The current political situation in Greece is full of contradictions. It is a political moment where everyone—from the top of society to the bottom—understands that the status quo is not sustainable and they must prepare for drastic change.
I feel compelled to begin by mentioning an important working-class victory, which came at a time when it was more needed than ever. It was at a workplace characterised by extreme “flexibilisation” of labour—a company named E-Food—which started as an electronic “platform” for selling and delivering food as well as other products.
E-Food grew enormously during the pandemic and the lockdowns, employing 3,000 workers (on “flexible” or temporary three-month contracts) and making significant profits. The company realised that the new labour law (which is extremely anti-worker and anti-union) provides a rare opportunity to deregulate working conditions even further, in order to maximise its profits. It announced to the delivery workers that they must accept becoming free-lancers, as “partners” of the company. That meant losing whatever minimal protection was left to them as workers, and engaging in a vicious competition among each other in order to obtain lousy piecework pay.
A sensational strike followed, which won a major victory, based on two factors: One, the best traditions of the workers united front. The strike was supported by the close co-ordination of the Union of Workers in Food and Tourism (an established sectoral union with a long history, where the Communist Party is the dominant force) with the “Rank-And-File Assembly of Two-Wheeler Rider Workers” (SVEOD by its Greek initials), which is one of the new syndicalist-style unions, which has strong roots among delivery workers and a serious involvement of anarchist/autonomist forces.
Second, the manifestation of a powerful wave of solidarity with the delivery workers, who, especially during the lockdowns, people recognised as essential. Public use of E-Food services collapsed during the strike, and the government realised that it couldn’t afford to attack the workers who organised massive motorbike-protests. E-Food was forced into a disorderly retreat, announcing that the 2,016 delivery workers employed by the company would from then on be hired on open-ended (permanent) contracts, which is the most regulated labour arrangement that remains in Greece. This victory was wildly celebrated and encouraged the rest of the working class.
Of course, the battle at E-Food was not an isolated incident. In public hospitals (against cuts in social spending) and in public schools (against a new program of “evaluation” for teachers), a full calendar of strike-actions is under way. Next to this traditional core of organised workers, activity among new parts of the working class will hopefully emerge, which is why the victorious example of E-Food is especially important and has potential consequences in the longer term.
The mood among the working-class is not counted exclusively by the level of strike activity. This summer, the experiences of the pandemic combined with the experiences of the disastrous wildfires to generate a climate of popular indignation and anger against the government of prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The political toll on the government and Mitsotakis himself was reflected in opinion polls, in which confidence in the ruling party was reduced.
It was this issue that Mitsotakis tried to address with his speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair, a traditional focal point for political debate. Prior to the fair, the press heralded the announcement of a distributive program. This program was proven limited and mostly oriented towards capitalists (via a tax cut) and the rich (via the cancellation of assets and large properties transfer taxes). The political message of Mitsotakis was clear: “We are not shifting in our policy!”. While, even on the face of major threats (pandemic) and major disasters (wildfires), “the government’s priority remains promoting its program and completing its project of reforms”.
In the next two weeks two moves highlighted the reality of the government’s program. The first was the privatisation of the Port of Piraeus, with the Chinese giant Cosco obtaining 51 percent of the shares. The dockworkers in Piraeus, who had already had the bitter experience of what it means to work for Cosco (refusal of any collective contract, a ban on unionism, extreme intensification of workload), were now completely unprotected inside a “Free Zone” (like the notorious Special Economic Zones) which was established in the biggest port of the country. Meanwhile, Cosco is free to promote its project of expansion, including connecting the port with railways, and building a logistics centre, hotels and conference halls.
The second was the sudden announcement that the government was privatising the Public Power Corporation (public electricity company), selling 51 percent of its shares. Maintaining the majority share of the Public Power Corporation was until recently a “red line” even among bourgeois political forces, which considered the production of electric power as a sector of strategic importance for Greek capitalism and its state.
Already, the company had been fragmented and the management of the distribution network privatised by selling it to Macquarie Group, a notorious Australian conglomerate which has been described as a vampire, as it tends to buy public utility companies, suck them dry and then abandon them, leaving ruins behind.
But this time around, Mitsotakis is privatising the actual production of electric power, meaning factories, hydropower projects and mines, affecting thousands of workers. As the neoliberals triumphantly declared in the press, this is the biggest privatisation in the history of the country.
These moves leave no space for illusions about the direction of the economic and social policy of the government. Despite some questioning in the mainstream discourse in the US and parts of Europe, the Greek government remains fully committed to a neoliberal agenda and strategy. But in order to fully understand the nature of this government, we must also take into account its moves in two other fields.
In Thessaloniki, Mitsotakis announced plans to expand the initial purchase of 18 expensive French Rafale warplanes to 24. This extravagance was announced in a country which, just a few weeks before, had been in desperate need of firefighting aircraft but lacked them…
Mitsotakis also announced a colossal program of naval expansion, including the purchase of three French Belharra frigates and three French Gowind corvettes. These warships are considered “heavy gear” (especially the Belharra frigates which are characterised as “Blue Water Navy”, meaning a maritime force than can operate across the deep waters of open oceans). They have a long rage, a big destructive firepower, and they can provide electronic support to the destructive force of other weaponry. The warmongering websites that “specialise” in militarism, argue that the Greek navy is upgraded from a defensive force in the Aegean Sea to a force “strategically present” in the wider Eastern Mediterranean.
