Category Archives: Greece

Occupied Greek Factory Begins Production Under Workers’ Control

The following is a statement from supporters of the Vio.Me workers’ union, which was translated on the excellent From The Greek Streets blog:

Occupy, Resist, Produce!
“We see this as the only future for workers’ struggles.”
Makis Anagnostou, Vio.Me workers’ union spokesman

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 is the official first day of production under workers control in the factory of Viomichaniki Metalleutiki (Vio.Me) in Thessaloniki, Greece. This means production organized without bosses and hierarchy, and instead planned with directly democratic assemblies of the workers. The workers assemblies have declared an end to unequal division of resources, and will have equal and fair remuneration, decided collectively. The factory produces building materials, and they have declared that they plan to move towards a production of these goods that is not harmful for the environment, and in a way that is not toxic or damaging.

“With unemployment climbing to 30% – sick and tired of big words, promises and more taxes – not having been paid since May 2011, the workers of Vio.Me, by decision of the general assembly of the union declare their determination not to fall prey to a condition of perpetual unemployment, but instead to take the factory in their own hands to operate themselves. It is now time for worker’s control of Vio.Me.!” (Statement of the Open Solidarity Initiative, written together with the workers of Vio.Me – full statement:

Workers in Vio.Me stopped being paid in May of 2011, and subsequently the owners and managers abandoned the factory. After a series of assemblies the workers decided that together they would run the factory. Since then, they have occupied and defended the factory and the machinery needed for production. They have continued to reach out to other workers and communities throughout Greece, receiving tremendous support. The solidarity and support of all of these groups, communities and individuals, has made an important contribution towards the survival of the workers and their families thus far.
This experience of worker’s occupation to workers recovery and control is not new – either historically or currently. Since 2001 there are close to 300 workplaces that are run democratically by workers in Argentina, ranging from health clinics and newspapers and schools, to metal factories, print shops and a hotel. The experience there has shown that workers together cannot only run their own workplace, but can do it better. The example of Argentina has spread throughout the Americas, and now to Europe and the US. In Chicago, workers of New World Windows have begun production under workers control after years of struggles with former owners and bosses. And now in Greece, workers are again showing that the way forward – out of unemployment – refusing the crisis – is workers control and directly democratic self-management.

“We urge all workers, the unemployed and all those who are affected by the crisis to stand by the workers of Vio.Me and support them in their effort to put in practice the belief that workers can make it without bosses! To participate in the struggle and organize their own fights within their work places, with directly democratic procedures and without bureaucrats.” (Union’s website:

As with all factory recuperations, the question of initial financing is central. While solidarity has been able to maintain the lives of the workers of Vio.Me and their families, the capital needed to continue production is huge. The workers’ union has a business plan that is sustainable, but will take time to get off the ground. These first months are crucial. Financial help can make all the difference. Any contribution is helpful.
Direct financial support can be sent to the Vio.Me workers’ union in Thessaloniki through the International Solidarity Website:
Solidarity Statements as well as questions can be sent to:
Thessaloniki Solidarity Initiative, Brendan Martin (Working World), Dario Azzellini and Marina Sitrin

New Greek Government Prepares For Intensified Class War

Antonis Samaras has promised “hope”, but will bring despair to all but the rich

Antonis Samaras of the ‘centre-right’ New Democracy party has been sworn in as Prime Minister of Greece, after he formalised an austerity coalition with ‘centre-left’ PASOK and the smaller Democratic Left. He vowed to “give hope” to struggling Greeks, but on the contrary, his agenda will deepen the chasmic divides in Greek society, and set the stage for an intense new phase in the class struggle.

In last Sunday’s election, held under heavy blackmail from German leader Angela Merkel, France’s Francois Hollande and other top representatives of the financial aristocracy, New Democracy won 29.66% of the vote (up 10% on May’s vote) as voters fearful of a Euro exit rallied to his banner. The economic and political blackmail was deployed due to the popularity of ‘extreme left’ party SYRIZA, who had officially rejected the troika memorandum in the election campaign. Alexis Tsipras’ grouping increased their percentage from 16 to 27, but fall far behind New Democracy in the new parliament due to the anti-democratic fifty seat bonus the top party automatically receives. It is this which has allowed New Democracy to form a majority coalition, with their inflated 129 seats being added to the 33 of PASOK and the 17 of Democratic Left, to give a total of 179 out of 300 in the assembly.

