Greece: Syriza victory sparks hope

The significance of Syriza’s victory in the Greek general election of 25 January cannot be over-estimated. For the first time in Europe since the beginning of the current crisis, an explicitly anti-austerity party is in government. The Greek people will no longer put up with plunging living standards and empty promises of a rosy future from the ruling class. The fight is on. Syriza will be under intense pressure from European imperialism to meet Greece’s debt repayments and continue where the last government left off. However, within 48 hours of taking office, the new government enacted several key anti-austerity measures which will undoubtedly provoke imperialist opposition. Across Europe, anti-austerity movements will gain heart: our message of resistance and struggle can win the support of the working class and oppressed to become a real force. Robert Clough and Michael McGregor report.

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Will Syriza's challenge be real? - Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

With the anti-austerity party Syriza taking power in Greece on 26 January, socialists, communists and progressives all over the world are looking to the party to see whether they will deliver on their promises to 'cancel austerity' - to target the Greek bourgeoisie and alleviate the poverty of the working class. An article analysing the current situation in Greece and direction of Syriza will appear shortly in FRFI 243, and on the website. Meanwhile, below, we republish an article we first published in June/July 2014 analysing Syriza's performance in the last Greek election.

As we go to press, the results of the first round votes in the 18 May local and regional elections show success for the Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza. In Athens and its region of Attica (which includes 40% of Greece’s electorate) Syriza candidates are leading, while New Democracy and PASOK candidates, representing the governing coalition, have failed to reach the second round of voting on 25 May. Continuing advances for Syriza in second-round votes and European elections on the same day may create serious instability, given the government’s parliamentary majority is only two.

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Greece: Will Syriza’s challenge be real? /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

As we go to press, the results of the first round votes in the 18 May local and regional elections show success for the Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza. In Athens and its region of Attica (which includes 40% of Greece’s electorate) Syriza candidates are leading, while New Democracy and PASOK candidates, representing the governing coalition, have failed to reach the second round of voting on 25 May. Continuing advances for Syriza in second-round votes and European elections on the same day may create serious instability, given the government’s parliamentary majority is only two.

Syriza presented these elections as an opportunity for the people to reject the austerity agenda of the Greek government, as dictated by the Troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In return for massive bailouts, binding agreements were signed – the Memoranda – radically restructuring the economy. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has called the election results so far ‘the referendum that was never done in Greece for the loan agreements.’ Those agreements have meant an acute descent into poverty and insecurity for millions of Greeks. Unemployment is the highest in Europe at 28%, with youth unemployment at least 60%; real wages have fallen on average by 25% and the economy has cumulatively contracted by 25% since 2010.

In the 2012 general election Syriza campaigned on a principled position of repudiation of the debt arising from the Troika’s Memoranda. Such an openly rebellious stance brought it near to success. By effectively mobilising millions to vote – the youth, the poor, the unemployed and politically progressive voters across all parties – Syriza powerfully challenged the brutal austerity agenda of the Troika. This positive development shook the Greek ruling class, but did not undermine its determination to attack the working class. Class war has continued to be waged relentlessly by the powerful in defence of their system.

While the Troika is concerned to promote an image of Greece steadily moving toward economic recovery, it has responded to desperate pleas from the Greek government to extend the period of loan repayment to 50 years by stating that it expects full repayment of the €172bn bailout and strict adherence to the Memoranda of the last four years. The Troika insists that Greece remains on course for meeting its ‘agreed goals’. Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF, considers that ‘Greece is heading in the right direction’. April saw the first issue of Greek government bonds since 2010 with €2.5bn-worth offered at 5% interest. The Athens stock exchange has risen 175% since reaching a 22-year low in June 2012. However, other opinions in Germany contend that figures showing a recent rise of 0.6% in GDP were got up to falsely suggest an approaching Greek exit from recession. There is talk of a further bailout of €16-17bn to tide Greece over until 2016.

