Greece: public and private workers unite

Submitted by martin on 29 November, 2011 - 5:31

By Theodora Polenta

The paperwork has now been sent out and 16,000 Greek public sector workers within two years of retirement have been placed in "reserve" ("efedreia").


This version of the article is longer than in the printed paper.

Their wage have been reduced to 60% of newly-reduced public sector wages. Even the meagre 700 to 800 euros per month that a public sector worker in "reserve" is expected to receive is not guaranteed for the whole of the two years until retirement. The government can cut off any "reserve" worker at any time, with the excuse that government cash is running short.

An additional 4,000 public sector workers who have carried on working after the usual retirement age have now been forcibly retired. Their jobs will not be replaced.

From 1 January 2012 an additional 12,000 workers will be placed on "reserve". The future of another 7,000 public sector workers whose organisations will merge or close is uncertain. They could well be placed in "reserve" too.

During 2012, the government and the EU/ ECB/ IMF "Troika" aim to reduce the public sector by 30%: that is, a further 120,000 public sector workers will be losing their jobs. The Troika has set a target of 270,000 fewer public sector jobs by 2015. And most hospitals, schools, local councils, and public transport in Greece are already understaffed. Eurostat figures show Greece as well below the EU average on size both of the public sector and of the public sector wage bill. The entire wage bill for the civil service is 16 billion euros, smaller than the Greek government's interest payments on its debt.

The main intervention of ADEDY (the trade union of public sector workers, equivalent to Unison and PCS) has been to negotiate with the government, acting a bit like its legal adviser, to "correct" some of the "mistakes", for example to show the government that some of the workers that it intended to place in "reserve" do not qualify for it.

Occupations and protests are starting to erupt in the public sector organisations. Transport workers staged two four-hour strikes in the week ending 26 November.

They have warned that even if one of their colleagues is placed in "reserve", their response will be a general continuous strike with the roads blockaded and no public transport available.

The government sent the ultra-right (ex-fascist) minister of transport, Boridis, to negotiate with the trade union leaders. Other ministers sudden acknowledged the workers' concerns. The union bureaucrats agreed to go to the negotiation table with Boridis.

Rank and file workers should be on red alert. Not a word should be believed from Boridis.

On Thursday 24 November, public sector workers staged a 24 hour strike and an occupation of management buildings in an attempt to blockade the processing of lists of public sector workers to be placed in "reserve". The occupations continued on Friday.

On Monday 28th, workers in the air transport industry called a 24 hour strike and occupied their management offices as a response to the start of implementation of "reserve" in their workplaces.

The plans to put workers in "reserve" and cut jobs are linked with further privatisation of the public sector and the government's plan to sell off €50 billion worth by the end of 2015.

They are part of the overall attack by the government and the Troika on (wages, pensions, unemployment, welfare... All the different movements developing against different parts of this attack should be united in a dynamic movement of disobedience, resistance and revolutionary overthrow of this system.

Private sector workers know that the attacks on the living standards and working conditions of the public sector workers affect their own living standards as service users. And for the last 18 months the government's attacks on public sector workers have been taken as a signal to attack by both small and big bosses in the private sector.

There is a small labour aristocracy at the top of the public sector which has benefited from corruption and dodgy deals with European funds, but 99% of public sector workers do not belong to it.

The politicians' argument that public sector workers are responsible for the Greek debt and deficit is obscene. The Greek workers did not evade their taxes. The Greek workers have not received billions from the state as the bankers and the Greek capitalist asset-strippers have. The Greek workers did not cook the books and statistics in order to enter the eurozone. The Greek workers did not want their taxes spend on submarines, or on interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Greek workers are refusing to pay for the crisis.

Greek metal workers are on a one-month strike against the poverty, redundancies, flexibility, and casualisation which the employer is imposing on them as a response to the crisis. They rejected the employer's proposal to reduce their working hours to five hours a day and their pay by 40%.

The employer sacked 34 metal workers in an attempt to spread fear and insecurity. 400 workmates have responded with a 30-day strike.

Greek Metal Ltd is the first private company to make use of all the recent anti-working-class legislation that has been passed in the last 18 months. It is the first private company to try to impose a five hour working day with a 40% wage cut, flexible working hours dependent upon the company's needs, unpaid overtime, an hourly labour rate instead of a stable and secure monthly wage, and abolition of welfare and insurance benefits.

If the struggle of the metal workers is defeated and the new regime is established then a wave of similar defeats will follow across the private sector. It is time for the rest of the workers to support the metal workers in action, through solidarity strikes and occupations in their workplaces.

University and school student unions, public and private sector workers' unions, and pensioners' unions have voted messages of solidarity and support to the metal workers. The public sector workers took their march past the metal workers' workplace, and school students ended their 17 November march there.

Representatives of workers' unions are arriving from all over Greece with food and money for the metal workers (food and money).

In late November police invaded the union and neighbourhood movement's occupation of the central offices where orders for electricity to be cut off from homes that have refused to pay or can not afford to pay the regressive property tax. 13 trade union activists were arrested. In response to the violent breaking-up of the occupation, masses of people gathered outside the occupied offices and demanded the immediate release of activists.

