The lead-up to the payment of the sixth installment of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans to Greece, to be handed out in October, finds Greek people in a state of shock and helplessness.
The first “memorandum” agreement was signed by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) government with the IMF and European Union (EU) representatives in May 2010. It came after two decades of savage neoliberal attacks by successive New Democracy (the major right-wing party) and PASOK (so-called “socialist”) governments.
The agreement included extremely harsh austerity measures, which affected working conditions, services and people’s living standard.
It led to further unemployment, lower wages and pensions, and higher taxes. These, combined with inflation and other related factors, have adversely affected the country’s economy.
The memorandum agreements that came with further loans have given the IMF-EU-European Central Bank “troika” and the Greek government the grounds for even harsher measures.
As a result, Greek society has been plunged into despair. Small and medium-sized businesses have been folding at unprecedented rates and people have lost their jobs in vast numbers. Unemployment is rapidly approaching 20%.
At the same time, salaries, wages and pensions have been cut. Incomes have shrunk dramatically, by about one fifth, or even more in many cases.
Living standards have fallen as funding for health, education and welfare has been slashed. Huge numbers of hospitals and schools have closed.
There have been a lot of recent retirements. A great number of workers have opted for early retirement before the harsh new pension law comes into effect.
The retiring workers are not replaced. As an example, 6000 teachers have retired while only 545 have been hired.
On top of all that, taxation levels and continuous price rises have become unbearable.
The consequences of these policies have been felt by the vast majority of Greek people. The only exception is the government’s corporate friends. They have enjoyed special privileges, such as big tax reductions and the benefits of more anti-worker laws.
These laws have taken back hard-won, decades-long rights, like overtime penalty rates, decent working hours, or hazardous occupations regulations.
The most vicious of them, however, was the law abolishing collective union agreements, which was passed in December 2010.
To impose the austerity packages, the government has resorted to ever-intensifying repression. In anticipation of public unrest, care has been taken in recent years to introduce laws limiting democratic rights. This has used EU directives as back-up.
Police violence has become extreme, with ferocious attacks on demonstrators, even by-standers or shop-owners. The recent use of chemicals, flashbangs, as well as batons and other objects to hit people indiscriminately has been quite unrestrained.
This violence was at its most malicious on June 29, when about 1000 people were injured by police during a trade union and Indignant Citizens protest.
Provocations are organised by police as a pretext for violent action. The police also set up people they arrest, by fobbing off backpacks with molotov bombs and other incriminating objects on those arrested.
This fact has often been witnessed, shot on camera and even proven in court hearings.
Interestingly, in these times of cutbacks, the government has decided to hire 2700 new police. As an indication of the cost involved, the full equipment of each policeman of the special motorbike squad “Dias” (helmet, gun, handcuffs, bullet-proof wear, uniform, hobnailed boots) costs about 3000 euros (more than $4100).
But money is no object for the government when it comes to terrorising its people. The aim is to stifle resistance by any means for the benefit of domestic and foreign big business.
Propaganda is also expertly employed by government officials and the mass media. It consists of lies, distortions, mud-slinging and divide-and-rule tactics.
A much used and commonly accepted lie concerns the public sector. Greek people have been bombarded for many years with the myth of a bloated public sector in Greece. Public sector employees have been presented as privileged, lazy and incompetent.
The brainwashing has paved the way for major attacks on the public sector. These attacks are always followed by similar attacks on private sector employees.
Some public servants do get excessive salaries, but they are very few. They are part of an elite group that has been favoured by government acquaintances.
The proportion of public servants in Greece is under 15%. Indicatively, in 2002, Greece was 14th (out of 17 countries), with only 11.4% of public servants. The proportion was 21.2% for France and 12.1% for Poland.
One might have thought that Greece's downward path could get no lower. But the relentless blows are continuing at an accelerated pace.
The most recent austerity package, linked to the sixth loan payment, includes well over 100,000 public servant layoffs. Thirty thousand of them are to be effected immediately. Some of those employees will form a “labour reserve” and will most likely be dismissed after 12 months on partial pay.
