Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today's general strike in Greece was hugely successful as public service workers were joined by many in the private sector across the country. The one day general strike is the second in a series that will likely be continued and perhaps extended as the government shows no sign of backing down from its austerity measures. During the first strike last week considerable hostility was expressed towards the leader of the PASOK (socialist government) associated union federation. You can read more about this and the reasons behind it at this link at the LibCom website. Here, also from LibCom, is a report on what happened today.
Battle Ground Athens: second general strike leads to pitched battles
More than 150,000 people took to the streets of Athens against the austerity measures in a mass protest marches that have led to extended battles in the Greek capital.

On Thursday March 11 all Greece came to a 24h standstill as a result of the second general strike to be called within less than a month (not the third as reported by foreign media, as the first strike in February only concerned the public sector). As a result of the strike called by GSEE (private sector union umbrella) and ADEDY (public sector union umbrella) as well as PAME (the Communist Party union umbrella) no buses, trams, metros, trolley buses or suburban trains exited their stations, while due to air-traffic control workers’ strike no flights are being realised within or in and out of the country. Only the electric train will function for 4h in Athens in order to facilitate people’s participation in the mass demo at noon. In the health sector, all hospitals are functioning with emergency personnel only, as all doctors, ambulance drivers and nurses are striking. All banks are closed to the public, and all public and municipal offices and services have been shut by the strike. The Corinth Canal has also been shut by the workers controlling it, allowing no ships to make the vital crossing. All boats have been immobilised in the harbours and no inter-city trains are running. Post offices remain closed, while National Electricity, National Waters and National Telecoms workers are taking part in the strike with all offices and factories of the above industries closed for the day. All schools and universities remain also closed as teachers and academics are participating in the strike. Office workers, factory workers and construction workers are also participating en mass in the strike. Firemen and policemen are also performing walk-outs, with a policemen demo at the National Police HQ planned for the afternoon. Due to the participation of the TV, radio, electronic news websites, and the press in the strike, there are no news broadcasts for 24h. Thus the information gathered here will be completed by means of Comments after the end of the General Strike when more information become available. In total more than 3 million people (out of a total population of 11 million) are expected to having taken part in the general strike today.

The General Strike comes as a new climax to labour struggle against the new austerity measures the Greek government has announced in response to its notorious credit crisis. In the days before the General Strike, stage workers have occupied the Ministry of Labour on Peiraeos street, while the continuing occupation of the General State Accountancy by laid-off Olympic Airways workers has caused the intervention of the state persecutor who has demanded their arrest. No such move of repression has been made yet by the police, and Panepistimiou street remains cut in two by the protesters for more than a week now. In Salonica, the General Industrialists Bureau was occupied yesterday by workers, while radicals from the left dropped a huge banner in the Acropolis reading “take the measures back”. Throughout the week, tax officers performed a 48h strike, school traffic wardens in Northern Greece performed a 3-day strike, while judges and other judicial officers performed 4-h work daily stoppages. No garbage has been collected since last Saturday in Athens, Patras and Salonica as refuse collectors have blockaded the great garbage depot of the three major cities. Finally, in the city of Komitini ENKLO textile workers are mounting an ever more intense labour struggle, with protest marches and strikes: two banks were occupied by the workers last Monday.

The Demos:
The first demo in Athens was performed by PAME, the Communist Party union umbrella, just before noon. PAME allied workers first formed small demos across Athens, then marched to Omonoia square and all together in a 50,000 strong march to the Parliament. At the same time, people started gathering at Patision and Alexandras junction for the demo called by GSEE and ADEDY. The demo which soon gathered over 100,000 people set to march to the Parliament at 12:30 when just outside the Polytechnic riot police forces tried to cut-off a large anarchist block from the march by brutal force. Clashes ensued with extended use of tear gas and molotov cocktails. Despite the air being thick with smoke and CS gas, the march continued its way along Patision avenue and on to Stadiou street where many corporate shops came under attack. After reaching the Parliament, the march turned to Panepistimiou street where renewed clashes erupted at the height of Propylea. With the march coming to its final destination, protesters who continued their way to Omonoia where attacked by Delta team motorised forces. The Delta-team thugs tried to hit the protesters in full speed sparking more pitched battles with police squads encircled and beaten by the angry crowd and several Delta-team motorbikes destroyed. At the time of writing, the battles have moved to Exarcheia where protesters have erected flaming barricades and are confronting riot police and Delta force cops by means of rocks and molotov cocktails. Many protesters have sought refuge at the Polytechnic from which they are confronting police forces on both Patision and Stournari street. During the clashes many protesters have been wounded with one reported to be in intensive care with heavy wounds on the chest. The number of people arrested remains unclear but there are about 16 people detained and 13 cops hospitalised.

In Salonica 6 different marches took place by different unions and umbrella unions. Protesters of the Worker’s Centre march, which numbered 7,000 people in total, attacked corporate and church-owned shops on Egnatia avenue, while two super-markets were looted with the commodities distributed to the people. Despite the police firing tear-gas, the march continued and attacked the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace with paint and rocks before reaching the Worker’s Centre.

