As we write this article a 24-hour general strike is taking place in Greece against the Samaras government’s decision to shut down the state broadcasting company ERT and sack 2,700 jobs. In Athens workers are marching on the ERT headquarters.
The strike, which is the third of its kind this year, has hit government offices, schools, hospitals, and public transport. Buses, trams, ferries and trains are affected, with no metro running to Athens’ main airport. Air traffic controllers are preparing for two-hour stoppage today. Meanwhile ERT journalists have taken over the facilities of the broadcasting company in Athens and in Greece's second city, Thessaloniki.
In the space of two days, the Greek people have experienced a huge shock with the closure of all the state TV and radio stations. This includes: 5 state TV channels ( ΕΤ1, ΝΕΤ, ΕΤ3, ERT WORLD and ΕRΤ HD); 7 radio stations in Athens (including a World Service station); 3 radio stations in Thessaloniki; 19 radio stations around Greece; the National Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of Modern Music and the ERT Choir; 1 TV magazine (the Greek Radio Times); the website of ERT at www.ert.gr; the digital archive of ERT at www.archives.ert.gr; and the loss of 2,656 jobs.
Within six hours and with a decree coming from the government without any discussion in the Greek Parliament, the historic State Television and Radio ceased to transmit… or this is what the government was hoping to achieve! The militant journalists and technicians of ERT are still transmitting “illegally” in digital format their militant programme, while picketing and guarding the headquarters of ERT!
The government propaganda is trying to persuade the Greek people that they have closed down a debt-ridden organization. Let’s see how debt-ridden ERT really was. In 2011, ERT made a profit of 57 million Euros after paying 83 million Euros in taxes, 26 million Euros in VAT payments, 33 million Euros in National Insurance payments and 24 million Euros in other tax payments. In 2012, ERT contributed another 84 million Euros in taxes. In the first five months of 2013 ERT’s budget has a surplus of 40 million Euros.
On the other hand, however, the government hasn’t paid any wages to the ERT workers since November 2012. The only payments towards the ERT workers were of 10, 20 and 156… cents of a Euro to “cover” overtime payments! At the same time, the managing directors during the years of the biggest crisis of capitalism hired 36 “special advisors” who earn as much money as 300 ERT journalists put together!
The Greek state broadcaster is being shut down in order that the speculators who hold the country's debt be paid on time. It is also a measure to terrorize the working class and hit their morale in view of even larger attacks that will come as a result of the deep recession and the generalized quagmire which has led Greece, and gradually Europe, into this historic crisis of capitalism.
Communists have a duty to tell the truth to the people. The coalition government of Samaras which was formed to serve all kinds of speculators and usurers of capital, in shutting down ERT are not attacking "democracy" in the abstract. Their attack is aimed at the basic interests and rights of the working class of the country, even their very right to survival. The ruling class and the governments that have served them over time had created a public broadcaster which wasn’t primarily for social and cultural purposes, as is erroneously being stated. Any charitable or cultural functions that it did have were hiding its real fundamental role. ERT was generally serving the purposes of the ruling class as a means of spreading the propaganda of the ruling bourgeois. Today, however, the regime is in a state of "emergency" and as a result of the deep capitalist crisis ERT is deemed an unnecessary burden and must be eliminated.
The Left parties, unions and every single employee and youth fighting against the closure of ERT are not defending a parasitic and wasteful public broadcaster, but the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of workers who are being made redundant. Every conscious supporter of the struggle of the workers of ERT understands that if the closure becomes a grim reality, then it opens the way for the mass closure of schools, universities, hospitals, municipal services and Social Security funds. Therefore, starting from the facilities of ERT in Athens, and then spreading throughout the country, mass rallies have erupted spontaneously that have taken the character of a political movement against the coalition government of Samaras.
The Samaras-led coalition government thought that the closure of ERT would be a walk in the park. The temporary retreat of the labour movement after the defeats of the struggles of the previous years had emboldened the coalition and led to this arrogant stance. The government had actually started to believe in its own lie about the "acceptance" of their policies by the people. But as we have explained patiently all this time, the working class and the poor are simply looking for the right opportunity and the right call for a new, and this time victorious, mass uprising against the coalition government. This opportunity that was lost with the recent cancellation of the teachers’ strike has now come up again with the struggle of the workers of ERT.
This provocative attack of the coalition government against ERT has already turned like a boomerang on them, leading to a serious government crisis, as two of the coalition partners, the PASOK and Democratic Left have stated they are opposed to the closure of ERT. There is even talk now of fresh elections. However, Samaras is counting on the fact that both the PASOK and Democratic Left have much to lose if elections were called now. In fact, Venizelos of the PASOK has stated that his party is not one that “brings governments down”.
In spite of such talk, the situation is not under the control of the PASOK leadership, which counts for very little at present. The fact is that the apparent calm in Greece in the recent period has now been broken by this drastic measure of the government. It has reawoken the masses and made them realise once more how serious the situation is.
The coalition government is now on the brink of "collapsing" in the face of the mass political movement that developed in response to the closure of ERT. This should be used to give it the coup de grace! The Syriza leadership, together with that of the KKE, and the trade unions have a big responsibility now. A united front of these forces calling a general strike to bring down the government could open the road to early elections that the Left could win!