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An examination of class structure in Greece, its tendencies of transformation amid the crisis, and its impacts on the organisational forms and structures of the social movement.

Eirini Gaitanou


The study of the Greek class structure is necessary for approaching and understanding the forms and structures of the labour and social movement in Greece. The class structure and the specific characteristics of the Greek social formation present special features compared to other developed capitalist countries of Europe. These features have historically resulted to the appearance of broader petty-bourgeois strata, in parallel to (and not competitively to) capitalist development. The tendency in the last twenty years (during the restructuring process) has been the expansion of capital into new areas and sectors of capitalist circulation, leading to the establishment of a range of services as capitalist commodities, and an expansion of unproductive, but necessary for the realisation of the surplus-value, activities (expanded reproduction of capitalism). Further, during the current crisis, we are witnessing a massive job destruction, along with a significant tendency of class polarisation and violent proletarianisation of the petty-bourgeois strata. Massive unemployment and precarious work are largely expanded, whilst the stable work model is eroded. This reality affects both the emergence and the forms of organisation of the labor and social movement. The working class is highly fragmented and heterogeneous, and the trade union movement has several weaknesses and pecularities. At the same time, large sections of the working strata cannot be expressed through the traditional trade unionism, because of conjunctural and structural reasons. Thus, there appear various forms of organisation that are beyond the scope of the traditional labor movement. The aim of this paper is to explore this landscape and the various possibilities open to collective action, its forms and manifestations at the political level.

Class structure in Greece

Behind the title of our presentation, our main question is formed as followed: How can we apply a class analysis to the current situation in Greece? In order to do that, and starting from the “specific analysis of the specific situation” point of view, how is class structure in Greece related to the particular organizational forms and structures of the social movement today? The study of the Greek class structure is necessary in order to approach and understand the forms and structures of the labor and social movement. However, this study is often conducted in a partial and relatively superficial way, reproducing simplicities and mechanistic replications from different social formations. Our main argument is constituted by the following elements:

1/ The class structure and the particular features of the Greek social formation present specificities in relation to the other developed capitalist countries of Europe. These specificities do not refer to a supposed underdevelopment or delay of capitalism in Greece, but are related to the particular way it has developed. They result into the appearance of broad petit-bourgeois strata, a fact not in detriment to capitalist development, but contrary as its basic constituent.

2/ The current tendency is the expansion of capital into new areas of profitability, leading to the constitution of a wide range of services as capitalist commodities and the expansion of those activities, mainly intellectual, non-productive but necessary for the realisation of surplus value.

3/ The consolidation of neoliberalism, the modernization project and the promotion of the restructuring process after the end of the '80s, have reformulated the previous landscape, by accelerating important social, economic and political transformations. These transformations have signalled the intensification of downwards social mobility, the exacerbation of class polarisation, the decrease of the petit-bourgeois strata and the expansion of wage labor. The main strategy of the ruling class that has decisively influenced the transformation of the class structure refers to: the consolidation of austerity politics, the expansion of precarious and flexible forms of work, the broadening of social inequalities, the destruction of the productive fabric and the tremendous increase of unemployment. The management of the current crisis accelerates rapidly this process, as the middle classes are extensively destroyed, following a course of proletarianization.

4/ This reality influences in a decisive way the constitution and organizational forms of the labor and social movement. The working class is fragmented and particularly heterogeneous. The trade union movement presents several weaknesses and particularities. At the same time, large segments of the workers cannot be expressed through it, due to objective and conjunctural reasons. Thus, diverse forms and structures of the social movement emerge, beyond the scope of the traditional labor movement.

Historical specificities of the class structure in Greece

We should initially underline that the development of capitalist relations supports and enhances the emergence of small property and low production forms. An overall image of the employment and social structure of Greece in the last decades of the 20th century (Lytras 1993: 187-208) would include: relatively small size of the economically active population and relative concentration in the primary sector, small but existing growth rate of waged employees and reduction of the selfemployed, however delays in the development of wage labor and its relative concentration in services and the public sector, self-employment with two main features: predominance of individual/independent capital and of small production, and identification of personal work and management (weakness of capital reproduction without intense personal and family employment),substantial size of assisting members of the family, predominance of small farmers and of small business in the rural economy and the secondary production, fragmented working class. This reality is due to the historical forms of political power and to the specificities of the industrial development course.

In order to better understand these tendencies, we must take into account the specificities of the Greek model of capital accumulation. According to Sakellaropoulos and Sotiris (2004: 165), the intensification of competition and internationalization facilitate monopolies/oligopolies, however certain possibilities are created for small businesses to intervene and be reproduced (because of the fact that it is uneconomic for the monopolies to act in certain fields and sectors, and because of the intensification of labor exploitation). This tendency is facilitated by the State, which in the postcivil war environment supports the petit-bourgeois strata and also undertakes significant productive initiatives, participates in fixed capital investments through public investment, and intervenes financially and institutionally; interventions that function as “indirect and controversial mechanisms of social assurance” (Lytras 1993: 171-75).

