Saturday, 18 June 2011

Athens General Strike

Report from Dave Hill

The June 15 General Strike in Athens. Sintagma Square (Constitution Square, where the Parliament Building is). From Dave Hill on the Strike/ Demonstration in Athens, 11.30-4pm, 15 June 2011
(Dave Hill was living and working in Greece, at the University of Athens, and speaking at various meetings such as Antarsia, (far-left coalition) between March- June 2011).

12.01 pm Apergia means `Strike’
The official general strike is against IMF and EU demands for a further austerity budget, more actual pay cuts, privatisation, cuts in benefits.

12.21 pm Today's Greek General Strike 15 June 2011

Dave Hill with Kostas Skordoulis and other Antarsia comrades. Dave is a member of Socialist Resistance, Kostas is a member of OKDE. SR and OKDE are sister parties in the Fourth International, a Trotskyist international (known to some as the USFI, United Secretariat of the Fourth International). In Greece, OKDE is part of a far left coalition, Antarsia. Antarsia gains around 1 or 2% of the vote at elections. A slightly more moderate left organisation is Syriza, which gets between 5 and 10% of the vote. The largest socialist/ Marxist group in Greece is the KKE, the Greek Communist Party, which gains between 8% and 15% at elections.

The KKE had a separate rally/ meeting in Sintagma Square in the morning- and then dispersed. They have a strong base, in part related to their second world war role in the Resistance against the Nazis, and also their role in the Greek Civil War 1944-1949 between the Royalists (backed by Britain, the USA and the West) and the Communists 9backed by neighbouring Communist governments).

The KKE in its present phase are known by some Trotskyists as `Stalinist Reformists’.

12.33pm The (Greek) Socialist Workers Party (SWP) works closely with immigrant workers. `It's not immigrants who take our jobs it's the capitalist class’

The Antarsia and OKDE banners.

The government of PASOK are proposing a further cut in public sector salaries, and further pension cuts. Public sector workers have already had a pay cut of 20percent. Fears are that the threatened austerity measures will mean a further 30 per cent pay cut- actual pay cuts! Plus privatisation of electricity, water, telecommunications, ports, and increased taxes for example on tobacco, refreshments. Parliament is now surrounded, protected by the police of course. Also compulsory redundancies, there are threats to reduce the public sector workforce by 50 percent over three years.

13.51 Tear Gassed. Stings the eyes, makes you want to sneeze.. Dave Hill reporting live from Sintagma Square .. The IMF and EU are saying if you want the fifth instalment of the loan you have to carry out more austerity measures. The government of PASOK are proposing a further cut in public sector salaries, and further pension cuts.. Public sector workers have already had a pay cut of 20percent.. Fears are that the threatened austerity measures will mean further 30 per cent pay cut- actual pay cuts!..... Plus privatisation of electricity, water, telecommunications, ports,, and increased taxes for example on tobacco, refreshments.....

Parliament is now surrounded, protected by the police of course.

Protestors wear face cream to protect against effects of tear gas.

Jeezus, this teargas gets everywhere, eyes, nose, throat....this poster. In Sintagma Square, Parliament behind the poster.
`All for All’ in Spanish and in Greek.. Solidarity with the Spanish anticapitalist protesters.

Heard that the Greek PM is meeting the President this midday/ early afternoon. The Greek PM , Andreas Papandreaou, offered to resign to have a national unity government, to push through the austerity cuts. These cuts are the most savage threatened cuts against any working class in any advanced capitalist country. If the capitalist transnational class succeeds in Greece- if working class resistance is defeated, then governments throughout Europe will try to do the same. In Britain for example.

14.54 Sintagma Square. Police retreating. Both sides throwing missiles, some fires burning
Missiles, stones, cartons being thrown at the police after the crowd was tear gassed. In Greece it is often the first response of the police when faced with an angry crowd- to fire off tear gas. I saw police picking up missiles and hurling them back at the crowd.

Strike poster

Recent changes in taxation of the Rich in Britain

The super rich are subject to three main taxes other than income tax. These are corporation tax, a tax on company profits, capital gains tax is a tax on trading property and shares and Inheritance Tax paid when a person dies. If you have many millions you will mainly pay capital gains tax on buying and selling property and shares. The rate of corporation tax will also affect your returns because you will receive dividends from company profits.

