Greece: Troika demands more state cuts/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013

Karl Marx described the British parliament as nothing more than an executive committee for conducting the affairs of the bourgeoisie. This holds true for all parliaments. On 17 July the Greek parliament passed a multi-bill which was clearly a direct response to the urgent dictates of finance capital – the banks. The Troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – functions as the ruthless executive of the ruling classes, who are determined that the working class will pay for the capitalist crisis.

As the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of citizens were guillotined inside parliament, protestors outside in Syntagma Square carried banners and chanted: ‘Sack the government, not the workers!’ The orders of the Troika were however carried out, at least on paper, as the New Democracy/Pasok coalition voted through plans for the sacking of 150,000 public sector workers. It was an extremely narrow vote carried by a majority of only two. The ruling coalition is moving into its own crisis as its component elements consider and fear the explosive social consequences of more and deeper austerity measures. A month before, 14 parliamentary deputies of Dimar, the Democratic Left, had withdrawn from the coalition over the issue of the immediate compulsory redundancies of thousands of media workers at ERT, the state broadcasting organisation.

The orchestration of this action by the government on 11 June was an example of how demands and threats from the Troika are what really drives the parliamentary machine. The mechanisms of extortion are simple and, so far, effective: the Troika has settled down to subdividing its full loan amount into monthly instalments, paid out only if targets are adhered to. Each wave of redundancies brings an award of billions of euros in loans to recapitalise the Greek state and its banks. Not a penny goes to the working class; their material and social needs are of no consequence. To receive June’s loan tranche, a monthly target of 4,000 job losses had to be met, and fast. On 11 June police entered the buildings of the state broadcaster ERT and cut the signal to its three TV and 26 radio stations and then served redundancy notices on 2,868 employees. Thousands of protesters spontaneously rallied and the workers occupied the site, broadcasting via satellite and the internet. Such was the uproar caused by this brutally authoritarian act that the decision was reversed temporarily by a Greek court and Dimar pulled its critical formal support from the ruling coalition.

But the Troika set its sights on far larger targets for July. After the ERT episode it had left behind an inspection delegation of EU and IMF officials to supervise closer adherence to austerity targets. In a blunt more-for-less operation, the €8.1bn loan for the end of July was used as a bargaining chip to force the Greek government to bring forward legislation to completely decimate employment and budgets in the public sector. One Troika official confidently upped the stakes: ‘If we don’t conclude this review, I don’t see any disbursement to Greece over the next three months’. That review became the multi-bill passed on 17 July. Amongst hundreds of measures, 12,500 public sector workers – 4,200 by the end of July – are to be moved onto ‘mobility schemes’ by the end of September. These schemes are delayed compulsory redundancies, whereby workers are transferred on 75% of their salaries for a year, then sacked if they cannot find alternative work. By these means the figure of 150,000 public sector job cuts will be met by the end of 2015.

Progress towards Troika targets had initially pleased the financial markets so Greece moved up to a B grade Fitch rating and bond and stock market prices rose in early June. Prime Minister Samaras had returned from China where he had touted 28 major privatisations of Greek national assets – everything must go! Ports, steel companies, railways, airports, gas production … but this desperate auction of national assets began to falter as prospective buyers withdrew, leaving a total of only €1bn raised. Suddenly the sunshine turned to gloom as the budget shortfall attracted the dread attentions of the Troika. It demands a balanced domestic budget before considering any further loans. Hence the pressure to consolidate many austerity measures in the multi-bill. Uncertainty and contradictions abounded. The Troika and EU tried to talk up the economy by claiming growth is on the cards for 2014, while the OECD predicted the economy contracting by 4.2% this year and 1.2% next year in a seventh year of continuous recession.

The statistics mask the present hell of social uncertainty, deprivation and misery that the austerity budgets have created. Suicide is at its highest level in 50 years, general unemployment moves towards 30% while amongst 16-24 year olds extremes of 72.5% exist in some areas. In a country of 11 million people, 1.3 million are unemployed. 400,000 families are without anyone earning an income. 300,000 workers have not been paid for months. 10,000 teachers face redundancy while 1,000 workers are also to be sacked through further health budget cuts included in the multi-bill. The newly appointed Health Minister, Adonis Georgiadis, has stated: ‘If I have to close hospitals, I will do so’. This is at a time when more medical support and more hospitals are needed to deal with the dire effects of the crisis. This is capitalist barbarity. In response to this onslaught, there have already been four general strikes this year involving rail workers, bank workers and municipal police and janitors. Marches and occupations of workplaces and government and municipal offices are daily occurrences as the Troika’s measures are implemented.

The banners that were held outside the Greek parliament when the multi-bill was passed demanded a new government and the protest itself was joined by a number of deputies from the opposition coalition, Syriza. A year ago Syriza had come within a few votes of actually being that new government by effectively mobilising those affected by austerity with a programme of absolute rejection of the Troika’s memoranda (austerity measures) and complete repudiation of the debt. On 10 July Syriza held its first congress to form itself into a united party. Its president, Antonis Tsipras, was comfortably re-elected with 74% of the vote despite concern from other forces in the party that the position of non-negotiable opposition to the memoranda was being weakened in the search for new electoral alliances. In April Tsipras described his reformulation of the position as seeking a ‘suspension’ of the memoranda as a ‘slip of the tongue’. The opposition are quite clear themselves: they are fighting for an openly anti-capitalist Syriza, committed to unconditionally defending the interests of the working class through a left government. The life and death battle for this lies ahead.

Michael MacGregor