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What could we accomplish in Greece?

By the Blogger - Life Long Wobbly, July 5, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This post is a departure from my usual style of allowing thoughts to mellow for weeks or months. I’m writing this after the results of the #Greferendum are in, showing a massive victory for the No vote which the far left was pushing, against the opposition parties and all of the European “institutions.” I’m writing it before Monday morning, when just about anything could happen. It’s an experiment with hastier writing, which after all is sometimes called for. It seems like the world has been accelerating recently, so it’s a worthwhile mode to dust off.

I won’t try right now to make any grand predictions about what I think might happen in Greece tomorrow morning, or this week. Nontina Vgontzas has already covered all of the imaginable scenarios resulting from a No vote better than I could have.

For example, apparently the opposition parties are already calling for the Syriza finance minister to resign, which seems pretty bold in the context, but certainly fits the “Government of National Salvation” scenario that Nontina had outlined:

Of course, the Europeans probably would prefer a less confrontational route if they can get one. In a third possible scenario, then, No wins and the creditors resume negotiations — but on the condition that Syriza invites other political parties to join the governing coalition. A government of national salvation, without the drama of elections.

They seem to be attempting this already. According to the Guardian:

Monday’s meeting of Greek party political leaders may be dominated by a call for finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to be removed from the country’s negotiating team.

The head of the centrist Potami party, Stavros Theodorakis, has signalled he will ask for the academic-cum-politician’s immediate withdrawal from the team – citing irreconcilable differences with Greece’s creditors.

The situation is still very fluid in Greece. It has been for awhile, and probably will be for some time to come, but there is fluidity, and there is fluidity. The potential scope of activity for workers in Greece is determined both by their own initiative, confidence, and coherence as a class, as well as by the initiative and activity of the Greek far-left, of Syriza, of the European “institutions” and of the capitalist class as a global whole – just as these last four also interact on each other, and are acted on by the working class. Of course, workers outside of Greece also play a factor – the recent strike wave in Germany has tightened the possibilities for the “institutions”, and could inspire industrial action in other countries. Any increase or decrease in class activity in Germany will have its repercussions in Greece and the rest of Europe.

Returning to Nontina’s outline, it is her fifth scenario,
Plan B with an actual plan” which seems the most hopeful:

Here, No wins, Greece exits, be it negotiated or unilateral, and there is a massive push to the left: nationalization of key sectors, notably the banking sector; the possible introduction of a parallel currency; restricted foreign exchange; imports of basic goods from allies; some kind of ration, however chaotic; a potential blockade of ports to begin disciplining Greek tankers, at the very least. […]

If those pushing for political radicalization win this battle, we must acknowledge that at that point, anything goes. It will be an actual break, with all the risks that entails. There could have been better preparation, and improvisation will be necessary. The question is whether the Left in which many Greeks have entrusted their vote is willing to take such a plunge into the unknown, into the alternative we said is possible. The answer to that will determine what comes after OXI.

The question for revolutionary unionists with this scenario has to be, where is the working class? This most positive scenario relies on the victory of “the left”, both inside and outside of Syriza, but the working class as a class is not present.

A lot of the dynamics in Greece remind me of the situation during Portugal’s Carnation Revolution of 1974-76. A country undergoing a political and economic crisis, on the border of Europe, has an opening created by moderately left-wing politicians who want to modernize the economy and the political system of the country.

The opening they create inspires class action beyond what the politicians might have expected, or even wanted, and in many ways forces those to the left, or strengthens those factions who are further to the left.

The mistake of many revolutionaries in the mid-70s, both inside Portugal and outside, was to mistake the effect for the cause – they focused on the positions and the positioning of the politicians, the factions that they formed, the statements that they made, more than they focused on the initiative, coherence and confidence of workers in Portugal. We should try not to do this with Greece. As I wrote on Facebook right after seeing the referendum results:

It’s going to be a very interesting week. This is the moment for the Greek far left to go for broke, begin encouraging workplace occupations and takeovers on a massive scale, especially in workplaces which are abandoned or in the process of privatization. Don’t leave it to the politicians, seize the opportunity they’ve had to create, and build forms of power independent of them – and prepare for whatever crisis is coming. ‪#‎sofasyndicalism‬

As I acknowledge with the hashtag at the end, this is somewhat academic. I realize that workers in Greece will either act, or not, based on thousands of factors, and the exhortations of American leftists on Facebook must rank very close to the bottom of the list.