In Ioannina despite the pouring rain around 1.500 people marched against the measures with no news of clashes. Similar protest marches took place in Sitia, Naxos, Veroia, Patras and other cities. In Heracleion, Crete, shops that did not allow their workers to strike were blockaded and several banks came under attack by protesters. In Volos, protesters blockaded the gates of the METKA factory not allowing security-staff (i.e. scabs) to enter the premises, with many more corporate chain shops that did not allow their workers to strike blockaded and shut by the protesters. The official union-bosses of Volos were forced to leave the march after mass heckling by the workers.

Despite anti-strike war waged by the bourgeois media, amongst which the more bloodthirsty ones like Kathimerini is urging the government to crush the protests “even if some protesters die”, the Athens march is estimated to be the largest in 15 years, and has demonstrated the resolve of the working class to fight back against the capitalist onslaught.
Here's how the matter was reported by the Wall Street Journal. There seems to be very little difference between this and the anarchist report, aside from the usual differences in estimating crowd size.
Greece Grinds to a Halt Amid General Strike
Demonstrations by Unions Against Government Austerity Measures Hobble Transit Services, Spark Clashes With Police
ATHENS—Flights were grounded and trains suspended amid a nationwide general strike Thursday, as Greek police fought running street battles with anarchist youths in fresh and violent signs of anger at the government's austerity plans.

Unions called a strike to protest wage and benefit cuts being put in place to trim Greece's swollen budget deficit as the country draws closer to a financial reckoning. An estimated 50,000 people took to the streets.

Greece must refinance a chunk of its giant debt next month, and Greek leaders are leaning hard on counterparts in richer European states to provide some measure of support that could ease those debt sales. Eyes are on European Union finance ministers' meetings early next week.
In the capital city Thursday, masked and hooded youths went well beyond protest—throwing rocks and bottles, smashing shop windows, setting alight trash cans and burning at least one private car. Police fired tear gas and detained more than a dozen people.

There were also separate clashes outside the Greek parliament, Agence France-Presse reported. Greece has a history of sometimes-violent anarchist protesters, though they are well outside the mainstream.

Greece's two umbrella unions, for private- and public-sector workers, called the strike to protest the €4.8 billion ($6.55 billion) package of spending cuts and tax increases that the government announced March 3, which was voted into law days later. The communist-backed PAME union held a separate protest that drew an estimated 15,000 people.

"There is a big turnout today and that shows people are concerned," said Dimitris Papageorgiou, a 49-year-old worker at the Bank of Greece. "Today's protest is because of the austerity measures. Why do the people always have to pay? Who is at fault? It's the foreign speculators and the useless policies of previous governments."

Recent polls show that the Greek public is divided over the austerity plan. While the public opposes some measures, such as an increase in Greece's fuel and value-added taxes, analysts say there is a broad acceptance that something must be done.

"No one really expects the measures to be withdrawn. They were adopted by the government to avoid even worse consequences," said Lefteris Eleftheriadis, 48, a biologist who works in Greece's agriculture ministry and participated in Thursday's protest.

The strike affected public transport, government ministries and state-owned companies. All flights into and out of the country were grounded and all ferry and rail services suspended.
On the streets of Athens Thursday, normal workday activity was muted. Street lights and road signs were festooned with strike posters.
Usual morning news shows on local television were replaced with alternative programming. Many businesses were shut amid fear of violence, and police blocked main thoroughfares around the city center.

Just off the city's central square, a group of about 200 police and fire officials also staged a sympathy protest, challenging the government to fulfill its pre-election promises to protect workers' salaries.

Under pressure from the EU and financial markets, Greece's socialist government last week presented the latest in a series of austerity packages to trim the budget deficit to 8.7% of gross domestic product this year, from an estimated 12.7% last year.

Among other things, the package raises Greece's top value-added tax rate to 21% from 19%, freezes public-sector pensions, cuts civil-service entitlements and bonus pay, and also raises taxes on fuel, alcohol and cigarettes.

The general strike follows several days of escalating labor actions by a variety of smaller unions including those representing tax collectors, teachers, sanitation workers, court workers and local-government officials.
"The latest measures are unjust and everyone has the right to strike," said Sophia Papadopoulos, a 55-year-old office worker who wasn't participating in the strike. "But I think the economic situation will remain difficult. It's always the people who pay."

"In this country there is no follow-through and no respect from the government," said Antonios Mantalvenos, a 56-year-old former Olympic Airlines pilot. "But this is not new, it has always been that way.

"It's going to get much worse. When the civil servants actually see the cuts showing up in their salaries, there will be chaos."

This week, staff from Greece's interior ministry occupied the premises of the Greek government printing office for several days in an effort to prevent the new measures from being published—and thereby becoming law—in the government gazette.
Though not really connected with the strike nor the demonstrations there was another incident the other day where an anarchist, Lambros Foundas, was shot dead by Athens police. Though unlikely to stimulate the same sort of outrage that the killing of teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos did (which brought about the revolt of December 2008) it is one more symptom of the increasing tensions in Greece. Here's the story, once more from the pages of LibCom.
Anarchist killed by Greek police
In the midst of mass working class struggle against austerity measures, 35 year-old anarchist Lambros Foundas was murdered by police on the morning of 10 March in Athens.