Pensions and salaries are also set to be further cut, while income and property tax rates are planned to rise.
Planned privatisations would also mutilate the public sector and social services.
On top of the continuous tax rises, the government has recently announced extra tax payments. Besides being unjust, these payments are also illegal and unconstitutional.
Government representatives initially announced that the unemployed would be excluded from paying these levies, but the next day that concession was taken back.
The first levy, decided in June, is called “solidarity tax” and estimated on an income basis. The second levy is additional property taxation.
The extra property tax is to be collected through electricity bills, under the threat of electricity cut-offs and even house seizures, if it is not paid. It’s due to come with the next electricity bill.
People cannot afford to pay, so the reaction against the tax levies has been quite strong. There have been strong responses by neighbourhood groups, rank-and-file union groups, as well as by the big union confederations leaderships.
Unions, political organisations of the left and other groups are calling for a refusal to pay. The power company union has decided not to collect the property levy.
On the other hand, the pressure on Greek people to pay is not negligible. In a new way of communicating, the government is openly blackmailing and threatening people.
In a show of justice, the minister of economy and finance, Evangelos Venizelos, said a month’s pay is to be withheld from all elected government officials.
Imposing the anti-people measures won’t be easy for the government. So, it is planning to get rid of anything that might stand in its way.
Hence recent statements by government representatives and its overseas allies against trade unions and the left. They have also hinted at amending the constitution.
The loans accepted by the PASOK government were ostensibly intended to rescue the country. However, the debt has been growing instead of being reduced. On top of that, the austerity measures have crippled the country’s economy.
The war on Greek people declared by the troika and the government is highly destructive. Its targets are industrial relations, the public sector, the welfare state and democratic rights. It is hard to believe that this is unintentional.
The leader of the crypto-fascist Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS) party (and extreme right hand of the PASOK government) called for a new Marshall Plan for Greece in June. So how will Greece be reconstructed?
Not only was Greece a perfectly self-contained country in terms of agricultural products, it was even a big agricultural exporter. It now relies heavily on imports.
This happened through the imposition of production quotas on Greece by the EU through the Common Agricultural Policy. Greece became dependent on EU countries.
The deindustrialisation of the country is a more complex issue, but arguably not unrelated. A much more brutal version of the same thing seems to be in process now.
It is no accident that overseas investors are impatient about getting into Greece. They want to take advantage of impending privatisation of assets, including public companies, land, beaches, airports and possibly even monuments!
People, however, are resisting. There are a number of struggles going on in Greece. People are angry at the injustice and hope to change things.
This was clear at the traditional protest outside the International Fair of Thessaloniki on September 10 when the prime minister announced the new budget.
The protesters were estimated at more than 30,000 — a number much higher than other years.
The participants were not daunted by an intimidating political climate with an overwhelming police presence (more than 7000 police, many of whom were mobilised from other parts of Greece — a very costly venture for the government).
Sit-ins by students at Greek universities have been going on for more than a month in protest against austerity and corporatisation of universities. The movement seems to be at an ebb now. However, it started dynamically and spread fast across almost all university faculties.
There is also a strong reaction against the new extra taxes. Workers’ organisations have spoken out against the taxes. Some trade unions have decided to collect the tax notices and the electricity bills from members and hand them back to the ministry of economy and finance and the electricity company respectively.
A positive development is that people seem to realize the importance of united action.
Taxi drivers are resisting plans to open up their jobs to big capital. They have joined forces with public transport drivers, who are fighting against the planned dismissals.
University students have been seeking joint action with working people and the Indignant Citizens movement.
People need to have a sense of direction that would lead them to effective action. Unity of all different social or work groups is essential, as the enemy is common for everyone.
The left needs to be united in an alliance in order to gain strength and win back the people’s trust. Militancy, determination, as well as clear tactics and strategies, are also needed if there is any chance of winning the big struggle awaiting us.
It’s time for the left to see this and fulfill its historical role.