What's crippling Greece is the IMF, not the General Strikes

By McMeg, additional writing by me, blogging fae Athens on today’s demonstrations protesting the Greek parliament’s vote to bring in destructive “austerity measures” in the wake of Greece’s near-financial collapse.

PAME demonstration of around 10,000 in central Athens

PAME demonstration of around 10,000 in central Athens

Athens is a city that is acquiring a reputation for itself. When a taxi driver asked where we were headed with our suitcases, our response prompted him to ask “Athens? Will you no get caught up in they riots out there?”. It would seem that the combination of constant reporting of Greece as overtaken by bomb-strewn madness and the main Scottish reference point when it comes to riots – the Poll Tax Riots – has given people a distorted view of what’s really going on here. The fact is, the IMF are being sold Greece under the table by the ‘Socialist’ government (Read: Greek version of the Labour Party), and their conditions for giving Greece money to bail out its failed banks is that the Greek government goes about systematically destroying any vestiges of a welfare state. It’s understandable why the people are angry. But they are expressing it in a way that is altogether more concise and class conscious than any pictures of anarchists throwing Molotov cocktails at riot police while stray dogs look on cooly can convey.

What we attended today was not a Poll Tax riot. No banks were burnt down, no statues were defaced. What we attended was an eye opening experience that allowed us to see two things:

  1. The diversity and competence of the Left in Greece
  2. The sheer extent of the unbalanced and jaundiced way in which the international press have reported this situation.

The Greek Left

Evidence of a strong Left is not hard to come by in Athens; placards for today’s strike adorn lampposts on every major street, the side alleys have been flyposted comprehensively. Shop shutters sport the tags of political parties rather than ‘Young Teams’ and abusive slogans centre on the police rather than someone else’s maw.

However, even we were surprised to find a feeder march for today’s demonstration assembled ten yards from the hotel door (a pleasant surprise for foreigners worried about finding the demonstration at all) in the Metaxourgio area of the city. We only had to say “Mila Anglika?” (Do you speak English?) once before we were warmly welcomed to the demonstration by Maria, a committed Communist who looked more like a model than one of the masked hooligans that the British press teach you to expect at these demonstrations. She preached her party’s position with a fervour that inspired the part of us supporting the Greeks in their struggle, but depressed that Scottish tendency to prefer the self-deprecating and understated rather than someone who faithfully repeats the party line.

Despite her orthodoxy, Maria was more than willing to discuss a topic unmentioned in the British press – the effect of these cuts on ordinary Greeks. The ‘reforms’ passed by the Greek Parliament will halve the pensions received by Greeks immediately, plunging millions of elderly Greeks into poverty. Imagine the effects of slashing the basic state pension for a single person to £45 per week and you will get an idea of quite what it is that the Greeks are facing. The effects of the reforms on young people will prove yet more disastrous. Some of you may scoff on hearing that the Greek retirement age is to be increased to a mere 65. However, what you have not been told is that Greeks will have to have been working for FORTY years consecutively before qualifying for a pension – occupational or state. Combined with new labour laws designed to make firing workers easier many Greeks face the prospect of never being able to retire. It’s not just workers that are scared for their futures – university students are worried that the government is going to implement the English system of charging obscene amounts of money for the privilige of education. Sound familiar?

Greek communists hold the SSP flag

It is unsurprising then that a General Strike has been called, something that has not been seen in Britain since 1926. You may feel that these cuts are simply a more severe version of what is taking place in our own country and you would be right. On arriving at Omonia Square, where the feeder march was to join the main demonstration, we unfurled our Scottish Socialist Party – Make Capitalism History banner. The warm reception we received from Greek lefties would put their Scottish cousins to shame (“Whit’s that? It’s all in foreign, I cannae fuckin read it”).

We were both keen to learn as much about the situation in Greece as possible. However, as we talked, we could only spot similarities between the situation of the Greek workers and our own. Greece can boast a significant oligarchy that is famed for the extent of their tax evasion. Theft like this is repugnant at the best of times, but when the majority of Greeks face financial ruin it is simply egregious. The Communists know that a simple solution lies before the Greek people: stop the cuts by ensuring that the rich pay tax. However, they face the colossal barrier of a media that pacifies the majority of Greeks by telling them that the cuts are inevitable. Both of us knew that the austerity measures taking place across Europe are an attempt by the IMF to rid Europe of its welfare states once and for all. Both of us, to varying extents, felt the futility of trying to bring this message to a frightened public.