Technically, Democratic Left were not needed for a pure majority, but the right-wing SYRIZA breakaway will provide some ‘left’ cover for the horrors to come. Samaras was keen for SYRIZA to also join the attack on the working class, but Tsipras was quick to embrace the role of loyal opposition, and accepted bourgeois formalities as he congratulated Samaras on his ‘victory’, declaring that “a government should be formed from the core of ND, as it was the will of the people.”

As Tsipras is well aware, a New Democracy-led government was not “the will of the people”. The party could not even win one third of the vote, on a turnout of 62%. New Democracy therefore won the support of less than one in five of the electorate. Their austerity programme is widely detested, as it promises to drive even more Greeks into poverty and destitution, in a country that already had an official unemployment rate of nearly one in four, and where the value of wages has often been cut by something approaching a half over the last few years. Tsipras knows there is more working class resistance to come, and is settling into his new role as arch confuser of that street and workplace opposition.

An additional 11.7 billion in cuts is next on the austerity agenda, with troika representatives en route to Athens to work out the particulars with their new political puppets. New Democracy have signalled that they intend to lay off 150,000 public sector workers over the next few years. There are also plans to slash taxes for corporations and the wealthy – exploding any suggestion that Greeks are ‘all in it together’, and proving that the economic crisis is being exploited to restructure economic relations for a generation.

No doubt yet another tranche of cuts will prove ‘necessary’ when bankers start betting against the country’s economy once again. No doubt trade union bureaucrats will call one day strikes here and there, and no doubt Alexis Tsipras will call for the government to ‘reconsider’ their strategy. But in Greece as around the world – the only way that working class people can overturn the will of the bankers is to directly lay their hands on the levers of economic power, and wield them in their own interests.

The Two Faces Of SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras

SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras is playing a high stakes double game

I’ve written on the economic and political crisis unfolding in Greece many times over the last few years. There’s a very good reason for this. Naturally, the lives and living standards of eleven million Greeks are very significant and important in of themselves. But every European country is walking down the same road as Greece – slashing austerity as demanded by bankers, which is followed by a recession, which is followed by more of the same poisonous ‘medicine’. Horrible though it is to think of it this way, the Greek experience is being used as a testing ground for the financial aristocracy, and therefore it must also be seen as a testing ground for working class resistance strategies.

Somewhere down this spiral, the ‘centrist’ (actually right wing) political consensus inevitably fractures and falls away, to be replaced by an increasing political polarisation. In Greece, this has meant the rise of the thuggish Golden Dawn to the fascist right, counterposing a wide variety of ‘extreme left’ groupings. Chief amongst them is SYRIZA, which won the second highest amount of votes (17%) in the May election, and according to the last official opinion polls before next week’s re-vote, was on course to become the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament.

Not surprisingly, this news has sent flutters of anticipation through an international ‘left’ which is desperate for good news stories. Richard Seymour of the Lenin’s Tomb blog neatly summarised the confusion with his post ‘The Challenge of SYRIZA’:

“Now, judging from online conversations and opinion pieces, a large section of the far left is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The narratives of betrayal are already being readied, the old verities being ‘proved’ repeatedly. There are many variations, but the core of it is that: 1) Syriza are straightforwardly reformists, notwithstanding the substantial revolutionary fringe – the tail does not wag the dog; 2) reformists are apt to compromise with the forces of capitalism, and as such a sell-out of the working class cannot be long following Syriza’s election. In its latest instantiation, this is expressed in the tutting, sighing, and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20. There it is: the betrayal is already afoot, the reformists already making deals with the bosses.  Perhaps so, but thus far Syriza have not withdrawn from their fundamental commitments, which are: abrogate the Memorandum, and stop austerity measures. They did not do so when there was pressure to do so after the last election, and are not doing so now.”

Perhaps the most obvious explanation for Seymour’s bet-hedging is that his own Socialist Workers’ Party are also – like SYRIZA – left-sounding reformists tied to the reactionary trade union bureaucracy. Though the SWP’s Greek affiliates are part of ANTARSYA – SYRIZA’s rival ‘extreme left’ electoral block – there are few differences in principle between the groupings. In fact – as with the opportunist left everywhere (Italy and Germany come to mind) – it is difficult to see what ‘principles’ they wouldn’t sell out for a shot at political power.