Shortly after Mrs Thatcher came to power and for the majority of her term in office the top rate of tax on the super rich was 60%. This was reduced to 40% in the famous 1988 Lawson budget. When Blair came to office the top rate was still 40%. But after the business friendly Blair/Brown governments’ corporation tax had been significantly reduced and capital gains tax had been reduced to an amazing 18%. This is of course less than someone working for measly £6 an hour would pay. Part of the reason for the massive financial black hole which developed during the last Labour government was this massive cut in the taxation of the super rich.

The Condem government's shift of taxation onto ordinary working people is illustrated by the rise in VAT to 20% and the cuts in corporation tax. In several western countries the rate of corporation tax is between 40-50% whereas the government proposes to go to a rate of 24%.

The one small token in difference to this was the rise in capital gains tax under pressure from the Liberal Democrats. It was increased last year to 28% for higher rate taxpayers from Labour's 18%.’ (Thanks to Stuart Richardson for this).

The Rich Keep on getting Richer (from a forthcoming chapter by Dave Hill).
And yet the rich keep getting richer! Just to take three examples from Britain and from Ireland.
In Britain, the government's latest figures show that in the capital the top 10% of society had on average a wealth of £933,563 compared to the meagre £3,420
of the poorest 10% – a wealth multiple of 273.(from Danny Dorling, 2010a. See Ramesh, 2010. See also, Dorling, 2010b). This is the biggest differential since slavery!
Dorling also points out that “The 1,000 richest people in Britain became 30 percent richer in the last year. That’s a £77 billion rise in wealth—enough to wipe out around half the government’s budget deficit.” (Dorling, 2010).
And, as for Ireland, `The 300 richest people in Ireland are worth almost €57bn or more than the entire Libyan or Croatian economy. They've got much richer too, with close to €6.7bn added to their combined wealth over the last year’. No hard times for them! (The Independent, 2011).
Cuts for the Workers
In Greece, the PASOK (social democratic) government of George Papandreou has decided that civil servants- including teachers and university teachers- have had pay freezes or cuts up to 30 per cent; VAT has risen to 21 per cent and state-funded pensions are being reduced to reflect average lifetime earnings rather than final salaries. Also there is a wage freeze for three years, and in the public sector, 4 out of 5 workers who retire will not be replaced. In the private sector, massive wage cuts up to 25%. Unemployment benefits have been cut, and a poverty support scheme implemented in 2009 has been suspended. Drastic cuts in benefits for large families.
There are also plans to end collective bargaining and impose individualized contracts instead. The existing practice of extended very low paid or even unpaid internships has been legalized. Resorting to temporary workers is now permitted in the public sector. (See Toussaint, 2011. For detail on Britain, see Thornett, 2010)
And in Britain £7 billion in welfare cuts were announced in the October `Comprehensive Spending review’, in addition to the £11 billion presented in the summer. The attack on benefits is the most vicious in living memory- for example cuts in education benefits such as the EMA, cuts in Housing Benefit (subsidies for rents for the poor) which will force poor families out of their homes into cheaper areas, cuts in local government spending which will result in closures of thousands of libraries and support staff for the weak, the elderly, and services for children. Half a million public sector jobs- tax collectors, teachers, nurses, doctors, police, local government workers, lecturers, are to be axed by 2015 with an impact on a further half a million private sector jobs dependent on the public sector. Already, in March 2011, unemployment in Britain is the highest for 17 years. Funding to local councils will be cut by 25% over the same four-year period. University students will see their fees (and the resulting debt they are saddled with) shoot up. Public sector workers will have to pay more for their pensions, and all workers will have to work longer.
Public sector workers who still have jobs will be forced to pay 3% more in pension contributions on top of a pay freeze. Ultimately all workers will be forced to work longer before they can retire – a double whammy since you pay more in contributions and get less time to ‘enjoy’ your pension after retiring.
The Choice
So, are we to be explicit or complicit in our servile, or self-justified, acceptance of the currently exponentially expanding capitalist kleptocracy? Or do we take a principled stand and stand up for humanity and social justice, for the rather more fundamental economic justice and massive redistribution of wealth, income, power, life chances, and for a critical- and self-critical!- democratic socialist, anti-capitalist, future? That’s the choice! And that choice has to argued, organised, campaigned for. That’s where party comes in. Organisation to organise anger and opposition.
The 30 June 2011 strike of public sector unions in Britain will be building that anger, that opposition, that organisation.

Dave Hill 16 June 2011

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