The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Greece:
A Two-Day General Strike against Austerity

Oct 31, 2011

The Greek unions called for a two-day general strike on October 19th and 20th, the day the Parliament was voting further austerity measures against the workers. The European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have demanded these attacks as their price for arranging more loans for Greece and to protect the bankers.

In this situation, there have been almost daily strikes. Most spectacularly, the garbage collectors have paralyzed Athens for two weeks. But public workers regularly stop work and occupy the government ministries of Finance and Justice. Union militants of the electric company occupied their computer center to prevent it from sending out bills with the new tax. On October 17th, the port of Piraeus was paralyzed and sailors decided to continue their strike for a week. On October 18th, all the newspapers shut down due to a strike. With the start of the school year, demonstrations began in the high schools and universities.

The demonstration of October 19th was massive, with tens of thousands of workers, retirees, young students, the unemployed and sometimes small shop owners, who for the first time joined a general strike. Workers spread out in the streets of Athens in two march columns. The first was organized by the private sector union confederation called GSEE and the public workers confederation Adedy. The other column was made up of Pame, the union tied to the Communist Party. The two columns came together in Syndagma square, where the Parliament is located, to show the “people’s representatives” the population’s rage over the measures Parliament was about to vote on.

The enthusiasm and participation certainly weren’t enough to win a battle of this type, but they are a thermometer of the will to struggle which exists in the country and they swept away the heavy, demoralized climate weighing on those in the square the week before, during the international day of “the indignant ones.” The columns of protestors marched for almost four hours. The second column hadn’t finished entering the square when incidents broke out between young demonstrators and the police. Incidents continued until the evening, clouding the most important aspect of the day of protest: the remarkable success of the demonstrations in the streets of Athens.

In Athens, the day of protest of October 20th began early, when Pame occupied a part of the square near Parliament at 1 a.m. This space was slowly filled with members and supporters of the union tied to the Communist Party, which wanted to be the self-proclaimed sole and authentic “vanguard” of the struggle.

The remainder of the square was filled starting at 11 a.m. by a crowd of workers from the GSEE and Adedy unions, from committees of struggle and from sit-ins, and from political organizations. The very animated crowd occupied the square, protesting against the government, like the day before. Athens was shut down.

Toward three in the afternoon, a big battalion of koukoulofori (hooded protestors, belonging to so-called anti-power groups) confronted the Pame marshals, trying to burst into the area closest to the Parliament. There were clashes, with many wounded. A Pame union man, a construction worker, died. A doctor said the man had had a heart attack caused by tear gas thrown by the police. Although the crowd began to leave, the koukoulofori continued their personal fight against “the power,” venting their anger against the police and ... windows.

The day of protest ended with Parliament voting new anti-worker measures. One former minister, Louka Katseli, was immediately expelled from the parliamentary group of the Socialist Party for refusing to vote for an article in one of the bills. (The Socialist Party runs the government and has been passing numerous measures that are attacks on workers.) The Minister of the Economy, Venizelos, tried to avoid other votes against the measure from members of his own party, evoking an “irreparable catastrophe for the country” if the law didn’t pass.

For the workers, retirees, the unemployed, immigrants, for all the poorest layers of the population, the catastrophe will be the implementation of the economic measures just passed by the government. Only their capacity to react, to organize themselves, to make a conscious vanguard emerge, to tie themselves to the other workers of Europe, is able to prevent such a catastrophe from being irreparable.