On Dec. 17, tens of thousands of Greek workers participated in a nationwide strike. The strike was called by PAME, the All-workers’ Militant Front. Protests took place in 63 cities and towns across Greece. Workers, peasants and students, young and old, female and male, native-born and immigrants rallied together against the government’s austerity measures.

greek strike
Workers in Greece protest government attacks on
wages and benefits.

The strike was joined and supported by construction workers; food and beverage workers; textile, garment and leather workers; printers; doctors and pharmaceutical workers; journalists and teachers; merchant marines; accountants and many other sectors.

Aleka Papariga, secretary general of the Communist Party of Greece, said, “It is not possible to achieve even the slightest gain if you are not determined to disobey, if you are not determined to respect the right to go on strike and the right to struggle for the rights of the workers. And thus we believe that this day, the 17th December will breed big struggles.”

In an effort to divide workers, the government and courts banned the strike of merchant marines. The workers ignored the court’s ruling and went ahead with their planned strike, forming massive picket lines on ferry loading ramps. Not a single ferry was able to leave.

The government of the PASOK (Social Democratic) party was elected on Oct. 4, 2009, on false promises of higher social spending and wage increases. Instead, it set on an anti-worker course from the first days of its term.

In a major financial policy talk on Dec. 14, Prime Minister George Papandreou outlined the measures that the government intended to take. These measures include cuts in social services, wage and hiring freezes, attacks on pension funds, and a new wave of privatizations.

In December, three major international credit rating agencies downgraded Greece’s credit score because of the country’s exploding budget deficit. The deficit now reaches 12.7 percent of the annual gross domestic product, far above the 3 percent limit for countries that use the euro currency. Greece’s deficit has caused major concern to top European Union officials. At the same time, the official unemployment rate has sharply risen to 9.3 percent in the third quarter.

The deficit and the global capitalist crisis have given the Greek government a pretext to advance long planned anti-worker measures. Most of the measures that the government is attempting had been outlined many years before the onset of the current economic crisis, in EU policy documents such as the Lisbon Strategy.

Since the early days of the new government, the discontent of workers and poor people in Greece has been growing. Two days after the elections, longshore workers in the port of Piraeus—Greece’s largest—struck against the privatization of the port. The strike was followed by daily actions of short-term contract workers, demanding to become permanent. In early December, thousands of students and youth protested the government’s education policies and growing state repression, marking the anniversary of a high school student’s murder by the police in 2008.

The growing discontent is also due to other government policies, including the support of the occupation of Afghanistan and increased participation in the NATO occupation force, as well as support for Obama’s expanded version of the Anti-Missile Shield. It is also a response to sharpening repression against undocumented immigrants.

The government has been forced to call for a “social dialogue” between workers, bosses and government ministers. The leadership of the General Confederation of Workers endorsed participation in the “dialogue” instead of helping to organize the workers’ direct action. This forced PAME to call its own strike.

PAME is a coalition of national federations of industrial unions, various city labor councils and union locals. Struggle committees and caucuses in unions that are dominated by pro-government forces are also participating in PAME.

PAME was formed in April 1999 by the initiative of the Communist Party of Greece and other progressive labor leaders and workers. It constitutes a more struggle-oriented pole of Greece’s labor movement. It participates in the General Confederation of Workers, seeks unity with all workers and maintains its independence in order to carry out its own actions, including government building occupations, protests and strikes when necessary.

The latest strike was organized using a wide variety of grassroots outreach methods, including work-site visits, passing of leaflets, postering, street agitation, discussions with co-workers, and small protests in the period leading up to the strike. This was combined with popular interventions, including press conferences, radio ads and pressure on other forces to join the strike.

The December strike was PAME’s most successful action so far. The success forced the leadership of the General Confederation of Workers to consider calling for a general strike in early 2010. The economic crisis continues to deepen in Greece. In this context, a class-conscious workers’ movement is asserting itself as a crucial factor in Greek politics.