Despite the severity of the measures they face, the task facing the Greek left is easier – huge numbers of workers observed today’s strike and attended the demonstrations in support of it. Electorally the Left is strong with The Communists and The Coalition of the Radical Left polling a combined 12.14% in the last election. This share of the vote, I can assure you, will increase dramatically next time around.

The Communist group that we marched with were not (officially) the Communists at all. They were organised into a group of trade unions known as PAME . The march exhibited two qualities that the Scottish Left sorely needs: diversity and competence. The broad composition of the march in terms of age was striking. Unlike the official Communist parties throughout the rest of Europe (who mostly consist of pensioners wishing that the Soviet Union could be brought back) PAME was a vibrant movement of men, women, old, young and in between. Absent was the obligatory casual/alternative dress code of the Left in the UK – workers of all professions and people from all walks of life were in this march although a nice old woman did give us a rather fetching KKE baseball cap.

All Cops Are Bastards

How have PAME been able to achieve this? As one of their members told me, because they are concerned for “The person who only sees politics on the television”. The Communists in Greece appear to have recognised that the term Communist carries can be used perjoratively and they have therefore chosen to work in a ‘front’ organisation. However, they have not operated in the crass manner of the British SWP, nor have they watered down their politics (it would appear). While the Coalition of the Radical Left’s posters advertised trying to stop the cuts by convincing backbench politicians to vote against them, PAME had no such illusions in the Parliament or the system. Instead they are media conscious and organised; something that is not true of Left groups in Scotland. The demonstration was lined with men and women carrying poles joined together to prevent inflitrators and agent-provocateurs. After a careful and tactful explanation, a young woman called Eftihia asked if we might swap our red flag for one of the union banners; we didn’t mind, it was just clever organisational skills on behalf of PAME, and she stayed to engage in conversation with us for the rest of the march.

We later walked past the parliament, still protected by roving bands of riot police, and saw that there had clearly been a second lively demo there, although there did not appear to have been much trouble, and there was certainly no trouble on the PAME demo. The only peculiar incident we saw was an ambulance heavily guarded by police as it travelled down a crowded side street beside the parliament. The internet is scare with detail at this stage so if anyone knows what was going on at the tail end of the Parliament demo, leave a comment below as we’d be interested to hear what went on in other parts of the city.

The discussions we entered on media image taught us a great deal about the reporting of the Greek worker’s struggle in the British media.

The British Press

If you can bear it, please waste 1 minute and 48 seconds of your life watching this drivel:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/europe/10554059.stm

What a jaundiced pile of nonsense! At no point does the supposedly balanced Beeb consult the striking workers or tell their side of the story. As tourists currently on holiday in Greece, we have no sympathy for the tourists interviewed!

However, reporting of this crisis has been far more pernicious. Members of PAME informed us that riots that took place outside the Parliament in May were in fact the work of fascists in Greece, a fact concealed from the British public. So to was the fact that the bank workers unfortunate enough to die in an earlier protest, had in fact been locked in the bank by their employers.

This New York Times article is a blatant attempt to demoralise the Greek people and to prevent the rest of the world cottoning on to just how dodgy the tricks the IMF and the EU are pulling to continue to prop up a failing capitalist system. It proclaims the vote in the Greek Parliament today was a “major step forward in overhauling its debt-plagued economy by forcing through a pension bill that would sharply cut the cost of Greece’s welfare state“. When welfare states were conceived of in the immediate aftermath of the devastation of World War II and spread throughout Europe, raising living standards for millions of people, I doubt the progressives who created them ever envisioned the words “welfare state” being used interchangeably with “evil demon-child of socialism and enemy of all that is good and right”. The most offensive part of the article unashamedly claims that “By most accounts, the protests have been relatively restrained since three people were killed in an attack on a bank in early May — a sign perhaps that Greeks, while angry and unhappy at the sacrifices forced upon them, understand that they face little other choice than to tighten their belts”. This is pure fuckin bollocks btw and anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together should try to see through lies like these. They’ll say the same when we in the UK finally wake up out of our daze and realise what 25 – 40 % cuts to all government departments is really going to mean for us.

Don’t believe the lies – believe the hype. Greece is a country leading a struggle the whole of Europe needs to join in. Hopefully the Unions in Britain will see sense and call a General Strike of their own in order to stop these cuts.

