The Guardian

The Guardian June 26, 2002


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

A letter from Athens

It was really quite exhilarating. On Tuesday, June 18, I was a lone 
Australian marching with tens of thousands of striking Greek trade 
unionists in a massive demonstration in the heart of Athens.

We were protesting against the Greek Government's attacks on the pension 
and social security system, in particular a proposed new law to raise the 
age at which a worker becomes eligible for the pension, and to lower the 
amount of the pension.

PAME (the "All Worker Front of Struggle", roughly translated), a militant 
grass roots trade union organisation in which members of the Communist 
Party of Greece (KKE) play a leading role, first proposed that workers 
stage a general strike over this issue.

General strikes are on the increase in Greece. Previously there would have 
been one or two a year. I was told there have been eight or nine so far 
this year!

Such is the anger of the people over the attacks by the employer class and 
their government on the livelihood and living conditions of the people, 
that the two main (national) trade union federations  for public sector 
and private sector workers respectively  had no option but to take up 
PAME's call for a general strike and make it their own.

Across Greece, hundreds of thousands of workers heeded the call and downed 
tools. The public sector was shut down; all trains and buses stopped; the 
ports were idle; shipbuilding and construction workers stopped work; 
offices and factories were closed.

The only opposition the bourgeois media could find was a scuffle at a 
factory gate where a handful of scabs tried to cross a picket line. 
(Curious how the media just happened to be there. The scene was shown on 
all the bourgeois channels.)

The march through central Athens to the Parliament building was very 
similar to such occasions in Australia.

The marchers carried lots of large banners and there was lots of chanting 
of slogans. But there were none of the individual placards carried by 
marchers that we are familiar with.

My CPA badge, with its prominent emblems of the hammer and sickle and the 
Southern Cross with the letters CPA, attracted attention.

"Communist Party of America?" was most people's tentative identification. 
But they seemed equally pleased to learn I was from Australia. At least I 
had come a long way to be with them, and they appreciated the act of 
solidarity.

There were plenty of police on hand, with a greater proportion in riot gear 
than we usually see in Australia. Indeed, there were at least four 
different types of riot police on display.

One lot I came across, dressed in khaki riot gear, looked particularly 
menacing and apparently have a reputation for ugly behaviour.

Their "protective clothing" and riot shields alone looked potentially 
lethal, with their batons and fire-extinguisher-sized cylinders of chemical 
spray. Apparently this gaseous substance is far more potent than tear gas, 
burning the skin and making it instantly impossible to breathe.

The matter of fact way the young comrades in particular went about the 
preparations for the march was very impressive. They were prepared for 
possible violence by the police but they were not deterred. They simply 
took what steps they could to minimise risk.

The prevalence of young people, especially the comradeship and good humour 
of the young members of Communist Youth of Greece (KNE), was a great boost 
to the spirits.

The KNE is aimed at young workers, and is strikingly successful. It is also 
prominent among students and maintains a very full social agenda in order 
to provide young people with a rich, proletarian cultural life, or as rich 
as one can under capitalist conditions.

The march went past the building of the Economics Ministry, which a large 
team of construction and metalworkers had occupied. This is the Ministry 
responsible for the administration of social security and pensions.

Down the fagade of the building hung a huge banner, six floors deep, 
suspended from the roof and roped to the awning below. The banner was 
headed "STRIKE 18 JUNE 2002" and demanded: "Take back the proposed anti-
worker law that demolishes our social security rights".

It was signed by the trade union federations of construction workers, metal 
workers, textile workers and non-government office workers.

From the roof of the building the occupying group threw small leaflets like 
confetti onto the march below. I souvenired one. It was in the name of PAME 
and said:

"We demand the social security law be withdrawn.

"NO to the demolition of our social security rights.

"WE DEMAND our modern social needs".

The translation could probably be improved, but you get the idea.

As far as capitalism is concerned, workers have NO social security rights. 
If capitalism provides pensions or other consideration it does so only 
because workers in the past have refused to go on working unless such 
considerations were provided.

Today, with more workers than it has work for, capitalism is attempting to 
take back the "concessions" it made in earlier times. Workers are having to 
fight again for pensions, job safety, workers' compensation, unemployment 
benefits and all those other rights that employers regard as an impost and 
a burden on themselves.

But they are not charity. They are an essential right. And as the march in 
Athens showed, workers will fight to protect their rights.

Back to index page