Nationwide strike rocks Greece

ATHENS, Greece — Several months of intensified trade union activity in Greece culminated in a nationwide strike March 15 where thousands upon thousands of working people, the unemployed, university and high school students and pensioners flooded the streets in more than 60 cities in a defiant stand against the repressive, anti-worker measures of the Greek government and the European Union.

Living and working conditions have dramatically deteriorated here as a result of anti-worker, anti-people EU “mandates,” which serve only to increase monopoly profits while stripping working people of their basic rights.

The EU summit of March 23-24 announced a new series of measures that would in essence abolish fundamental workplace rights, dismantle social security systems and create colossal energy monopolies, all in the name of fostering “increased competitiveness.”

In the face of these moves, Aleka Papariga, general secretary of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), declared, “In Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, people are being murdered by bombings. In Greece and in the other countries of the EU, people are being murdered by anti-social security, anti-health-care and anti-people measures and by the merciless exploitation of the workers.”

Papariga went on to affirm the power of mass action to turn the situation around: “We can do it in Greece and all over Europe as long as a genuine class-oriented, working people’s movement is developed, a movement of all people’s forces. We can destroy their plans and start our own ‘war’ for people’s needs and the rights of working people.”

The marchers demanded new collective bargaining agreements that meet the needs of today’s workers, including a minimum wage of $63 (52 euros) a day and a minimum salary of $1,560 a month. They demanded full, stable employment for all, with a seven-hour workday and a five-day workweek, i.e. a 35-hour workweek, and an end to the “liberalization” of working hours.

The marchers called for a freeze on all firings, and said “no” to all privatization schemes in public services, health care and pensions. They demanded that women be able to retire at age 55 and men at 60 (even earlier for hazardous occupations) with a baseline pension of $1,264 a month.

They demanded free political and trade union action, and called for the repeal of “anti-terrorism” laws whose only effect has been to curb democratic rights. Interestingly, in tandem with recent U.S. marchers, they called for the full legalization of immigrants and the recognition of their equal rights.

The highly successful weeklong strike of ship workers in February, which immobilized major ports in Greece despite the vicious reaction of the government and ship owners, set the stage for militant actions on March 15. The ship workers’ strike was supported by trade union federations across the country, many of which held 24-hour solidarity walkouts.

Building on the organizational base and the successes of these recent actions, the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME) has called for a 24-hour general strike for April 13 in response to the Greek industrialist association’s proposal for a 3.9 percent wage increase (a mere $24 a month increase, on average) and its moves to dismantle national collective bargaining.

PAME is an alliance of union federations and locals that since 1997 has sought to build a militant, class-oriented trade union movement. Their broad-based, community supported rallies, national and local strike initiatives and relentless organizing have managed to spur major changes in the “business unionism” approach of the General Confederation of Greek Workers.