Greek anger at new cuts

by our European Affairs correspondent

DEMONSTRATORS clashed with the police in the heart of Athens during a wave of protests against new austerity measures, which the government claim they must take to secure international loans to stave off the threat of bankruptcy. Black-hooded anarchists tossed petrol bombs and rocks at security forces after the riot police opened up with tear-gas and stun-grenades to break up the crowds.

Ten people were injured in clashes in front of the parliamentary building during a nationwide strike that brought Greece to a standstill this week. Ports and airports, trains and buses were shut down in the fourth Greek general strike of the year, which also led to power-cuts throughout the country and the closure of most the archaeological sites and other tourist attractions.

Meanwhile rumours abound of another army coup in the offing, following a statement from the Greek officers’ association warning that they would not “tolerate the violation of the constitution” or a sell-out to “foreign powers”.

The protests started on Monday when members of the militant workers front, PAME, occupied the Acropolis and draped the Parthenon with banners supporting the union struggle. The next day the country was paralysed when millions of workers walked out as part of a 48-hour general strike against the bill that was being pushed through parliament by George Papandreou’s social-democratic PASOK government.

As parliament sat to discuss the austerity package tens of thousands of demonstrators marched to nearby Syntagma [Constitution] Square to voice their anger and attempt to bring the session to a halt. The 21-strong communist KKE bloc opposed the bill but refused to take part in the debate, demanding a roll-call when the vote came to publicly record the name of every MP who endorsed this renewed attack on the working class and its rights.

The Greek government says funds will run out in mid-July and it will have to default unless it gets another bail-out. But the KKE says that the real aim of the bill is to encourage deficit and crisis investors into Greece and the price will be paid by working people in pay cuts, tax hikes and a €50 billion privatisation package, which the bankers are demanding in return for more loans.

This, the Greek communists say, would reduce workers to “salaries and rights at Chinese levels” and it cannot be accepted under any circumstances.

Papandreou called on MPs to obey their “patriotic conscience” and back the draconian austerity measures, as they began to debate a five-year budget plan that will determine whether Greece can avoid default.

Though some PASOK MPs had threatened to rebel, in the end only one social-democratic deputy took the principled stand and the bill was passed by 155 votes to 138. But the outcome was always a forgone conclusion. “The controlled bankruptcy has been already decided on. What they want from the people is to bow their heads for the next 50 years so as to pass the worst measures,” communist leader Aleka Papariga declared.

“The struggle will be determined in the office, in the factory, in the workplace generally, in the fields and the small businesses, in the neighbourhoods. It is bound to lead to a victory,” she told demonstrators.