Deepening austerity breeds greater resistance in Greece

The ‘radical left’ Syriza government in Greece is continuing on its right-wing trajectory as it prepares to intensify attacks on living standards on behalf of European imperialism. After the Eurogroup meeting on 20 February, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared that an ‘honourable compromise’ had been reached between the Syriza-ANEL coalition and the creditors of the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) over further action towards the €86bn (£73bn) bailout of Greece. This compromise paves the way for further ‘reforms’ – a euphemistic term referring to changes in pensions and labour legislation that equate to yet another wave of brutal austerity enforced on the long-suffering people of Greece.

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Greece: Open the Borders - An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

Broken by the brutal enforcement of the European Union's austerity measures, Greece has been left to police the massive migrant crisis erupting now in the eastern Mediterranean. Around a million migrants landed on mainland Greece or its islands in 2015, and up to a further 50,000 in January 2016, despite appalling weather in the Aegean Sea, the route they are forced to take from Turkey and the Middle East. Over 850,000 refugees crossed Greece and into the northern European Union countries, seeking safety, homes and work. Greek islands struggled to cope with up to 5,000 refugees per day; thousands have drowned, among them over a hundred children.

The Greek government is still under threat of expulsion from the Eurozone if it fails to meet its debt obligations under the third bailout agreement signed in 2015. Now the EU wants Greece to set up camps for hundreds of thousands of migrants to register, check and fingerprint them. If it is unable to comply then it might be excluded from the Schengen zone. The Greek Immigration Minister says that he was told by the Belgian government to ‘push’ migrants ‘back into the sea’ to solve the crisis.

Open the border at Evros!

Over the weekend of 24/25 January 2016 migrant solidarity protests took place at Greece's Evros land border with Turkey where a seven-mile fence has been built with EU money. Both states are bankrolled by the EU to act as policemen for Fortress Europe. Greece became the first operational base of Frontex (the European border police force) outside of its Warsaw HQ in 2010. An Amnesty International report of 2014 labels this critical area as 'a laboratory' for Frontex operations and noted the fatal correspondence between increased controls imposed since 2012 and the desperate use of sea crossings over the Aegean. The deaths that have taken place since are not accidents but a direct consequence of EU policy. In a demonstration that it was trying to comply with EU requirements, the Syriza government sent riot squads to police the Evros protest, and has started to arrest foreign volunteers who are assisting migrants to land on Greek soil.

Austerity bites deeper

The Syriza government faces mounting opposition to its austerity plans for 2016. With government debt at a record and unsustainable level of 187% of GDP, Syriza is determined to sell off as many publicly-owned assets as possible and to implement yet further cuts in pensions and tax hikes for the poor. Living standards, which have fallen by 25%, are set to drop much further.

More than 1.2 million workers are unemployed and face destitution because of cuts in benefits. Pensioners, whose incomes have already been reduced on 12 occasions, face yet more cuts: the EU complains that the system is too generous although pensions have fallen to €360 a month. Farmers face an increase in social security contributions from 6.5% to 27% and a doubling of tax rates, from 13% to 26%. A fiscal gap of €1.8bn has been discovered in this year’s budget, and Greece’s creditors – the troika of the EU, EC and the IMF – are demanding that it be closed.

While the Troika continues to hammer the Syriza government, opposition to austerity is mounting. On 21 January, farmers, fishermen and stock breeders took to the streets to be joined by public sector workers. ‘It’s war’ said a corn grower quoted in The Guardian; ‘If they [politicians] go on pushing us to the edge, if they want dehumanise us further, we will come to Athens and burn them all.’ Convoys of tractors blockaded road as part of the protest, cutting the main north-south highway. Riot police attacked demonstrators who had barricaded the Agriculture Minister in an administrative building in Komotini. A General Strike has been called for 4 February: the Greek people are mobilising against the Syriza government and the Troika. The question is whether these struggles will take up the cause of migrant rights: without a fight against racism, the Greek ruling class will have no hesitation in disposing of Syriza and turning to the fascist Golden Dawn to split any resistance.

