Deepening austerity breeds greater resistance in Greece

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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.

Syriza was elected as an explicitly anti-austerity party but has proven itself as willing to enforce the will of European and international capital as its predecessors in New Democracy and PASOK. The measures it has implemented since ignoring the ‘Oxi’ (No) referendum in June 2015, when the people of Greece voted emphatically against further cuts, have compounded the disastrous effects of austerity on the Greek economy, which has contracted by 25% since 2008. Unemployment stands at 23% and youth unemployment 45.7%. Even more dismal is the government’s debt to GDP ratio, which stands at 177%.

The announcement of another assault on workers’ rights was met by the spirited mass mobilisation of workers and trade unions, particularly the KKE-affiliated PAME, in cities across the whole nation on 21 February. In Athens, workers took to the streets under banners bearing the slogan ‘No fear, no submission, struggle for work with rights, life with dignity’.

Similar scenes took place on the streets of Athens in March with clashes outside the Agriculture Ministry building between the Greek police and over 1,000 Greek farmers, most of whom had travelled from Crete. The farmers gathered to protest against the increase in taxes to 26%, the increase in prices of key agricultural commodities such as fertilizers and fuels, and further cuts to pensions of up to 22%. Such austerity measures are considered a threat to the existence of Greek farmers, previously a privileged stratum of Greek society due to tax exemptions and generous EU funded subsidies. The protest turned violent after riot police fired tear gas on the assembled farmers, who responded by throwing rocks and stones and breaking windows with their traditional shepherds’ crooks. The immiseration of such a traditionally economically privileged section of Greek society illustrates the devastating extent of Troika austerity.

Housing activism has also become a flashpoint of political and economic resistance. The tattered promise by the Syriza government that ‘not a single home’ would be seized or repossessed from people who failed to keep up mortgage payments has become the stuff of sardonic satire among Greeks; the punchline of a joke to highlight the lie of Syriza’s vaunted anti-austerity programme that saw the party elected in 2015.

Housing represents a ticking time bomb that threatens to totally undermine the Greek economy at its very foundations. It is estimated that non-performing loans (loans that will never be fully repaid) represent €106bn, or approximately 50% of Greece’s GDP. Non-performing loans are said to represent about 45% of all loans, and the rate of defaults on loans is said to be as high as 41.3% of mortgage holders. 25,000 auctions of repossessed properties are due to take place during 2017–

2018, but following the deregulation of laws protecting mortgage defaulters, that figure is predicted to double. The Syriza government, far from resisting, has been an obedient enforcer of the will of Greek banks.

However, the growing rate of evictions has been met with resistance. Groups such as the Den Plirono (I Don’t Pay) Movement have disrupted court proceedings of eviction cases, restored electricity to the homes of Greeks who have been cut off, and opposed road tolls across the country. The resistance to court cases has been particularly successful as only a fraction of the 800 homes due to go under the hammer since January have actually taken place.

The Syriza-ANEL coalition has also not shied away from using the full force of the state apparatus to punish those who dare to resist the brutal ravages of austerity. On 14 March, it was reported that 35 leaders of PAME would stand trial on charges relating to a 2013 sit-in of the Greek Ministry of Labour. The case had already been tried and the 35 acquitted. Yet a second trial started on 16 March on fabricated charges of assault on police, assault on the security personnel of the Minister of Labour and destruction of the Minister’s office. Although this incident occurred before the election of the Tsipras government, it is clear that Syriza takes a vindictive approach to the settling of old, politically motivated scores.

However, the reactionary character of social democracy is inspiring greater grassroots resistance within Greece’s working class from both established and new, emerging political forces. It is clear that Greece has become a hotspot of the decay of the parasitic capitalist system, and that decay only looks set to deepen.

Robert Pancev


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 256 April/May 2017