by CHRISTOS GIOVANOPOULOS – Dikaioma, network of precarious and unemployed workers, Athens
The 14N European day of coordinated trade union protests against the austerity measures made headlines in the Greek media and mobilised strongly the Greek police at the day. Their motion to shut down the Syntagma sq. metro station in Athens, for what it proved to be a quite small event, shows only the fear and uncertainty that dominates the Greek political system, at the slightest probability of any mass mobilisation.
Unfortunately the 14N was not such an event. This day was squeezed between the two-day general strike (6-7 November) against the third memorandum that brought unpresented austerity measures, and the annual celebrations of the 17th of November revolt against the military dictatorship in Greece in 1973. The latter, which is an annual event and barometer of the influence of the Greek left, took an added importance this year due to its antifascist content, as a mass protest against Golden Dawn.
Thus little more than 2000 people gathered and marched on the 14N in the centre of Athens. The day was undermined by the same people who called for it, the leaders of GSEE (the general union of the private sector) and of ADEDY (the national union of the public sector), who did not call for a strike but for a three hours walkout, between 12 and 3pm. As usually workers do not participate on such walkouts. They are well aware that it’s only a trick of the trade union leaders to keep appearances, as it was their decision to sign on the call for a so-called pan-European strike. This point is important in order someone to avoid living in (Greek) myths. In Greece the idea of striking has been undermined from the overuse of «general strikes» – for the sake of union leaders’ politicking – which often are not, despite the occasionally mass turnout (basically of public sector workers). Hence it would not be wise, and certainly not helpful, one to imagine something as it was desired and not as it really is.
I must add also that no one else, even outside the official trade unions, really mobilised for the 14N, apart few Facebook calls and public announcements (not even flyposting or leafleting) of radical and far left political groups and grass root trade unions. However the latter are very far from being able to organise or call a strike. Something that still only GSEE and ADEDY can do, not even PAME, the mass trade union angle of KKE, which has failed the few times it tried so. This gives also a picture of the realities of the trade union and the working class movement in Greece.
There are also «objective» reasons why the Greek people did not participate. Striking in Greece, despite being frequent (more than 20 general strikes within the last 2 and a half years), has became more and more difficult, risky (for sucking) and costly (wage reductions). Therefore people think twice and choose carefully when to strike, and if it is a real issue, namely if it is crucial to them, to strike. Hence after the two days general strike against the third memorandum, which met with mass participation, another pre-emptive strike for the same reason two weeks earlier and a third one against the visit of Merkel, many (especially public sector) workers lost almost two weeks’ wage, accordingly to heavy salary reductions of a recent anti-strike legislation. Such logistical approach may seem politically incorrect, but one must estimate the considerable material effects of the crisis in people’s lives. Also this may be a tangible way to estimate the value one gives to the purpose of a strike, and how this is connected with the workers’ interests.
Saying that I do not want to undermine the importance of the 14N in providing a different approach to the crisis, empowering the voice of the working class with coordinated action against Europe-wide austerity measures (with or without Troika) and designing a different transnational vision and subjectivities for a peoples’ Europe. All these certainly respond to the need for, and contribute to, the creation of a front of the European peoples’ and the working class against the united front of the European economic and political elites in their anti-people and anti-working class assault. In that sense the 14N was important as a «propaganda tool», as an endeavour to give substance and bring to the picture another alternative that goes beyond the current configuration of Europe, both nationally and internationally. And also as a «general strike» stands up to the initial characteristics of the general strike as a political strike and not as a defensive workers’ only protest, despite the focus on protecting the labour rights of the people.
