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The manyfold expressions of resistance in Greece

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th May 2012


Excerpted from Lina Filopoulou, active in the Athens Neighborhood Assembly, and who describes the development of the Greek resistance against the austerity programmes imposed on Greece:

“Social injustice has spurred new modes of resistance. The experience of Greece as the weakest link in the eurozone and its contribution regarding the resistance movement is very important.

Initially, resistance took a traditional form; dozens of general strikes were called by the leadership of the big bureaucratic trade unions. The main highlight was a mass demonstration on 5 May 2010, the largest for years, sparked by plans to cut public spending and raise taxes. Unfortunately, these general strikes provided little more than an outlet for people’s rage and indignation, as they lacked both political leadership and a political plan to overthrow the government.

We entered a new phase of the movement from May 2011 when it became clear that the traditional modes of struggle were not enough and would no longer work because the social consensus had been systematically destroyed. The movement of the Greek indignados was born. It was a new reaction and an expression of the anger and the indignation of people which signified a turning point from the economic struggle to the political one as well. The indignados’ movement was directly related to the country’s deepening economic crisis and the harsh austerity measures and it swept through Greece for almost three months. Without the umbrella of any political party, or trade union, the movement managed to attract far more numbers than could have been expected, united under three main demands: (1) refusing the debt which the people had not run up; (2) overthrowing the government which accepted the conditions of the ECB-IMF-EU loans in the so-called “Memorandum” (harsh austerity, lowering wages and other ‘reforms’); and (3) real democracy right now. This period was also marked by two very important dates: the general strike of 15 June and the 48-hour general strike of 28 – 29 June.

From autumn 2011 until the fall of the Papandreou government, the movement went through a new transformation. The political strikes continued, combined with massive civil disobedience, challenging the power of the state as represented by the police, who tried to stop the protest. During the biggest demonstration against the Memorandum, on 19 October, there was a clear political demand: it was a strike against the government with a clear call for it to be overthrown. Ten days later, on 28 October spontaneous, country-wide, popular demonstrations during the military parades brought the political struggle against the regime to a head, ending the legitimacy of Papandreou’s government and leading to its collapse.

The rebellion took different forms. Around the country people threw yoghurt at the government’s MPs in a sign of protest, demonstrating their indignation and anger. In Athens, the power of the people was shown in the way in which large numbers of citizens endured the clashes with the police and reoccupied Syntagma Square again and again over a 48 hours period in June. And the huge demonstration on 19 October, and the protests at the parades on 28 October, again showed that Greek society was ready to rise up and reject the government and its plans. Although the Greek indignados movement didn’t succeed in overthrowing the government and the medium-term fiscal plan, it nevertheless had a profound impact on the political situation and left a legacy for the next stage of the protest movement.

As the crisis deepened and the austerity measures condemned Greek society to deplorable living conditions, large numbers of working people started refusing to pay a debt that they had not run up. Under the slogan “we don’t pay”, this movement has refused to pay motorway tolls, bus fares, electricity bills that include a new property tax and bank debts.

Even more elaborate and more radical forms of struggle appeared, with workers taking on self-management. The striking workers at Eleftherotypia, one of the most prestigious Greek daily newspapers (privately owned) that is currently going through a bankruptcy procedure are one example. At the end of December 2011 the workers at the newspaper, who hadn’t been paid for several months, went on strike. At a general meeting they decided to publish their own newspaper with a democratically-elected editorial committee. So far they have published two issues. Striking workers at the ALTER TV channel have decided to manage the TV channel themselves, transmitting petition messages against the media owner, but which show support and solidarity to other workers that are on strike as well.

At the local general hospital in Kilkis, in northern Greece, health workers have occupied the hospital and taken control to defend the public’s right to free healthcare.

The strike at the Hellenic Steel factory in Athens, which started on 31 October 2011, is now entering its sixth month. It erupted when a quarter of the factory’s 400 steel workers were sacked and the rest were told they had to accept reduced hours for lower wages. The strikers have called for the reinstatement of the sacked workers and a return to normal hours and pay, arguing that the company is profitable and that the management is taking advantage of the austerity policies to increase company profits at the workers’ expense. The struggle of these steelworkers is exemplary of the struggle of all Greek society fighting for dignity against unemployment, poverty and exploitation.

A new reaction and expression of the latest stage of the resistance appeared with the popular assemblies in the squares and neighborhoods of Athens and other Greek cities. Using a broader political framework in order to include and secure the participation of larger sections of society who want to fight against the implementation of the austerity policies and reforms imposed by the ECB-IMF-EU ‘troika’ since May 2010, against the troika and for the overthrow of the government, these popular assemblies extend self-organization into people’s lives by creating solidarity networks, by occupying public buildings, by creating community grocery stores, social clinics, by exchanging services and products without using money, and more.

On Sunday 12 February, on the same day that the government passed the second Memorandum of understanding with the troika, securing an additional loan package, there was a mass gathering of more than 500,000 people in front of the Parliament in Syntagma Square and in the streets nearby to show their opposition to the new measures. The demonstration was cruelly restrained with extreme use of teargas and police brutality. The media, as always supporting the government, once again attacked the social ideas and practices of resistance while protecting the monopoly of state violence and legitimacy. The pictures of burning buildings and banks travelled around the world.

But behind the spectacle of the burning and the fires, there was a deeper process going on in society, a patient construction of a different way of doing things, the creation of social cohesion and mutual support. This process could eventually lead us to an alternative path, it could lead to us creating institutions of democratic counter-power in every neighbourhood. That Sunday was in fact the point at which the Greek people lost their fear. The economic elite, the political parties and the mass media which supports them, are aware of this now and as a result try to criminalize these social struggles.”

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One Response to “The manyfold expressions of resistance in Greece”

  1. Charles van der Haegen Says:

    This is a great article, showing the divide that has been createdin society.
    How can this be seen by all the other “players” in society as a genuine movement… That should be listened and responded to.
    Democracy, in the end, can only seriously exist, and is only sustainable, when all worldviews about the way society should be organized are listened and respoonded to, in deliberative processes of high quality…
    In the end, agreeing democratically in such deliberative processes means everyone can be better of, not agreeing surely leads to everyone losing…

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