Indeed, the role of the State is extended, not concerning however state intervention in the social space (welfare, benefits, etc.), a gap often covered by family networks. The above reality is reflected on the development of certain sectors of the Greek economy, and particularly of the construction one, where small-capitalist craft industry and fragmentation in land ownership predominate.

Transformations in the class structure of the Greek society

If this is the overall image of the Greek class structure during the second half of the 20th century, the consolidation of neoliberalism and of the restructuring process in the '90s, have reformulated this landscape and have consolidated opposing tendencies, mainly under three main factors: the dominant position of capital, the withdrawal of the State from the traditional functions of supporting the petit-bourgeois strata due to the intensification of the liberalization process, and the tendency of rationalization of the productive process in the small property and production fields (Mosxonas 2004: 138-42). Entrance in the EU and liberation of the market have been key-points in this process. Thus, the petit-bourgeois strata have turned towards cheap loans and informal economy in order to survive, as well as to wage labor, leading to a growth of the working class.

The management of the current crisis, after 2008, strongly intensifies the above tendencies, since the social contract of a former period violently collapses. The memorandums include settings that affect directly the property rights of large working class and petit-bourgeois segments of the population. Moreover, in the context of the intensification of the concentration and centralization of capital processes, there is a rapid decline of small-employment and of the survival of small shops.

Thus, a new landscape emerges as far as the class structure is concerned, which, according to Sakellaropoulos based on the Greek Statistic Service data for the fourth trimester of 2011 in comparison to those of 1991 (2013: 19-21), consists in:

1/ an increase of the bourgeois class (3,4% from 1,4%) and of the rich rural strata (0.6% from 0.3%),

2/ a huge decline of the traditional petit-bourgeois class (10,2% from 21,5%), and of the middle rural strata (2,2% from 3%),

3/ a small increase of the new petit-bourgeois class (15,2% from 13,2%), due to the increasing demand of their abilities for the achievement of capital profitability, in parallel to an effort of their submission to the most direct capital exploitation and domination,

4/ an important increase of the working class (62,2% from 47,5%), and

5/ an important decrease of the poor rural strata (6% from 13,1%).

In any case, what is clear is the tendency of intensification of class polarization, which leads to the adoption of a social structure akin to that of other European countries (small number of farmers and of the traditional petit-bourgeois class, stable presence of the new petit-bourgeois class as the executive organizer of the productive process, broader bourgeoisie and heterogeneous/uneven but numerous working class (Sakellaropoulos 2013: 22). However, this overall image is still away from the class structure of most developed countries.

The working class in Greece

Aside the quantitative extend of the working class, we must also examine its qualitative features in order to study the forms and structures of its organization. These features are characterized by:

1/ the expansion of capital into new areas of profitability,

2/ a process of real and not only formal subsumption of labour to capital, leading to the proletarianisation of strata which had previously a relative control on the production process,

3/ more direct subsumption of science to capital, entrance into labor relations which cannot guarantee any autonomous action of the workers and transformation of their labour into mere executive,

4/ Broader changes in the productive process (automatization, de-fordism, flexibility in the installation of productive units),

5/ increase of foreign/immigrant workers, and of those in informal labor relations (appearing as falsely self-employed),

6/ trementous changes in labor relationships, labor flexibility and precarious work, huge unemployment.

Thereafter, the working class is rather fragmented and heterogeneous, with internal differentiations, related to: the accumulation level and working conditions by sector, specialization degree, education level and social background/class origin, working terms, wage, lifestyle. These differentiations influence heavily the constitutive terms and organizational forms of the working strata, as well as the development of solidarity forms and of class consciousness.

First approach on the features of the working-class movement

In order to examine the forms and structures of the social movement, we must start from the particular features of the traditional trade union movement, which can be condensed according to Kouzis (2007) as follows:

1/ Low union density,

2/ unified organizational expression, but also organizational differentiation and fragmentation based on employment status,

3/ severe differentiation in trade unionism between the public and the private sector (18% in the private sector and 65% in the public one),

4/ State interference in unions' internal life,

5/ Lack of alternative forms of workers representation,

6/ Lack of financial independence,

7/ Severe influence of and close interconnection to political parties, bureaucratization and clientelism,

8/ Gradual decline of the confrontational character of the trade union movement,

9/ Trade unionism developed in traditional social strata (men, the elderly, workers on stable employment), but clearly more limited in the youth, women, flexible workers, immigrants, the unemployed.

