Greece Interview: “To have a general strike in Greece it is not such a big deal”

The Spark July 2010

In the last issue of The Spark we reported on recent events from the class struggle in Greece. Some of the fiercest popular resistance to the current crisis of capitalism has erupted in Greece over the last couple of years. The latest chapter in this unfolding drama has been the revelation that Greece is unable to pay back the huge foreign debt that it has accumulated during its years of economic growth since joining the eurozone in 2001. According to a report by Costas Lapavitsas and other economists (http://tiny.cc/a7e05), the debt crisis is an inevitable consequence of the structure of the eurozone, which is extremely hierarchical.

A “core” comprising the richest countries (Belgium, France, Germany and Netherlands) dominates the “periphery” (Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain). Germany has acquired the dominant position in the capitalist “race to the bottom” by squeezing its workers hard in the aftermath of reunification.  German politicians and newspapers have been busy whipping up resentment against “profligate” Greeks, since a large chunk of the cost of the bailout package will fall on the German working class. However, it is only the militancy of the Greek workers that have prevented their living standards being pushed down even further than their already low level. It is time for German and other workers to start “learning Greek”!

Mike Kay, industrial officer for the Workers Party, who travelled in Greece in June, spoke to Stavros and Paulin from the OKDE (Organisation of Communist Internationalists of Greece) in Athens.

MK: Greece has been the focus of much of the debate about the problems of the European economy. Why does it occupy this special positon?

OKDE: For several reasons, Greece is the weak link in the chain of the European Union (EU). Firstly, because of the weakness of Greek capital due to the reduction in the productive bases of industry and agriculture. Secondly, because of the weaknesses in the EU as a whole – renegotiation or non-payment of “toxic” debt may lead to the collapse of German and French banks. This may be enough to set off a “domino effect” leading to the collapse of several countries’ economies. Thirdly, there is the Greek movement against austerity, of which the latest pact from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and EU is trying to break the backbone. Lastly, there is a very deep political crisis; the disintegration of the Pasok (Socialist party) government may have already begun.

MK: What have been the immediate effects of the crisis for Greek workers?

OKDE: Precariousness in employment has gone from being a marginal phenomenon to an everyday one. The labour aristocracy is being destroyed due to cuts in the public sector. Whole layers of the middle class are being destroyed. The attacks on the welfare state mean that now even the right wing newspapers are reporting that the long-term unemployed are forced to turn to the churches for food relief.

Meanwhile the Greek bourgeoisie has totally capitulated to the IMF and EU. They are like Vichyists! Their only concern has been to try and save some small parts of Greek capital connected with the banking and finance sector. Most probably Greece will become the first country to be expelled from the Eurozone. It shows the depth of the crisis that one of the main strategic goals of the EU, the Euro, may be on the verge of collapse. If they do manage to preserve it, it will be on the basis of a very strict hierarchy. The European Central Bank would control Greece’s budget extremely tightly.

MK: The social crisis in Greece first came to the attention of the world in December 2008 when the country errupted in riots sparked by the fatal police shooting of 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. What has happened since about bringing Alexis’ killers to justice?

OKDE: Currently the trial of the police officers involved is drawing to an end. The judge is proposing that the cop is freed due to lack of evidence. The trial was held in a small city outside of Athens to prevent demonstrations. The movement of 2008 was mostly a youth revolt. The working class did not participate energetically – rather they looked on with sympathy. Now, we have broader social layers mobilising with deeper social potential.

MK: Recently a protest resulted in the death of three bank workers who were asphyxiated by fumes from Molotov cocktails. What was behind that story?

OKDE: Since 2008, the anarchists have experienced fast growth, and have participated in acts of individual violence. Throwing of Molotovs and so on is common. It is not unexpected to burn a bank. The workers in the bank had wanted to strike on that day, but the boss locked them in. The building itself was not safe to use as a bank. Of course the right wing tried to use this incident to discredit the movement, but most people did not believe what they said.

MK: How do you explain the particular militancy of the movement?

OKDE: To have a general strike in Greece it is not such a big deal. This is because of the history of struggle. Three times bourgeois power has been challenged: in 1936 in Thessaloniki, again in the resistance movement against the Nazis and finally against the military coup in 1973.There has never been a heavy role of

the trade union bureaucracy. The reformist party Pasok does not have deep roots in the workers movement. It was set up from scratch in 1974, and was from the beginning a bourgeois party. There is workers’ democracy in the functioning of the unions, and traditionally the far left has had quite wide influence. What is lacking is a co-ordinating centre for the militant mood.

MK: How did your tendency evolve?

OKDE: OKDE is the oldest far left organisation in Greece after the Communist Party, which was founded in 1918. We started out as the Left Opposition within the Communist Party from 1927, and became a separate organisation in 1934. At the time of the coup in 1967, we were part of the United Secretariat of the Fourth

International. Our organisation was rebuilt in 1974 as OKDE, but we disagreed with the leadership of the U-Sec over the policy of dissolving parties, etc. There is a different organisation called OKDE-Spartakos which is trying to find a Greek way of setting up an anti-capitalist party. We have good relations with them. In the mid 1980s the U-Sec decided to recognise Spartakos as the official organisation, although their current membership has no continuity with the original OKDE group. They are mainly an organisation of students, we are mainly

workers. Spartakos do not intervene in the movement autonomously. In contrast, an initiative from our comrades in Thessaloniki has set up several “first level” unions from scratch in a struggle involving restaurant workers not unlike what Unite union is doing in New Zealand

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