New strike wave in Greece

Submitted by Matthew on 18 September, 2013 - 12:08

According to official figures, participation in the strike by Greek teachers on 16 September was over 90%.

Over 30,000 teachers, university administrators, students and workers in pension funds, and others flooded the centre of Athens. Four other sectoral union federations have coordinated with OLME (the union federation for high school teachers) and have announced repeated five-day rolling strikes against government plans to cut jobs and suspend tens of thousands of workers for eventual sacking or possible redeployment.

There were also around 10,000 demonstrators in Thessaloniki. The public-sector union confederation Adedy has called a 48 hour strike for 18-19 September.

It is very important to continue efforts to compel the leadership of the primary teachers’ federation (DOE) to join the movement. The primary school teachers have decided to strike for 48 hours on 18-19 September, and there are very strong voices inside the federation calling for a more dynamic mobilisation. The front of unions committed to five-day rolling strikes must widen as soon as possible and as much as possible .

Among the high school teachers, over 90% of local unions voted in favour of strike action. On Tuesday 17 September, occupations and protests are planned at government offices. There will be a motorbike-rally in the centre of Athens.

On Thursday 19th high school teachers will be holding meetings to discuss the continuation and escalation of the strike, and on Friday 20th the presidents of the local high school teachers’ unions, the constituent parts of the OLME federation will meet.

Many workers want to see the total overthrow of the Samaras government and the rule of the EU-ECB-IMF Troika over the Greek economy.

The union Federation of Public Hospitals (Podein) will hold a four-hour nationwide stoppage on Thursday 19th and rally at 12 noon outside the Ministry of Health.

These are critical times which will test the ability of the left in Greece not only to support struggles but to lead them and extend them.

High school teachers are in the forefront, because since 2011 2,500 primary and secondary schools have been closed or merged.

Many courses have been shut down in the technical colleges, and will now be available only at private colleges.

16,000 teachers’ jobs are at threat in secondary education. 2,500 are being put in redeployment, 5,000 have been transferred, 5,000 temporary staff have lost their jobs, and 3,500 have been retired early.

Many have been compulsorily transferred to other areas.

New laws will turn high schools into centres of continuous testing, geared to “results”, making them a mechanism to filter out and downgrade working-class kids who will be forced to leave school without a high school diploma.

Already 27 rank and file local unions in primary education have signed a statement in favour of primary and kindergarten teachers joining with the high school teachers in the rolling five-day strikes. 21 out of the 36 local general assemblies of the teachers voted for the rolling five-day strikes. But the leadership of the primary teachers’ federation is dominated by members of the government parties, New Democracy and Pasok, whereas the high school federation is now led by the left.

Students are also mobilising. Groups like the “Disobedient School Students” can help form a common front across the whole education system against the government.

The federations so far joining with the high school teachers in the programme of rolling five-day strikes are those of workers in the Employment Agency (OAED) , in social security (IKA), and in social policy (POPOKP).

Another four federations, health insurance (EOPYY), Ministry of Labour (OSYPE), the insurance fund for self-employed (PSE OAEE), and tax office (POE-DOH) took decisions in the summer in which they called on the public sector workers’ union confederation Adedy to coordinate and organise an ongoing general strike.

Adedy is still led by New Democracy and Pasok members, and so unlikely to do that. The federations should move directly to join the programme of rolling five-day strikes, and create a common centre of struggle with the other federations.

This fight can and should be connected to the struggle waged by workers at the public broadcaster, ERT. ERT offices remain occupied, broadcasting under workers’ control, and can become the voice of the strike movement.

And now is the time for other public sector workers’ federations, too, to vote for strike action. Workers in municipalities were among the first to be attacked by the government and the Troika.

However, so far the leaders of the federations of workers in the municipalities (POE, OTA, and POP OTA) seem unwilling to escalate or coordinate their struggle.

The Memorandum also plans to reduce 140 hospitals to 80 and 80,000 health workers to 40,000 by 2015.

So far the government has “promised” that its current job cuts will not affect university professors, tax office workers, and public health workers, but that promise is just to buy time.

An effective strike movement, coupled with a political agenda aiming to overthrow the government and establish a government of the Left is the most powerful weapon that the labour movement has against its oppressors.

The initiative for a general strike cannot be left at the hands of the leaderships of the big union confederations, Gsee (private sector) and Adedy (public sector). A general strike can only be imposed from below, and that should be with full awareness that the central trade union leaderships, even if dragged to adopt the proposal, will do everything they can to sabotage it.

The mass movement should take control of the struggle, with frequent general meetings at each workplace, with elected (and removable) strike committees, with communication teams that will disseminate strike information and counteract government and media propaganda.

Sadly, the Greek Communist Party’s trade union front PAME has chosen at yet another turning point in the movement to stand against the militant mood of workers.

According to KKE any slogan short of workers’ government and control is a reformist slogan that serves the interest of Syriza, and Syriza is only an alternative management for the capitalist system.

PAME’s unionists, in education, health and elsewhere, led the fight against strike escalation: “The climate is not ready”, “We should not close schools and hospitals”.

In the local high school teacher unions’ general meetings, the proposal for rolling five-day strikes was supported by Syriza and the “Agonistikes Parembaseis” group. The ND unionists’ group, the Pasok unionists’ group, and PAME argued, often together, for a one-off 48-hour strike, i.e involvement in the strike already planned by Adedy for 18-19 September. The small forces of the Democratic Left also sided with ND and Pasok.

Important now is the creation of strike committees in local unions, with the participation of parents’ associations, school students, and residents who want to support the teachers’ struggle. They should organise a daily presence of strikers and supporters in schools, pickets, discussions with parents and students, and financial support for colleagues through strike funds.

Syriza’s leaders have so far shown willingness to go forward in this battle. But this must be concretised and materialised. Syriza should mobilise in every neighbourhood to work with the teachers’ struggle.

The goal of bringing down the memorandum government of Samaras looks ever closer. The important issue is not so much the time of the elections as the level of class struggle when the government is overthrown.

The evolution of the international crisis makes it clear that a left-wing way out requires the greatest possible social mobilisation, something much more active, much more conscious, and much more militant than just voting.

The primary responsibility for the successful escalation of the strikes belongs ultimately to the political Left, predominantly Syriza, and not the trade union movement and its leadership.

Syriza should development a clear, unambiguous comprehensive proposal for termination of the old and new memorandum and an explicit statement of immediate termination of debt payments.

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