Olli Rehn, the European Union (EU) monetary affairs commissioner, flew to Greece this week to demand that the government implements even more severe austerity measures. But the scale of resistance to government attacks on workers is already worrying Europe’s elite. Around two and a half million workers in the public and private sector walked out on a general strike against the measures on Wednesday of last week. The strike paralysed Greece. All flights in and out of the country were cancelled. There was no live TV, some shops were closed, and few buses or trains ran. There were no Greek newspapers the following day as there were no workers to produce them. “The strike is very strong,” Yiannis Theoharis, a union rep at the Intracom telecoms company in Athens claimed. “The whole working class believes we have to fight back against the government’s attacks. “The employers, bankers and the EU stand behind the government. They want us to have cuts in wages, benefits and an increase in our retirement age. European leaders want to use Greece to attack all workers on the continent. If they win here they will go further in other places. They want to generalise the attack to Spain, France, Britain, Germany and Portugal. We need to continue our fight. People need to fight back across Europe.”
One of the biggest demonstrations since the fall of the military regime in 1974 took place in Athens. There were other large protests in towns and cities across the country. The Communist Party-led Pame union organised a march tens of thousands strong to the Greek parliament. And the Greek TUC and left wing groups held a 50,000 strong demonstration that followed closely behind Pame’s protest. In a major step forward, African and Bangladeshi migrant workers joined a workers’ protest in large numbers for the first time. The immigrants, who have virtually no rights in Greece and face vicious racism, marched with the Greek Socialist Workers Party. The party has been at the centre of the anti-racist movement. The migrants demanded their rights and chanted, “Freedom, Liberty” in English. The Greek police shadowed them throughout the protest. “We cannot get papers,” migrants told a journalist. “We have no jobs and it’s a big problem. Everyday the police harass us. We just want papers and to work to earn money. “Everybody on the demonstration is together. The trade unions support our fight.”
There was deep anger at the Pasok government for pursuing the cuts, especially from people who had voted for the centre-left party last October. “Pasok is not implementing socialist policies,” said Christos Kolias, the vice-president of the postal trade union association. “People don’t want these cuts. They are the policies of Brussels and the German banks. I am opposed to the policies and I am a Pasok supporter.” We are the generation of 500 euros a month,” said George, a young graphic designer. 500 euros is just £450. “That is all many people are paid. We don’t have enough to live on. Now the government wants us to have less money. The EU wants us to pay for this crisis. We don’t accept this. The only way is to keep fighting.” “I haven’t been able to find a job for months,” said Anda, an unemployed social worker. “But when I was working I was paid just 680 euros [£610] a month. “Even if I find a job I will still be paid at the same level—though the government wants to reduce even that.”
Loula and her colleagues from the Speedex courier company joined the demonstration. She said, “The government and the EU want us to have our heads down with fear. “But if the unions are strong then people don’t have fear. We have to try to stop these measures. People are angry at other countries for what they are doing to us, but we are angriest with our own government. They are thieves. And if you know that there are thieves around, you must do something about it.” The Greek spirit of resistance will come to Britain next week when hundreds of thousands of civil service workers strike for two days. Around 270,000 PCS union members are to strike on Monday and Tuesday against the government’s plans to cut our redundancy payments, so that it can sack us cheaply and more easily. Our fight is about job cuts and privatisation. The government wants to pave the way to mass job losses and selling off services. The PCS is fighting to defend the public services ordinary people rely on.
We provide services to the unemployed and pensioners, collect tax from the rich, work in galleries and museums, and look after the environment, among other vital things. Civil service staff are already overworked and can’t provide a proper service to the public. Thousands of job cuts are being made, with more to come. The cuts to our redundancy payments would also allow greedy private companies to come in and run services. This would mean less security, lower pay and a worse service for the public. In some cases charities and trusts are getting payments for pushing unemployed people into unsuitable work. More cuts to public services will mean more of this kind of treatment for ordinary people. Governments across the world are squeezing workers to pay for the crisis that they and the bankers caused. The attack on civil service workers here is the first shot in a war that will intensify after the general election, whoever wins. We won’t accept that. And I’m glad that we’re striking alongside 1,000 PCS members in the private sector at the Hewlett Packard company. They work on government computer systems, and they are angry over redundancies and pay freezes. We need more unity like this -and everyone should support our fight.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.