However, because of this «tension» between a political strike, which exceeds the working class, and the defensive position of the trade unions against the crisis, the 14N is also useful to reflect on what kind of demands could actually facilitate the convergence of the local struggles with their international ones, building a wider perspective. And this is where it becomes crucial the tangible (and not only ideological, programmatic, or imaginary) connection of such international strikes with local or national struggles. There are some historical features here that it would be mistake for one to overlook, especially regarding Greece. Greece does not share the same European experience with the rest «European family». Its bonds with Europe has always been a top down and suppressing process. Also the Greek people have experienced Europe only as a dream or as a coloniser, that amounts to the same inferior position in the power relation between Europe and Greece. The closer direct experience of the Greek people as Europeans is as being refugees (and gastarbeiters) or servants of the European vision. This different positioning at the margins of Europe has some very tangible results in the political and social imagination of the Greek people and its movements. Comparing for example with the relaxed border-crossing and mobility of European people, long before the Schengen agreement and despite the wars, or with the common references and feeling the Portugese and the Spanish workers share, that helps them imagine a common struggle, Greece lacks such projections. So if the dominant discourse of a common European heritage (one nominally multicultural and multivocal, in which though all the voices may be able to be uttered but not necessarily been heard, and where certainly they do not carry the same value) is already problematic, the counter-discourse of a European people is too; and it ask us, maybe, to reconsider what does it mean an international, or, transnational subjectivity or sense of belonging, and what needs to be done in order to appear.
A second element of the difference charge that the 14N held for Greece regards a temporal issue. If we want to avoid re-constituting a universally homogeneous historical time and trajectory, which lies at the core of a Eurocentric imperial modernist approach – that often the movements of the European metropolises unintentionally, I want yet to believe, perpetuate – we should understand the role of differentiated and multiple historical time, as sychronous part of the concurrent moment. This temporal dimension is crucial because outlines the context of the struggles that occur and signifies their importance for the agencies concerned, addressed, or aimed to. To put it in much simpler words, I argue that the 14N protests reflect a different stage in the development of the struggles against austerity than in Greece, and hence they become in one sense redundant for the Greek people. As important as 14N may have been for supporting and building, nationally and internationally, especially the Spanish and Portuguese resistance to the austerity measures, in Greece we live beyond this moment. The moment of the «scream», which the very moving and motivating Spanish CGT promo-video for the 14N called for, in Greece was materialised with the 6th of December 2008 revolt, with the appearance of the crisis. Screaming is not enough for Greece anymore. More and more people ask for alternatives and effective political solutions that exceed the working class’ interests alone (class struggle has been proved once more a beyond the working class versus capitalists antithesis), the dominant political system and the existing social and productive structures. And here the issue of political power, as the main field of contestation, is underlined as the central node and riddle one should cut or solve.
On that respect, strangely as it is, any prioritisation of the European dimension or solution to the struggle in Greece, fails to respond and enhance the local struggle for a radical social change and subversion, by putting the latter some time in the future. And this does not mean a return to a nationalistic discourse. Quite the opposite. Such view understands the importance of the existence of a viable alternative paradigm outside and against the aegis and dictates of the Troika and its corresponding austerity policies and shock doctrines, even on national level, which will shake and later unquestionably the foundations of the EU architecture and the anti-people and anti-working class policies. Leaving aside Greece, and the role and contribution of the Greek people’s resistance to the international movement – along with those of the Arab countries, the M15 indignados, the Occupy etc. that are in dialogue and inform each other actually, virtually and imaginatively – I want to refer to the Argentinean precedent. Despite Chavez’s victory in Venezuela in 1999, the Argentinean revolt (and its consequent political outcomes) was a (next) critical moment. A moment that unleashed the radical shift of the majority of the Latin America sub-continent outside the US domination and the formation of a different regional entities, political subjectivities and social imaginings, and I do not refer here only to nations and governments but also to the popular movements and their networks throughout Latin America. I draw to this example only to highlight the variety of ways that the convergence of the local and the international struggles of the peoples follow, which neither can be conflated, nor always coincide temporally, and for sure they do not develop only around one axis of conflict, even if this is the basic one between working class and capital.