There can be no doubt that Tsipras is presenting a programme to the suffering Greek working class which – if implemented in full – would be enormously beneficial to the majority. He pledged to terminate the loan agreements with the so-called “Troika” of banker organisations, and reverse the social cuts imposed on Greek workers over the last few years. This would be paid for by a wealth tax. There would be no further privatisations, and some would be reversed.

If these were the ‘transitional demands’ of a horizontally-organised, grassroots-based mass working class movement, then they could be achieved, as the workers put their own hands on the levers of power in workplaces and neighbourhoods. But Tsipras and his cohorts are not such an organisation; they form a group of politicians from relatively well-heeled backgrounds, who only make an appeal to the working class to the extent they want their votes. And the programme cannot be put into practice without the working class taking economic and political power for themselves.

SYRIZA’s official programme would certainly cut across the interests of the military brass, so you can be sure he’s been making very different noises in the meetings he has held with them. After three hours of such talks at the end of May, he emerged pledging to protect and even enhance the fighting capabilities of the armed forces: “Defending the country’s territorial integrity and national independence is a non-negotiable priority for SYRIZA”, he told reporters.

Tsipras made these comments at a time when the right wing Greek press is openly talking of the military – which has held power in the nation as recently as the 1970s – playing a decisive role in the post-election period. Kathimerini has speculated that should the military decide to withdraw Greece from the euro:

“Over the two days, leaders would have to calm civil unrest while managing a potential sovereign default, planning a new currency, recapitalizing the banks, stemming the outflow of capital and seeking a way to pay bills once the bailout lifeline is cut[…]the country may deploy its military as soon as early morning Saturday and close its borders, preparing to stamp euros as drachma as an interim solution once a public announcement has been made.”

In all so-called liberal democracies, the military always has the option of stepping in to protect its own interests, and this often happens in times of crisis. Far from warning workers of this possibility, Tsipras and SYRIZA are touring the offices of the Greek and international rich and powerful, invoking America’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt in their offer to save Greek capital from itself. In the aftermath of a SYRIZA victory and a market meltdown, a sell-out would shortly be forthcoming.

French and Greek Voters Seek A Way Out Of Austerity

Hollande has spoken of his admiration for Greek destroyer-in-chief Papandreou

The financial markets went into a petulant sulk today, in response to the election results in France – where incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated by his ‘centre-left’ challenger – and in Greece, where two thirds of the electorate voted against avowedly anti-austerity candidates. It seems likely that we will now see some attempt at rebranding austerity – ‘neoliberalism with a human face’ – but this will be nothing more than ‘lipstick on a pig’. The international financial gamblers will allow no let-up in the transfer of wealth from the overwhelming majority to their own decadent and diseased milieu.

The French election saw Socialist Party candidate François Hollande beat current president Sarkozy of the ‘centre-right’ Union for a Popular Movement. Like all candidates of the ‘centre-left’, Hollande played a double game throughout, combining rhetoric about “giving European construction a dimension of growth, jobs, prosperity, and future” for the consumption of working class audiences with hard talk about wiping out the deficit just one year later than Sarkozy for the banking elite.

When Hollande was nominated as Socialist Party candidate in October (replacing former International Monetary Fund boss Dominique Strauss Kahn after allegations of rape), he immediately held a huge 24-point opinion poll lead over Sarkozy – the most despised French President in modern times, who is absolutely identified with policies favouring the super-rich. But the more voters found out about Hollande’s actual policies, the more his star fell, culminating in yesterday’s narrow two point margin.

The markets could definitely live with a Hollande presidency – there is widespread confidence amongst elites that this ‘social democrat’ will emulate the former Greek PM Georgios Papandreou and implement the biggest post-war assault on working class living standards. After all, in a vital signal to the new aristocracy, Hollande eulogised Papandreou in the televised debate with Sarkozy.

What the banksters couldn’t handle is an anti-austerity government in Greece, where huge street protests and repeated general strikes against living standards cuts of up to two thirds have demonstrated a willingness to resist.

