Battle Ground Athens: second general strike leads to pitched battles

demonstrator braving the riot police in a cloud of tear gas

More than 150,000 people took to the streets of Athens against the austerity measures in a mass protest marches that have led to extended battles in the greek capital.

On Thursday March 11 all Greece came to a 24h standstill as a result of the second general strike to be called within less than a month (not the third as reported by foreign media, as the first strike in February only concerned the public sector). As a result of the strike called by GSEE (private sector union umbrella) and ADEDY (public sector union umbrella) as well as PAME (the Communist Party union umbrella) no buses, trams, metros, trolley buses or suburban trains exited their stations, while due to air-traffic control workers’ strike no flights are being realised within or in and out of the country. Only the electric train will function for 4h in Athens in order to facilitate people’s participation in the mass demo at noon. In the health sector, all hospitals are functioning with emergency personnel only, as all doctors, ambulance drivers and nurses are striking. All banks are closed to the public, and all public and municipal offices and services have been shut by the strike. The Corinth Canal has also been shut by the workers controling it, allowing no ships to make the vital crossing. All boats have been immobilised in the harbours and no inter-city trains are running. Post offices remain closed, while National Electricity, National Waters and National Telecoms workers are taking part in the strike with all offices and factories of the above industries closed for the day. All schools and universities remain also closed as teachers and academics are partcipating in the strike. Office workers, factory workers and contruction workers are also participating en mass in the strike. Firemen and policemen are also performing walk-outs, with a policemen demo at the National Police HQ planned for the afternoon. Due to the participation of the TV, radio, electronic news websites, and the press in the strike, there are no news broadcasts for 24h. Thus the information gathered here will be completed by means of Comments after the end of the General Strike when more information become available. In total more than 3 million people (out of a total population of 11 million) are expected to having taken part in the general strike today.

Background:
The General Strike comes as a new climax to labour struggle against the new austerity measures the greek government has announced in response to its notorious credit crisis. In the days before the General Strike, stage workers have occupied the Ministry of Labour on Peiraeos street, while the continuing occupation of the General State Accountancy by layed-off Olympic Airways workers has caused the intervention of the state persecutor who has demanded their arrest. No such move of repression has been made yet by the police, and Panepistimiou street remains cut in two by the protesters for more than a week now. In Salonica, the General Industrialists Bureau was occupied yesterday by workers, while radicals from the left dropped a huge banner in the Acropolis reading “take the measures back”. Troughout the week, tax officers performed a 48h strike, school traffic wardens in Northern Greece performed a 3-day strike, while judges and other judicial officers performed 4-h work daily stoppages. No garbage has been collected since last Saturday in Athens, Patras and Salonica as refuse collectors have blockaded the great garbage depot of the three major cities. Finally, in the city of Komitini ENKLO textile workers are mounting an ever more intense labour struggle, with protest marches and strikes: two banks were occupied by the workers last Monday.

The Demos:

The first demo in Athens was performed by PAME, the Communist Party union umbrella, just before noon. PAME allied workers first formed small demos across Athens, then marched to Omonoia square and all together in a 50,000 strong march to the Parliament. At the same time, people started gathering at Patision and Alexandras junction for the demo called by GSEE and ADEDY. The demo which soon gathered over 100,000 people set to march to the Parliament at 12:30 when just outside the Polytechnic riot police forces tried to cut-off a large anarchist block from the march by brutal force. Clashes ensued with extended use of tear gas and molotov cocktails. Despite the air being thick with smoke and CS gas, the march continued its way along Patision avenue and on to Stadiou street where many corporate shops came under attack. After reaching the Parliament, the march turned to Panepistimiou street where renewed clashes erupted at the height of Propylea. With the march coming to its final distination, protesters who continued their way to Omonoia where attacked by Delta team motorised forces. The Delta-team thugs tried to hit the protesters in full speed sparking more pitched battles with police squads encircled and beaten by the angry crowd and several Delta-team motorbikes destroyed. At the time of writing, the battles have moved to Exarcheia where protesters have erected flaming baricades and are confronting riot police and Delta force cops by means of rocks and molotov cocktails. Many protesters have sought refuge at the Polytechnic from which they are confronting police forces on both Patision and Stournari street. During the clashes many protesters have been wounded with one reported to be in intensive care with heavy wounds on the chest. The number of people arrested remains unclear but there are about 16 people detained and 13 cops hospitalised.

