Greece: no let up in austerity / 228 Aug/Sep 2012

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012

‘We will save ourselves from hunger. We will throw out our enemies!’ Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, 1 July 2012.

The 17 June general election in Greece offered some temporary relief for European imperialism as the pro-austerity party New Democracy won the largest share of votes, enabling it to lead the formation of a new bourgeois government. Its nightmare scenario, a victory for Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, was narrowly averted. The new government coalition is pressing ahead with imperialism’s austerity programme, but there is little chance that it will survive very long in the face of renewed resistance from the Greek working class. Michael McGregor reports.

The June general election showed that the most conscious sections of the Greek working class supported Syriza, whose support rose 10 percentage points from the inconclusive 6 May general election to 26.9%. Because the pro-austerity New Democracy got the largest share of the vote with 29.7%, it was able to form a government in coalition with two other bourgeois parties, PASOK, which won 12.3% of the vote, and the Democratic Left, which got 6.2%. The Communist Party (KKE) saw its vote halve from 8.5% on 6 May to 4.5%. Had it responded to Syriza’s appeals and joined in a united front it is conceivable that Syriza would have become the largest party and entitled to form a government.

Analysis of Syriza’s election results demonstrates that it appealed to the youth overwhelmingly, half of whom are without jobs. Syriza also had significant support from the unemployed as well as wage workers, and migrants with the right to vote. A large proportion of former KKE voters also switched to Syriza. In the poorer urban areas Syriza made solid advances and they are right to claim that they successfully mobilised the poor masses to vote. Those who are suffering the devastating effects of the crisis – 30% of the Greek people live below the poverty line – are standing up and making their opposition to austerity very clear because they have to in order to survive.

The governing coalition consists of the same parties that have been implementing the demands of the troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They have presided over a tripling of unemployment to over 25% and wage and pension cuts of the same order. Their programme is simply a continuation of the EU Memorandum policies that they pursued before the election. Their promise to try and renegotiate aspects of the EU Memorandum has proved hollow. For example, a government pledge to have no further civil service lay-offs is immediately at odds with the troika instruction to sack 150,000 civil servants by 2015. Weakened labour laws on collective bargaining and the 22% cut in the minimum wage will not be reversed. The coalition’s inability to soften the terms of the labour laws dictated by the troika led to the resignation of Deputy Labour Minister Nikos Nikopolous, who complained that the government was not keeping its word to stand up to the troika. He was the third minister to resign in as many weeks.

The government has set out ‘10 Sets of Action on Organisation and Administration’. Set nine of this programme calls for the immediate implementation of a series of privatisations. If these are not completed by 2014, a transfer of state assets to EU agencies such as the European Investment Bank will take place. The Greek public railway system is already up for fast-track sale. Inevitably redundancies, and wage and pension cuts will follow. Greece has already raised €1.8bn by selling state assets, but the plan is to raise €19bn through denationalisations by 2015. Water, oil refineries and electricity production and distribution are to be sold off.

The governing coalition faces the expressed determination of a third of the Greek people to reject the troika’s programme. Syriza’s call for rejection of austerity and unity of resistance has been taken up and followed. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras stated that before the election he had told German Chancellor Merkel:

‘... we are cancelling the debt, that it is your problem! We insist we will not retreat, our first duty is to our people. First is salvation of our people, not of the eurozone but our people! Greece is not responsible for the crisis, it is European, it is international.’

Poverty and now hunger are stalking the poor of Greece. At the inauguration of the government, queues of pensioners, children, families and immigrants formed as small farmers distributed free food boxes – the Potato Movement – and protested against the profiteering supermarkets’ price-fixing. Children suffer for want of medicines and food. In a protest against proposed pension cuts on 12 July one pensioner said: ‘I can’t afford my medicines. What can I pay with 400 euros? Can I pay new taxes?’ Interviewed on the website Kasama, young members of the Communist Organisation of Greece (KOE), part of the Syriza coalition, expressed optimism and determination after the June election: ‘KOE believes the people need new values: Solidarity over individualism. Dignity against corruption. Emancipation over dependence...This is a very hard struggle for us. It means the transformation of the people ... It is why we take active part in things like giving health care to immigrants who are not legal. And we have been part of movements like “The Potato Movement” where the farmers in the North gave free potatoes to people starving in the South. We were facilitators and activists in this. This is solidarity, not charity.’

There is a vital need to build a united front of resistance in Greece. At present Syriza, with its anti-austerity programme, is the vehicle for such a front. Tsipras has acknowledged the need for it to build in the communities, the workplaces, colleges and schools and in the streets. Organisations that are part of the Syriza coalition such as the KOE are able to organise independently and voice criticisms of those leaders who equivocate over the need to fight austerity. This is the only way forward: democratic and militant organisation amongst the masses.

Victory to the Greek people! Build the resistance! Down with austerity and hunger!