U.S. and World Politics

Earth Shattering Strikes and Demonstrations in Greece

By the Editors of Marxistiki Foni

Yesterday [June 15] hundreds-of-thousands of workers and youth participated in a 24-hour general strike called by the GSEE and ADEDY (private and public sector trade union confederations), marching on demonstrations to the main squares of seventy cities and towns across Greece. From the early morning hours participation in a mass gathering to encircle the Houses of Parliament was enormous.

According to figures released by the GSEE, in many key sectors participation in the strike was 100 percent. For example, we have the following figures: refineries 100 percent; ship yards 100 percent; transport and shipping 100 percent; ports 100 percent; steel Industry 80 percent; and construction 90 percent. In the banking sector, DEI (public electricity company), OTE (public telephone company), ELTA (Greek Post) and the water company’s participation reached 90 percent.

This level of participation confirms the fighting spirit that exists within the Greek labor movement and its ability to lead in the right direction the struggle of the masses that has been growing over the last three weeks against the government and its new austerity measures that are aimed at imposing the conditions demanded by the “troika.1

Estimates are that there were 250,000 protesters in Athens, 35,000 in Thessaloniki and 10,000 in Patras. As we wrote yesterday, no doubt, if the demonstrations in Athens had been allowed to proceed peacefully, the numbers that had already started to enter Syntagnma Square in the morning indicated that by the afternoon the number of protesters would have exceeded the one million mark.

However, as we explained, the forces of state repression used agent provocateurs, with police officers in plain clothes as well as the usual troublemakers mingling with the protesters, who were able to temporarily halt the “wave” of the masses who were ready to paralyze the Houses of Parliament and the Maximou building (the official office of the Prime Minister).

Thus, for a while, the march of a mass of militant workers and youth was interrupted by scenes of violent clashes with the police. The latter tried to use tear gas, with methods reminiscent of the Israeli army in occupied Palestine, to empty Syntagma Square of protesters. There are many videos and photographs taken by eyewitnesses which were uploaded on the internet, that show how in the early morning police in the National Garden behind the parliament building were piling up sticks and iron bars to arm the troublemakers. The same videos show masked “anarchists” moving forward and concentrating under police protection.

However, even while the TV channels rushed to talk of the “funeral” of the movement, in the afternoon slowly but surely, thousands of people began to gather again in Syntagma Square. The masses consisted of workers and young people, who during the violent events hid in nearby areas waiting for the situation to calm down, of workers from the private sector who had not come out on strike for fear of dismissal, but who hastened to the demonstration in Syntagma Square after their shifts had ended and finally, of many others who were not involved in the morning rallies, but who had been outraged by the TV news reporting which had tried to smear the mass movement.

Immediately, the government and the bourgeois parties, gripped by panic and fear, tried to hastily come up with a political solution in a desperate attempt to cut across the movement of the masses, which, by the hour, was assuming revolutionary connotations.

Papandreou turned to the leader of New Democracy, Mr. Antonis Samaras, proposing that they form a new government of national unity with a “technocrat” as prime minister. The leader of New Democracy, fearing he would be identified with a government that has become totally isolated from society, put forward the condition that such a government should renegotiate the “Memorandum” and the new austerity measures called for by the Troika. Samaras did this deliberately, as he knew that Papandreou could not accept such a condition, and neither could the real boss, i.e. the “Troika.”

In essence, by putting this demand on Papandreou, Samaras was refusing to participate in such a government, which would have to legislate a new series of draconian attacks against the workers. What Samaras fears is that by entering such a government he would be jeopardizing New Democracy’s electoral fortunes, and thus its ability to be a useful reserve force for the Greek capitalists, just when the polls show that New Democracy for the first time in two-and-a-half years are now the first party with 31 percent, four percent ahead of the PASOK (The Panhellenic Socialist Movement—the current majority party in the Greek Parliament). The same polls, however, reveal that that 40 percent of voters say they would not vote for any party, so disgusted are they at all the main parties.

All this explains why yesterday’s attempt to patch together a coalition government fell on deaf ears. This situation, in the final analysis, is due to the huge pressure of the mass movement from below that wants to see the fall of this government. The masses, led by the working class, are now setting the trend and pushing this hated “government of the Memorandum” to stampede out
of power.

