Greek people face new blows, Spain-inspired protests break out

Athens protests against austerity, May 30.

It’s been a year since the “memorandum of understanding” between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Greek government was signed. It is now clear it has failed to deliver the country’s promised economic recovery.

As confirmed by the treasury data, Greece’s debt has risen rather than fallen.

At the same time, the impact on Greek people of the austerity measures demanded by the IMF has been devastating.

Official unemployment has reached about 16% — an all-time high. There are 787,000 people unemployed — 181,000 more than last year.

Health and social services have been brutally slashed. Consumption has fallen steeply, causing businesses to fold at a rapid rate. Many people cannot meet their most basic needs.

Despite this, the George Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) government persists on the same disastrous course.

It has signed a new memorandum with the “troika” of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF. The onslaught on Greek people’s lives is going to be even more ferocious.

An unprecedented privatisation program is planned. Responsibility for implementing this program will fall to an organisation under the control of the troika.

The model to be followed is that employed in East Germany after the reunification in 1990. About 8500 East German enterprises were sold off at bargain prices. Most were liquidated and shut down.

As a result, 2.5 million people out of a workforce of 4 million became unemployed.

Employment in the public sector will be slashed. New laws making sackings easier will be introduced.

Other austerity measures include more tax rises and further salary and pension cuts.

Huge social spending cuts are planned. Troika commissioners could be appointed to oversee the ministry budgets.

The government is having a hard time convincing people of the need for more austerity. In a climate of widespread discontent and mistrust, even some PASOK ministers have publicly expressed disagreement with the new plans.

However, the government has the support of two right-wing parties, the Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS) party and the newly-founded Democratic Alliance (a split from New Democracy).

The two parties are willing to take part in a coalition government to ensure the measures demanded by bankers and industrialists are implemented.

The other right-wing party, New Democracy, has stayed out of this coalition deal, presumably hoping for electoral gains in its own right.

The situation has provided a great opportunity for the left to expose capitalism’s shortcomings and lead dynamic struggles. However, it hasn’t been able to attract substantial support.

The reason for this is that it is largely fragmented and has been unable to propose a way forward.

It is therefore no accident that many people felt the need to take independent action through the “Indignant Citizens Movement”.

Following in the footsteps of the Spanish people, Greeks have been gathering in big cities’ central squares since May 25. Participation has been huge.

On May 30, more than 80,000 people were in Syntagma Square outside the Greek Parliament in Athens.

A characteristic of this action was the refusal the affiliation of any political group.

Nonetheless, left-wing individuals took part. They put views intended to give a political direction to the movement, for example stressing the need for trade union organisation, as opposed to rejecting trade unionism altogether.

It remains to be seen whether this movement will develop into a sustained challenge to the austerity measures, or whether it will prove to just be a way of letting off steam.

The new memorandum cannot avert the country’s bankruptcy. This is not surprising, as the measures imposed are not meant to serve Greece’s debt; they seek to implement long-term capitalist goals aimed at taking back past working-class gains and increasing exploitation.

The much talked-about “soft restructuring” of Greece’s debt will not ease the burden on Greek people. It won’t stop the vicious attacks that have caused enormous suffering.

There were other ways to pay off the country’s debt. For example, there are more than €600 billion in international banks, stashed away by Greek capitalists.

However, the government has opted to rip off the needy rather than raise corporate taxes or retrieve illegally acquired money.

To enforce its unjust policies, it has stepped up repression. During a national general strike on May 11, police in Athens hospitalised nearly 20 demonstrators.

The violent scenes were shocking, as police viciously hit people on the head with batons.

There has also been an outburst of racist violence in Athens by Golden Dawn, a fascist organisation. The police looked on, allowing the fascist attacks.

The far right has received a lot of media exposure. The government is using extreme right-wing ideas to intensify its unjust policies, in turn making the fascists appear more acceptable.

It is imperative now for the left to fill the political vacuum by convincingly defending people's rights. In this way, it can attract support through unity and effective militant action.