalition called Global Action, which has called mass actions to support the Palestinian people's struggle for national rights and organised contingents to go to the anti-European Union protests in Seville in June.

It is attempting to mobilise people to protest in the Greek city of Thessaloniki where EU leaders will meet next June.

From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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