The Troika released the last €9bn tranche of its latest bailout in early April. As ever, the transaction was only approved after the Greek parliament passed another bill consolidating the position of the Greek working class as a pool of cheap labour for international capital. It furthers the massive deregulation of small businesses such as bakeries, petrol stations and pharmacies. It authorises the sale of more government property to the tune of €500m under the supervision of three European banks. 4,000 workers are to be placed on the notorious ‘mobility schemes’ on two-thirds salary, to be dismissed if no other public sector jobs are found. Mass sackings will inevitably follow, given that 25,000 public sector jobs are due to go this year. New laws will limit workers’ salary increments and benefits for the unemployed. Protest will be controlled by new limitations on the right to strike.

Greek, European and international capital is carefully assessing the sustainability of the Greek economy in the light of these measures and the elections. There are differing views reflecting the instability of the situation: Fairfax Financial Holdings has expressed ‘optimism’ in the Greek economy and is ‘impressed by government efforts to improve conditions in the country’. Local capitalist Andreas Taprantzis, executive director of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, claims that ‘there has been a huge shift in sentiment... investors are anxious to dig up Greek opportunities’. Citigroup is more cautious in recognising the ‘critical dangers’ of political instability arising from continued austerity – critical, that is, for their profits.

Since Syriza’s popular and electoral rise from 2012, there has been much speculation in the bourgeois media as to its present programme. The markets need to know whether they still face a serious challenge to their interests, given Syriza’s previous threats to tear up the Memoranda and unilaterally cancel the debt. The recent formulations of Syriza suggest a less direct opposition to the sources of austerity and a turn to a left social democratic approach to solving the capitalist crisis at a national and European level. On 6 May, Tsipras called for a ‘European New Deal’ and argued for a ‘coordinated reflation of all the European economies’. He wants to ‘reform the public sector, avoiding the across-the-board cuts ... focusing on targeted interventions’. Most significantly, he is now circumspect about the debt: it is no longer to be cancelled but ‘renegotiated’. The debt is divided into payable ‘good’ debt and unpayable ‘unjust’ debt. A statement in January 2014 from Syriza MP and economist Giorgos Stathakis estimates that only 5% of the debt could be described as ‘unjust’. Tsipras now appeals for the ‘write-off of a large amount of the outstanding debt to make it sustainable’.

Syriza is correct, at least, in recognising the elections as a referendum on the austerity measures, and any advance even in its trimmed programme of reform may cause the New Democracy/PASOK government to fall. In these circumstances the central interests of the working class remain the complete and absolute repudiation of Troika-imposed austerity and debt.

Michael MacGregor

Greece: Austerity makes the poor pay /FRFI 238 Apr/May 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

The devastating social consequences of austerity in Greece are plummeting incomes, massive unemployment, malnutrition and disease, with rising levels racism and fascism. A recent survey by the organisation representing Greek small businesses and professionals showed that 95% of all families had suffered from the effects of six successive years of recession. In the face of this, workers and youth have maintained their fight for a decent future. In January police banned demonstrations during the ceremony when Greece took over the EU Presidency. The defiant crowds were beaten and tear gassed. School students have occupied hundreds of schools to protest at lack of heating and teacher redundancies. The police are approaching school heads for names of those involved and arrests and interrogations have followed.

The Greek coalition government is trying to retrieve a delayed vital tranche of money from the Troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Troika’s methods are sheer gangsterism. Greece was given access to a massive bailout loan of €240bn in 2010 and has received up to now about €200bn, almost exhausting its credit. Payments are dependent on meeting the severe austerity and budgetary targets set by the Troika. From the end of 2013, strains in meeting the Troika’s vicious deadlines were becoming apparent. Government cuts of €3bn were not enough, the Troika was demanding that a further 11,000 government and local jobs be slashed in 2014. A study by the Organisation for European Co-operation and Development identified over 500 business regulations as restrictive: any impediments to capitalism’s rampage have to be abolished.