Last night’s announcement by Papandreou and yesterday’s events are an eloquent expression of the political stalemate the ruling class is faced with. In the end all that Papandreou could do was announce a cabinet reshuffle. By doing so, he pleased no one. He angered the workers and youth who are in the squares, who want to see an end to this government. He also angered the ruling class, who are concerned that his attempt to cling on to power with small maneuvers will only serve to push even more people out onto the streets.

As a last resort, what the bourgeoisie is now promoting is early elections. From these they are hoping to get a new government with the New Democracy as the sovereign power. They have reached this conclusion because they can see that they are unable to form a government that has the authority to curb the upward trend of the mass movement.

The opposing pressures of the mass movement on the one side and the bourgeoisie on the other have already opened up a big rift within the PASOK parliamentary group. One after another, PASOK Members of Parliament, have openly expressed their disagreement with the government, either from the “right” (complaining of timidity and mismanagement on the part of government) or from the “left” (attacking the individual measures of the new draconian austerity program). Already another PASOK MP has declared himself an “independent,” leaving the PASOK parliamentary group with 155 of the original 160 that were elected in the 2009 elections, while two others have resigned their positions as MPs so as not to have to vote for the measures.

What is even worse for Papandreou is that he is finding it very difficult to convince any of his MPs to accept ministerial posts, while a group of 25 PASOK MPs have requested an extraordinary parliamentary group meeting for this afternoon to discuss what is going to eventually happen.

Workers and youth are now “clenching their teeth” and emboldened by a feeling that the uprising will very soon lead this hated government of the “troika” to fall, are preparing to give it the coup de grace, and are continuing their demonstrations.

In the article we produced last night (in Greek) we stressed the following:

“Papandreou hasn’t resigned yet but he has ‘thrown down the gauntlet!’ Let us pick this up then! Since he doesn’t want to resign, let’s ‘resign’ him. The great movement that we have created in these days and which is now setting the political tone must pass to a new, higher and more effective phase.

“The most effective way of achieving this is to intensify efforts in working-class neighborhoods, the workplaces and unions so we can implement directly the decision of the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square which correctly raises the need for an all-out political general strike.

“And since the ruling class is now facing a serious power problem, let us strengthen the organs of our own power, which have emerged through our own struggle, from the popular assemblies in towns, neighborhoods and workplaces. Let us proceed directly to the formation of a Central Panhellenic Committee of Struggle elected by the popular assemblies which will be able to replace the power of the ‘Troika’ and the banks and to serve our needs, refusing to pay the extortionate debt and placing the concentrated wealth of the country in the hands of society as a whole and under the control of the workers.

“In these conditions the leaders of the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) and SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left, currently holding nine seats in the Greek parliament) must stop simply calling for elections. They must contribute directly to the development and to the spread of the mass movement with a political general strike and prepare for the possibility of a sharp change in the polling stations, joining their forces together based on a radical program of socialist transformation of society. Only in this way can early elections, which are now being promoted by the ruling class as a last resort in order to halt and divert the movement of the masses, produce a result that would strengthen the mass movement with all its demands.”

Whether the eventual outcome will be, either a new coalition government or early elections, there are two key elements in the situation in Greece.

On the one hand, the mass movement feels emboldened and confident and will continue to express its determination to influence key political developments. The possible fall of Papandreou will whet the appetite of the masses who are pushing to win back all that they have lost with this government and they will stay mobilized to enforce a fundamental solution to their problems.

On the other hand, political instability and the development of a revolutionary situation in Greek society, brings ever closer the possibility of a default, and any remaining “optimism” that the “international markets” may still [expect] that Greece will be able to repay its debts will very quickly vanish. The only thing Greece can export now to its partners in the EU is recession, economic instability and the “fashion” of popular uprisings.

Marxistiki Foni, June 17, 2011 (Greece)

1 The IMF (International Monetary Fund), the ECB (European Central Bank) and the EU [European Union], together are known as the “Troika.”

Counterpunch, June 3/5, 2011