Thursday, June 23, 2011

Greece: The Struggle In The Squares

By Panos Petrou


Petrou is a member of the socialist group Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) and a participant in the occupation in Athens' Syntagma Square. He explains how a powerful new movement against austerity has developed in town squares across Greece. On June 27 and 28, the so-called "movement of the squares" will demonstrate alongside the labor movement during a 48-hour general strike called for a time when parliament is set to vote on yet more cutbacks.

Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou and his PASOK party government survived a June 21 confidence vote in parliament, but he will face continued mass protests as he pushes for yet more devastating austerity measures.

Greece is in the grips of a desperate economic crisis. The government has needed massive bailouts engineered by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, but they have come with the demand that the government slash spending, cut the wages and benefits of workers, and privatize public enterprises.

But a new mass movement has arisen to give voice to the anger of the mass of the population. Following the example of youth and workers in Spain--and before that, the Egyptian revolutionaries of Tahrir Square--the Greek "aganaktismenoi" ("indignants") have occupied public squares.

On May 25, tens of thousands of people responded to a call on Facebook to join a demonstration in Syntagma Square, a central square in Athens outside the parliament building. It was a rather spontaneous demonstration, inspired by the Spanish movement of the "Indignados" (the "Indignants") who were occupying Plaza del Sol in Madrid.

Weeks later, Syntagma Square remains occupied by thousands of people, and similar "camps" are functioning in many squares in many cities and towns all around Greece. A new protest movement--known as "the aganaktismenoi" (the Greek translation for the "Indignados") or the "movement of the squares"--has emerged, and it is now a social force that is further destabilizing the already shaken political system in Greece.

On the days before May 25 and immediately after, the mass media tried to flatter the people who came into the streets, simply to contain their actions. The press highlighted the weaknesses of the movement, praising them as its "gifts." The same political commentators who viciously attacked all kinds of social protest in the past, whether strikes or occupations or whatever, now glorified this "non-political movement of all Greeks against all parties."

They portrayed the movement in the way they wanted it to develop--as a "silent" expression of indignation against "politics," which would be harmless for the capitalist class.

Unfortunately for them, this is far from the truth. While there is a widespread anger against "politicians" in Greece, the true reasons for this popular anger are the anti-worker policies of the government. These policies are the product of the harsh austerity measures and anti-social agenda of the "Memorandum" signed by the government and the so-called "troika" of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are devastating the lives of working people, youth, the poor, seniors and the unemployed.

These are the people who occupy the squares--the ordinary people of Greek society. And far from being "non-political," these people are discovering politics in the streets.

From day one of the movement, one of the most exciting things about the occupied squares has been the fever of political debate among ordinary people. All sorts of people, meeting each other for the first time in their lives, are gathering to debate about the political system, the crisis, the public debt and how to deal with it--even the way the economy is run in capitalist society.

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