Greek general strike battles austerity
By G. Dunkel
March 1, 2013
PAME march in Greece, Feb. 20.
Just days before an inspection team was due to check that Greece’s new
austerity measures were in place, tens of thousands of workers took to the
streets on Feb. 20 and shut the country down. The strikers made it clear that
“reforms” that leave patients without health care and drugs,
students without education, taxpayers without money, families with no one
employed, workers without labor rights and 68 percent of the youth without jobs
are really attacks on the Greek people and their standard of living. (Greek
Reporter, Feb. 20)
The inspection team is from the Troika — the European Union, the
International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank — which offered
its first bailout to Greece in 2010 after three years of recession. The Troika
offers only more austerity.
As an example, the minimum wage was cut by 22 percent in 2012 from $989 a
month to $772 and just $673 for youth, with another 10 to 15 percent decrease
due in 2013.
What’s worse is that, according to the General Confederation of Greek
Workers (GSEE) relying on official statistics, only 600,000 workers out of 1.5
million employed in the private sector get a regular paycheck. Most employers
in Greece pay anywhere from 3 to 15 months late; workers keep on working in the
hopes of getting back pay or at least severance.
Many of the workers getting minimum wages are in the private sector.
Protest marches took place in 70 cities, with large demonstrations on the
island of Crete, and one action attracting 18,000 participants in
Thessaloníki, Greece’s second largest city. Farmers, whose access to
credit is under attack by the Troika, actively blocked, in particular, the
highway between Athens and Thessaloníki.
In Athens, two demonstrations followed the same route, ending at Syntagma
Square in front of the Greek Parliament, both with similar demands. The Greek
Communist Party (KKE) supported the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME) union
confederation’s march and the other march by the GSEE, together with the
Civil Servants’ Confederation. The main press services of France and
Germany both reported significantly from 50,000 to 60,000 participants.
According to AFP, the main banner carried by PAME read, “No to modern
sweatshops, hands off collective labor agreements.”
KKE General Secretary Aleka Papariga led a large KKE delegation at
PAME’s demonstration. She told the crowd: “The working people who
are suffering must take a decision. To discover their strength and advance
combatively, towards the rupture and overthrow, to the very end. Otherwise,
they will find themselves trapped against the wall.”
At the other march, the GSEE, the union movement close to social democratic
parties, explained: “We are fighting for collective bargaining
agreements, for measures to be finally taken against unemployment and to ensure
our democratic and working rights.” Some of PAME’s demands made the
Syriza, a major presence in the GSEE/ADEDY march, is an electoral coalition
of social democratic and left parties which heads the opposition. Syriza said
it wanted to use the strike as a springboard to force out the coalition
government led by the conservative prime minister, Antonis Samaras. “The
general strike aims to bring down the government and annul (the austerity)
agreement and measures,” Syriza said in leaflets handed out this
Greek President Karolos Papoulias, whose role is symbolic, commented,
“We are faced with a societal explosion if any more pressure is put on
society,” ruminating, perhaps, over the constant barrage of pay cuts, tax
hikes and slashed pensions that he nonetheless supports. (Greek Reporter, Feb.