Protesting like the Greeks

Marika Pratley, Workers Party, Wellington

On Friday May 25 Bill English criticized over 400 Auckland students  who protested against the budget cuts. He commented,  “they need some Greeks to show them how to do it.”  Greece has a rich history of radical tradition. With Greece bearing the forefront of the economic crisis in Europe, the Greek working class has faced intense pressure to comply with austerity measures.

Framed in the mass media as “rioting-hooligans”, “tax-dodgers”, or simply “lazy”, these misconceptions have led to Greeks being ridiculed and scapegoated in-the-name of the economic crisis. However both capitalism and the financial crisis are global. These austerity measures are not unique to Athens, and the outrage against austerity is an international phenomenon which goes outside Greece’s borders. Furthermore the Greek working class did not ’cause’ the crisis in Europe, and the working class and beneficiaries in Greece should not be forced into paying for the crisis. The financial crisis ensued as a result of the capitalist system not being able to sustain itself.

Mass protests in Montreal, Canada.

Symptoms of the crisis are everywhere. Bill English may not be aware of the explosion of hundreds of thousands participating in the 100 day student strike in Canada, and he may not be familiar with the recent radical student protests in London or Chile for example. The statement he made which frames the radical response as being an inherent characteristic of Greek people is completely ignorant to movements developing internationally in response to capitalism. This was an attempt to make light of the situation that the students, working people and beneficiaries in New Zealand face as they are coerced into taking responsibility for the financial crisis.

Bill English expects us to accept the budget. He is quoted in the same TV3 article, “A regular sense of crisis is normal. It’s going to be normal.” It is also “normal” for people to feel discontent and outrage in response to the austerity measures. We know we do not have to pay for capitalisms crisis, and we refuse to accept that just because it is apparently “normal” for us to do so, that it is ‘acceptable”.

In response to English’s statements, over five hundred people from We Are The University (WATU) Auckland and Blockade the Budget protested on Friday 1st June, but were disrupted when police physically violated the peaceful demonstrators. Video footage released online exposed police launching the attack on the protesters by dragging a female protester by the throat. Other police were reported to be gauging protesters eyes and dragging others by the jaw.  Over 43 protesters were arrested and multiple injuries ensued as a result of police violence.  That night, over 1000 people demonstrated outside the police station in solidarity with the arrestees and those harmed by police.

On Friday 7th June WATU (Wellington) in conjunction with Blockade the Budget, hosted a Speak Out at Victoria University in Wellington, inviting students, staff and members of the public to talk. Over 150-200 attended and several participants spoke about the budget cuts, the police brutality in Auckland, and their own previous personal experiences dealing with the consequences of user-pays education, and the prohibition of freedom to protest.

Student protest in London.

In 2010 mass demonstrations took place in both Athens and London. The protest in Athens was to commemorate the second year anniversary of the death of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15 year old student who was shot by police in 2008, but was also confronting the  beginning of austerity measure policies that were being implemented at the time. The protest in London was to resist the government’s moves to increase fees to 9000 pounds. At both demonstrations thousands of high school students, university students, workers, pensioners, red flags, black flags, anarchists and communists, combined forces to make it clear that they did not consent to moves by their respective governments to implement austerity measures.

In both countries there were various forms of police brutality. Before demonstrations had even begun in Athens, riot police would make their presence known with the constant explosion of teargas, which would continue for the next few hours. In one protest in London the police ‘kettled’ parliament grounds, disallowing protester’s to enter or leave the premises. Police violence ensued throughout the day, and over 30-40 police on horses charged into the crowd, waving their batons carelessly.

All this shows that capitalism will use all its forces from legislation to police violence to suppress democracy and restrict people and groups that are willing to refuse austerity measures. We must continue internationally to organise and mobilise against capitalism and refuse to be intimidated by scaremongering of police brutality, or rhetoric by politicians that we are powerless to the crisis. Workers and ordinary people are saying that they won’t pay for the crises of capitalism.

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