Finally, the current tendency in the trade union movement is characterized by degradation of syndicalism and a loss of the unions' role (mainly because of the recent governmental measures which induce the abolition of collective agreements, depriving the unions from their main field of action). In addition, formal trade unionism is often hostile towards movement development and escalation. Thus, the traditional labor and trade union movement faces two main difficulties.

On the one side, the ruling class aims at an overall degradation of syndicalism and of collective action, and finally its repression. On the other hand, there are certain structural difficulties related to the particularities of the class structure, the fragmentation of the workforce and the specificities of the trade union movement. Sectoral unionism has expressed an effort to overcome fragmentation, but it has been insufficient due to its weakness to function in a unifying and coherent way for the whole working class.

However, in all periods when there was an intensification of class struggle and development of mass mobilisations, emerged organizational forms beyond the boundaries of the traditional trade unionism. All these flexible forms emphasize in novelty, more direct participation and effectiveness.

Thus, aside the trade union movement, today there appear certain different forms of organization. In terms of movements, the most characteristic examples are those of the December 2008 revolt of the youth, and of the movement of the squares. We have not the time in the context of this presentation to examine the main features of these movements related to the above questions, however we argue that these movements take forms that both reflect and try to respond to the above reality, from the point of view of the unification of the social subject.

These forms are both related to the specific weaknesses discussed above and to the fact that the social movement is not restricted in the workplaces, since class struggle is also conducted in areas outside the production sphere, and includes all those aspects that resist the main aspects of the exercised capitalist politics and strategies, from the side of the affected majority.

Many scholars have emphasized the ability of the traditional trade union to broaden its scope and include these strata (indicatively, Papadopoulos 1987: 242; Katsoridas 2008: 148; Kouzis 2007: 85-7; Palaiologos 2006: 380-81). I support the idea that the transformations described ordain the emergence of new forms, in coordination to the more traditional ones. However, these new forms can not be effective if seen in contradiction to the more traditional. Besides, the transformations of neoliberalism in the economic and the political level, radically worsen the terms of social integration of broader strata, but also create the possibility of new unifications.

The most characteristic example is the fusion of the movement of the squares with the two general strikes, a fusion which escalated the movement. Until that moment, there was a struggle among the protesters over the necessity to include trade unions in the movement, in which a portion claimed that they are antagonistic to the movement's cause. The shift on this crucial matter gave a new dynamic on the movement. This shift was largely influenced by the successful intervention of the most radical segments of the Left – though in overall we would argue that the Left intervened in the movement of the squares in a rather elliptic way, balancing between submission to the spontaneous and external critique without actually getting implicated, at least not in the “the educator must himself be educated” sense (Marx&Engels 1969: 13).

Thus, new structures have to deal with the need of coordination, joint action and cohesion, in order to function in a unifying way for the exploited. In order to restrain fragmentation, these forms of organization are to be constituted based on the consciousness of common interests and against a common enemy (the capital), founded on exploitation.

Therefore, a common collective identity can be formed, based on the Leninist schema of “unity in diversity”. Meaning an effort for a unification into a collective subject of subversion which exceeds without neglecting its internal contradictions, recognizing the relative autonomy of the different strata. Thus, connections are not formed based on solidarity, but on the basis of common interests, common demands and struggle. Here, is of great importance key demands which could at the same time both express and constitute these different strata but also highlight the main contradiction in capitalist strategy and block its application. Such a demand today in Greece could be the cancellation/not recognition of the debt.

This also requires, aside the necessary confrontation with the dominant ideology and artificial differences in the level of subjective perception of reality, specific material initiatives, in the form of counter-institutions. In that sense but in a more decentralized way, local structures with labor orientation also play an important role.

In Greece, we have seen many different such structures during the last years (labor clubs in neighborhoods, committees of the unemployed, social centers, structures of solidarity, local assemblies, antifascist committees). In reality we speak of projects of class reconstruction in the neighborhood, trying to constitute a response against social and labor fragmentation. They are forms of popular/youth selforganization and emancipation in the city, aiming at the decent survival of the people through their own struggle, and are structured having as their main axes contestability, class solidarity, a different culture, the formation of a social and cultural fabric independent of the State and the politicaleconomical system. Of course, limits in such decentralized structures also exist (fragmentation and weakness of coordination, low level of participation and of politicization, influence from the broader political climate, integration to State intervention i.e. through funding etc.).

In other words, and speaking in Gramscian terms, this effort of unification through organizational forms in the sense of “unity in diversity” requires creating the roots, here and now, of another way of organizing society, not as islets of communism inside capitalism, accepting the partial as such, but as the material base of change, the articulation of the partial with the whole, the material challenge of capitalist hegemony.


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Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1969). Selected Works, Volume One, Moscow: Progress Publishers, p. 13 – 15.
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