Greece: New gov't follows austerity script

December 3, 2011
General strike against austerity in Athens, November 19.
General strike against austerity in Athens, November 19.

“There is money.” That was the major election campaign slogan of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in October 2009.

It was pompously used by the party’s leader, George Papandreou. PASOK won the election largely on that basis.

By saying that money existed, Papandreou was promising to alleviate some of the suffering caused through years of brutal neoliberal attacks. People believed a PASOK government would redress some of the injustice.

It was true that money was available. It still is. The corporate friends of the governing parties have obscenely large amounts of money, a lot of which is stashed away in foreign banks.

However, PASOK, despite its “socialist” title, never had any intention of touching that money. Instead, it has made the harshest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.

Since coming to power, the PASOK government has handed huge amounts of money to banks and big capital.

During the election campaign, Papandreou knew about Greece's financial trouble. What is more, he had already secretly arranged to hand the country over to the “troika” — the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU), and the European Central Bank (ECB).

In May 2010, the first Memorandum of Understanding with the troika was signed. Then, the Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy Program came in June 2011.

On October 26, there was a new loan agreement. There will be a new memorandum in early 2012.

Unprecedented austerity

Each loan agreement and memorandum came with unprecedented austerity measures. They have all but ruined the country’s economy and devastated ordinary people’s lives.

The austerity packages have included: successive pay cuts of up to six monthly salaries annually for all workers; ferocious pension cuts; mass sackings of public sector employees; measures opening the way for sackings in the private sector; the abolition of collective bargaining agreements; huge cuts in social expenditure; and brutal taxation measures.

A recent measure widely seen as illegal and unfair is a new home ownership poll tax. The notice with the amount to be paid is incorporated in electricity bills.

If the poll tax component is not paid, the electricity is cut off.

There have been continuous salary and pension cuts in the public sector. These are always followed by similar attacks on private sector workers.

The most recent public sector pay cuts came on top of other big salary cuts since the initial memorandum of May 2010.

In the year after the first memorandum, there was a big decrease in the salaries of public servants. It was effected through extra taxes and salary deductions, as well as Easter and Christmas bonus cuts.

Salaries in the Greek public service were already well below corresponding salaries in other European countries. For instance, before the first memorandum, Greek teachers got about 50% of the average eurozone teacher salary.

Extra benefits that had been won through industrial struggles have also been cut in the last year-and-a-half. These benefits were granted to public servants in place of salary increases. In this way, it then proved easier for the government to abolish them.

The benefits also gave ample opportunity to right-wing forces to smear Greek public servants. That was part of a very long anti-public service campaign, rife with lies and divide-and-rule techniques.

An April 2010 Reuters article entitled “In Greece you get a bonus for showing up for work” is typical of this kind of propaganda. It is based on huge misrepresentation and twisting of facts.

This propaganda paved the way to vicious attacks on the Greek public service. Consequently, it all led to a further worsening of conditions in the private sector.

It is hard to describe the effects of the never-ending attacks on Greek people.

Greek cities and towns present a picture of devastation. Shops have been shutting down by the dozen, with very few stores still in business.

Relentless price rises are making life even harder for Greek people. The continuous bombardment of new austerity measures has created a huge sense of stress and insecurity.

Unemployment has exceeded 20% (the official estimate is 17.7%).

Government falls

It seemed like the “democratically” elected PASOK government had declared war on the Greek people. The glaring difference between the government’s promises and the harsh reality caused a shift of people’s consciousness.

Widespread public opposition has been expressed in many ways. There has been a great deal of militant action, even by people who had never taken part in any kind of political struggle before.

The PASOK government was made to quit under this pressure in early November, after having stolen the people’s vote on false pretenses.

Subsequently, the “troika” and its Greek politician stooges moved a step further: They simply appointed a government, openly violating the people’s sovereignty and the constitution.

The new government agreed to the terms of an agreement that had not even been set out, in total disregard of the people’s will.

On November 10, Lucas Papadimos, a banker and a former vice president of the ECB, was named prime minister. The so-called transitional government was made up mostly of PASOK cadres. But it also includes New Democracy (the traditional right-wing party) and the crypto-fascist Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS — an acronym meaning “people” in Greek; the populism of its title is telling).

The system’s representatives made a conscious decision to give more power to the extreme right. They put four LAOS cadres in top ministry positions. One of them, Makis Voridis, notorious for his neo-Nazi past, became a minister.

Like other cases in capitalism's history, fascists are called on to rescue the system. They are used to promote more anti-people policies.

At the same time, the fascists divert people’s attention from the real problems through singling out certain social groups, which they blame for everything. This is a worrying and extremely dangerous state of things, especially in the face of LAOS’s racist and anti-communist official statements.

The arbitrary government was appointed with the explicit aims of ratifying the EU agreement, making a new loan agreement and signing a new memorandum. After all this is carried out, elections are to be called around March.

New attacks

The new austerity measures to be implemented are in keeping with the EU agreements and are also supported by the 2012 Budget.

The austerity package is far worse than the previous ones.

The new budget marks the ending of the welfare state, as services will be left to fund themselves. A second round of mass closures of schools and hospitals is planned. The consequences on health, education and unemployment are certain to be dire.

Further cuts to public and private sector salaries and pensions (already well below the poverty level) are expected, along with heavier taxes on ordinary people and tax cuts for big capital -- a 22% cut on top of a 13% decrease in 2011.

Pensions will be slashed by up to 50%.

Tens of thousands of public servants are going to be sacked (on top of the tens of thousands who retired early in the past two years in order to avoid impending unfavourable pension regulations). Other regulations affect retirement and working rights.

The public assets of Greece are also about to be sold off.

On the other hand, banks will be handed a package exceeding 120 billion euros in 2012. There is also going to be a 66.7% rise in NATO spending and other military spending will rise. Greece has the top position in “defence” expenditure in Europe.

There is also enough money for other expenses, such as 4000 new police and 900,000 euros for new tear gas supplies. The government finds it increasingly more necessary to repress resistance to its unpopular policies.

Strong resistance

There are high levels of resistance, albeit often fragmented and uncoordinated.

There are citizen actions against the poll taxes, attracting a lot of support. Industrial action — by dockworkers and steelworkers among other unions — is ongoing.

On November 17, big protests took place in commemoration of the 1973 Polytechnic School uprising that led to the downfall of the dictatorship.

Furthermore, due to rank-and-file pressure, a general strike was called for December 1 by the workers’ federations of the public and the private sectors.

The government is trying to stifle opposition through a wave of persecutions that are evocative of openly authoritarian regimes.

For example, based on video evidence, the police identified 17 people that took part in the October 28 protest in Thessaloniki. The 17 protesters, mostly left-wing activists, are charged with unspecified felonies.

The people taking part in the struggle can’t see the way forward. For the struggle to be effective, the coordination of continuous united action is needed.

This is where the left could make a difference. A great deal could be achieved through unity of the left, appropriate tactics and a clear revolutionary program.

The left has raised demands such as getting rid of the memorandum agreements, taxing the big capital, redistribution of wealth and nationalisation of banks under workers’ and social control.

Whether the currency is the euro or there is a return to the drachma (the Greek currency before the euro) seems to be irrelevant. The point is under what conditions a change of that sort occurs.

Whatever happens, if it is not the result of a victory by the Greek people, it is bound to be used to save the system at the expense of ordinary people.

That is the reason why the slogan “No sacrifices for the euro”, used by the Internationalist Workers’ Left (DEA), seems to be so apt.

Other European countries are already experiencing the effects of policies similar to the ones applied in Greece. Therefore, coordinated action across Europe is both necessary and potentially empowering.

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