And yet… Recently the IWW has given a charter to a group of members in Greece. The members had already been active in various struggles such as supporting the factory occupation. They also issued a statement last week about the referendum:

In today’s circumstance, the workers have one and only choice. We have to stand out, with all our strength, against the big interests, which gradually sink the workers to abjection. The future will be dark, and people shall suffer privations, if we do not fight back these adverse predictions. We have only one hope to in order to prevent this tidal wave of misery and evils. This hope, this tool, is solidarity. Every worker must support the interest of his/her class, no matter where he/she lives in the world or where he/she comes from, no matter if he/she is male/female, young or aged. What is important is that we stay united. Every loss for a worker is loss for all of us and every gain for a part of the working class is a victory for all.

What is the field of possibility for revolutionary unionists in Greece to promote this class unity and solidarity?

First of all, I’ve been encouraged to hear informally that there has been some collaboration between the Greek IWW, who are not large, and the two other revolutionary unionist organizations in Greece, who are also not large (and about which there is very little information in English): The Libertarian Syndicalist Union (ESE), and Rocinante.

In Spain, which seems to be next on the Eurozone chopping-block, there is a revolutionary union, the CNT, which, in terms of how well organized it is, its ability to lead and/or influence struggles, and its density relative to the population, makes the rest of us look like amateurs. Despite the broader social roots and organizational maturity – or perhaps because of them? – the CNT has taken a major role in promoting the “Unitary Bloc” of unions outside of the two main business unions in that country. The goal with the Unitary Bloc is to organize with other “minority” unions (regional, nationalist, far-left of various sorts) towards a general strike which is not led or controlled by the business unions – it would be the first time a general strike started outside of the business unions since Spain “transitioned” to democracy in the ’70s.

We would all do well to pay attention to the process happening in Spain with the Unitary Bloc. Workers’ struggle tends to force organizations and groups to either move in an outward-facing direction, following the class, or to circle the wagons and reinforce the sect mentality. To paraphrase Howard Zinn, you can’t stay still on a moving train.

If workers in Greece do move, we can hope that the Greek IWW, the ESE, and Rocinante, will all intervene on a similar basis: for the circulation of struggle, the unity of workers, direct action rather than trust in politicians, and for workers to continue struggling even when the politicians have let them know that it has become inconvenient. We can also hope that they’ll be able to support workers becoming independent of both the Greek business unions as well as the Communist-affiliated “alternative” unions.

If workers in Greece do move, and drag these three groups behind them in similar directions, then we can hope that these groups will find ways to coordinate even more, and try to have more influence on the struggles. At a start, this could be done through city-wide and nation-wide meetings open to members of any of the three groups, to plan common interventions and strategies. If the groups are able to intervene together in strikes or workplace occupations, and issue common leaflets which workers respond positively to, the next step might be to begin issuing common publications regularly, and to make the meetings open to all members a recurring event. We can hope that, if workers in Greece move, and these three groups allow themselves to intervene in the movement together, that all three will grow in membership and influence quickly, and grow closer and closer together.

We can also hope that, if the strike wave continues in Germany, the IWW and the Free Workers Union (FAU) will find ways to make common interventions, with the goal of circulating the struggles as broadly as possible, and will find a greater unity between themselves as a result.

The IWW Convention is in two months. We’ll need to see what develops, to see how support and solidarity can best be expressed – and we should discuss this at Convention, even if as an “emergency” motion. (Just as we should discuss our strategy if the responses to police brutality in the US continue to heat up…)

It’s going to be an interesting summer.

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