In an attempt to break a nine-day metro strike in Athens, the Greek government has invoked an anti-labor law passed during the highly unpopular 1967-1974 military dictatorship. It also sent copies of the law to each worker, with a court order demanding they return to work or face arrest, fines and loss of their jobs.
Though their job action was effective, the heavy government repression forced the 2,500 workers of the Athens Metro to return to work.
Other public transit workers — on buses, trolleys and suburban trains — had called an effective 24-hour strike, beginning Jan. 24 and extending through the next work day.
Development and Transport Minister Kostis Hatzidakis then announced that the government would force the strikers back to work and that there could be no exceptions to a uniform public-sector wage scale. The other transit workers pulled back.
The Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) both strongly criticized the government’s “requisitioning” metro workers. Syriza member of Parliament, Panagiotis Lafazanis, went to the Sepolis train depot in Athens to stress that “invoking martial law does not resolve labor issues. We are here to express our frank condemnation of a government that has imposed martial law.” Then he urged dialog.
The KKE, on the other hand, called on the people to “condemn the government and to express their solidarity towards the just struggle of Metro and other transport employees, who must remain standing and not yield, so that authoritarianism and government’s intransigence fail.” (Athens News Agency, Jan. 25)
The Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) had demanded that the Greek government cut all public sector wages by 25 percent as a condition for getting its latest round of bailout funds.
What made this strike difficult for workers is the state of the Greek economy. It has been in a deep recession since 2008, shrinking by 25 percent through the end of 2012, with projections for shrinking another 5 percent in 2013 due to the Troika continuing to impose austerity.
Some economists are predicting a slight uptick for Greece in 2015. But for Greece’s output to reach the level it was at in 2008 from its current low level, it would need an increase of about 50 percent.
The official figure for unemployment was 26.8 percent in October of 2012. Self-employed people — like lawyers, doctors, taxi drivers and day laborers who shape up — are also suffering but don’t show up in the official figures.
What this means on the street is that pensions have been cut, again and again. There are reports that people in Greece are eating out of garbage cans when soup kitchens run short. Diners in sidewalk cafes are asked for any food they might leave on their plates.
People suffer and die because they can’t pay for medical care or for the medicines they need. Homelessness is rampant and suicides are up.
Greek workers, who are very political, know their only hope is to struggle for as long and as hard as they can.
Political tensions in Greece are high; the austerity program imposed by the Troika has caused much suffering among the workers and poor. The left social-democratic coalition, Syriza, is leading other parties in opinion polls. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras made a whirlwind tour of the U.S. in late January, meeting with an IMF director, speaking at the Brookings Institution, holding a discussion with the New York Times editorial board, speaking at Columbia’s law school and at the City University of New York, and holding a number of meetings with the Greek-American community not covered by the corporate media.
U.S. ruling circles are obviously assessing how it would affect their interests should Tsipras become Greece’s prime minister.