In Salonica 6 different marches took place by different unions and umbrella unions. Protesters of the Worker’s Centre march, which numbered 7,000 people in total, attacked corporate and church-owned shops on Egnatia avenue, while two super-markets were looted with the commodities distributed to the people. Despite the police firing tear-gas, the march continued and attacked the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace with paint and rocks before reaching the Worker’s Centre.

In Ioannina despite the pouring rain around 1.500 people marched against the measures with no news of clashes. Similar protest marches took place in Sitia, Naxos, Veroia, Patras and other cities. In Heracleion, Crete, shops that did not allow their workers to strike were blockaded and several banks came under attack by protesters. In Volos, protesters blockaded the gates of the METKA factory not allowing security-staff (i.e. scabs) to enter the premises, with many more corporate chain shops that did not allow their workers to strike blockaded and shut by the protesters. The official union-bosses of Volos were forced to leave the march after mass heckling by the workers.

Despite anti-strike war waged by the bourgeois media, amongst which the more bloodthirty ones like Kathimerini is urging the government to crush the protests “even if some protesters die”, the Athens march is estimated to be the largest in 15 years, and has demonstrated the resolve of the working class to fight back against the capitalist onslaught.

Comments

David Jacobs
Mar 11 2010 16:58

Many thanks for such good, consistent reporting. You are providing an invaluable
service for others who are interested in what is happening in Greece.

taxikipali
Mar 11 2010 17:56

Thanks David! According to all information available 9 people appear to be arrested in Athens during the protest march. They will appear tomorrow before the state interrogator.

tsi
Mar 11 2010 19:32

I've heard that even some police have joined in the rallies, explicitly as workers, even though they aren't allowed to strike.

Is the class character of the movement in greece becoming clearer and more apparent??

salvoj
Mar 11 2010 19:47

I've been following this closely since Dec 08 and first i'd like to thank taxikipali for the updates, your posts never fail to inspire.

I also wondered what people's thoughts on the police joining the strikes was?

It looks to me like they are finally realising where their loyalties should really lie (with the people not the state) but perhaps im just being hopeful?

Samotnaf
Mar 11 2010 21:16
Quote:
I also wondered what people's thoughts on the police joining the strikes was?

It looks to me like they are finally realising where their loyalties should really lie (with the people not the state) but perhaps im just being hopeful?

Cops often opportunistically seize the time for their own demands which are to be paid better for their reduction to brutally serving their master and ours. ou're not being "hopeful" - you're being admin - removed, no flaming and ideological. Get real.

taxikipali
Mar 11 2010 21:30

Although the class character of the movement against the measures is becoming more clear, I agree with Samotnaf that the policemen who demonstrated or went on strike today are only looking to save privileges agreed between the junta and its civilian inheritors in 1974, such as retirement after 25 years of employment (rather than 35 as everyone else). A common slogan in protest marches these days is "the cops are not the children of the workers, they are the dogs of the bosses". Of course, policemen in Greece are highly syndicalised, and mostly controlled by PASOK. The saddest photo of today's otherwise majestic protests is PAME syndicalists and demonstrating cops applausing each other...

Zanturaeon
Mar 11 2010 21:39

Yo, whatever. I'd rather cops be striking and out demonstrating where WE are all there, surrounding them and can see them. Never let those suckers lead ideologically, but if they want to tail, let 'em.

They just have to understand that we can't trust them until we've dissolved the police as an institution. They shouldn't have any influence over our activities etc. But I'm happy to hear they're identifying as workers (whether or not that's necessarily correct class-consciousness is up for debate) and marching in the streets rather than helping bust heads. We should encourage ALL police - and military - to strike.

Remember the Internationale, "the soldiers too will take strike action." True, police are way more like mercenaries than soldiers... but whatever. Bring 'em all out on strike, then dissolve the bourgeois government and form a workers' councils government.

taxikipali
Mar 11 2010 21:54

I think the difference between soldiers and the police is vital, at least in greece where the army is in its vast majority staffed by conscription. Cops are mercenaries to the bone and while their syndicalists march, the rank and file continue to break heads regardless. In Greece the riot police and Delta-team especially are the praetorian guard of the regime (and have been called that name by cabinet ministers in the past) and are treated as such by everyone save the Communist Party which is known for its love of authority and has its own force of repression the Communist Youth for the Restoration of Order (KNAT) to match the bourgeois Units for the Restoration of Order (MAT). Some of us remember fondly the two units cooperating efficiently in the late 1990s against anarchist protesters...

tsi
Mar 11 2010 22:01
Quote:
while their syndicalists march, the rank and file continue to break heads regardless

This illustrates why their participation in the strike is best characterized as "opportunistic" as you have pointed out.