Opposition to the Troika’s financial throttling has emerged from an unlikely source. Wage cuts imposed on the Greek army and the fascist-infected police force in 2012 were challenged under fair pay regulations in the Greek constitutional court in January. The government argues that funding these wages will mean further cuts in other areas to balance the 2013-14 budget which is already showing a deficit of €4.5bn. Since assuming the EU presidency the government has had to maintain its crackdown on the Golden Dawn fascist movement. This makes it all the more vital to buy the brute loyalty of the armed defenders of a discredited state and economic system.

The Greek state is concerned that further austerity measures will bring uncontrollable instability and undermine all efforts to make the working class pay for the bankers’ crisis. Governing parties will have to oppose Troika demands during municipal and European elections that are due in May if they are not to lose heavily.

At a meeting of European leaders at the end of January there were loud complaints about Greece’s slowness to meet Troika targets. International financial consulting group Eurasia expressed its alarm that the country was ‘slipping on all of its fiscal and structural targets’. German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble insisted that ‘more efforts are required’.

While Germany is considering a meagre direct loan to Greece and its cruder populist newspapers demand the direct sale of Greek islands to raise cash, Greece remains mired in debt. Greek sovereign debt, at €340bn, has grown to 176% of GDP. And while that debt has grown, GDP has fallen by 25% since 2008. So much for the Troika’s assistance.

Average family incomes in Greece have fallen by 40% over the last three years. Spending on the basic necessities of life: food, clothes, heating and transport has fallen for almost all families and individuals. State benefits are only available to one in ten of the two million unemployed. Those benefits entitle the poor to limited access to the failing national health system.

The German organisation Doctors of the World recently found that over 2,000 Greeks are being excluded from that system every day, with 2.3 million people now uninsured for basic health care. This has meant the virtual elimination of free health care for 90% of the unemployed. They have likened the devastation to ‘a war zone’. Spending on hospital care fell by 26% between 2009 and 2011. Troika measures have demanded the savage reorganisation of what remains of health care, the outpatient system has been suspended and wages cut. Redundancies are planned for thousands of administrative and direct care staff. Fees for outpatient visits are set to rise from €3 to €5, while the cost of medicines has also risen. Rates of HIV infection, tuberculosis, suicide, infant mortality and malnutrition have all risen as a consequence of the austerity measures. Truly the poor are paying for the bankers’ crisis.

As the May elections approach there is growing concern that SYRIZA which almost won the 2012 general election on the popular, militant rejection of the austerity measures, is retreating from this defiant stance. Researchers for the US bank JP Morgan have noted recent polls which approve this development and are optimistically courting a new coalition of SYRIZA and New Democracy ‘…to become a credible and responsible government’. Careerists from the last austerity government of PASOK have been selected as candidates for SYRIZA, including Odysseas Voudaris who was a member of the Papandreou government which signed the first Troika agreement. Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA, stated in early February that: ‘Our position is to try and find a consensus solution’. SYRIZA is now in the active process of re-formulating the debt where it had previously completely repudiated it. One SYRIZA spokesman has described 90% of Greece’s €340bn debt as ‘…traditional, public debt of the markets, in other words bonds. There is no legal process to challenge this.’ New Democracy or SYRIZA, the promoters or apologists of austerity will face judgment.

Michael Macgregor

Greece: hunger stalks the land

The coalition government of Greece does not lose an opportunity to point out that its austerity programme is working, having achieved a surplus in its current account of almost one billion euros for 2013, the first such surplus in 12 years. But at what human cost? The result of the savage cuts imposed on Greece by the Troika of the European Union, IMF and European Central Banks is a bleak spiral of deteriorating conditions for the Greek people. Access to the basics of life: food, housing, heating and health care, is constantly cut back and restricted. These are deliberate economic policies designed to reduce costs, restore profitability and so shift wealth from the working class to the ruling class.

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