Sunday, August 01, 2010


Striking truck drivers in Greece voted late yesterday to end their week long walkout, and they are expected to resume normal work on Monday. While many drivers refused to obey the "civil mobilization" order (a back-to-work order with military draft provisions) the government managed to commandeer enough trucks that, with their own vehicles, they were well on the way to restocking fuel supplies across the country. It 9is doubtful if this would have been a long term viable solution, but it was enough to force the truckers back to work.

A few comments are in order. The first is that this strike, unlike the symbolic general strikes of the opposition to the government's austerity program (or the even more ineffective aimless rioting of the left wing of the opposition), actually posed a real economic threat, and it prompted the state into action that it has usually held back from during the course of the present crisis. It also showed coincidentally the futility of any dreams of overthrowing the government. It would be a simple "turn of the tap", and a revolutionary Greece would rapidly become a collapsed revolutionary Greece being as all Greece's energy needs are supplied from abroad.

This may highlight the essential nature of the government/population confrontation ie stalemate with time on the side of the government. The opposition cannot play the 'ultimate threat' card. They know it. The government knows it. The general population knows it. The only ones who don't know it are a small number of romantic revolutionaries. The nature of the Greek crisis is also such that any alternative to the present socialist government would inevitably end up acting just as it does today, the conservatives because they would want to, and the communists and left-socialists because they would have to. A Greek government of any stripe would be severely constrained in its options. This situation presents the classic dilemma whereby politics, of the governmental variety, is absolutely futile. Yet it is also a situation where revolution would be equally futile.

Of course only a tiny minority of Greeks would dream of trying to go beyond the present system. The most overwhelming thing to notice about the opposition to the government's plan is how incredibly conservative, in the sense of trying to avoid any change, that it is. The struggles against the government are not for some new dispensation but rather to preserve a system of "entitlements" that various sectors of the working population see as in their interest or perhaps even vital to their interests. In the case of the truckers one can feel some sympathy for them because they have forked out huge amounts of money for exclusive licences in a sector which the government now intends to throw totally open. See the article below. This leaves the present truckers with huge debts and lower revenue.

So where does this leave the opposition to the Greek version of neoliberalism ? We can speak of rocks and hard places. For the left socialist and communist opponents it means keeping up the level of visible militancy in hopes of leaving a lasting memory that can be used for later political gain. In the case of the workers it means very much the same thing except that the goal is not any future political gain but rather the softening of the impact of the measures in the near future by a protracted period of bargaining with their enemy the state.

The anarchist opposition, small as it is (though far bigger than in most countries) ? The "concentration of mind" that the present crisis is forcing people to go through is hardly likely to result in a flow of public opinion to revolutionary strategies, anarchist or otherwise. The precise opposite is the likely result, and clinging to the old romantic shibboleths cannot make the anarchist alternative seem desirable in the public mind. Whether Greek anarchists can find their way through to a long term strategy that gradually builds the libertarian alternative without the deus-ex-machina of revolution is very much in question. It is, however, the only way to escape from the ghettoization that they presently suffer.

Here's the story of the end of the strike from the Sydney Morning Herald , bright and early on the other side of the world.
Greek truckers end week-long strike

Greek truckers have called off a week-long strike that stranded thousands of travellers and nearly dried up fuel around the country at the peak of the busy tourism season.

"We have decided, by narrow majority, to suspend the strike," the head of the Greek truck owners confederation, George Tzortzatos, told reporters on Sunday after a union meeting that lasted over three hours.

"Transporters will be back at the steering wheel as of tomorrow," he said.

The strikers backed down after the government sent out military and private trucks under police escort to bypass the protest and resupply hospitals, electricity plants and petrol stations in main cities.

Businesses ranging from hotels and car rentals to peach exporters have been badly hit by the strike, which began last Sunday over plans to reform the tightly-controlled freight sector for the first time in four decades.

Thousands of Greek and foreign travellers had to put their plans on hold or were stranded as fuel supplies dwindled to a trickle in main cities and holiday destinations such as Crete and the northern Halkidiki peninsula, with conditions only starting to improve on Saturday.

The truckers on Sunday said they would hold talks with the government over the reform which is designed to open the sector to full competition within three years, as part of efforts to revive the recession-mired Greek economy.

After talks with trucker unions collapsed, the authorities on Wednesday moved to requisition vehicles, but fuel all but ran out at major cities and travel destinations during the two days it took to implement the measure.

Meanwhile many drivers flouted the civil mobilisation order, tearing up their summons and refusing to turn up for work despite threats of prosecution.

At the main Greek port of Piraeus, the local trader association said many of the islands popular with holidaymakers had not been resupplied for days.

"The resupply of islands has been non-existent,"Piraeus trader association chairman George Zissimatos told Mega television.

