Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Strike in Yemen should cheer us up

May 16, 2010

Capitalist society is torn apart in two ways. One offers despair; the other may offer a way out. One way leads to a seemingly endless series of wars.¬† ‘Seemingly ‘, because, with all the high-tech-weaponry around, sooner or later humanity might get utterly exterminated through military violence, in which case the series of wars does come to an end. The other way puts class against class, those down below against those at the top. This may lead to revolution, the end of capitalism, liberation from wage slavery, from exploitation, the end of capital and the state.

The two tendencies play themselves out all around the globe. Competition drives segments of the ruling class into rivalry, spilling over into wars. That is the root cause of the first tendency. But competition also leads capitalists to put pressure upon workers, to exploit them even more in order to remain, uh, competitive ūüôā This pushes workers towards self-defence, towards resistance. This is the root cause of the second tendency.

We are in a race between these two tendencies. Will wars – and other destructive tendencies rooted in competitive exploitation – dominate? or will workers find and use their collective strength in time to themselves and thereby liberate humanity? To be free, or not to be at all? That – with due respect to Shakespeare – is the question.

These two tendencies are both at work all over the world. In countries like Greece, the tendency of hope, of workers against capitalists and state Рdominates. That does nog mean that revolution is at the point of succeeding. But it does mean that the battle lines are those indicating revolution as possibility. We see insurgent workers and other downtrodden layers of the population, striking, demonstrating, rioting against the government, the banks, the police. Class against class, the tendency of hope. But the other tendency is there as well: the Greek government who translates the crisis as a national one: international financial institutions   ant EU governments on one side, the whole of the Greek population on the other. A shallow anti-imperialism, not without influence amongst left-wing parties which have influence among the working class as well.

Other parts of the world are, sadly, dominated by the other, dangerous, destructive, tendency. A case in point is the Middle East region. Here, we see rivalries between segments of the ruling classes, mobilising peasants, workers, the poor against other peasants, workers and the poor, by means of religious, nationalist, ethnic and/ or regionalist themes. We have seen Iraqi society torn apart in that way. First, an American-British invasion and occupation. Then through classic divide-and-rule policies, Shiite elites, often under cover of the occupation,  encouraging oppressive policies against Sunni population, Sunni leaders encouraging a resistance against both the occupation and against the Shia community. Western occupation opened the door to communal slaughter. The violence has abated in recent years. In recent months, however, we see a new wave of bombings and bloodshed.

Other countries see the same dynamics. There is, for example, Yemen. A very poor country, formerly two countries that became one through a unification process in 1990. Regional rivalry remains, however. People in the south complain that most power is reserved for people in the North. There is an armed resistance in operation, based on this kind of feelings. Again, poor people kill and die for the ambitions of the powerful. Again, the destructive war-tendency in full bloom.

But even in countries full of despair, like Iraq, like Yemen, the other tendency now and then raises its head. There is a workers’ movement in Iraq, for instance with collective action in the oil industry – sometimes, as in April 2009,¬† successfully. In Yemen, there is workers’ struggle as well. The GLU trade union federation, in which 520.000 empluyees are organised, is¬† holding strike action, in the form of escalating general strikes: one hour yesterday and today, two hours the next to days, three hours the day after that… until the strike is complete on May 24. Emergency services in, for instance, water supply and health, are exempt from the strike.

The union federation demands higher wages. “Following¬† the sharp rise in prices and cost of living that has been afflicting Yemeni citizens in the last two years, GLU demands a rise in wages and salaries and the establishment of a minimum wage of at least 300 dollars as well as recognition of employees’ rights for workers in the cleaning sector.”¬† This is the kind of news that cheers me up, as it hopefully cheers you up as well.

Greece: crisis deepening, resistance continues

April 23, 2010

The financial crisis in Greece¬† is deepening. At the same time,¬† workers’ struggles¬† are continuing against the austerity policies that the government is imposing.

