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Nicos Remoundos

Workers move left – leaders move right

(April 1986)

From Militant, No. 793, 11 April 1986, p. 10.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SIX MONTHS after announcing an austerity policy, the PASOK (Socialist) government of Greece suddenly decided in mid-March to invite the two Communist parties, as well as three small liberal parties, to begin a “national dialogue” on foreign, economic and social policies.

An invitation for discussions was also sent to two right-wing parties, but this was immediately turned down.

The press hailed this as a brilliant move by Socialist prime minister A. Papandreou to embarrass his opponents and regain the initiative after the recent period of turmoil provoked by his austerity measures.

In reality the last months have marked a decisive turn into a new period of immense uncertainty and instability.

Behind this “initiative” lie the fears of PASOK’s leadership about the catastrophic crisis of Greek capitalism and the bosses’ need for further unpopular measures, continuing opposition to those measures, and the serious crisis in Pasok itself.

Serious struggles looming ahead

The drops in the price of oil, in interest rates and the value of the dollar could save the Greek economy almost $1 billion in 1986, and possibly offset the inflationary effects of devaluation.

However, the outlook is not at all rosy. Interest payments on the enormous foreign debt of $12–$15 billion alone will cost $1 billion this year. It is estimated that Gross National Product may drop by 4 per cent. Private and public investment will probably decrease by 26 per cent and 15 per cent respectively, and unemployment will grow from 8.5 per cent to 11 per cent.

The government itself hopes for, at best, no growth, 18 per cent inflation, and a balance of payments deficit of $1.7–2 billion. And all this in a period of relative upswing in the world economy!

Such is the collapse of confidence of the Greek bourgeoisie that the bourgeois ex-President Karamanlis recently blurted out: “Only PASOK and A. Papandreou can now take the measures to modernise the economy and re-establish normal relations with the USA”.

The power and determination of the working class to break with capitalism was again the major factor influencing events in the last period. Two near general strikes in the space of two weeks last October, a semi-general strike in February, and major strikes in March have so far been the workers’ answer to the government’s austerity policy. (See Militant, 7 March)

In a period of deep crisis, workers realise that only major struggles for major goals can change their lives. Small-scale or isolated struggles, with limited aims, cannot enthuse the working class. Even when such a strike is successful, the bosses quickly take back with the right hand what they were forced to give with the left.

The workers’ leadership, however, do not want to understand these simple facts. The Communist parties and left Socialist trade union leaders have, again and again, had to be forced to fight by the sheer pressure of their rank and file.

“We are not against private enterprise. We are not against profits and even certain super-profits, but only against the super-super-profits of the monopolies,” stated the leaders of the pro-Moscow CP at the very moment that their members were calling for struggle.

As a result, the workers have had to fight not only without leadership, but against it. So naturally after these battles and without clear perspectives, some tiredness is creeping in among certain sections of workers.

At the same time, new layers of the class, as well as the youth and peasants, are joining the struggle.

Universities, technical colleges and high schools were closed down in March with national, regional and local strikes against youth unemployment and cuts in education.

Peasant associations are also mobilising. After three years of almost continuous growth of their income through EEC and government hand-outs, this year will be different.

The EEC decided on an average price increase of only 11 per cent for Greek agricultural products, while inflation is around 20 per cent. The government is also cutting back rapidly on subsidies.


Even the employees of the Greek Secret Service threatened to go on strike, demanding demilitarisation of the service! Members of the riot police told the press that they do not want to be used any more against strikes or demonstrations.

The mood of the workers was shown on 26 March when 50,000 demonstrated in Athens, at a moment’s notice, against the US attack on Libya.

An important step forward was taken when Xekinima (Marxist paper in PASOK) called a conference of union representatives from “problematic factories” (many of which were nationalised by PASOK, but are now on the verge of collapse under the burden of enormous debts accumulated by the former owners).

Under the threat of “modernisation” by the government – which will mean closures and redundancies – representatives of 40 factories employing 30,000 workers took part. They accepted the programme and united action proposed by the Marxist trade union leaders, and elected a committee.

On 27 March, a five-hour stoppage was organised, with tremendous success throughout the country. There was 100 per cent participation in all major “problematic” factories, and a militant rally in Athens attracted about 10,000 workers.

The main slogans were: “The workers in the factories, the bosses on the dole”; “Nationalisation is here to stay”, etc.

This success was only possible because a socialist programme was adopted, calling for the nationalisation of all major branches of industry under workers’ control. The workers were enthused because united action was organised, with a campaign that took the issues to every factory.

PASOK has been shaken again and again, from top to bottom, by the struggles of the last few months.

A conference called by the recently expelled trade union leaders of PASOK and former Central Committee members attracted 1,400 trade unionists, youth and local party members, despite threats of expulsion.

At the meeting, the policies and undemocratic manoeuvres of the leadership were decisively opposed by the rank and file, led by the Marxists. A call for the formation of a new party was defeated, while the formation of a trade union ‘broad left’ (to be called the Socialist Workers’ Union Movement – SWUM) was overwhelmingly carried.

The struggle within PASOK is continuing, despite the expulsion of leading left-wingers and the mistaken resignation of others. The major forces of the left rank and file remain within the party.

In a recent conference of PASOK trade unionists the leadership was decisively opposed and a few party hacks were shouted down. When the bureaucrats attacked Xekinima, delegates shouted: “They have done very well!”

At the same time, recent elections in the trade unions prove that PASOK still enjoys tremendous support among the workers. This shows that the Marxists were correct when campaigning against a new party, in favour of fighting to win PASOK to a socialist programme.

Not only PASOK but both the CPs are in crisis. The leadership of the pro-Moscow CP has been forced to expel whole sections of the party in the Federation of Hospital Workers and in their youth section.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the only tendency in the workers’ movement which is growing in influence and support is the Marxist opposition in PASOK.

The leadership of PASOK is facing two major challenges in 1986. One is the trade union conference, with the election of a new leadership. The other is the local elections next autumn.

The strongly pro-government trade union leadership (appointed by the court after the expulsion of their predecessors) is already involved in secret deals to secure re-election. The government is already trying to minimise the possibility of defeat in the local elections.

The bourgeois parties, on the other hand, are not at all eager to challenge PASOK and risk stirring up the workers. However, the ruling class has not abandoned the struggle. It is pressuring Papandreou to do more dirty work for them, so that they can attack when the workers’ movement weakens and bring the government down.

Papandreou, glimpsing the defeat which he himself is preparing, hopes to play it like Mitterrand. He plans to move to the presidency in 1989, or before and change to proportional representation so that the right cannot form a majority government.

But the defeat of the ruling class will not be achieved by clever parliamentary manoeuvres. Only united class struggle for power on a socialist programme will smash the reaction. With Marxist leadership, the rank and file of PASOK, the workers and youth can transform the party into a fighting organisation that will carry through this task.

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Last updated: 11 July 2017