Samaras is seen as a safe pair of hands by the banking elite

The parties of the last banker-dictated coalition were punished more or less in proportion to the responsibility their hold for austerity measures. The ‘centre-right’ New Democracy – who had feigned opposition to austerity before the bankers required them for a coalition last autumn – suffered a 14.6% swing, but became the largest party, enabling them to pick up fifty bonus seats under the anti-democratic Greek system. ‘Centre-left’ party PASOK – who enforced the vast majority of cuts alone until they could no longer hold the streets – saw their vote plunge by more than a third. In the new parliament, the former coalition partners will now hold 149 seats out of 300 – two shy of a majority.

Second place went to the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), with a plus swing of nearly 17%. The rest of the nominally anti-austerity vote was shared between the Democratic Left (a right-wing split from SYRIZA), the Stalinist Communist Party, and the openly fascist Golden Dawn – who demanded journalists stand when their leader entered the room at their post-election press conference.

The markets would certainly have preferred a situation where New Democracy and PASOK were able to piece together a coalition, but at the time of writing it seems that ND leader Antonis Samaras believes such a union is “impossible”. In the next few days, the representatives of high finance – Germany’s Angela Merkel chief among them – will do all they can before the cameras and behind the scenes to stress the “utmost importance” of continuing to sacrifice the lives of workers on the altar of Mammon. If a pro-austerity majority cannot be cobbled together, another election seems to be on the horizon. The possibility of a sell-out from SYRIZA and/or the Communist Party cannot be ruled out however, as both helped contain demonstrations and strikes under Papandreou, and both are strongly linked to the reactionary union bureaucracy. Moreover, the Greek military could be making its own plans to step in.

In short, though the working people of France, Greece and all Europe want an end to austerity, there can be no electoral shortcut to building rank and file control of workplaces and neighbourhoods. On the contrary, the urgency of that task grows greater with every passing day. 

As the From The Greek Streets blog commented this afternoon: 

Society in the greek territory is polarising rapidly. The one pole, the pole of the far-right, the misanthropic facade of the current system of capitalist exploitation, is forming quickly. The crucial task ahead is for our pole to form faster even; for us to understand that the times (not so far) ahead will involve a fight to shift society as a whole in an emancipatory direction. A struggle to keep our cities, our streets, our spaces clean from misanthropic nazi scum. But also, and most importantly, a struggle and a race to occupy the space left behind by a crumbling, retreating system of order; we’d better get going.” 

My Appearance on Dissident Island Radio

This Friday gone, I appeared on Dissident Island radio‘s one hundredth edition, talking about the socio-economic situation in Greece. I spoke on the economic crisis, elite responses to it, and the impact this has had on ideas of democracy and national sovereignty. I also offered my suggestions about how all the turmoil could play out.

So if you’re particularly interested in those topics, or even just want to discover what I sound like on t’ airwaves (not too bad actually), you can download the show here. The rest of the programme was very interesting, including other perspectives on austerity, and a feature on the history of anti-fascism in the UK.

Political Upheaval Looms Large in Greece

The Greek class war is being fought ever more openly

There is no doubt that Greece is on the verge of a dramatic political change, following years of banker-dictated austerity measures which have slashed living standards for all but the super-rich. But there is much doubt about exactly what will happen next. Are Greek workers about to storm heaven, or will they be crushed under fascist jackboots? I think there seem to be four main possibilities.

Nine days ago, Athens and other cities burned as vast multitudes of Greeks made their raging anger at the latest brutal austerity vote explicitly clear. In return for a further bailout of Greek banks – and therefore the banks of other nations which are owed money by the Greek finance houses – the parliament acceded to the demands of the so-called ‘Troika’, which includes the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. ‘Technocrat’ Prime Minister Lucas Papademos – the former banker who the Troika manoeuvred into power last autumn – was unsurprisingly keen to see his masters’ bidding done. So were the parties of the coalition government – the nominally centre-left Social Democrats, centre-right New Democracy and the neo-fascist Popular Orthodox Rally. But there was dissent within the ranks of each – with many MPs doubtless looking to their future careers or even future safety on the streets. As a result, forty-three MPs were expelled from their parties.