Signs of deepening crisis are not hard to find. Today, the Greek government asked for financial support. Such aid has been made possible by an IMF/EU program. Greece “had hoped¬† that just the promise of EU support, agreed last months, would have been enough to reassure markets andhelp its recovery.”¬† That hope proved an illusion.

The¬†trigger for this decision was more financial trouble for the Greek state. Yesterday, a “worse-than-expected budget deficit of 13.6 percent” was made public. “The¬†moment has come”, thus spoke prime minister Papandreou, announcing his decision to ask for financial aid.

This means that the financial disaster is far from over. It also means that the austerity policies imposed on the population of the country, are not sufficient to restore the confidence of financial insitutions on the international market in the Greek state and its policies.In fact, they are saying: we want more austerity! In the meantime,there is already far more austerity than the workers in Greece are willing and able to stand passively. This means that the clash between what capital demands and what workers are prepared to take is only deepening.

This same week, the resistance of workers against these policies has again become clear. T Yeterday, Thursday , April 22, there was a public sector strike. “Doctors, nurses, teachers, tax officials and dockers stopped work, paralyzing public services, while thousands are expcte to march to parliament at midday as European and IMF officials meet.” A civil servant, quoted by Reuters, explains: “We won’t tolerate any more measures because we cannot make ends meet. I have a mortgage, two children. I have cut down on every luxury. Why don’t they catch those who stle the money? Is my salary¬†or my mother’s pension of 300 Euros going to save the country?”

Taxikipali, reporting on Libcom.org, has more on this strike and on strikes that had been announced for the week that is now ending: by taxi drivers,¬† amongst others. Taxikipali writes that “another strike wave is on the rise in greece.” I can only hope this wave will grow higher and will wash the government and its policies away. In the meantime, taxikipali’s reports are, and will likely remain, an important source of information and inspiration from Greece in the tense days and weeks to come.

Reading about events in Greece

March 19, 2010

The Greek government, heavily pushed by other European governments, is imposing a package of severe austerity measures upon the population. Working class people are hit by higher taxes and by attacks on wages, pensions and employment. The government takes these measures to bring down the high state debt and budget deficit. Workers are resisting wth a series of big strikes and demonstrations.

The events in Greece are tremendously important for  people everywhere. If  the Greek government is succesful in its attacks, it will mean a big defeat for the working class. Other goernments will take this as a signal that they, too, can bring on even more pressure. If the workers succeed in eating back the capitalist offensive, this will show workers in other countries that they, too, can succesfully resist.

The importance of this fight makes information on the Greek situation especially relevant. A few articles are helpful for understanding the background and following the events. “Greece in the eye of the storm”, written by Antonis Davenellos, explains how Greece developed its budget deficits. Corporations could evade taxes for years without much trouble. Then, when recession struck, the government spent 28 billioneuros in bailing out financial institutions . The article describes the expression of anger and¬†the repercussions within the governing social-democratic PASOK party. Also, earlier confrontations between Greek governments and working class protest and resistance are briefly decribed.

Libcom.org , that beautiful libertarian-revolutinary website, has good coverage and background on the Greek events.¬† An important background piece is “There’s only one thing left to settle: our accounts withcapital and its state”, by TPTG, an autonomous communist group in Greece. This article contains an analysis of the economic crisis in Greece. It shows that the state debt in fact is a form of profit-making for capitalists. What the state has to pay in rent etcetera, is for the creditors a form of gain, won without much risk.

The article analyses the eruption of workers’ protests, the¬† strikes, riots and demonstrations. No cheerleading here, no simplistic enthousiasm for ever-bigger, ever-more-radical resistance. The events on strike day February 24 and March 11 are coolly described and analysed. According to this¬† text, the control that trade unions still have on the protests is still rather strong.¬† A truly big independent movement of resisting workers is not yet to be seen, though the protests have been growing, according to the article. This kind of sober analysis is what makes this text especially valuable.

