With social-democratic opportunism from PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, Greece’s ruling party) and the reformist union federations suffering exposure in mass practice, and every prospect that Papandreou’s government will be ground ever more mercilessly between the rock of proletarian resistance and the hard place of IMF-imposed austerity measures, Greece is looking increasingly like the weakest link in the chain of European imperialism.
The demonstrations and strikes that have thrown Papandreou’s austerity budget back in his face have a significance that goes beyond their gigantic size, impressive though that is. No less important than this ferocious rebuff administered by the Greek proletariat to the plans of the bourgeoisie and their international imperialist backers has been the rapid exposure, on a mass basis, of the political bankruptcy both of the social-democratic PASOK government and of social-democratic influence within the workers’ movement.
At every stage in the escalating struggle, the forces of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and of those PAME militants who unite in action behind the party’s lead have demonstrated the strength, discipline and clarity of perspective needed for the proletariat to advance, whilst at the same time demonstrating in practice the absence of those qualities in the PASOK left-bourgeois line.
PAME (All Workers Militant Front) was founded in 1999 by trade unionists who felt it necessary to challenge the corrupt careerists of the GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers) and ADEDY (the Greek public sector workers’ union). Now, as the struggle has escalated, PAME’s potential role as the embryo of a nationwide popular front has come increasingly to the fore. KKE General Secretary Aleka Papariga spelt this out in her statement issued on 12 May.
“The time has come for a social-popular front for political and mass action to take shape, to take on distinct form, developed from the existing militant forces that must be multiplied; that is, the militant forces of the workers-employees in the private and public sectors, of the poor self-employed small businesses, the poor farmers, with a strengthening of the participation of the youth, children of working-class and low-income families, especially those that study and work, are in training programmes, women and immigrants, fighters in the fields of science, art and culture.
“For this reason joining forces with KKE is necessary, regardless of whether working people agree with KKE on everything, or if they have questions or different viewpoints on socialism.
“The beginnings of such a front exist today as shown by All Workers’ Militant Front (PAME), Αll Greek Antimonopoly Rally of the Self-employed and the Small Tradesman (PASEVE), All Peasants’ Militant Rally (PASY), Students’ Militant Front (MAS) and other formations of the movement.”
PAME has shown itself to be innovative and flexible as it has developed. Many card-carrying members of the numerically larger GSEE and ADEDY, even many people who voted for PASOK, also function as PAME supporters, as do many members of left groups other than the KKE.
A KKE comrade told us that for the first time other small, trade-specific unions are coming closer to PAME, and all kinds of PAME union branches are popping up in different industries (hotel workers in Athens, factory workers in Crete, etc) and different work places (eg, Starbucks!) PAME exercises a growing political sway in the workers’ movement, to the alarm of those opportunist union leaders who fear the Bolshevisation of their own membership.
The April strikes: PAME comes to the fore
On 21 and 22 April, tens of thousands of workers in both the private and the public sectors went on strike and staged mass demonstrations in 69 cities. Leadership came from the PAME, but embracing within its ranks much wider circles. The KKE noted that the union federation that represents the private sector, the GSEE, effectively “aided the intimidation campaign launched by the plutocracy along with the media” by refusing to join in calling a strike.
Despite this, they report that “Since the daybreak of 21 April, thousands of workers picketed factory gates and other workplaces and paralysed for 48 hours big multinational companies, big industries, department stores, hotels, the port of Piraeus (the biggest port in the country) and other workplaces as well.”
Just as with BA cabin crew before Christmas and Network Rail engineers before Easter, the seamen who promised to close down Piraeus were banned from doing so by a bourgeois court, declaring such a strike to be illegal and abusive. Yet in Greece the outcome was somewhat different. Undaunted by the legal ban, the strike went ahead. We are told that “not even for a single moment did the decision of the court bend the seamen who guarded their strike for 48 hours”.