Hence the correspondence of transnational days and struggles to the interest of the local subjects is yet, unfortunately or not, the critical issue for their success. Such interests vary and this does not mean a demand to prioritise a current local issue or struggle on the expense of larger and less tangible but equally important politically motions such the 14N, although an international strike in support of a particular strike in a factory (let’s say) anywhere in Europe or in the world would be a very tangible proof of an internationalist consciousness. The establishment of the global days in our political vocabulary of protest has been a precious development of the ‘00s and one that has helped immensely the advance of movements and struggles on a local level. But now we may have entered a different phase that the importance of the local conflicts may be (even if only tactically) to the forefront, again, only to inform the international ones.
Thus in one respect, the 14N seemed as a move to internationalise the (moment of the) struggles of the Portuguese and the Spanish people, namely to build solidarity around their local struggles. No matter how strange this may sound, in the sense that challenges the «international signification» of 14N, it manifests the actual dialectics between local and international dimensions of common days of protest, and we should understand them as such. When any people fight we simultaneously develop protests in solidarity with the particular focus. This adds gravity, and potential effectiveness, to transnational mobilisations, combating the abstract references to a transnational subject and public sphere that does not exist. Making and even imagining the future unavoidably passes through the gates of the current conflicts and the reactions and solutions one gives to them today.
A similar result is drawn from the experience of the Greek 14N demonstration. The vast majority of those participated belonged to local government and higher education admin employees, that are due to be sacked as part of the layoffs of public sector workers the third memorandum dictates. Just days after the memorandum has become a law more than 300 local government buildings and services have been occupied by their workers, along with the offices of some higher university institutions, with the majority of those still under occupation. Such move has brought to a standstill many local government services. What is unique is that in the majority of the cases the elected mayors, or heads of the different departments support these struggles. For two reasons. Firstly because they are well aware that their offices cannot be run after massive layoffs. This is the main reason why they refuse to provide the details and list of names of employees the Greek government asks them in order to proceed with the firings. The second is that they feel the pressure of the local communities and of course they have understood, regardless their political affiliation so far, the destructive consequences of the austerity measures. The latter is a very actual proof of the wider form that the struggle against the austerity takes. Returning back to the 14N, it is obvious that those who mobilised were sectors already on strike, that incorporated the day (as international support) in their own struggle.
I feel that what we have to work on is trying and finding such ways of transnational coordination able to move on different levels, without imposing a monologic overarching agenda that tries to bond all the variables, experiences and struggles in one and alone aim, project, discourse or date. An approach may be needed that builds networks of solidarity and coordination between particular movements or days of support to particular moments of struggle, in order any transnational mobilisation to have a specific focus of struggle and not only to sent a, significant otherwise as it is but yet, imaginary message to the enemy. For example a European-wide day of protest or strike in support of the resistance against the next austerity measures in any European country that may be attempted, at the day that the local movement decides, may be a good idea and more productive in making the mighty political and economic elites to feel the force of such coordinated shots. Also we should not expect our visions for an internationalisation of our common struggles to be easily materialised. They will be times of synchronisation and times of diversion. We should keep loyal to our strategy but use a variety of tactics, and be cautious not to confuse one with the other.
As a post scriptum I would like to add a note regarding the presence of migrants in the 14N protests. Any reference to migrants were absent in my text so far, exactly because they have been mainly «absent» from the anti-austerity and anti-Troika struggles of the Greek people. I am sorry to tell this but an integration of the anti-racist or for migrant rights’ struggles has not been achieved yet. There are many reasons for that, which extend the current contribution, and may need another text that informs and examines the relationship between these two fronts of struggle and also the challenges of building, and the character, of anti-racist struggles in conditions of a large scale generalised social crisis – that produces also a huge amount of migrants from the (so-called) «hosting community». So far the way migrants enter the picture of struggles is unfortunately and paradoxically only through, what I can call, a «representation» provided by the anti-fascist struggle of the Greek movement.