Letter from Greece

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Anger at the government's neoliberal policies and police brutality has electrified Greece, reports Giorgos Pittas.

Millions of workers took part in the 10 December general strike. The whole country was paralysed as people demonstrated in Athens and other cities against the right wing New Democracy government, shouting, "Down with the murderers."

On 6 December police killed 15 year old Alex Grigoropoulos in cold blood as he played with his friends in the Exarcheia neighbourhood of Athens. The police claimed a ricocheted bullet killed the kid. But witnesses claim that it was murder.

Within a few hours thousands of young people took to the streets. Riots started in the centre of Athens as residents threw things at the riot police from their windows. The next morning 10,000 people marched to the central police station following a call from the anti-capitalist left. They were then attacked by gun-wielding police with tear gas.

On 8 December anger and rebellion swept through the country. High school students occupied their schools and marched to local police stations. Primary school, high school and university teachers' unions called for a strike. University students, who had already started occupations against privatisation, also took to the streets.

By the evening tens of thousands of workers and students marched through burning Athens, with every city clouded with tear gas and police attacks. The government, followed by the media, tried to focus on the riots, burning and looting in order to stabilise the anger and go on the offensive.

So on 9 December, under the slogan of "Law and order", the police tried to smash peaceful demonstrations. They even attacked during the funeral of Grigoropoulos, throwing tear gas into the cemetery. Late at night they were supported by "citizens"; in reality a few Nazi gangs.

Meanwhile, Costas Karamanlis, the prime minister, had meetings with party leaders to persuade them to support him against the "chaos". He then called on union leaders to cancel a general strike against the neoliberal budget - a strike which was decided before the murder.

The trade union federation leaders eventually decided to continue with the strike and a rally outside parliament, but cancel the demonstrations. After calls from the radical left, university occupations and teachers' unions, thousands of people marched to the parliament in a large peaceful demonstration, uniting with the workers already assembled.

Ruling class politicians and the media are "astonished". Before the murder almost nobody could imagine that such things could happen. But, just like the crisis, the anger was right there if you wanted to see it. There is anger against the police, who, over the past decade, have beaten, harassed and killed immigrants, young kids and demonstrators with impunity.

There is anger against a government that has given €28 billion to the banks while passing privatisations and anti-labour laws when almost half of workers live under the poverty line. There is anger against a government that has faced a scandal almost every single month, with six of its ministers resigning consequently.

But it is also a weak government with a majority of just one MP that has faced strong resistance from workers and students. One and a half years ago New Democracy was shaken by a huge university occupation movement that gained massive support. Over the past month almost every union has gone on strike against privatisations, public sector cuts, factory closures and job losses. This power from below can bring down the New Democracy government, something that the social democratic Panhellenic Socialist Movement and even the reformist left parties' leaderships don't want to do.

Writing these words the day after the general strike, university students across the country are still occupying and high school students are still on the streets. In a workers' conference in the Law School occupation, hundreds of workers decided to push a call for strikes on 18 December, the day parliament is supposed to vote on the budget. In the following days, weeks and months the anti-capitalist left has to take the anger and help to turn it into an organised movement of workers and students to bring down the government and build a socialist alternative as more and more people become fed up with the system.