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Workers respond to austerity attacks

By • Mar 20th, 2010 • Category: News & Analysis

Source: International Communist Current-
The eyes of the world ruling class are on Greece today, not only because the failure of its economy is a harbinger of what lies in store for the rest of Europe, but above all because the bourgeoisie is well aware that the social situation in Greece is a real powder-keg.

In December 2008, the country was shaken by a month-long social uprising, led mainly by proletarian youth, following the police murder of a young anarchist. This year the austerity measures announced by the Socialist government – which include wage cuts for public sector workers, a delay in the retirement age and tax increases on alcohol and cigarettes – are threatening to ignite an explosion not only among the students and the unemployed but also the main battalions of the employed working class. It is thus of the utmost importance – for the bourgeoisie – to be able to provide examples of workers tamely accepting austerity measures ‘for the good of the economy’. Unfortunately for them, this is not exactly the scenario being played out in Greece at the moment.

In the two weeks leading up to the announcement of the government package, there had been a widely followed 24 hour general strike against the threatened austerity measures, a longer running strike by customs officials which paralysed exports and imports, as well as actions by government employees, fishermen and others.

The events following the announcement of the package at the beginning of March showed even more clearly that there is a clear and present proletarian danger.

“Just hours after the announcement of the new measures, layed-off workers of Olympic Airways attacked riot police lines guarding the State General Accountancy and have occupied the building, in what they call a open-ended occupation. The action has led to the closing of Athens’ main commercial street, Panepistimiou, for long hours.

On Thursday morning, workers under the Communist Party union umbrella PAME occupied the Ministry of Finance on Syntagma square (which remains under occupation) as well as the county headquarters of the city of Trikala. Later, PAME also occupied 4 TV station in the city in Patras, and the state TV station of Salonica, forcing the news broadcasters to play a DVD against government measures.

On Thursday afternoon, two protest marches took to the streets of Athens. The first, called by PAME, and the second by OLME, the teachers union and supported by ADEDY. The latter gathered around 10,000 people despite less than 24h notice, and during its course limited clashes developed with the riot police which was pilled [sic] with rocks outside the EU Commission building. Also two protest marches took to the streets of Salonica at the same time. A protest march was also realised in the city of Lamia.

Finally, the party offices of PASOK in the town of Arta were smashed by what it is believed to be people enraged by the measures” (from the blog by Taxikipali a regular contributor to

Soon after these lines were written, another post by the same blogger wrote about the long running battles that broke out at the Athens demonstration following a police assault on Manolis Glezos, an icon of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war ( At the time of writing a whole number of further strikes and demonstrations have been planned.
Unions radicalise to keep control

In December 2008 the movement was largely spontaneous and often organised itself around general assemblies in the occupied schools and universities. The HQ of the Communist Party (KKE) union confederation was itself occupied, expressing a clear distrust of the Stalinist union apparatus which had frequently denounced the young protesters both as lumpen-proletarians and spoiled sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie.

Today however the KKE has shown that it is still a vital instrument of bourgeois rule by taking charge of the strikes, demonstrations and occupations. There has certainly been overt rage against the Socialist GSEE union, which is seen as a direct tool of the PASOK government: Panagopoulos, the boss of GSEE, an umbrella of private sector unions, was physically attacked at the demo and had to be rescued by the Presidential Guard, but so far the KKE and its unions have been able to present themselves as the leading and organising force of the movement.

The danger for the Greek bourgeoisie is that if the present mood of defiance continues, the workers will begin to see beyond this false radicalism, and that in seeking to take their struggles beyond the set-pieces imposed by the union machinery, workers will be compelled to take things into their own hands, adopting the ‘assemblyist’ model which began to take shape in December 2008.

But even in its present stage, the struggle in Greece is a real worry for the international ruling class as a whole. Similar austerity measures in Spain, centred round a two years postponement of retirement age, provoked angry demonstrations in a number of cities, while in Portugal, on 4 March (the same day as the Athens demonstrations) hospitals, schools and transport were severely disrupted as public sector workers staged a 24-hour strike against a wage freeze and other austerity measures. The stoppage also hit courts, customs offices and refuse collections.

In France, there have been expressions of active militancy among teachers, railway workers, shop employees and oil workers. In the latter case, solidarity strikes spread from one refinery to another, and across different oil companies, after threats to close the Total refinery near Dunkirk.

In sum, the mood of fear and passivity which tended to reign when the economic crisis took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2008 is beginning to be replaced by one of indignation, as workers openly ask: why should we pay for capitalism’s crisis?

Of course these stirrings of class consciousness can be and are being sidetracked into ideological dead ends, notably through the world-wide campaign to blame it all on the bankers or on ‘neo-liberalism’. In Greece, the fact that the German bourgeoisie was most pointed in its refusal to bale out the Greek economy led the PASOK government to play on the anti-German sentiments that still survive from the Nazi occupation.

But reality and ideology inevitably clash. The crisis is evidently world wide and everywhere the rulers are calling for sacrifices to save their moribund system. In resisting these calls, workers in all countries will grow to recognise their common interests in opposing and ultimately overturning the system that exploits them and drives them towards poverty.