All three coalition parties have seen their poll ratings plummet to almost nothing, and are unlikely to gain enough seats at the forthcoming elections to command any mandate. So whatever happens, Greece will find itself in a very new political situation. So this is where my four possibilities come in. Either:

1) Some combination of the fake left parties takes power
The coalition parties are currently polling at a combined 37%, with New Democracy leading due to the anti-austerity stance they held until then Social Democratic Prime Minister Papandreou called their bluff prior to his own removal. But the supposedly ‘extreme left’ parties – each of which mouth the phrases of revolutionary change and on paper oppose austerity – have a combined 47%. So if the elections were to be held tomorrow, there would be an ‘extreme left’ landslide.

All these ‘extreme left’ parties are deceiving the Greek working class when they pretend to represent their interests. Instead, they represent different layers of the very trade union bureaucracy which has conspired to manage worker rebellion so far. At the moment, they are torn between making a popular appeal against austerity, and satisfying the powers behind the throne – the bankers’ Troika and the powerful Greek military. To preserve their own class privileges, these actors could only consider offering the Democratic Left, the Communist Party, the Coalition of the Radical Left and the Greens any political office if they accept ‘the need’ for the continued impoverishment of the masses. 

President Papoulias may play a pivotal role in the coming period

or 2) The Troika cancels the parliamentary elections
Of course, Greece is officially a sovereign nation, and can hold elections whenever it chooses. The history of recent months and years shows this is far from the reality. The bankers’ palace coup that brought Papademos to power shows that ‘the cradle of democracy’ no longer has any claim to being a representative democracy, and the financial parasites of Europe and the USA will only allow an election if they feel it will be in their interests. Already – two months ahead of the polls – a spokesman for the German finance ministry is demanding “reliability beyond any election date.” [emphasis added] In this scenario, the military would have to side with the Troika to enforce further agonising austerity attacks on the working class. 

or 3) The military cancels the elections and withdraws from the Euro
Greece had a military dictatorship in the not too distant past, and over the last few months the military have been flexing their muscles. A rare TV appearance by President Karolos Papoulias – during which he was flanked by military brass – poured scorn on the German, Dutch and Finnish governments. This display was partly a chauvinist diversion, but it also speaks of the direction in which sections of the Greek elites are moving – towards a policy of isolationalist self-sufficiency. With a Greek default looking possible next month, the military may be thinking of plotting such a move. But the economy would collapse even faster under this scenario than under the current debt spiral, and inflation would sky-rocket, making workers’ pay packets nearly worthless.

Kilkis hospital is now under working class control

or 4) The working class seizes economic and political power for itself
As attacks on the working class have escalated since 2008, so too has the resistance. The trade union tops have largely managed to stifle it so far, but it seems the point of no return has come, and people are collectively deciding that enough is enough. Two weeks ago I blogged about a worker takeover of a hospital in Kilkis, and this week has brought news of longtime unpaid journalists starting their own newspaper – reporting from a working class perspective. These initiatives should be welcomed by all those who have the interests of Greek workers at heart, but this type of direct action needs to be expanded to the commanding heights of the entire Greek economy, and Greek workers need to set up their own organs of political representation – in opposition to the union fat cats, the government, the military and the bankers. If they are to achieve this, they will need practical solidarity from the international working class, as it too comes increasingly into direct struggle with their respective oppressors.

Greek Hospital Occupied By Workers

As Greek political leaders – including banker turned unelected Prime Minister Lucas Papademoshold talks over another punishing round of attacks on the working class, the workforce of one hospital has taken matters into their own hands, and declared that “we occupy the public hospital and put it under our direct and absolute control”.

The Athens summit is aimed at putting forward another programme of privatisations, cuts and possibly new taxes, aimed at appeasing the international financiers who are poised to loan billions of Euros more to the Greek government. The Greek government will then be able to pay its creditors the next tranche of repayments, and will avoid a default in mid-March. Over the last few years, a typical Greek worker has seen their living standards slashed by at least a fifth, and the new scheme put forward the government will be but the latest deepening of their misery.

This ruling class onslaught has certainly not gone unchallenged, and multiple general strikes have shut down large sections of the Greek economy for one or two days at a time, although these have largely been stifled by the trade union bureaucracies. There have been many battles between workers and police, and even between workers and the Greek Communist Party. And last summer, many young people occupied public spaces such as Syntagma Square, as part of the southern European ‘indignados’ wave, which was a forerunner to the global Occupy movement.