But surely at some point in the future we have to organize or encourage defection in both the military (which is more important) and the police. The prospect of all out war to the last vs the ruling class' hired thugs is not a pretty picture.

salvoj
Mar 11 2010 22:09
Quote:
you're being stupid and ideological. Get real.

There are actually people naive enough to join police forces in the hope that they can make the world a better place, who i would hope, in times like this, would realise that they're on the wrong side, but thanks for the input...

Quote:
the policemen who demonstrated or went on strike today are only looking to save privileges agreed between the junta and its civilian inheritors in 1974

I wasn't aware of the cops reasons for striking, though i have to agree with Zanturaeon to an extent, however selfish there reasons, them striking is better than them working surely?

bootsy
Mar 11 2010 22:42

I think the reasoning behind the police strike action is crucial. If the police are simply tailing the workers struggle in order to make some economic gains then that should be outright rejected. The working class shouldn't be struggling to improve the conditions of the very people paid to repress their protests. On the other hand if the strike action is being taken for political reasons, that is a rejection by rank and file officers of their role within the bourgeois state then that should be considered a significant victory for all those advocating a broader movement against the very existence of the state and capitalism. From what taxikipali has said it sounds like the former is the case.
chimples said:

Quote:
though i have to agree with Zanturaeon to an extent, however selfish there reasons, them striking is better than them working surely?

I disagree, if the workers allow the police to become a part of their struggle without any criticism of the police force as an institution then it can become much easier for the state to peddle nationalistic 'we're all in this together' rhetoric. Also like I said, the protesters should not be supporting the economic demands of the very organization which is violently repressing their voices.

salvoj
Mar 11 2010 23:18

Could it not be viewed as a divide and conquer kind of situation though? Striking policemen weakens the position of the state. Granted that they're not really part of the struggle but two seperate institutions would be easier to overcome than one.

lamb
Mar 12 2010 00:42
Quote:
I think the reasoning behind the police strike action is crucial. If the police are simply tailing the workers struggle in order to make some economic gains then that should be outright rejected. The working class shouldn't be struggling to improve the conditions of the very people paid to repress their protests. On the other hand if the strike action is being taken for political reasons, that is a rejection by rank and file officers of their role within the bourgeois state then that should be considered a significant victory for all those advocating a broader movement against the very existence of the state and capitalism. From what taxikipali has said it sounds like the former is the case.

This is right on I'd say. I could only see it happening positively on a human level. A cop or some military personnel realizes his life is a contradiction and joins the revolution. Fine. The "police" as an entity supporting, or the "officer" as such joining, no.

Great update, btw.

David Jacobs
Mar 12 2010 03:59

A question for Taxipali or anyone on the scene in Greece: Do Thursday's events
represent a new stage of the movement there, a widening of the circle as it were?
Or was it a series of dramatic, but fairly restricted (in terms of numbers of participants) skirmishes? And a larger question, to which there is obviously no
easy answer: how do people in Greece see the movement building and being
able to be sustained from here?

Thanks in advance for any answers you are able to give.

Zanturaeon
Mar 12 2010 04:26

Taxikipali, Tsi, Raskolnarchy, Chimples, Lamb, thanks for the response and clarifications. I really agree with Raskolnarchy. The police question has been something that has been difficult for me.

Actually the whole bureaucratic caste question has always been unclear and confusing to me. This helped. smile

tsi
Mar 12 2010 05:41

Taxikipali: fantastic coverage as always! red n black star

grupo_ruptura
Mar 12 2010 07:16

Spanish translation: www.klinamen.org

Samotnaf
Mar 12 2010 07:16

Agree with Raskolnarchy about cops.

Chimples:

Quote:
There are actually people naive enough to join police forces in the hope that they can make the world a better place, who i would hope, in times like this, would realise that they're on the wrong side,

I once - in 1971 - played in a play in Notting Hill about the cops, which all the actors wrote together, and there was one character we created who represented this "naive" attitude. We showed him up to be as big a hypocrite as anyone who believes that the law is for everyone equally or who believe that law and order are synonymous. Irrc he had a social worker/priestly attitude to being a cop - but then don't Leninists also have this attitude in a political form - representing the idea of doing good on behalf of "the people." (I hate that expression "the people" - chimple said "with the people not the state" - "the people" has been used by demagogues throughout history ; I know this sounds pedantic but, "the people" don't exist - there are masses of proletarianised individuals transofrming the world and themselves, but "the people" is an abstraction).( Btw we weren't payed for doing this play).

