Greek workers rise up

A protestor gestures to police near the parliament building in the center of athens on may 5 2010

For days now Greek workers have shown their contempt and anger at the austerity measures their government is imposing to meet EU and IMF requirements that it cut its public debt. In the words of the Prime Minister George Papandreou, Greece is ‘on the brink of an abyss.’ The Greek working class is telling the world that it will not pay for the country’s financial crisis. Its actions are showing the way for others: soon Spain and Portugal will also have to implement severe cuts in state spending and the revolt may spread to these countries as well.

On 27 April Greece almost defaulted on its debt as its public deficit rose to 13.6% of GDP, far higher than previously declared. Credit rating agencies downgraded its debt to ‘junk’ status, making it impossible for the Greek government to get further credit through the normal international markets to finance its debt as well as unable to get insurance against default. Papandreou was forced to ask the EU and IMF to activate a loan negotiated in April. On 2 May they agreed a bail out of 110bn Euros.

The meltdown in the Greek economy has led to significant falls on global markets, with both the US and Far Eastern Markets falling sharply amid fears of further instability. However, it is Europe that has seen the biggest effect with the Euro falling against the dollar by more than 2% on 7 May alone. German and French presidents Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, determined to defend the European imperialist project, have moved quickly with the IMF to ensure that funds are available to the Greek government. They have also been as forceful as ever in asserting that the Greek government must cut state spending – both quickly and deeply. On 9 May, EU finance ministers agreed a 750bn Euros intervention to support the Euro currency; it gives unprecedented powers to the European Central Bank.

The austerity measures the Greek government has agreed include:

  • a freeze on pay for all public sector workers until 2014 - though pay cuts will also be extensive with many public sector workers set to lose their jobs.
  • An end to early retirement. It is common in Greece for many people to retire in their mid 50’s, but new legislation just agreed in the Greek parliament will raise this to an average of 65 years.

But it is the youth who will feel the pain: unemployment for 15-29 year olds is 18% - twice as high as for 30-60 year olds. It is not surprising therefore that it is the Greek youth who have spearheaded the protests.

On May Day, over 30,000 people took to the streets of Athens bringing traffic and trade to a standstill. Demonstrators focused their anger on the Finance Ministry Building where violent clashes took place with the police. Protestors chanted anti-EU and IMF slogans such ‘We do not step back! We do not consent! The social class will take to the streets!’ Huge demonstrations also took place in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, where Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown at riot police who were protecting the banks.

Further mass protests rocked the country following the 2 May agreement and its endorsement by the Greek parliament on 3 May. Papandreou called desperately for calm. On 6 May there were further protests as Greek trade unions organised a general strike. Three strikebreakers died when the bank they were working in was firebombed. 60,000 demonstrators were joined by police and firefighters. The protests in general are receiving a lot of support and sympathy amongst the majority of the Greek working class and even sections of the middle class. They are quite properly saying that they will not pay for the crisis of the rich few. Their stand is not just rocking global capitalism but is also showing the way forward for the working class in Europe and beyond.


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