Amos 6/3/10

Greece, Spain, Portugal…The state is bankrupt

Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France, Germany, Britain…everywhere the same crisis, everywhere the same attacks. The ruling class is revealing its true colours. Its cold and inhuman language boils down to the same basic message: ‘if you want to avoid the worst, if you don’t want total economic break-down, you are going to have to pull in your belts like never before’. Obviously not all the capitalist states are in the same situation of uncontrollable deficit and cessation of payment, but all know that they are heading inexorably in that direction. And all of them make use of this reality to defend their sordid interests. Where are they going to find the money to make at least a small dent in the monstrous deficits? You don’t have to look far. While some of them have already launched the offensive against the working class, all of them are at least preparing the ground ideologically.
Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain: a foretaste of what is in store for the whole working class

The Greek austerity plan aimed at reducing public debt is both cynical and brutal. The country’s finance minister said that “the civil servants must show their patriotism and give an example”. In other words they must accept without question a cut in their wages and the removal of benefits; they must put up with the fact that posts made vacant by retirement won’t be replaced, that the retirement age is pushed beyond 65 and that they can be made redundant and thrown away like used kleenex. All to defend the national economy, which belongs to the exploiter’s state, the bosses and all those who suck the workers’ blood. All the national bourgeoisies of Europe are playing an active part in this drastic austerity plan. Germany, France, Britain and Spain are all paying close attention to the policies being put into place by the Greek state. They want the following message to be broadcast to the proletariat on an international scale: ‘look at Greece: its people are forced to accept sacrifices to save the economy. You are going to have to do the same thing yourselves’.

First it was the households of America, then the banks, then the big companies, now the state itself is faced with bankruptcy. Its response: orchestrate pitiless attacks on living standards. In the months ahead there will be a draconian reduction of public sector workers’ jobs – in Britain they are already talking about 250,000 local government jobs going, and that’s even before the elections have been got out of the way. These cuts will of course impact severely on everyone’s living standards. For the bourgeoisie, the workers are like cattle who they can take to the slaughterhouse when their interests dictate it. The situation is identical in Portugal, Ireland, and Spain: the same savage plans, the same catalogue of anti-working class measures. And it’s not just in Europe. In the most powerful country in the world, the USA, unemployment stands at 17%; 20 million people have joined the ranks of the ‘poor’ and 35 million survive thanks to food vouchers. And every day that passes brings a further dive into misery.
States faced with their own insolvency

How did we get to this? For the bourgeoisie as a whole, and especially its left wing fractions, the response is very simple. It’s all the fault of the bankers and mastodons like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan etc. It’s true that the financial system has gone mad. It can see nothing beyond its immediate interests – it’s the old ‘after me, the deluge’ approach. It’s now known that it was the big banks which, in order to get more money, accelerated Greece’s cessation of payments and bet on its bankruptcy. They will no doubt do the same thing tomorrow with Portugal or Spain. The great world banks and financial instructions are indeed a bunch of crooks. But these ultimately suicidal policies of the world of high finance are not the cause of the crisis of capitalism. On the contrary, they are its effects – which, at a certain stage, have become an aggravating factor in it.

As usual, the bourgeoisie of all stripes is lying to us. It is trying to create a vast smokescreen. And it is playing for high stakes. It has to do everything it can to prevent workers making the link between the growing insolvency of the banks and the bankruptcy of the entire capitalist system. Because that’s the true state of affairs: capitalism is dying and the madness of its financial sphere is one of the symptoms.

When the crisis broke out with such a bang in the middle of 2007, the failure of the banking system was evident everywhere, especially in the USA. This situation was simply the product of decades of the policy of generalised debt, encouraged by the states themselves in order to create the markets needed to sell commodities. But when the individuals and companies could no longer repay their debts, the banks found themselves on the edge of collapse, and the capitalist economy with them. It was at this point that the states had to take over a large part of the debts of the private sector and come up with monumental and costly plans to try to limit the recession.

Now it’s the states themselves which are in debt up to their necks, unable to cope and without having saved the private sector. They are staring bankruptcy in the face. Of course a state is not a company: when it can no longer pay its debts, it can’t just lock the doors. It can go for more debt at higher rates of interest, print more paper money, dip into everyone’s savings. But a time comes when the debts (or at least the interest on them) have to be paid back, even by a state. To understand this, we only have to look at what’s happening now with the Greek, Portuguese, and even Spanish states. In Greece the state has tried to finance itself by borrowing on the international markets. The results of this are now with us. The whole world, knowing perfectly well that the Greece is insolvent, offered it very short term loans at rates of interest of over 8%. It goes without saying that that such an economic situation is insupportable. What solutions are left then? Equally short term loans from other states like Germany and France. But even if these states can temporarily put something into Greece’s coffers, they won’t then be able to bale out Portugal, then Spain, and maybe even Britain. They will never have enough liquidity. These policies could only end up crippling them financially. Even a country like the USA, which can count on the international domination of the dollar, is seeing its public deficit growing all the time. Half of all America’s states are bankrupt. In California, the state government is no longer paying its public servants in dollars but with a kind of local money, vouchers which are only valid on Californian soil!

In short, there is no economic policy that can pull all these states out of their insolvency. In order to put things off, they have no choice but to make big cuts in their ‘expenses’. This is precisely what Greece is now doing, along with Portugal, Spain, and soon all the rest. These will not be like the austerity plans the working class has been through regularly since the end of the 1960s. Capitalism is going to have to make the working class pay very heavily for the survival of the system. The image we need to have in mind is that of the soup kitchens of the 1930s. This is the future that the crisis of capitalism is preparing for us. In the face of growing poverty, only the massive resistance of the world working class can open a perspective of a new society without exploitation, commodity production and profit, which are the real roots of today’s economic crisis.

Tino 3/3/10


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