"A lot of goods remained in warehouses, ten days were lost and now wholesalers are about to go on holiday themselves," he said.

A breakthrough finally came late on Saturday after the government said it would lift the civil mobilisation if the truckers closed down their protest.

No new trucking licenses have been issued in Greece for years, meaning that would-be operators can only purchase existing permits at high cost.

But the truckers complain that inviting competition into the freight sector by reducing new licence charges is unfair to existing operators who have already paid high start-up fees running up to 300,000 euros ($A436,047).

Greece has suffered waves of strikes and protests over unprecedented budget cuts and reforms the government had to agree to in order to tap a rescue package it desperately needed to stave off bankruptcy.

A debt default was narrowly averted in May after Greece received a huge bailout loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Faced with nearly 300 billion euros ($A436.05 billion) of debt, it found itself unable to raise money on international markets in April as concerns mounted about the ability of the Greek economy to stay afloat.


Larry Gambone said...

No single small country can opt out of the corporatist system. In the case of Europe it would have to be a bloc of countries, say Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Portugal, but so far the strikes are uncoordinated.As far as the conservatism of demands goes, this is not so much of a problem as the situation of isolation. If there was a wide-spread general strike in the aforementioned, esp. combined with occupations, the conservative demands (status quo ante) would be pushed aside by more radical, libertarian ones.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Here and there people press the governments, aka warlords, of the world in search of a tipping point. For now, demanding the impossible seems a reasonable course of action as we enjoy our ride on the well-oiled escalator to Hell. The people of Greece gave us democracy, perhaps they too will help save us from what little is left of it.

mollymew said...

The job of the nay sayer is a hard and unappreciated one. I'd like the reader to examine the energy export/import balance for the 5 countries that Larry mentioned. The best off of the lot is France which imports "only" 48.6% of its energy needs. This is because of its previous commitment to nuclear energy. Of the other 4 Greece is actually the "most" self sufficient at 28.1% ie 71.9% of its energy needs are imported. The degree of external dependence ranges up to 86.8% in the case of Italy.

The source is 'Europe's Energy Profile' . Of the EU countries listed there ONLY Denmark (wind power) is a net exporter. Norway, outside of the EU, is also a net exporter (oil, natural gas and hydro). Aside from Denmark only Poland comes close to self sufficiency ( a 19.9% deficit) due to large supplies of coal and power generation from same. The total EU deficit is 53.8%.

NO coalition of countries with "revolutionary regimes" in Europe's "southern tier" is immune to economic strangulation from the outside world, no matter how large this coalition may grow to. We haven't even begun to discuss "food self sufficiency", let alone that problem in the light of an energy shortage...even with the most brutal rationing. Modern agriculture in Europe is very much energy dependent, and this dependency cannot be overcome by an influx of manual labour.

Does this mean that anarchism is a totally ! unrealistic option ? No ! It merely means that anarchists have to cease being believers in "revolution", and accomodate their actions to the modern world. SOME of this accomodation will obviously entail actions that would change the "grim numbers" that I have quoted above, but these actions are the result of decades worth of work.

From my own point of view the "conservativism" of the vast majority of the opponents to neoliberalism in Europe could also have a synonym called "realism". No amount of revolutionary dreams can convince enough people to abandon such realism, even if they know only a tiny fraction of the barriers to an quick and imnmediate change.That tiny fraction is enough.

My own opinion is that the anarchists in Europe's opposition should presently present themselves as tyhe most uncompromising of the opponents in hope of building their organizations slowly for the much harder task ahead. Is a "more militant" stance the most likely to "soften the blow" ? It's hard to say, and to be sure anarchists at the present time cannot gather enough people to properly oppose the various governments' plans.

Anarchists in Europe are very much doing what I said above, but few (none ?) are planning for the inevitable defeat and the long march back. Declaring even the "possibility" of victory puts off the inevitable planning for such a situation of defeat into the far distant future. It is therefore NOT a service to the anarchist alternative.

THAT is the value of "pessimism".

Larry Gambone said...

Pessimism...The only problem with such a long term scenario is our limited time frame. If we had 100 years we could have a "gradual revolution." In fact this was my option in the 1990's. My view began to change with my understanding of climate change and peak oil. Ten years before petroleum is too expensive? Maybe we have 30 years before global warming is irreversible? The economic hell you have described due to isolation of revolutionary countries will be occurring anyway. Indeed, there are no simple answers...

Larry Gambone said...

I should clarify my first statement. By "opting out of the corporatist system", I don't mean anarchist revolution, only that pressure from below institutes some kind of left-wing social democracy, sort of a Euro version of "21st Century Socialism." How likely do I see this occurring? Very slight.