Austerity in Greece: battles lie ahead

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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.

Voter turnout was at a historic low of 56.5%, significantly down from 63.6% at the January election and the 62.5% who participated in the 5 July referendum on austerity. Voters then clearly rejected the destructive austerity terms of the Troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 1.6 million Greeks who voted ‘No’ abstained at this September election. 45% of the population did not endorse any of the pro-austerity parties and MPs who now completely dominate parliament. One Athens resident Nikos Georgopoulos expressed this: ‘We already knew which line of politics would be followed; the politics of the third bailout.’ (Associated Press, 21 September)

Syriza’s platform for this election was the complete opposite of the anti-austerity stance that brought it into government in January. Then Syriza had declared that it would lead a popular challenge to the austerity terms of the Troika. In response, European imperialism, led by Germany, conspired and acted to destabilise the already bankrupt Greek economy which had contracted by 25% since the international financial crash of 2008. In the course of two agreements in 2010 and 2012, the Troika dictated brutal austerity terms in return for cash bailouts to Greek banks. Those terms have savaged the living standards of millions of Greek people, driving up unemployment while driving down wages, social security and pensions.

From January 2015, vital liquidity, the supply of euros, was held back, forcing Greek banks to close. Pensioners queued to withdraw cash for necessities as European imperialism consciously strung out its support to undermine any opposition to its austerity agenda. The Berlin connection was central to this strategy and Germany correctly adduced that Syriza’s commitment to membership of the eurozone was where its opposition to austerity ended. A third bailout of €86bn was made available, conditional upon full acceptance of a range of economic reform measures by the Syriza government. The people declared ‘No’ in the July 2015 referendum, but Syriza went on to say ‘Yes’ – and has now been re-elected on that basis.

Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza team have perverted language and logic to portray this sell-out as a basis for continuing opposition to austerity:

‘I feel vindicated because the Greek people have a clear mandate to carry on fighting inside and outside our country to uphold the pride of our people…In Europe today, Greece and the Greek people are synonymous with resistance and dignity.’

This blether cannot obscure the approval of the direct class enemies of the working class. Eurogroup president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem sent his congratulations to Tsipras, pledging that he was ‘ready to work closely with the Greek authorities and to continue accompanying Greece in its ambitious reform efforts’.

The terms of this third bailout deal will have to provoke fighting and resistance as the Greek working class now faces a Syriza government which is signed up to impose more austerity. The pensioners who queued outside banks earlier this year are to be rewarded with a further cut to their pensions and a 2% increase in national insurance contributions taken from an already meagre monthly amount. Already 45% of those pensioners live below the poverty line of €665. For many families in Greece that pension payment is their sole source of income. Those in work face Syriza’s agreement that in October it will introduce a radical reform of existing labour regulations whereby the rights to collective bargaining, protection from mass dismissals and to take strike action are to be severely curtailed. The privatisation programme of Greek state assets – airports, power, transport and land – will deliver workers into the jaws of rapacious multi-nationals – led by German companies – as jobs and wages are cut further. Two million unemployed people are to be subject to a new Consolidated Property Tax rather than the rich, and small farmers who make up 12.5% of the population are to lose vital fuel subsidies.

Syriza has capitulated completely on its January promises to end and reverse the austerity measures demanded by European imperialism. Tsipras will be holidaying with millionaire shipping magnates and sending his children to elite private schools while he settles into another parliamentary term for himself and his Syriza sellouts. What matters now is whether the working class in Greece organises independent resistance, and which political forces participate in that struggle. Another battle lies ahead.

Michael MacGregor

FRFI 247 October/November 2015