Revolutionary socialist Maria Styllou analyses the background to the mass rebellion, strikes and riots spreading through Greece following the police killing of a school student
The current struggle in Greece is the latest in a long line of battles against different governments. Both the centre-left Pasok party and the right wing New Democracy party have tried to attack workers’ rights – and they have always faced resistance.
The situation today can be traced back to 2001, when a tremendous strike movement forced the then Pasok government to back down over plans to “reform” workers’ pensions.
This big victory for the workers’ movement fed into the growing anti-capitalist movement. Activists mobilised to protest against the G8 meeting of the world’s major powers in Genoa, Italy, in the summer of 2001. They found massive support among the Greek population.
Over 50 percent of people said that protesting against capitalism was a positive thing. There was, and still is, very strong support for resistance to neoliberalism.
The anti-capitalist movement had a big influence on the left in Greece, which is very big. And the movement has not died. It moved into the anti-war movement in 2003 against the attack on Iraq.
Tens of thousands of school students played a very important role in this movement, leading walkouts and occupations at their schools. There were three months of constant demonstrations from 15 February 2003, the global day of protest against war.
The right wing New Democracy party won the 2004 general election – but it had to confront a workers’ movement that was still confident from its victory in 2001.
There was a view on much of the left that New Democracy’s victory meant that Greek society had moved to the right. The Greek Socialist Workers Party argued against this.
We said that New Democracy had won, not because people overwhelmingly supported it, but because people were not supporting Pasok. They were fed up with the attacks from that party. We were eventually proved right.
New Democracy began to try to change the pensions of different groups of workers, which led to a series of fights.
One of these struggles involved short term and part-time workers. Hundreds of thousands of workers, mainly young people, had these kinds of jobs. New Democracy had told them that Pasok was exploiting them and that, if it was elected, it would give them permanent jobs.
But nothing happened – so these workers were the first to put up major opposition to the government. They had unionised themselves, fought for their rights and pushed the trade unions to recognise them as a crucial part of the labour movement.
The school students who took the lead in the anti-war movement became the people who launched a wave of occupations across universities in 2006 over New Democracy’s plans to introduce private universities.
This is a generation that has confidence and experience. They know that if you have to fight, you occupy and organise.
Greece is a fragile capitalist economy that is being hit hard by the global recession. The government is responding with austerity, meaning cuts and privatisation. It also wants to hand over 28 billion euro to the bankers.
New Democracy wants to create an economy that is better able to compete with others in Europe. This means neoliberal restructuring.
It also wants to increase Greece’s military capabilities – meaning participation in the “war on terror”, sending Greek troops to Afghanistan and the Balkans, and training Iraqi troops.
This is all very provocative for Greece’s population, which has a strong anti-military tradition.
The government called a snap election last year, which it narrowly won, in an attempt to calm down resistance to its policies.
But just 12 months later it is in deep trouble, facing a big revolt and scandals over land deals with a wealthy monastery.
In these circumstances, with strong student and workers’ movements, it is not surprising that there is a big level of resistance in Greece.
Even before the police killed Alexandros Grigoropoulos there was huge anger in society. General assemblies of students in October had decided to occupy their universities for two or three days at a time against the government’s education plans.
Between November last year and March this year there was a huge strike wave against the government’s pensions law. This law has been passed but has yet to be implemented.
In autumn there was a sense that at any moment something could happen – a spark which would ignite a fire through the whole of society. And then the police killed Alexandros.
The government has been using the police to try to put pressure on the movements over the last few years. The police have tried to break up demonstrations and have attacked migrants.
But this has only produced more resistance. A large anti-racist movement has developed against the police and the government’s treatment of migrants.
There is going to be a major anti-racist demonstration this Saturday in Athens, supported by workers, students and the left.
All of the different issues are coming together and everyone is uniting against the government. The students are not saying, “We have our own demands that have nothing to do with anyone else.” The workers are not saying, “What are the students doing burning down the shops?”
The feeling that exploded onto the streets after the murder of Alexandros has not gone away. People are continuing to take to the streets every day.
The general strike by all workers on Wednesday of last week against the government’s budget was a big success.
School students refused to go to school the following day and instead attacked police stations.
Hospital workers are set to strike on Thursday of this week over the cuts and privatisation destroying the health service. Other public sector workers, such as teachers and lecturers, could join them.
After the general strike, a general assembly of students from different universities met and called for five days of occupations by students and to build for the strike of Thursday of this week.
Many students are planning to go to local workplaces to speak with workers about joining the strike.
This is a very exciting situation, in which left wing politics is playing an important role.
Maria Styllou is a leading member of the Greek Socialist Workers Party and the editor of the Socialism From Below journal. Go to their website (in Greek) » www.sek-ist.gr