But enthousiasm is, fortunately, not lacking on the pages of Libcom.org. Taxikipali has e number of vivid reports on the events, for instance “Battle Grount Athens: second general strike leads to pitched battles”, on the strike and street actions of March 11. Taxikipali has bright anarchist convictons, and combines critical factual reporting with level-headed analysis. Especially worthwhile is the Comment section underneath his reports: here, questions are put forward, discussions of the events takes place, and taxikipali addresses the ponts being made. Very valuable it all is.

More information on the austerity package of the Greek government can be found in “Greek trade unions close iranks behind PASOK austerity measures”, on the Trotskyist World Socialist Website (WSWS).¬† For instance, taxes n products, VAT, are in place from March15 onwards. VAT on food producs has gone from 9 to 10 percent, VAT on clothing and shoes from 19 to 21 percent. Pay for public sector workers will be reduced, pensions funded by the state frozen.

The article also shows the terrible behaviour of the big trade unions. For instance, they cancelled the¬† nationwide strike that had been announced for March 16. GSEE, the union federation organising private sector workers, has started a sad, chauvinistic ‘Buy Greek’ campaign which is diverting anger against the Greek government and bosses. The resistance of the workers will bein terrible trouble as long as the strangehold of official tade union structures does not give way.

A few remarks of my own. One ma get the impression that trade unions operate in a much more militant fashion tan their counterparts in, for instance, the netherlands. That does not impy a difference of principle. Rather, the pressure of Greek workers is stronger. In order to contain that pressure and remain on top of things, the union leadership has to make much more radical gestures. Dutch trade unions would do more or less the same if the pressure from workers would be comparably strong.

Workers will need to break the hold of the trade union structures in order truly to stp the austerity programme and the government enforcing it. Al-out class war will be needed, and trade unions are not the organisations that will organise that war. Whether it will come to that? We shall see. In the meantime, following and understanding events in Greece will help and inspire us, if and when similar workers’ protests roll closer and closer to home…

(slightly amended within minutes after first publishing)

Greece: class battles

February 11, 2010

From all the countries of Europe, Greece is probably the most unstable. And it’s a kind of instability that brings hope to workers and their allies. There are strikes and demonstration, again and again. Workers are protesting aginst severe austerity policies, imposed by the Greek goverment, at the behest of Greek and international capital (1).

For instance, yesterday: a big strike in public services. Schools, air traffic, other services wer  brought to a halt for the day. BBC has a report. Bu there was more action than this public sector action. Libcom.com mentions strikes held by an Communist Party-affiliated union in parts of the private sector. There has also been strike action held by autonomous unions. building workers, telecom workers and lift elevator employees were involved in both these strike initiatives.

The austerity policies imposed by the government are quite draconic. A wage freeze for public employees, a higher age of retirement, higher taxes on gasoline, alcohol and tobacco. Only one in 5 civil servants who leaves will be replaced. All this is supposedly necessary to bring public debt and the deficit Р12,7 per cent Рunder control, to fulfill demands made by the US, of which Greece is a member. High debts and deficits mean that tge Greek government has to pay high interest when borrowing money. There are doubts that the greek state will be able to pay the moneyback, doubts wicht make the financial  wordl quite nervous.

But public debt and defiits are not made by the workers who are now ‘asked’ to pay for them. Even now, the government spends money on ridiculous, sometimes openly anti-social things. Libcom.org mentions examples: a new website forthe Forestry Department, for the price of 1,6 million euros.¬† Bigger money: 6 warships, to be bougt in France, for the price of 2,5 billion euros.

The money is clearly there.¬†But the¬†Greek government thinks that preparation for war is a priority, more important than keeping up workers’ living standard (no¬† surprise there), and more important than controlling public spending. If they continue with their attacks on the working class, they may get their war sooner rather than later. But in that prticular war, even the biggest battleships will¬†be of little use.

(1) An interesting piece on the Greek social and economic crisis can be readat Socialistworker.org: “Europan capitalism’s weak link?”, written by ntonis Davenellos, member of one of the Trotskyist organisations in Greece.