Heard a story, not sure if it's true, that during the height of the rioting in Toxteth in 1981 a cop was chased by the rioters and, cornered, he tore off his jacket and screamed a line from 'The Elephant Man' which was playing in the cinemas at the time - "I'm not a monster - I'm a human being". He was still beaten up though: it's easy to verbally assert one's humanity when one has no choice - but at the same time, it's true, cops can stop becoming cops - and in fact, during '81 hundreds if not thousands of cops resigned after the fright they got from the rioters, though that probably didn't prevent many of them re-joining a few years later when the balance of class forces had changed.

Incidentally - why is saying something somebody says is "stupid" considered flaming and therefore has to be censored. I sometimes say stupid things (I know that's hard to believe), and I'd hate it if I felt my friends couldn't tell me I was being stupid. Censorship is far more stupid, but are you going to censor that? And are you going to censor me accusing myself of having said stupid things? That really is stupid.

taxikipali
Mar 12 2010 08:08

Thanks for all the posting here, I am happy that this conversation is triggered by my post! Its a very interesting and important issue indeed! I share Raskolanarchy's position, and believe that in the case of greece, at least at the moment, cops are only opportunistically tailing the labour struggle, with no great success it must be said.

As about David's question, I am inclined to say that Thursday demonstrated a quantitative advancement of the struggle but not a qualitative one. In comparison with last Friday's march in Athens which numbered only 10,000 people, the feeling is that yesterday's demonstrators felt their numbers were enough and lacked the rage of the previous march. Perhaps this is simplistic and we need to think more on it. There is never a linear augmentation of qualitative or quantitative traits in protest marches in Greece. An example is the anti-educational reform struggle of 2006-2007. Then students held a protest march every Thursday for almost a year, and each time the demonstrators attitude was a total surprise, reaching a final and glorious peak at the March 8 2007 clashes in front of the Parliament during the day the reform was being voted. Also the stance of the police each time varies greatly and is always a surprise. Yesterday the police had a very aggressive attitude which was not expected given the deputy PM's declarations that "we will not exercise violence and repression on the protests".

I generally think that we should look closer at the characteristics of the labour struggle's smaller circles to see both how December has changed what to be struggling consists of in greece, and the surfacing of new practices, subjectivities etc. Anyway we have a long hot spring in front of us with all the prospects for a true class recomposition and a social insurrection that could make December pale. This is not just wishful thinking, according to the ever flawed media opinion polls, 86.7% of greeks believe there will be a social rising-up [xesikomos] soon.

MD
Mar 12 2010 09:44

Hey taxikipali, thanks for the updates. Are there any signs of people breaking out of their assigned roles during these demonstrations or are everyone pretty much keeping to themselves in their seperate blocks? To be more concrete: when the cops tried to cut off the anarchist block, did people from other blocks join the anarchists and help them force the cops to back off, or did they just ignore them and just kept on walking?

taxikipali
Mar 12 2010 11:12

This is a complex question: for example the protest march of Thursday 4th of March was a case study of people defending their assigned roles with passion...then the Friday 5th of March protest march was a mass demonstration of breaking out of these roles...and yesterday's march was something in-between. Now regarding your concrete question, the situation is complex again: Imagine a street packed so densely with people one can hardly move more than two steps without a thousands sorrys, on a flat street with zero visibility and hundreds of flags and banner flying. Then -without the march having started- you hear tear-gas noises and some sort of smoke and wonder what is going on. I believe that apart from the people directly at the scene that is the general experience of the event on Stournari and Patission junction. In other words, we are not talking of the usual 10,000 marches where one can have a perspective of what is going on elsewhere. Thus, even the 300 anarchists that at the time of the attack were sunning themselves in front of the Archaeological Museum waiting for the march to start could not know let alone intervene in what was happening to some other 300 anarchists 200 metres away, and so on. From photos published we can see that other blocks were in fact engaged in the battle at the particular spot too, but the exact circumstances of what happened are not yet clear. There is unverified information that the attack happened in an effort to block the anarchists at the spot from meeting up with the union-boss Panagopoulos who was a few metres below. If such is the case it adds another drop of shame for GSEE which yesterday plastered huge posters with the faces of people who attacked Panagopoulos last Friday at the demo - a disgraceful snitching technique worthy of nazi collaborators during the occupation.

