Notes on Greece - May 19th 2010
Written by Gil Garcia - IWL-FI correspondent   
Thursday, 20 May 2010 03:04


Today I will address the reason for the Greek workers' revolt and other interesting features of the current political situation. The government of the so-called “Socialist Party” (PASOK) decided to fight back what they call the crisis by cutting public workers and retirees’ wages.

There are talks of cutting the wages in the private sector as well. These cuts are around 30% in many cases. The particularity of Greece is that due to poor bargaining between union bureaucrats and the administration during past years, public workers have low wages, around 800 Euros monthly, which is improved by several extras (children benefit, foreign language skills, …) which could double it. The cuts can reach, in some cases, 300 Euros per month or more, that is the equivalent to a home rent for instance.  

Since arriving in Athens I wondered how a General Strike is in Greece: if everyone goes on strike or even the majority of the labor force, if general strikes and huge marches were held (always) on the same day.  

In Portugal, we have not had General Strikes (the last one was on May 30th 2007 and was not so general), and there were no marches on the same day.   In Greece, all General Strikes are held together with street demos not only in Athens (350,000 on the streets last May 5th) but in many other Greek cities. An OKDE leader told us that there is a strong heritage of workers’ democracy in the National Labor Federation that allows all caucuses and trends to show up and to work for these huge street demos. Nevertheless there is another reason. The majority that joins the marches comes spontaneously; they are not controlled by anyone.  

They come to fight back the austerity measures of the ruling administration. The unions are there with their (decreasing) columns composed primarily of anonymous workers that do not join any union or political organization. For instance, the Labor Federation that called last General Strike and March is led by a unionist sympathetic to the incumbent party. In order to protect him (and his speech) from stones, fruits or eggs thrown by the protesters, the first row was occupied by his followers that kept the picket signs high above. It was not possible to see the speaker. These marches remind me of the recent teachers’ marches in Portugal between 2005 and 2008 (more than 100,000 teachers attended).  

The majority joined the rally called by the union but the broad majority had nothing to do with the union, and probably was not even unionized. Nevertheless, the speakers held some credibility among them. Not to forget, in Portugal the speakers are primarily close to parties that are in opposition to the national administration but in Greece the Rally is headed by a unionist that is close to the ruling party, even if the broad majority of the attendance has nothing to do with the ruling party or any other political trend.  

Another feature is the upsurge of what is called by the Greeks rank and file unions that are organized in each company. This trend will probably show up in other countries. A OKDE comrade is a worker in Vodafone with more than 1,500 employees in Athens alone. She told me that a short time ago a couple of coworkers volunteered to start a union, to which soon a few hundred joined. The workers do not understand these new unions as a parallel union since the “old” unions have never showed up to do a meeting or to organize. Thus, half a dozen of revolutionaries, in two different companies, may lead two unions for a moment. This is about to happen in many companies all over Greece.

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