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Greece - the social crisis continues

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Sean Murray reports on the farmers blockades across Greece as the country continues to feel the affects of the economic downturn

Towns and cites across Greece are being blockaded by angry farmers demanding compensation for low commodity prices. The 10-day long action is part of the social crisis that exploded after the 6 December shooting of 15-year-old school student, Alexis Grigoropolous, by a police officer.

Thousands of farmers have paralysed the country, cutting road links with neighbouring countries and leaving tonnes of fruit and meat rotting in lorries. Using tractors and trailers, the farmers have blockaded around 70 main roads, cutting Athens off from the second city of Thessaloniki in the north and closing border crossings with Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey.

"Tractors are our weapon and we are determined to use them until our demands are met," said Christos Sideropoulos, a farmer and one of the leaders of the protests. "Let them say what they like. We are not going to give in."

Greek agricultural industry is woefully underdeveloped by Western European standards. Successive government have failed to modernise the farming industry and have squandered hundreds of millions in EU subsidies leaving farmers depended on state handouts. The onset of the global economic crisis has hit Greek farmers hard and the handouts are no longer enough.

The latest protests have exposed the frustrations of Greece following a general strike against the economic polices of corrupt and scandal ridden right wing government of Kostas Karamanlis and the three weeks of rioting and demonstrations by youth and students that plunged Greece into its worst civil unrest since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974.

Roots of the crisis
Greece has been hit hard by the credit crisis. Shipping and tourism – at 25 per cent the biggest single contributors to the country's gross domestic product – are already suffering. Industrial production slumped by 10 per cent in 2008. It has the highest public debt (94 per cent of gross domestic product) of the 16-member eurozone partly due to the debt fuelled boom that drove economic growth in the lead up to the 2004 Olympic games.

Alongside government debt, the debts of private households in the last seven years – since the introduction of the euro and corresponding price inflation – have increased by more than five times, from €16.8 to 93.3bn.

Social and economic conditions in Greece are deteriorating rapidly. With one in five living below the poverty line, there is growing anger at the policies of a government determined to slash the budget deficit. Unemployment stands at 8 per cent but does not reflect the actual level because the long-term jobless and unemployed young people still living with their families are not counted. Youth unemployment is officially listed at 21.4 per cent, and in the EU is exceeded only by Spain (25 per cent).

Wages are extremely low, with the average monthly income totalling €789. This is only slightly more than in Poland (€785) and substantially less than in Portugal (€1,080). Many young workers can barely surviving on €500 a month.

Resistance to austerity
The right wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, clinging to power by a majority of one, was already wracked by crisis because of a number of corruption scandals and is facing growing resistance from workers and young people.

Successive rounds of government cuts and austerity packages aimed at reducing budget deficits have been met with militant resistance from the workers movement. Five general strikes took place between January 2007 and 2008 against neo-liberal polices aimed at making the workers pay for the economic crisis.

“Every day shops are closing, people are being laid off, and factories are shutting down,” said Stathis Anestis, spokesman at the Greek TUC, which represents 1.5 million workers. “And with the global economic crisis only just beginning to be felt here, there is worse to come. The social upheaval we saw in December is going to be nothing next to the explosion we are going to see in the coming months.”

The mass protests combined and fierce clashes with the police aimed at bringing down the government, combined with a deepening economic crisis, show that a pre-revolutionary situation has developed in Greece. The key question now is who is to rule the country?

The task now is for the Greek workers and youth to unite the movement around a political aim, around a political strategy and goal: the overthrow of the Karamanlis government.

To achieve this, an out all general strike is needed, not only to bring down the government but to replace it with a workers’ government composed of the left wing organisations, the workers’ parties and the trade unions. Only a workers’ government can solve the tremendous social and economic crisis by a implementing a programme to make the ruling class pay for the crisis that would include:

• Reversing all the recent privatisations and nationalising all large scale enterprises threatening closure or redundancies.
• A programme of public works under workers’ control and the cutting of the working week and working hours without loss of pay and in order to bring back unemployed to work.
• A national minimum living wage for all in and out of work of €1,000 and sliding scale of wages against the effects of price rises.
• For massive taxation on the income and property of the rich to pay for the crisis.

All over Europe there is a growing wave a mass anti-government struggles over the unfolding economic crisis that is expected to throw more than 50 million workers on to unemployment scrap heap in 2009. In Iceland, Russia, Bulgaria, Hungry, Italy, Latvia and France, hundreds of thousand of people have taken to the streets over the failings of the capitalist system that threatens ruin for millions.

The European bourgeoisie smells and fears the taste for the socialist revolution spreading across the whole of the continent. Greece will not be the only country where the question of power is poised in the period ahead.

What began with a police officer, as the ballistic report showed, deliberately taking aim at and shooting dead and unarmed 15-year-old on a Saturday night, can be ended by the workers taking aim at the capitalist class and their rotten system and crushing it underfoot once and for all.