A combative and confident workers’ movement in Greece is throwing a monkey wrench into the plans of Europe’s politicians, who are trying to revive the capitalist system by further grinding down workers’ wages and benefits.
Greek workers have been demonstrating in the tens of thousands, calling on their class sisters and brothers throughout Europe to rise up against the austerity plans that politicians of various stripes, from Britain’s Labour Party to Germany’s conservative coalition, have been carrying out in cahoots with the owners of the multinational corporations and banks. All over the capitalist world, governments are in crisis as a result of the contraction of the financial markets. The Greek government is no exception. Like all the others, it came to rely greatly on credit during the period of unbridled expansion and speculation — and low taxes on the rich — that turned millionaires into multibillionaires. When the bubbles burst, the financiers demanded bailouts, threatening social disaster unless the people’s hard-earned money was turned over to them.
In Greece the social democratic government has also given in to the demands of big capital, cutting wages and gutting pensions and social services, but the workers’ organizations are refusing to accept this poisonous prescription.
In the United States, where the capitalist crisis hit first, the response of the unions to this same process has been muted, even as millions of workers lost their jobs and then were hit by huge budget cutbacks by the states and municipalities.The Greek government handed over a $36 billion bailout to the banks, which only propelled the country into a new crisis as the government started running out of funds. Meanwhile, the imperialist bankers of the European Union demanded Greece accept a draconian austerity plan in order to qualify for new loans at exorbitant interest rates.
In Greece, however, the workers’ organizations are led increasingly by communists, who are refusing to bow down before capital’s demands. They don’t buy the argument that the workers must sacrifice in order to keep the system stable. The system is already completely unstable for the workers. Capital is now demanding draconian cuts that, if allowed to happen, would not just reduce workers’ income further, but would plunge them into a crisis of hunger and homelessness.
So, beginning May 5, a general strike by both private and public sector unions — the sixth general strike this year — paralyzed Greece for 48 hours. The day before, the workers came out in yet another militant demonstration and, at the Acropolis high above Athens, several hundred young people from the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) unfurled two huge banners down the rock walls below the Parthenon calling for “Peoples of Europe, Rise up” in Greek and English.
Communist May Day statement
The KKE has a long history of resistance. It struggled against a fascist regime and German occupation during World War II, participated in a civil war against the pro-imperialist regime backed by the U.S. and Britain from 1946 to 1949, and resisted a military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974. The Central Committee of the KKE put out a statement for May Day that explained, in the language of Marxism and class struggle, what the workers must do to “defend the conquests that the previous generations have shed their blood for.”
“It’s time to rise up with class unity and people’s mobilization against the war on our rights. To struggle for our rights and for our children’s future. Our class has the power and the capability to lead the formation of a great antimonopoly, anti-imperialist, democratic front that will overthrow the power of the monopolies and will struggle for people’s power. People should have no trust in the parties of the plutocracy or in the EU.”
The statement says that the brutal antiworker policies of the government “will persist and will escalate as long as the workers and the people do not show their real strength. The subversion of social security rights, the dramatic rise in retirement age limits, the drastic cuts in pensions and benefits, the abolition of restrictions on mass dismissals, the elimination of Collective Labor Agreements, even the abolition of the basic salary and the generalization of the temporary and flexible employment are measures predetermined years ago.
“Their goal is for the labor force to become even cheaper, the young people to be deprived of fundamental rights as regards labor, education and health care services. The same measures are promoted in all EU countries as required by the interests of the capitalists. They want the workers to pay for the capitalist crisis and the impasse of their aged, outmoded capitalist system.”
Capitalism “cannot become human” or avoid crises, says the KKE. “The more powerful the monopolies get, the more the workers and the people will suffer, the greater parasitism, corruption and barbarity will become. …
“The working class is the most powerful social force. It produces the wealth; it creates and makes the factories, the enterprises and the infrastructure work.” But for Greece to develop in favor of the people, the capitalist monopolies must “become popular-social property and be subjected to central planning and to social and workers’ control.”
This kind of talk may have provoked just a sneer from the political servants of big capital when the markets were wallowing in easy money. But not any more.
The New York Times reported on May 4 about the banners hung on the Acropolis with these words: “Investors took fright across Europe and on Wall Street, sending the euro to a fresh one-year low.”
The class struggle is back — and it’s not just coming from one side.