Riots In Greece Over IMF-imposed Setbacks to Workers

Judas lee

On May 5th, all hell broke loose in Athens, Greece. Tens of thousands of people of all political stripes flooded the streets to protest the government’s reduction of public sector wages, cuts to pensions, and the rollback of pro-labor laws. In the midst of these riotous demonstrations, the firebombing of Marfin Bank, allegedly by anarchists, resulted in the deaths of three of its employees from suffocation.

The deaths have sparked fierce debates among anarchists and other radical groups in Greece. Many have spoken out to condemn the violence and also brought to light many underreported facts surrounding the firebombing. Since a general strike was already occurring throughout Athens, protestors attacked private property in many places that day without injury to workers. A group called The Children of The Gallery (TCTG) has noted that protestors had actually refrained from burning down several bank buildings where they knew “scabs” to be working that day. Many accounts have pointed out that Marfin Bank had not only forced its employees to work during the strike, but also that the building lacked proper fire protection and emergency exits. The workers had no way to escape, even as protesters outside tried to help them do so. One day after the tragic deaths, the bank workers’ union joined the general strike.

The actions of the fire bombers responsible have led to a general persecution of anarchists throughout Athens. TCTG reports that following the incident, police invaded a squat, trashed a social center for immigrants, and made arrests in a known anarchist neighborhood.

This latest wave of actions in Greece began with the Prime Minister’s announcement in late 2009 that the country’s budget deficit was much worse than previously thought. Greece would not be able to pay back its loans. World panic set in as loan defaults would mean that the economies of its European creditors would also be jeopardized. Fears over a massive domino effect extending to Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal have caused stock market prices to plummet, creating the possibility of another global recession. On May 2nd, sixteen European nations pledged 110 billion euros total, or $140 billion, in a bailout package to Greece coordinated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In return, the government agreed to so-called “austerity measures.”

In an article for, Marshall Auerback identifies the predicament of Greece as being a direct consequence of neoliberalization. Because the euro is controlled by the European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies, Greece, as a euro zone nation, has no control over its own currency and monetary policy. While global capital has reaped higher profits from the euro’s facilitation of trade across borders since the currency’s introduction, nations like Greece have lost much of their autonomy and their ability to deal with crisis.

As a result, Auerback points out, Greece and other nations have become stuck in a bind that tends towards high deficits: “Why do we have huge budget deficits across the globe? It is largely because the slower global economy has led to lower revenues (less income=less taxes paid, since most tax revenue is based on income, and lower tax brackets) and higher spending on the social safety net.” Austerity measures are likely to make things worse: “Trying to engineer a reduction in the deficit via austerity programs […] at a time when private spending is still insufficient to maintain adequate real GDP growth is a recipe for disaster. It will increase the deficit.”

Coerced by the ECB and IMF, the government of Greece is now trying to force its workers to pay the price for neoliberalization and bear the burdens for the contradictions of global capitalism. But they are fighting back. The May 5th demonstration was allegedly the largest ever to take place in the nation. While methods of protest will inevitably continue to differ, it is clear that the resistance movement keeps growing larger and stronger as more people are refusing to submit to powers that clearly do not represent their interests.

For English translations of communiques from anarchist and other radical groups in Greece, see the blog, “After the Greek Riots,”