There can be no doubt that their resolve was stiffened by the strength of the political lead given by the organisers. Aleka Papariga insisted that the welfare of workers was not to be confused with the welfare of capitalism, pointing out that the “recovery of the economy”, which capitalism hopes to achieve by loans or by cuts (in practice, both), only really means “recovery of the profit-making and the plutocracy”. She said that the Greek government was stuck in a dilemma: “either we take a loan and people lose all their rights or we do not take any and people lose everything as well”. But the workers must reject this dilemma, she said, and resist the capitalist offensive against their rights.
May Day and after
Resistance continued on May Day. Whilst GSEE and their no less reformist counterpart in the public sector, ADEDY, felt obliged to go through the motions, leading marches through Athens, PAME took the line of direct political confrontation, mustering thousands of people outside the parliament building itself.
Riot police used tear gas on demonstrators outside the finance ministry. Piraeus harbour was closed down again, and up north in Thessaloniki there were further clashes between demonstrators and riot police. Resistance intensified with the subsequent two-day general strike, with angry demonstrations in Athens and the mass occupation of the Acropolis, where on 4 May communist workers unfurled banners calling upon the peoples of Europe to rise up in solidarity.
On 5 May, the struggle escalated into a nationwide general strike. Strikes paralysed factories, building sites, shops, ports, airports, universities and schools. From early in the morning, pickets ringed workplaces to enforce the strike, and as the day progressed, PAME led demonstrations of tens of thousands in Athens and in 68 other cities.
In the heat of one demonstration, a bank in central Athens was firebombed, resulting in the death of three bank workers. It is clear, however, that ultimate responsibility for all casualties in this bitter and necessary struggle of the classes lies at the door of the capitalists, whose determination to make workers starve in order to save the capitalist system leaves the proletariat no choice but to defend itself by any means necessary, unless it is prepared to eke out a miserable existence under ever worsening conditions.
As PAME leader Giorgos Perros put it, “No more sacrifices for the bankers, for the industrialists, for the monopolies. We will make sacrifices so as to defend, all together and united, our rights, our life; so as to defend the life of our children, not hand them over to the most brutal exploitation bound hand and foot. We do not give up our gains … We will become stronger as long as we build our front, our own alliance. And once we will have built our own people’s front we will not be merely strong, we will be almighty; because we will have created the body of our own state power; we will have created the tool in order to plan and produce according to our needs; we will have created the basic mechanism in order to stop the minority of parasites who plunder our wealth, who live off our labour, which is sufficient to build our life, the life of our children and the next generation.”
The struggle continues
The struggle has since continued to build with no sign of abatement. Around a hundred thousand workers turned out for a PAME-led rally in Athens on 15 May and a further strike called on 20 May.
Confronted with this stubborn resistance, the state is increasingly turning to naked repression, dragging union activists through the criminal courts on trumped up charges. It is being helped in this by a torrent of anti-communist and anti-worker abuse issuing from the capitalist media, which have long been baying for the prosecution of the seamen who shut down the port of Piraeus on 21 and 22 April, in defiance of a court ban and despite attempts by the government and ship owners to use strike-breakers.
PASOK has led the anti-communist charge, fulminating against supposed breaches of the constitution by workers in struggle. The KKE’s Aleka Papariga rose to the challenge, pointing out that there has never been a bourgeoisie in history that abided by its own constitution.
Furthermore, those who so piously defend the existing constitution are in reality defending “the right of the capitalists to exploit the wealth that the people produce, to possess the most important commodity, namely the labour force, the ability of man to work. You defend the supreme law, the law of surplus value.”
In her 12 May statement, Comrade Papariga identified two basic tasks facing the Greek working class and their progressive allies – something in the nature of a minimum and a maximum programme.
The first task is to resist the austerity budget: “The first is the struggle which includes resistance, attrition, and undermining of the barbaric measures that the government and its allies are trying to push through.”
The second, in the view of the KKE, is to press forward to the “socialisation of the monopolies, the formation of popular cooperatives in sectors where socialisation is not possible, nationwide planning with working people’s control from the bottom up”.
We wish the Greek workers every success in fulfilling these vital aims. Let British workers learn from their example what can be achieved when we organise and take collective action.
Long live the Greek working class!