7 Comments

  1. liam says:

    really good report and v interesting to hear what’s happening on the ground.
    I would be wary of overstating how great the KKE are though – they’re quite fond of dismissing things outwith their own control as the work of ‘fascists’ and ‘agent provocateurs’ – this was their analysis of the mass uprising of youth in December 2008, which they did everything they could to undermine, actively trying to break up student occupations etc

  2. Sarah says:

    Wasn’t saying they were pure amazin, dunno enough about their politics to do that and they did have the SWP tendency to parrot the party line so you don’t know if you were getting honesty or what but they were clearly the ones on the ground doing something and doing it well. It didn’t seem like an SWP crowd of faithful old men and disposable students, but then again you never know. Like I say I’d be interested to find out exactly what was going on on the other demo as details in English are scarce. We were originally going to go to that demo but when we found a feeder demo for the PAME march straight outside our hotel it seemed madness to leave. From what I gather the other march was organised by the less radical unions and parts of it would be more stale but it’s also the one that attracts anarchists n tha. There is clearly something about the KKE that is attractive to people in Greece in a way that Communist parties would die for in almost every other country, what that is I don’t know.

  3. Jack says:

    There aren’t words to express how happy I am about having this live report. I think it’s worth reflecting for a second that our blog has some of the best live coverage of Greece from afar of pretty much any site I’m aware of in the English language.

    Other resources that are very helpful if you’re wanting to check for more info are http://occupiedlondon.org/blog/ and the Athens IndyMedia site – don’t look at the English page cos it’s not very regularly updated, look at the Greek one and use google translate: http://athens.indymedia.org/?lang=el

    The KKE also have a pretty decent English language site: http://inter.kke.gr/

    What I can reckon from far away: It’s obviously wrong if the KKE didn’t support the uprising about the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulis. But in the current situation the existence of PAME (the All Workers Militant Front) is pretty important from what I can tell.

    The strike yesterday was officially called by the “official” trade union movement the civil servants confederation (ADEDY) and the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSSE). These have, up until the current crisis, basically been known for being a bit rubbish and collaborating with the government. The fact they are know organising general strikes is a measure of how far the situation has gone in Greece, and the absolute scale of the assault Greek workers are facing from the “Greek” government (in fact just IMF/EU puppets). It’s not like here where what the cuts will mean is still a bit abstract for some people: folk are getting sacked and having their rights removed RIGHT NOW. Interestingly, some of the comments I’ve seen on Greek strikes are saying the demos etc haven’t been as good as they’d hoped (can you imagine one they’d be really happy with if this was a duff one!) because it’s holiday time for many Greek workers just now, and people are determined to use their holidays because they know it might the be the last one they get for a while. The Greek working class already works the second longest hours in the world: an average of 2052 hours every year.

    PAME, (http://www.pamehellas.gr/main.php?lang=2) from what I can tell, organises the most militant trade unionists, dedicated to viewing their job as class struggle rather than social partnership. As a result of this they’ve got a fantastic base in the organised working class, with a majority of those going on strike supporting their actions.

    PAME are clearly better than the unions to the right of them. There are also anarchists and other independent movements that are really doing cool stuff – I’ve read that again yesterday activists invaded supermarkets, took food and other essentials, and distributed them on the marches for free. But the important thing about PAME is that it has a real base in the organised working class, and this is going to be something that’s essential if the austerity measures and even if (just maybe) the left could take power in Greece.

    As for what was happening at the parliament, I haven’t been able to find much out yet, but even the parliament workers themselves were on strike yesterday, which I’m waiting to hear if it had an impact on their business and voting etc.

    The only thing I didn’t really like in the article was the bit “Maria, a committed Communist who looked more like a model than one of the masked hooligans that the British press teach you to expect at these demonstrations”. I get that you were trying to give a real picture of what the demo was like as opposed to the typical images we see, but was it really necessary to express that by reference to a patriarchal standard of “attractiveness”?

    Sorry if that seems like griping, I still loved the article overall!

  4. Sarah says:

    McPake sayz: Aye, fair dos, you’re right Jack

  5. Raphie says:

    Great report Andy. Comardes interested in read more on Greece should follow the link below:

    http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1888

    International finance had a major part in hiding the weakness of the Greek economy at the turn of the Millenium when they constrcuted a comples derivative to hide the scale of Greece’s deficit in collusion with the governmnet. Later these financiaer told their hedge fund clienst about the real state of teh Greek economy before it broke and hedge funds speculated against Greek government bonds the end result was that it would be more difficult to borrow any money on the bond markets and the cost of borrowing would be much higher.

    Love the Left Banker

  6. Mhairi McAlpine says:

    Excellent article. I;ve been wondering what has been happening with Greece since its been knocked off the top news spot, good to hear that the struggle is still continuing and great to get some front line reporting that isnt either tainted by the corporate media slant or assumes detailed background knowledge.

  7. Excellent, revealing article comrades, keep up the good work, will read properly after work tonight!

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