Thursday, March 4, 2010

Greek workers say: ‘Let the rich pay’

Greek workers say: ‘Let the rich pay’

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A second general strike in two weeks shows that Greek workers are standing up to the bosses’ and bankers’ attempt to force them to pay the costs of a problem the workers had no responsibility for creating: the capitalist economic crisis. This determined resistance is what’s behind the headlines on the financial pages about the euro’s stability and European Union negotiations with the Greek regime.

Salonika, Greece.. Salonika, Greece..

Two million Greek workers stayed away from their jobs on Feb. 24. Factories, offices, large retail stores, seaports and airports were closed. Workers and youths took to the streets in 70 cities throughout Greece. “Reject the government plan, the rich should pay for the crisis,” read the banner leading the demonstration in Athens.

The militant mood on the street contrasted with the discussions among bank boards of directors, government officials and the capitalist-controlled media throughout the European Union. The EU itself is an instrument of big business, a coalition of capitalists arrayed against the European working class and the nations in the former colonial world. Its ruling-class media try to portray the Greek people in general, especially the workers, as unwilling to work hard and make the necessary sacrifices — to save the capitalist economy.

Europe’s financial bosses are insisting that before they will “bail out” the Greek government with loans, it must impose an even harsher austerity on the workers than the taxes, wage cuts, hiring freezes, and increase in retirement age and social-service cutbacks already proposed. They aim to force the government to crack down on the workers — using the excuse that this is needed to overcome the financial crisis. They then want to impose cutbacks on workers throughout the EU, even in countries where the debt problems are less critical.

U.S. bankers are also part of the mix. Goldman Sachs arranged large parts of the Greek debt and expects the Greek government to squeeze its debt payments from the Greek workers.

Greece has a social democratic government led by Prime Minister George Papandreou of the PASOK party. Many workers voted for it precisely to avoid this vicious attack, but PASOK has instead led the offensive against them. Unlike its capitalist overlords in Berlin and Brussels, PASOK has to directly confront the Greek workers’ growing anger.

A half-million workers had struck on Feb. 10, called out by the PAME union federation, which is close to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). This time the GSEE union federation and other unions closer to the social democrats joined the strike, many walking out for the first time, and some joined the PAME-led marches. (

Their placards read: “Here is the money: the deposits of the enterprises in 2004 were 36 billion euros; in 2009, 136 billion euros. 250,000 workers receive a salary of 740 euros [approximately $1,000 per month]. At the same time, 700 billion euros are in the pockets of the big enterprises.” (

A refreshing aspect of the Greek protests is that the speakers and slogans reject the ruling-class argument that “joint sacrifice” is needed from the population. By “joint sacrifice,” the bankers mean that workers must give up pay, benefits and often their jobs, in order to rescue the profits and debt payments to the rulers.

They argue that these sacrifices will restore the capitalist economy. But, just as in the U.S., official unemployment in the EU has grown to just under 10 percent, and whatever capitalist recovery has taken place has also been jobless. The Greek workers say that if sacrifices are needed to save capitalism, then “Let the rich pay!”

This attitude is spreading. In Spain, where official unemployment is 19 percent, two of the union federations, the CCOO and the UGT, protested in Madrid on Feb. 23 against the government’s austerity plans. In Portugal a one-day general strike of the public sector rejecting an extension of the wage freeze is planned for March 4. Both countries have Socialist Party governments, but these social democrats are carrying out severe attacks on the workers.

French and German working-class resistance has been more sporadic, but it’s there. Lufthansa’s 4,500 pilots held a short strike in February. In France, workers at six French oil refineries and then air traffic controllers walked out.

In the U.S. the relative passivity of the unions has allowed the bosses to take the offensive, laying off, outsourcing and cutting benefits while paralyzing even the minimal efforts of the Barack Obama administration to pass modest reforms to health care or extend unemployment payments. Part of fighting back is realizing, as the Greek workers are saying, that the bosses created the crisis and should pay for it.

At a mass rally at Omonia Square, in Athens city center, union leader Yiannis Tolis said: “The forces of capital and its political representatives understand that the more they blackmail and intimidate the workers, the more they try to mislead them and place new burdens upon them, the more anger and indignation they cause. They dread the perspective of the general uprising of the workers. ...

“They are mistaken if they believe that they can manipulate the peoples’ will, once it is on the path of the class struggle. History has proved that when the river flows it cannot retrace its path.” (

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