FOR A week in July over 33,000 Greek truck drivers staged an industry-wide strike that paralysed much of the Greek economy. It follows six general strikes in six months, and shows how all-out, indefinite strike action can force back attacks on jobs and living standards across Europe.
The truckers’ strike was triggered by the PASOK government’s attempt to abolish the current road freight licensing system. Many of the drivers, some of whom re-mortgaged their homes to buy the $140 000-280,000 licenses, would have been bankrupted by the move.
Greek Prime Minister Giorgos Papandreou insisted that deregulating the haulage sector and other so-called “closed-shop professions” (workplaces with 100% union membership) is necessary to overcome “investor skepticism.” He has said that the “Greek people can take the pain.”
The truck drivers, however, refused to pay the cost of the government’s economic woes and voted for an all out strike. Without fuel deliveries, petrol stations across the country ran dry within days. Hotel and holiday bookings were cancelled due to food shortages at tourist destinations. Lost revenue within tourism alone was estimated at around $1.4 billion.
The truckers strike shocked the Greek ruling class. A BBC reporter described the feeling: “Of all the strikes that have affected Greece during the eight-month-long financial crisis, this is the one that posed the most serious threat to the government’s determination to impose austerity measures and liberalise the economy.”
Two days into the strike the Greek transport minister issued orders to forcibly requisition individual driver’s trucks. But in response, drivers picketed oil refiners to stop the delivery of fuel. Then the Prime Minister signed a rarely-used civil mobilisation order that effectively made the truck drivers part of the armed forces. The forced conscription meant that drivers could be jailed for refusing to resume work. But the truckers again refused to bow down and they stayed out on strike.
By Friday the government drafted in the Army to attempt to get fuel supplies to airports and electricity plants—a symbol of how far they were willing to go to break the truck drivers’ resistance.
The leaders of the driver’s trade union, the Panhellic Union of Commercial Land Transportations (PSXEM), began to wilt under pressure from the government to end the strike, and convinced the drivers to return to work, a week after the strike began.
A unified working class can win
Despite the leaders’ timidity, the truckers’ strike shows how targeting crucial sections of the economy can cause massive disruption. On a big scale they could make Papandreou’s austerity measures too expensive to implement. Encouragingly, power industry workers are discussing a sustained strike, and there may be a Europe-wide strike in late September.
Already this year the PASOK government has forced a 20-30 per cent drop in real wages and the Greek GST has hit a record high of 23 per cent on some items.
There is a genuine anger and will to resist among the Greek working class. There are obstacles, though. The trade union leaders have so far been reluctant to build sustained industrial campaigns. The national trade union federations, the General Confederation of Greek Workers and Civil Servants’ Confederation, did not build support for the truck driver’s strike. Workers will need to agitate to force the unions into a more consistent stance against the cuts and for longer, all-out strikes if they are to force the cost of the crisis onto governments and the bosses.