General Strike In Greece Reignites Anti-Austerity Battle
Greek port worker and union leader Giorgos Gogos says most of the demonstrations across the country were peaceful and unified against austerity measures imposed by the lenders and accepted by SYRIZA
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Greeks took to the streets on Thursday to protest austerity measures, giving Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza government the biggest domestic challenge since he was reelected in September when he promised to cushion the impact of economic hardships. Well, the flights were grounded, hospitals ran on a skeletal staff, ships were docked at ports, and public offices stayed shut across the country in the first nationwide walkout called for by Greece’s largest private and public sector unions in an entire year. In Athens, more than 20,000 people marched onto the government sites and demanded that they abandon austerity measures and the demands that the lenders are making on the Greek people.
Now joining us from the port city of Piraeus is Giorgos Gorgos. He’s a Greek dock worker and union leader. He is active in the regional and local levels of the party, that is, the Syriza party. Giorgos, thank you so much for joining us.
GIORGOS GORGOS: Good evening, Sharmini, to you and to your audience. Hello from Piraeus in Greece.
PERIES: So Giorgos, describe the atmosphere in Greece and the challenge posed to the Syriza government by this strike.
GORGOS: Today, as you told, we were thousands of people out in the streets demanding to stop the austerity measures, to stop the privatization program and to change policy having to do with the last memorandum. We want to stop all this pressure by the lenders, that actually want from Greek people to pay all these amounts of money that consist the national debt. But they were not created by people. They were not spent for social purposes. And we believe that this debt does not belong to Greek people. So we demand from this government to change policy and to try to find alternatives so as to get out of this vicious cycle that we are five years now.
PERIES: And Giorgos, your specific union has been fighting and protesting the privatization measures for a long time. It actually preceded the Syriza government itself. What has happened since the signing of this agreement with the lenders since, I guess July, to the privatization measures underway?
GORGOS: Yes. The government announced that they’re going to continue the ongoing process of the privatization of the port. And we are resistant, of course, to this decision. We think that this is a wrong decision, and we have arguments that the Piraeus port authority can be sustainable, can continue to be profitable and to serve public needs, and not to serve monopolistic needs. So we don’t want this port, the bigger port of Greece, to be privatized. And we want to keep it under public authority and public management. They said that they’re going to see how they’re going to make some changes to the better, but we have not seen the changes so far. So we still press for the whole situation of the privatizations and for the port of Piraeus to stop and change their mind and continue with other projects that the public, the state, will be still the owner of the ports.
PERIES: And Giorgos, you have quite close connections with Syriza. Are you meeting with them as a union, and what are they saying to you?
GORGOS: We have met before 15 days with the minister of maritime affairs. He said that nobody is happy from the government to make these privatizations, but they have to do it according to the last signed memorandum, the last signed agreement with the lenders. And they are going to secure several aspects concerning the intervention of the state, that they’re going to secure public interest and they’re going to secure jobs in the port. But he didn’t say anything specific. So we didn’t have anything positive from this meeting after a rally we had on 23rd of October.
Today we had a gathering and manifestation in Piraeus with other trade unions. Trade unions from the seafarers, the seamen. People working the fund for pension for the seamen. People working in the ministry of maritime affairs. So we were about 15 unions marching in the streets of Piraeus, and we went to Piraeus port authority as a symbolic action for protection of public port.
PERIES: And Giorgos, this was also a nationwide strike. Give us a sense of what happened in the rest of the country.
GORGOS: It was quite successful. In all major cities we had rallies and gatherings. People were out in the street demanding to stop the austerity measures. And I can say that it was a successful struggle for today. And we reaffirmed altogether that we’re going to continue our struggles against austerity and against the current memorandum. We know that the lenders are pressing very much. They want almost everything. Negotiations between the government and the lenders, it’s not easy at all. And they bring all the time new demands on the table. So we think that the resisting, people resisting in the streets, is something very positive also for the negotiations that are taking place in higher level. And we believe that at the end we’re going to gain some things from our struggle and to, I don’t know how soon, but this policy has to take an [end].
PERIES: And Giorgos, the nation was in a state of demoralization after the clear mandate given to the Syriza government after the referendum. And then you could see that the split in the party created further demoralization. Then of course the exit of the youth movement within Syriza all has contributed to a very low level of enthusiasm on the part of those who were fighting against austerity in the past. Do you think this particular strike has revived the enthusiasm and the energy that was there before?
GORGOS: Yes, it’s true that Greek society, not only the party of Syriza, is in a depression. It’s many people that are disappointed, and they want some times so as to recover and to get out in the streets, and keep on demanding. I think this strike today, it’s a part of a further plan of rejection of memorandums. And people that will start going out to the streets demanding their rights. It’s through that the movement in general, it’s not in the same situation as it was in the summer, just before the referendum, which was the peak of the movement in Greece against austerity. But slowly, people realize that there is no other way than struggling and demanding for our rights.
And I think it’s the first, let’s say, stop. And then we have more rallies and manifestations. There is a problem in coordination, also I have to stress. It was a pity, today again we had several manifestations, but nothing the same context and altogether march. People from [parliament], Communist Party, made their own gatherings. And it was numerous manifestations. That’s very positive. But we have to realize all together that we have one and only target, which is to stop this austerity. So we have to work closely together and not create further sects inside the movement. So we have to work, also, in this field so as to create wider, broader, and bigger movement altogether.
PERIES: And Giorgos, just one last question. Some of the media, of course, started reporting on the general strike in terms of the violence. But how wide and broad were the cocktails and attacks on the police, and the attacks on the protesters by the police?
GORGOS: In Piraeus what we were gathering today, there was no violence. It was a very peaceful demonstration. Also from our unions in terms of from parliament, Communist Party. In Athens I hear to the news that they had some riots at the end of the march. But I think it was minor, and of course it was not created by people who had organized it from the unions. There are some small groups that are in the, in the, let’s say between the space of anarchy, and some of them are manipulated by the [para]state people. So the real people that they were out in the streets demanding to stop austerity, they were not part of these riots.
Some smaller groups, they are creating these problems. And we think that they are manipulated by the intelligence and other dark sides of the state.
PERIES: That’s sad.
GORGOS: That’s sad.
PERIES: That’s sad. I want to thank you so much for joining us, Giorgos, and hope to have you back again very soon.
GORGOS: Thank you. At your disposal anytime, and thank you for your interest about the crisis in Greece and Greek people.
PERIES: Our pleasure. Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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