Greece: the people will win!

The inevitable resistance to Syriza's sell-out has started. Across Greece, school students, pensioners, workers, the unemployed and migrants have responded. A general strike on 11 November, the first since Syriza's re-election in late September, saw hundreds of thousands march and protest. Since the beginning of November, ferry workers, transport staff and school and university students have all challenged a third round of austerity: cuts to workers’ rights, pensions, education budgets and privatisations.

Ironically, Syriza representatives have voiced support for the protests, prompting a resident of Athens to remark that: 'Syriza wants to take ownership of the protests but not the reforms.' The scale of austerity mean that more and more sectors of Greek society are mobilising themselves: small shopkeepers and businesses joined the general strike as they see their own livelihoods now directly undermined by the structural reform programme of the Troika of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. The Troika has staff in Greece permanently to ensure programme compliance and has demanded that a specific number of preparatory actions take place before the end of this year. Deregulation of businesses and professions is underway as the multinationals slaver at the prospects of increased profits and ownership. From corner shops to local bakeries, to the international ports of Piraeus and Thessalonika - everything must go, according to the third bailout agreement. The Chairman of the Athens Chamber of Commerce, Kostas Michalos stated: 'We are likely to see thousands more small companies suspending operations and going under during the next six months’. In effect the Troika has now expanded to a foursome which directly includes the Syriza government. Syriza may bleat about the tough measures but it has signed up to fully implement them.

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Austerity in Greece: battles lie ahead

On Sunday 20 September Syriza won the Greek general election, gaining 145 seats, four fewer than in the previous election in January; its share of votes fell from 36.3% to 35.5%. With six seats short of an absolute majority in the 300-seat parliament, Syriza has resumed its coalition with the Independent Greeks Party (ANEL), which won 10 seats. The right-wing New Democracy party gained 75 seats with a 28.1% of the vote, a very slight increase in its share compared to January 2015.

The fascist Golden Dawn remained the third largest party in the Greek parliament having gained 7.1% of votes and an extra MP. Exit polls suggested that it was the party of preference amongst voters who were unemployed. Golden Dawn claims to be ‘a party on the ascent, a party of governance, a party of power’. It will fully exploit the migrant crisis in Greece and the wider area. So far in 2015, 260,000 migrants have arrived in Greece, crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey as they flee imperialist-sponsored wars in the Middle East. Ilias Kasidiaris of Golden Dawn has declared that the Greek people ‘have not experienced the worst effects of the memorandum or illegal immigration. When that happens, you will see, Golden Dawn will have a radical increase in support’. The Popular Unity electoral initiative, formed by 25 Syriza MPs who opposed the austerity deal cut by the government in July, failed to get a single seat, winning less than 3% of votes. The Greek Communist Party – the KKE – held on to its 15 seats with 5.5% of vote share.

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Greece: Syriza capitulates all along the line

On 14 July, the Greek parliament agreed to the bail-out austerity terms imposed by the Troika (European Central Bank, European Union and the IMF) which are even more oppressive than those which Syriza had opposed when it won the January 2015 general election. 32 Syriza MPs voted against the deal and seven abstained, forcing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to rely on the votes of open supporters of austerity: the former governing party of New Democracy, Pasok and To Potami. This capitulation was the more abject because in a referendum just over a week earlier on 5 July the Greek people by an overwhelming majority – 61% to 39% – had signalled their complete opposition to the terms on offer.

In the days that followed, 25 Syriza MPs, together with a large number of members and officials opposed to the Party’s capitulation, broke away to form a new organisation, Popular Unity. With his parliamentary majority gone, Tsipras announced his resignation on 21 August, triggering a new general election on 20 September. This election will be a test of the extent of Popular Unity’s base within the Greek working class, and whether it can mobilise the sort of real opposition to austerity that Tsipras and his government signally failed to do during all the negotiations with the Troika.

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