Leaderships of unions and Left parties fail to provide decisive leadership
Andros Payiatsos, Xekinima (CWI Greece)
A three and a half hours meeting held yesterday Wednesday, 19 June evening, between Prime Minister Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, and the leaders of PASOK and Democratic Left – the three parties that make up the Greek coalition government – came to nothing. They could only agree to meet again today, Thursday 20 June. Thursday also sees a session of the High Court which will examine the crisis of the national public broadcaster, ERT. The sudden closure of the ERT by Samaras caused a massive crisis for the Samaras government, less than nine months after it was elected and when everything seemed to be going very well for Samaras.
Early last week, in an unprecedented move, Samaras closed down ERT using a ‘ministerial decree’. The issues that immediately arose was not just the sacking of 2,650 employees, in one stroke, but the fact that Samaras did not allow parliament to have a say on the issue, as it closes down for its ‘limited’ summer session in the next few days and is not in a position to decide on issues of primary importance. Samaras did not even consult governing partners, PASOK and DL, before using the special Act used to shut down ERT. The Act was only signed only by the 17 ND ministers whereas the DL and PASOK ministers (4 in total) did not even see the Act.
All this contravened the country’s constitution. The constitution allows for the government to bypass parliament, temporarily (before the issue goes to parliament), buy only under conditions of a ‘national crisis’ and only if the Act was signed by all the ministers in the government.
Samaras behaved in a semi-dictatorial manner, displaying complete arrogance and disregard for basic parliamentary procedures, the constitution and his allies in government. He assumed this arrogant approach as a result of repeated victories against attempts by the working class to fight back against austerity measure. The Samaras government ‘conscripted’ (ruled illegal) every single important strike in the course of the last six months. Samaras’ arrogance was also based on the fact that he has the full support of Chancellor Merkel and the rest of the gangsters at the top of the EU and he was even gaining ground in the polls. All the recent surveys showed New Democracy with a lead against SYRIZA, which in some polls put ND four percentage points ahead.
What Samaras underestimated however was the magnificent response of the Greek working class to the ERT closure. Workers rallied to support the public broadcaster, in whose closure they could see the future of any sector of the working class who refused to accept the diktats of Samaras and Merkel. After an initial shock, the ERT workers occupied their workplace building and continued to broadcast. The government used private companies to block the broadcast signal but the workers used the internet to continue broadcasting and then broadcasters from the Left (including the Greek communist party (KKE) TV station and SYRIZA’s radio station) reproduced the ERT signal. The government used hackers to destroy the ability of ERT workers to use the internet and then a struggle began between government employees and ERT technicians over broadcasting. This struggle continues but ERT is still broadcasting, although with intermissions every now and then.
In this situation, the Unions of Journalists and the rest of the workers in the mass media were pushed into taking four day strike action and GSEE and ADEDY (the private and public sector TUCs) was forced to call a 24-hour general strike. The constitutional High Court was also forced to discuss the issue and its president to take a decision which clipped the wings of the Prime Minister somewhat. The Court President ruled that Samaras had over-reached his powers by invoking the special Act but that the government was allowed to continue with its ‘restructuring’ plans for ERT (i.e. sacking all the workers and reemploying a few of their own choice, under “medieval” labour conditions, wages and relations).
Tens of thousands protest outside ERT building
Between 70,000 to 80,000 gathered last Thursday, 13 June, outside ERT’s building in Athens and solidarity demonstrations took part in every city in Greece. Last Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, tens of thousands protested outside the ERT building, showing again the unlimited determination of the Greek working class to fight when it sees the opportunity to do so.
The strikes lasted until Sunday, 16 June. And then, just when the government was plunging into a desperate situation, the union leaders called the strikes off, leaving the ERT workers on their own.
Xekinima (CWI in Greece) argued that the only viable plan for this week, on the part of the unions, would have been a full seven days of strike action by media workers and a new 48-hour general strike called by the GSEE and ADEY union federations (public and private sectors). This would have easily led to an avalanche of strikes, with the entry into struggle of many sectors. If this failed to win, more militant industrial action was needed, with ‘repeated’ general strikes and mass social movements to force the Samaras government to fully retreat over ERT. This would prepare the way for the fall of the coalition government and raise the prospect of a SYRIZA-led government of the Left. Such a Left government must refute debts and say no to all Troika-imposed policies, and pledge to carry out socialist policies – such a taking big banks and multinational companies into public democratic ownership and planning – to end the catastrophic economic and social crisis and the endless austerity attacks.
But once again, the union leaders and also the Left, in particular KKE and SYRIZA, failed to provide leadership over the last week. The KKE actually breached the strike, last Sunday, by publishing ‘Rizospastis’, the KKE’s main newspaper, without consulting the unions and strikers beforehand (Greece’s other main Left papers were not published during the media workers’ strike partly in order to assist the publication of a special strikers’ paper). Moreover, the KKE print shop printed three other newspapers for commercial reasons, including a right wing paper, during the strike action.
SYRIZA (radical left coalition party) did not publish their main newspaper, a daily called, ‘Avgi’, or the two weekly papers sold through the commercial agencies but the leadership were openly divided over the ERT strike and continually vacillated. During meetings of the Left faction in the journalists’ union, leading Syriza members argued against strike action but were dragged along in calling industrial action by more general militant pressure and their fear to state publically their real views.
As a result of the role of the main Left forces and union leadership, the strike movement is now in retreat.
The crisis at the top of government remains fully fledged and exposed as the leaders of PASOK and DL are openly committed to reversing the Samara’s “coup” and the High Court (Constitutional) cannot identify itself with the actions of the government as the breach of the Constitution regarding ERT is too obvious and clear.
Everything is thus open, including the possibility of early elections, although nobody really wants them: ND dreads the possibility of falling after the new upsurge of the struggle of workers, despite last week’s polls giving it a lead; PASOK and DL are terrified that that they could be destroyed in elections and allow the formation of a SYRIZA-led government; the ruling class lost sleep because Samaras appeared to be doing such a fine job for them but now he risks wrecking their favoured government, and, of course, the EU, Merkel and the rest of the EU gangsters are scared of their devoted pupil, Samaras, being ousted from government.
Xekinima (CWI in Greece) swiftly participated in the protest movement over the last week, through its presence in the leading bodies of the unions’ coordinating bodies, with our supporters taking part in protests outside the ERT building on a continuous daily basis and producing a leaflet with our main demands just hours after the crisis broke. Over five days of demonstrations and rallies across the country, all 1,200 copies of the fortnightly Xekinima newspaper sold out.