The police claims that he was a “terrorist” and that he was shot while trying to steal a car in the suburb of Dafni, south Athens, and that he was carrying firearms.

Fountas was one of the over 500 anarchists arrested at the Polytechnic riots of 1995 in Athens.
While the death of an anarchist who chose the rather pointless fashion of 'armed struggle' is unlikely to bring about great public outrage there was another incident during earlier demonstrations that might have such consequences. This was the tear gassing of 88 year old national hero Manolis Glezos. This remarkable man, who has accumulated more death sentences and imprisonments in his life than I have fingers and toes first came to prominence by carrying out the first act of the Greek resistance to the occupying Nazis during World War II. He and another man, Apostolos Saulos, tore down the swastika that the Nazis had been flying at the top of the Acropolis. Since then he has had a long and distinguished career in not just politics but in linguistics, geology and civil engineering. What I find most intriguing about the man was his attempt in 1986 to create a community of direct democracy in the town of Aperathu. See the Wikipedia article for a truly inspiring story. He is widely respected by the majority of Greeks whether they agree with his politics or not. After the incident described below he was ruched to hospital. Should the 88 year old die from future complications the public response would probably dwarf that which resulted from the death of Grigoropoulos. The following story which mentions the incident comes from the Occupied London Blog.
“How would it feel if a foreign policeman was beating you up in Athens?
(the Greek uprising is truly going European!)
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
(article written by an Occupied London author for our friends at Last Hours, on the eve of tomorrow’s general strike. Continuous updates and photos, on both websites, tomorrow!)

It is early in the morning of Tuesday, March 9th. Bemused audiences tuned in to an Athens news station to listen to an evidently uncomfortable police spokesperson. How could he not be?
He must explain a rather embarrassing incident: days earlier, on March 5th, the police had tear-gassed Manolis Glezos in the face for trying to prevent a youth’s brutal arrest [photo].
Glezos is 88 years old today; it was almost 70 years ago, on May 30 1941, in Nazi-occupied Athens that he and Apostolos Santas climbed up the Acropolis and tore down the Swastika – an action for which he was arrested and tortured the following year.

Trying to justify the police’s action and to show that things must stay under control at any cost, the spokesperson made quite a revealing statement: “if the local police fail at their task”, he claimed, “the EU and the Greek government are ready to dispatch a 7,000-strong European police force to repress what might seem like an upcoming revolt”. “Imagine it!”, he added, “how would it feel if a foreign policeman was beating you up in the streets of Athens?” A funny question, that one. You would imagine police baton blows feel similar regardless of the passports of those holding them. Whether or not his statement was a slip-of-tongue, it definitely seems to hold some validity: a supra-national police force, the “European Gendarmerie Force” (EGF) does exists already and is prepared to take operations in countries where local governments invite it []. The Greek government have so far declined to answer questions on the issue in parliament. I don’t think Manolis Glezos was expecting to see German public forces on the streets of Athens again in his lifetime. But then again, if they tear-gas the way the Greek cops do, there won’t be that much for anyone to see…

General strikes are more common in Greece than in most European countries – but still, they tend to come in the rate of one or two per year – not per calendar month. Thursday’s general strike is the country’s third (two full-day and one half-day) in the few weeks alone.
Panepistimiou Avenue, part of the main protesting route – and one of Athens’ major thoroughfares – has been closed off for a week by strikers of Olympic Air; on March 10th, an attorney general ordered the police to disperse the crowd of about 2,000 who have gathered there.

The country’s official printing-house (where state laws are printed in order to come into effect) is currently occupied by employees in protest against the newly-introduced austerity plan. The general accounting office (this, ironically, in charge of monitoring the effects of the implementation of the austerity plan) is also under occupation by its employees. In the small northern city of Komotini employees at a local troubled company went straight to the source and occupied two of the city’s main bank branches.

December’s revolt had been a strong warning sign. The “700 euro generation” (in a country where everyday living expenses closely compete to the UK’s) had every reason to revolt. The death of a 15-year old boy? Cities smash and burn for days. An “austerity plan” pushing labour rights back by a few decades overnight; severe wage cuts, VAT increases, pension-freezes…

It is Wednesday, March 10th – the eve of the third recent strike in Greece. “I don’t really earn enough to get a cab to tomorrow’s demonstration”, writes a commentator on Athens IMC. “And there’s no public transport, as everyone is participating in the strike. Good for them. We are driving down there tonight, staying with a friend. And we’ll be using the car’s engine oil to wash the streets, our little gift to the thugs of the police’s motor-cycle Delta force.” There is anger building up in Athens’ streets and many expect to see it outpouring in the event that multi-national force descends in the city, if not before… Whether national or international, next time Manolis Glezos takes on the security forces he most certainly will not be alone.

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