General Strike in Greece

by Vangelis Itesis

On Dec. 15, electronic media throughout the globe focused once more on the Greek crisis. The big news this time less involved rising bond spreads or other financial ratings than active human beings collectively fighting for a better life, for a life no longer subjugated to profits for a few. TV newscasters spoke darkly of “riots in Athens,” but what had just happened was one of the most successful and massive general strikes in the recent history of Greece.

Several months ago, the Greek General Confederation of Labor had declared a one-day nationwide strike for Dec. 15. Union bureaucrats, of course, neither expected nor wished this day to really be a day of workers’ independent mass action. They merely wanted to wash their hands of the open class war that Greek and European capitalists have launched, and to show that they still represent the workers by organizing a strike some days before Christmas—when, according to their calculations, only walks through shopping malls would be at stake.

The bureaucrats did not foresee that the social-democratic government—faithful to its promise to “save the economy,” i.e., the capitalists’ profits—would choose the same “dead period” as the most appropriate time for changing the legal framework concerning workers’ collective bargaining rights.

National collective agreements that regulate minimum wages, allowances, and salary increases are to be substituted by local workplace agreements in which the bosses will have the upper hand. Employers thus will be at ease to impose the most favorable terms for their own objectives in the negotiation process. It is not difficult to see that this amounts to a large-scale reduction of wages in the private sector, similar to what has been already achieved in the public sector after last years’ emergency measures taken under the shadow of the Memorandum of Financial Support mechanism that the Greek government signed with the EU and IMF.

The target of lowering wages by centrally and universally determined conditions is what government officials call “an all-embracing change” in the economy, enforced by a “renascent and effective state apparatus.”

The spirit of resistance, however, evinced in not just a few recent social struggles throughout Europe—such as France, Britain, and Italy—has not abandoned Greek shores. The union bureaucrats had declared the general strike as yet another ritual to indicate the trade unions’ readiness to participate in the game of social bargaining. Instead, the coordinating efforts of grassroots labor activists transformed the event into a visible demonstration of the power that workers have when they collectively take to the streets and posit themselves as a class against the ruling class.

This is the only possible answer to the question of how the country can be saved. Hundreds of thousands of people marched against a parliament building that is now revealed to be the headquarters of the capitalist war camp.

The “riots” to which the attention of the mass media in Greece was once again attracted must be seen this time more as signs of an impending storm. Revolutionary socialists look to mass action—preferably peaceful—as our method. But violence is what the state and the capitalists have chosen as a way of conduct; streets on fire are the offspring of their own policies. In playing with the lives of working people, they play indeed with fire.

The government may continue to pass bills, the EU officials may speculate about the future of capitalist Europe, the bosses may whet their blades, but they all have to encounter and to overpower a real opponent—the working class. Our main task is to reinforce this opponent, to make the working class united, stronger, capable of fighting back and overthrowing capitalism in Greece, and in the whole of Europe and the world.

Since the capitalist class and their governments have chosen to launch a globally orchestrated war, we ultimately have but one choice: to reload the perspective of a world socialist revolution as the only alternative.

GREEK REVOLUTIONARIES DISCUSS STRATEGY

The annual convention of OKDE-Spartakos, Greek section of the Fourth International, was held in Athens, Dec. 17-19. Delegates were aware that the period is critical, the class struggle is intense, and the political tasks falling on revolutionaries’ shoulders are important and immense.

The political resolution confirmed the validity of the decision previously taken to actively participate in the building of the anti-capitalist political coalition ANTARSYA, in collaboration with several other anti-capitalist and socialist organizations.

This time, however, after heated debate, a more cautious approach to the problems of anti-capitalist regroupment was endorsed. Emphasis shifted away from the perspective of the transformation of the ANTARSYA coalition into a broad anti-capitalist party. Instead, the delegates opted for the evolution of ANTARSYA from an electoral coalition to a political federation in which the Greek FI section will keep its organizational autonomy, trying to articulate a revolutionary Marxist strategy on the grounds of the common experience created by actual social struggles, putting forward transitional demands in face of the deepening crisis, and linking more closely the political work done inside ANTARSYA with the tasks of building a revolutionary party in Greece. This, of course, is a subjective evaluation of the political resolution made by the author of this note.—V.I.

> This article was originally published in the January 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.