“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Jun 11, 2001
In midMay, there was a one-day general strike in Greece to protest a new government program to "reform" the retirement system. Currently in Greece, there is one retirement system for everyone, whether they work in private or public jobs. Women can retire on average at 50 years of age and men at 60. The average number of years on the job during which people pay into the retirement plan is 30 years for women including those who have raised children; and 34 years for men. The amount of money received during retirement is currently based on the last five years of work, which are usually the highest.
The new government "reform" plan announced in April, pushed back the retirement age for everyone to 65, beginning in the year 2007. The amount of the pension was to be calculated on 10 years instead of five. The result of this reform would lower the amount received by almost 40% on average!
Finally, this reform of the pension system would have transferred retirement money from publicly held funds into private insurance companies that would take over managing the system.
This new government "reform" is nothing but a scandalous attack on the working class, put forward by a government which calls itself socialist and which claims it is only doing what other governments in Europe are doing. In so far as all the governments of Europe, and we could add North America, are pushing new attacks on the working class, this is true. All the governments are using the same pretexts to launch new attacks on the working class!
Reactions to the new government plan began in April, shortly after the retirement "reform" was announced. A number of union leaders held meetings in different towns around the country in protest, though the turn out was on the small side since this came during the Easter period. Of course, this is precisely why the government made its announcement at that time, hoping to avoid a reaction by the working class.
The following week, however, the unions called for a general strike that was held on Thursday, April 26. There were a number of larger demonstrations, with several thousand workers stopped work and demonstrated. Farmers also demonstrated in the central part of the country. Many people say these were the largest demonstrations they had seen in Greece in the last 10 years.
Over the past decade, the working class has been under attack in various ways, paying the price of government decisions to turn over national industries to private ownership, and suffering layoffs in both the government and the private sectors. The socialist led governments carried out the same attacks on the working class as did the rightwing, New Democracy government that preceded it.
By the end of April, because of the widespread discontent and the number of protests, the government announced it was temporarily suspending its retirement "reform" project, while planning to hold discussions with the leaders of various unions. Obviously, the government has not given up its attempt to cut back workers' retirement plans. But this time, it hopes to first have the agreement of the union leaders when it does this. Perhaps these union leaders will accept to go along with these cuts, but the level of discontent displayed by workers in their strike of May 17 indicates that the workers themselves are not at all ready to accept.