There have been brief workplace occupations too, but none as potentially interesting as this one, because the involvement of such an important public resource as a hospital makes huge public solidarity seem very likely. The original Greek statement has been published on a few websites, but the English translation only appears a few times online. Please spread the news to all your networks!

The following is the English translation:

“The workers of the Γ.Ν. (General Hospital) of Kilkis: doctors, nursing and the rest of the staff that participated in the General Assembly concluded that:

  1. We recognize that the current and enduring problems of Ε.Σ.Υ (the national health system) and related organizations cannot be solved with specific and isolated demands or demands serving our special interests, since these problems are a product of a more general anti-popular governmental policy and of the bold global neoliberalism.
  2. We recognize, as well, that by insisting in the promotion of that kind of demands we essentially participate in the game of the ruthless authority. That authority which, in order to face its enemy – i.e. the people- weakened and fragmented, wishes to prevent the creation of a universal labour and popular front on a national and global level with common interests and demands against the social impoverishment that the authority’s policies bring.
  3. For this reason, we place our special interests inside a general framework of political and economic demands that are posed by a huge portion of the greek people that today is under the most brutal capitalist attack; demands that in order to be fruitful must be promoted until the end in cooperation with the middle and lower classes of our society.
  4. The only way to achieve this is to question, in action, not only its political legitimacy, but also the legality of the arbitrary authoritarian and anti-popular power and hierarchy which is moving towards totalitarianism with accelerating pace.
  5. The workers at the General Hospital of Kilkis answer to this totalitarianism with democracy. We occupy the public hospital and put it under our direct and absolute control. The Γ.N. of Kilkis, will henceforth be self-governed and the only legitimate means of administrative decision making will be the General Assembly of its workers.
  6. The government is not released of its economic obligations of staffing and suppling the hospital, but if they continue to ignore these obligations, we will be forced to inform the public of this and ask the local government but most importantly the society to support us in any way possible for: (a) the survival of our hospital (b) the overall support of the right for public and free healthcare (c) the overthrow, through a common popular struggle, of the current government and any other neoliberal policy, no matter where it comes from (d) a deep and substantial democratization, that is, one that will have society, rather than a third party, responsible for making decisions for its own future.
  7. The labour union of the Γ.N. of Kilkis, will begin, from 6 February, the retention of work, serving only emergency incidents in our hospital until the complete payment for the hours worked, and the rise of our income to the levels it was before the arrival of the troika (EU-ECB-IMF). Meanwhile, knowing fully well what our social mission and moral obligations are, we will protect the health of the citizens that come to the hospital by providing free healthcare to those in need, accommodating and calling the government to finally accept its responsibilities, overcoming even in the last minute its immoderate social ruthlessness.
  8. We decide that a new general assembly will take place, on Monday 13 February in the assembly hall of the new building of the hospital at 11 am, in order to decide the procedures that are needed to efficiently implement the occupation of the administrative services and to successfully realise the self-governance of the hospital, which will start from that day. The general assemblies will take place daily and will be the paramount instrument for decision making regarding the employees and the operation of the hospital.”

“We ask for the solidarity of the people and workers from all fields, the collaboration of all workers’ unions and progressive organizations, as well as the support from any media organization that chooses to tell the truth. We are determined to continue until the traitors that sell out our country and our people leave. It’s either them or us!

“The above decisions will be made public through a news conference to which all the Mass Media (local and national) will be invited on Wednesday 15/2/2012 at 12.30. Our daily assemblies begin on 13 February. We will inform the citizens about every important event taking place in our hospital by means of news releases and conferences. Furthermore, we will use any means available to publicise these events in order to make this mobilization successful.

“We call
a) our fellow citizens to show solidarity to our effort,
b) every unfairly treated citizen of our country in contestation and opposition, with actions, against his’/her’s oppressors,
c) our fellow workers from other hospitals to make similar decisions,
d) the employees in other fields of the public and private sector and the participants in labour and progressive organizations to act likewise, in order to help our mobilization take the form of a universal labour and popular resistance and uprising, until our final victory against the economic and political elite that today oppresses our country and the whole world.”