November Started Hot in Greece
by George Labrinidis
A huge demonstration took place in Athens on the 1st of November. Given that demonstrations are not uncommon in Greece (20,120 recorded demonstrations between May 2010 and March 2014), one might question the significance of this one. I would like to argue that this demonstration was special. To begin with, it is an initiative of PAME (All Workers Militant Front) that is supported by hundreds of unions (over 1000 unions signed the call to demonstrate and declared participation). PAME is a trade union front established in April 1999 following an initiative of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). Despite its origins, the majority of signatories to this demonstration are not communists.
Second, the demonstration is Pan Hellenic, namely taking place in Athens with people coming from across Greece to participate. This is not typical at all for workers’ demonstrations which tend to be localised, with the exception of a few actions by farmers. With many islands and relatively poor transportation, Greece is geographically fragmented. Some people travelled for more than 15 hours to the capital and back in order to demonstrate. The only precedent to this event was in response to a Pan Hellenic call of KKE on the 15th of May 2010, immediately following the signing of the first Memorandum that sealed officially the introduction of extremely severe austerity policies and only 10 days after the bloody demonstration of the 5th of May, in which four people were burnt alive.
Third, a general strike – of both public and private sector workers – is scheduled for the 27th of November. After the elections of 2012 general strikes have reduced in number and participation was low, reflecting a general setback for the labour movement. The reasons for this are related to the elections – although a full account goes beyond the scope of this article. What is interesting here is that the demonstration of the 1st November will definitely play a role in the success of the strike. Many unions called for a strike the 1st of November as well, thus setting the ground for a larger participation of their members in the general strike.
Fourth, the organisation of the workers and the unemployed people is today better than it was a few years ago. The levels are low, both in absolute terms and compared to what is necessary, but still more people are unionised today than back in 2010. The rate of union participation has doubled, from 7 to 15 per cent, according to some estimates.
Fifth, the Coordinating Committee of the Farmers’ Blocks has decided to participate in the demo on the 1st of November. Various attempts have been made in the past for workers and farmers to march side by side, but they were limited both geographically and in numbers of demonstrations. It is the first time that farmers will participate in numbers in such a general workers’ demonstration. Further, the Committee has announced the mobilisation of the Blocks in November.
All these features become more interesting considering that the political scene in the country is fluid at the moment. Amidst the collapse of the stock market and the imposition of new austerity measures, the government and SYRIZA have decided (independently and for different reasons) to postpone the elections. Moreover, the recent polls report that 50.8 percent of the voting population doesn’t want elections as well, for reasons that differ from both those of the government and of SYRIZA. No one argues though that not pushing for elections is a sign of satisfaction from the present situation. On the contrary, the situation for most people in Greece is as bad as it can get and the prospects for them are worse.
What we have seen thus far in Greece allows us to speculate that any event might set off a series of unpredictable reactions. A few days of heavy cold resulting in a few deaths may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For sure, a Pan Hellenic demo in Athens and a general strike a few days later will complicate things. After all, November is the month that Greek people celebrate the fall of the dictatorship (1967-1974) and on the 17th there is an annual demonstration that finishes outside the American Embassy. If the state reacts with provocative actions and violence then we may have a setback or a complete explosion.
For all these reasons, the 1st of November may become another important date in the recent history of Greece.
Photographs from Rizospastis, 2nd November 2014, 2nd edition, pp17-20