In Thessaloniki, left wing activists who participated in the protests on 28 October are being brought to court with the accusation that they were the instigators of the protests which forced the most prominent of Greece's military and religious leaders, and even the president, to run away, and led to the cancellation of the customary militarist and nationalist 28 October parades. A movement of solidarity has been built around the persecuted activists.

The union organisations GSEE and ADEDY have called a one day general strike for 1 December. It is the duty of the left wing organisations and the workers' rank and file movements to ensure that the numbers on the 1 December general strike should be higher than on 19-20 October, but it is apparent that a one day general strike falls far behind the required level of struggle.

Workers in every workplace should form workers' committees to organise and direct their struggle from below, and the workers' committees should establish ways of communications with the newly formed neighbourhood committees with the aim of moving on to the election of a Constituent Assembly, organising the struggles to come, and opening the door to the power of the working people and socialism.

• Overthrow the National Unity Government

• Down with everyone responsible for the crisis: Troika, financial speculators, productivde and unproductive capitalists, asset-strippers, and predators.

• Refuse to pay for the crisis, in euros or in drachmas. No sacrifice for the euro

• Cancel the debt. Not a penny to the creditors. Freeze workers' debts.

• Civil disobedience. Refusal to pay the new government-imposed taxes

• Nationalisation under workers' control of the banks and the big business with no compensation

• Wage increases, reduction in working hours, work for all

• Pension increases in line with wages, reduction in the age of retirement

• Ban redundancies. Unemployment benefit in line with wages.

• For a public sector in the service of the people and society's needs, in contrast to today's public sector, linked to corporations, contractors and corruption

• For an extension of education, health, transport and welfare provision.

Both KKE (the diehard-Stalinist Greek Communist Party) and Syriza (a coalition around the former Eurocommunist faction) are calling for elections now and for the escalation of the workers' struggle. But neither of the two parties offered any suggestions for the way forward after the 48-hour general strike of 19-20 October. Neither of the two parties made any suggestions for the coordination of the occupations and strikes in the public sector. Neither of the two parties have an answer on what's next after the overthrow of the Papademos government.

Although they both participate in the building of the neighbourhood non-payment movements, and in a lot of ways they have been pivotal, via their elected councillors and mayors, they both shy away from the required answers: a workers' government, workers' power, workers' control.

Syriza does not have unified positions. Its largest faction, Synaspismos, is still stuck with a programme of eurobonds and productive investments as part of a progressive democratisation of the European Union and eurozone. Synaspismos tends to pose itself as an adviser to the government and the European Union. Its leadership is hesitant about slogans such as the cancellation of the debt and the nationalisation of the banks.

The left wing section of Synaspismos and the other parties that participate in Syriza have more radical and left wing political positions, but they do not have the political weight to shift Synaspismos.

KKE puts forward transitional demands (although, because of its Stalinist ideological heritage, will not call them that), such as cancellation of the debt under workers' control, socialisation of the means of production, and nationalisation of the banks. But it speaks vaguely of a people's government without specifying the exact meaning of that. At every point the KKE sets as the direct and immediate aim the further electoral weakening of the two big parties, Pasok and ND, so that the government that will be formed after the 19 February elections will be even weaker.

KKE has put forward a nationalistic version of Keynesian policies, with an exit from the euro zone and the European Union without a direct connection with the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the strategic aim of socialism.

During the neighbourhood movements and occupations against the regressive property tax, KKE refused to back neighbourhood community movements that they were not under its grips. For example in a council where the mayor and the majority of councillors were Syriza members, KKE did not voted for occupations and actions against the regressive property tax but abstained from the vote.

The revolutionary left should take bold initiatives and contribute to the restructuring and resynthesising of the workers' movement, aiming to build a new revolutionary party which will attract to its ranks KKE and Syriza members, as well as the most advanced of the Pasok workers, but most importantly the most militant sections of workers and youth emerging from the anti-austerity movements.

Three main political choices are decisive:

The first is anti-capitalist. It is customary for the Greek left to define the current movement's tasks as tasks of national liberation, anti-imperialism, or anti-monopoly, but not anti-capitalism. But the austerity measures are the answers of the Greek capitalist class to the economic and political crisis of Greek capitalism, and are not solely acts of French and German capitalism against the dependent and subservient Greek capitalist class. The prioritisation of the bondholders above the majority of the Greek population also expresses the collective interest of the Greek capitalist class.

The second is the recognition of the centrality of the role of the working class as the main revolutionary subject, not submerged within the vague concept of people or of progressive sections of the population. The revolutionary left should be immune to political opinions and strategies that try to find substitute agencies of change in charismatic leaders or in self-defined heroic minorities from the anarchist or autonomist milieus who act on behalf of the working class.

The third is the choice between reform or revolution. The failure of social democracy to deliver even its limited promised reforms is clearly depicted in the 17 eurozone countries, only one of which still has a social democratic government. The most recent victims the Greek and the Spain social democratic parties. All have been sacrificed and replaced by right wing and even darker coalitions. A parliamentary democracy that abolishes and negates itself by placing in the government unelected technocrats whose technocratic expertise consists solely in having been the brains behind the neoliberalism that led to the 2008 crash to begin with, and does not hesitate to give cabinet positions to neofascists and far-right politicians, is clearly failing.

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