David Jacobs
Mar 12 2010 16:41

Thanks, Taxipali, for answering my questions. Good luck with everything, and
we look forward to more reports.

salvoj
Mar 12 2010 16:49
Quote:
I once - in 1971 - played in a play...

I think this is a case of being forced into a role though. The 'naive do-gooders' who join the police would undergo the same psychological transformation as those that took part in the stanford prison experiment (theres a german film called Das Experiment, which is a dramatized and exaggerated version which is brilliant). I agree however, after learning more about the police strikes in greece, that I was way off the mark.

taxikipali
Mar 12 2010 21:18

Update: All of the arrested charged with small breaches of the law have been set free, while the five remaining arrested who are charged with crimes will remain in custody until Monday when they will be presenting their case before the court. At the same time given the Ministry of Finance's offer to negotiate with them, the Olympic Airways layed-off workers have evacuated the General State Accountancy after 9 days of occupation. As a result, Panepistimiou street has been given back to traffic. ADEDY has called a new protest march for Tuesday afternoon, while National Electric Company workers have announced a 48h strike starting on Monday. For news regarding the assassination of the anarchist Lambros Foundas during a gun-battle with the police, see the relevant post.

Steven.
Mar 12 2010 21:30
taxikipali
Mar 13 2010 10:19

I am reproducing here a communique by ARSI, the left-wing doctor's union, as it provides an interesting perspective on the police attack and the role of GSEE before the beginning of the march:

TERRORISM SHALL NOT PASS!
Worried by the impressive massiveness of today's strike demo and march in Athens, the government has taken recourse to the known recipe of raw authoritarianism and police-rule. The riot police forces (MAT) tried to cut the march immediately in front of the block of hospital doctors, using raw violence and launching "chemical warfare" by means of tear-gas and suffocating gases! The response of the MAT officer in charge to the protests of the demonstrators was "the GSEE president Mr Panagopoulos asked us to cut the march so that he can pass (!!!)". The decisiveness of the demonstrators -with hospital doctors at their head- imposed the "opening" of the MAT chains and the continuation of the march. IF THEY THINK THAT STATE AUTHORITARIANISM WILL SCARE ANYONE THEY ARE PLUNGED IN UTTER DARKNESS! THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES AND IS GETTING EVER STRONGER! DOWN WITH THE GOVERNMENT-EU-CAPITAL POLICY, DOWN WITH THE STABILTY PLAN, FREE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. From tomorrow we start new assemblies in hospitals and from Monday withdrawal of labour and strikes.

taxikipali
Mar 13 2010 14:50

Update: During an event organised by the Ministry of Education teachers invaded the conference room while the Minister of Education was speaking. The teachers unfolded a big banner against the measures and chanted slogans against the regime. When a plain clothed policeman tried to stop them, the teachers surrounded the man, disarmed him and beat him, with the man crawling on the floor towards the exit. The teachers then continued to chant slogans against the Minister. Meanwhile a protest march against the measures took place today in the Athens suburb of Chalandri. It must be stressed that news published in the Guardian of a EU bailout of Greece have been declined as rubbish by Angela Merkel today.

lanolin
Mar 14 2010 04:01

Thank you taxikipali for your continually excellent coverage.

I have a question for you. Personally, as I know you can't speak for different neighborhoods or communities in Greece, how do you feel about anti-authoritarians from all over the world moving to Exarchia, Thessaloniki, or other conflictual parts of Greece? Has this happened much? Do you see it as a potential boost of energy or a burden on things like housing and food?

With so few arrests for such a massive strike/conflict, it seems like a safer place for some people to fight for their dreams than in other countries with far stiffer penalties for resisting police.

Edit: Thank you Jweidner, I certainly meant no disrespect. To clarify, I was referring specifically to the threat of getting caught and spending years in prison for participating in demos or being tied to years of legal support and fund raising for friends in that unfortunate situation. I may be entirely wrong about legal leniency in Greece. My assumptions about legal risks in Greece are based on english language coverage I've read since 2008 that often covers clashes but not the aftermath.

taxikipali
Mar 14 2010 10:30

Thank you jesuithitsquad, your list of posts covers my answer.