The overall amount of public investment to new warplanes and warships is now more than 10 billion euros, a colossal number for the size of the Greek economy. It is a provocation for a country whose public schools and hospitals are facing collapse.
There is also a backstory to the decision to buy the Belharra frigates. The government had leaked to the press that it intended to purchase the smaller and cheaper American MSCC frigates. But, as described by a journalist who specialises in questions of “national interest”, the admirals revolted, demanding the more modern, more aggressive French warships. And the government happily complied.
Because Mitsotakis, in addition to the Rafale warplanes and the Belharra frigates, has also purchased from Macron the Mutual Defence Agreement between Greece and France. This agreement declares that any act of war against either of the two countries will automatically activate the military engagement of the other. With this agreement, French imperialism is making its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean official. There, it will find an already established network of alliances among Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel, where French imperialism will play an upgraded, if not leading, role.
Those who—especially after AUKUS—consider European/US relations as solely (or mostly) competitive, should examine the example of Greece’s positioning in Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.
While the French-Greek agreement was announced, negotiations on the Mutual Defensive Agreement between Greece and the US were finalised. This agreement stipulates an upgrade of US military bases in Suda (on the island of Crete), Alexandroupoli (next to the Greco-Turkish border), Larisa and Stefanoviki in Magnisia (central Greece). In exchange, the Greek state will receive US weaponry, including the upgrading of the F-16 warplanes to Viper, incorporation of Greece to the production of F-35 and purchase of missiles and precision projectiles for the ground forces.
The constant argument of the neoliberals against any workers’ demands, the claim that “there are no funds available” to satisfy them, is proven to be an utter lie when it comes to armaments and the Greco-Turkish competition for regional dominance.
In contemporary Greece, as well as the rest of Europe, refugees suffer extreme atrocities that can only be described as state crimes.
Dozens of refuges who succeed in reaching Greek shores, after much effort and torment, are found by the coast guards and then they… disappear. When antiracist organisations ask about their whereabouts, official state authorities reply shamelessly: “Don’t know. No comment”. It is common knowledge that these people are “repatriated”, meaning they are dumped on Turkish shores in the most illegal, inhumane and dangerous way. It is a monstrous escalation of the push-back tactic used by the coast guard, which involves forcefully stopping refugee boats from entering Greek territorial waters.
Mitsotakis didn’t hesitate to give to this policy an ideological dimension and take full responsibility for it. In his Thessaloniki speech, he emphasised that his government’s goal is to secure “zero arrivals” and that this a job that can be done “by the police and the coast guard”. This policy is two-fold: One the one hand, the police make sure that life for any refugees who reach the country is unbearable, in order to send the message—as Mitsotakis said—“Don’t come here!”. On the other hand, the coast guard uses illegal “pirate” tactics to make sure that only a few will manage to get across the border.
Those who believe that neoliberals are still some sort of liberals when it comes to civil rights, should think twice. The government of Mitsotakis is a clear example of neoliberal pro-capitalist policies going hand-in-hand with ruthless nationalism and militarism, and institutional, state-sanctioned racism.
Thus, it is no coincidence that despite the great antifascist victory that led to the outlawing of far-right parliamentary party Golden Dawn and its leaders being sent to prison, the governmental continues to create conditions that favour the reactivation of fascist groups. Some recent dangerous attacks by fascists against leftists in schools of the poorer districts in Thessaloniki highlight this threat.
To sum things up, we are facing the most dangerous government we have faced in Greece since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974. Nevertheless, it has suffered some blows and its political capital has declined as a result of the bitter experience that is living under its rule.
Mitsotakis’ government is heading towards some serious tests. In 2023, Greek capitalism will have to address yet again its debt crisis and find a new working balance as part of the renegotiation of the EU Stability Pact.
But this doesn’t mean that the government is about to collapse (at least not yet). It still enjoys the support of the ruling class. And Mitsotakis will seek to utilise this support to aggressively impose his rule.
So the politics and tactics of the parties in opposition are an important factor. In Thessaloniki, former-prime minister Alexis Tsipras made a speech to address what Mitsotakis had said a week earlier. He spoke for hours and succeeded in not mentioning the word “Left” even once! He talked about a “new beginning”, with the “middle class” playing a central role, through the formation of a “broad-progressive government”. Even the past symbols and colours of SYRIZA (a left wing electoral coalition) were absent from the room where he gave the speech and press conference. The colour green prevailed (which in Greece is identified with social-democratic PASOK), while Tsipras reproduced the most typical slogans of Andreas Papandreou, the historical founder and leader of PASOK.
The vacuum in left-wing politics is obvious. This puts some pressure on the Communist Party, which is called upon by the situation to display some initiative. It is unclear whether it will do so, or most importantly what kind of initiatives it might take. The situation is also putting pressure to the forces of the radical left to address the situation of its fragmentation in the aftermath of the defeat of 2015.
The hopeful element in this picture is the tendency towards a revitalisation of struggles from below. For us, the workers’ victory in E-Food and the message it sent to the rest of the working class are especially important.