Greece: February 23 General Strike – masses demand stepping up of the struggle

The February 23 general strike called by the GSEE and ADEDY unions was yet another massive mobilisation of the working class, which showed – as we saw on December 15 – that the working class after a short lull, following on from the failure to stop the PASOK government from going ahead with its austerity measures, is recovering fast. The effect of the Arab revolution was also evident.

The participation and mood of the strike

The participation in the strike was almost total in all the large workplaces. In the refineries, shipyards, transportation, shipping, ports, steel, construction, banking, electricity, telecommunications, the Post Office and the water company of Athens, participation reached close to 100%. Schools remained closed, public transport "put the handbrake on”, no ferry service was available and more than 100 flights were cancelled. Banks worked on a reduced service, while during the strike no broadcast of any news bulletin hit the air as the journalists also participated. The hospital doctors and ambulance staff participated in the strike as well.

A remarkable feature of Wednesday's mobilisation was the fact that the shopkeepers’ association shut many of their shops in the country, following a decision of the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE).

During the general strike, mass demonstrations took place in Athens and Thessaloniki and in more than 60 other cities. Participation in the demonstrations in Athens, according to the estimates by the trade unions, was more than 70,000 in the two demonstrations, i.e. of the GSEE and the PAME ("Reuters" reported that the number of demonstrators reached 100,000) with the numbers on the first demonstration more than double the latter.

At the same time, however, we should note that once again that the majority of workers who took part in the GSEE demonstration were directed towards the museum, preferring to gather round the forces of the unions established primarily by forces such as SYRIZA, ANTARSYA and the wider left. In this sense, the trade union bureaucracy of PASKE once again experienced a relative isolation from the main body of demonstrators remaining with the narrow core of public sector unions.

The mood on the demonstrations in Athens was even more militant than during the previous general strikes and in discussions with the protesters one could see there was less confusion about what the government is doing, more determination, and more understanding of the need to escalate the fight and more distrust in the trade union bureaucracy. Among the main youth blocks on the demonstration, the impact of the dramatic events of the Arab revolution was evident, as was the tendency for the movement in Greece to be inspired by its heroism.

Some of the slogans that dominated the day were: "The people are angry, rebellion everywhere to get rid of the government, EU and the IMF!"; "Liars - liars!"; "The people don’t want you, take your IMF and go!”; "Everyone united to kick out the government and the IMF"; "Revolution will be the solution, the government will be forced to flee in broad daylight"; "Solidarity is the weapon of the people, down with the EU junta and the IMF!”

State repression and the appeal to stay in Syntagma Square

Once again, as we have seen in the last few months, the police clearly showed its intention to disperse the demonstration, by combining the use of agents provocateurs and the extensive use of tear gas and other chemicals. On the other hand, a large number of the protesters, youth, workers and even older people, while not having any connection with the anarchists, expressed their disillusionment and their wrath against the government, by attacking the police. This clearly shows the changes which are taking place in the consciousness of the masses.

The clear aim of Wednesday's widespread repression, which resulted in the arrest of 26 demonstrators, was to terrorise once more the movement and at the same time quickly break up the march. Its aim was also to thwart the plans of various left groups, that had called on the protesters to remain in Athens’ central square after the march ended.

On this it should be noted that there was no kind of coordination between the various left-wing parties and groups. As a result, only a small part of the protesters actually stayed in Syntagma Square. In addition to the lack of coordination and the police repression, the call itself failed to capture the imagination of the protesters, because it did offer any practical and concrete perspective for the struggle of the masses.

It is one thing for the masses to remain on the streets as a result of the movement itself, and to begin to organize the movement on a higher level with the decisive contribution of the Left and it is clearly another thing to try to create this kind of mood within the masses artificially by using emotional appeals from a small part of the forces of the Left, which do not explain the most important thing: what to do next?

Last Wednesday’s appeal could have had a true meaning and could really have rallied the masses to remain in Syntagma Square, if: a) the KKE had coordinated with SYRIZA and other forces of the Left, in order to safeguard the demonstration against provocateurs and police violence; b ) there had been some practical content which would have justified remaining in Syntagma Square, e.g. organising some activity such as a well-organised concert of some duration and, c) above all, if all this had been done on the basis of the defence and promotion of a plan for the immediate escalation of the struggle with concrete proposals on how this movement is to be organised at central level but also in the workplaces and neighbourhoods.

What is to be done from now on?

The massive participation and militant mood of last Wednesday’s strike, show clearly that the working class and the youth are willing to escalate the struggle. The government and the bourgeoisie are fearful as the workers’ movement recovers. On the other hand, the trade union bureaucracy has no longer any practical excuse not to escalate the struggle. The objective basis for the immediate replacement of the hitherto fragmented and limited strikes with a programme of a coordinated struggle that should escalate with the active participation of workers in workplaces and neighbourhoods is clear: the workers have proved they want to fight.

Thus, the steps that should be taken are the following. First of all, in each and every workplace, meetings should be organised, in which the workers should discuss the results and the experience gained by Wednesday’s strike, while at the same time deciding how to escalate this struggle against the plans of the bosses.

Furthermore, all those groups of workers who have been directly targeted by the government and have been in struggle for some time, such as the public transport workers, the public sector workers and those in companies that have sacked workers or cut wages, should coordinate their protests and demonstrations, in order to be more effective.

Based on resolutions passed by such workers’ meetings, the demand should be raised for the trade union leadership to sketch out a plan for the escalation of this strike movement. It should run a campaign in the factories and workplaces in order to prepare a well organised 48-hour strike in March. This strike’s demands should be the abolition of all anti-labour laws introduced in recent years, the refusal to pay the public debt, a ban in lay-offs as well as the implementation of a 35-hour working week to fight unemployment. In addition, they should fight for increases in wages and pensions to an acceptable level, the cancellation of any privatisation plans and ultimately for the nationalisation of the banks and the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control.

Finally, we must not forget that even the most successful general strikes simply pose the problem, they do not solve it. It is not enough to call for the fall of this government. On the contrary, it is imperative to propose the kind of government which will directly replace it. Thus, the main task of the Left in Greece is to organise joint action of its main parties, KKE and SYRIZA, together with left dissidents within PASKE and the PASOK and other left-wing forces (such as ANTARSYA), in the workplaces and neighbourhoods, in order to defend more effectively against this attack, while at the same time giving a concrete perspective to the movement: the election of a left-wing government to implement a socialist programme.

Athens, 24/2/20011