SYRIZA leader: 'Less words, more action' needed now

Protesters gather in Athens on February 11 to support the SYRIZA government's stance against austerity in negotiations with its
Friday, March 6, 2015

Support for the Greek government headed by radical left party SYRIZA is growing, new polls show. The polls also found high support for SYRIZA's negotiations with its creditors, which secured a deal to extend its loans package by four months.

The deal came with significant concessions to the institutions that have imposed austerity on Greece, which led to strong criticisms from SYRIZA's Left Platform, which believes the party should either prepare for, or at least consider, leaving the eurozone and returning to the drachma.

At a meeting of SYRIZA's central committee, a motion moved by the Left Platform that condemned the government's deal recieved 41% of the vote ― with 68 members supporting the motion, 92 against and five blank votes.

However, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has defended the deal, saying it will grant Greece some breathing space and allow the government to start rolling back the austerity measures that have caused a social crisis in the southern European nation.

Despite the opposition inside SYRIZA, Marcopolis.gr polls published on February 28 showed a 76% approval rating for the government, with 68% satisfied with how it negotiated with Greece's creditors.

It also found SYRIZA was polling 42.1%, up from the 36.5% it won in the January 25 elections. A Metron poll published the same day put SYRIZA's support as high as 47.6%.

Significantly, given the Left Platform's stance, the February 28 poll found 81% of people support staying in the euro.

In a televised address to his cabinet on February 27, Tsipras outlined the content of the first four draft laws his government would take to parliament in coming days, Macropolis.gr said the next day.

Macropolis.gr said the laws included measures to ease the plight of those in extreme poverty with free electricity, meal tickets, subsidised accommodation, some debt relief and blocking foreclosures on homes worth less than 300,000 euros.

One particularly significant law seeks to re-open state broadcaster ERT, closed by the previous government, causing hundreds of job losses. The m closure sparked widespread outrage and ERT workers occupied their workplace in protest.

Tsipras also said his government would not seek a new bailout, but would keep seeking debt relief.

On March 4, the government announced plans to create an international commission for auditing the Greek public debt.

It came after a meeting with well-known debt campaigner Eric Toussaint, a spokesperson of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt who played a key role in a similar commission set up in 2008 by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. The commission's finding led to Ecuador declaring billions of dollars of its foreign debt was illegitimate, which it has refused to pay.

Another measure pushed by SYRIZA is of particular interest to Australia given our government's increasingly cruel treatment of asylum seekers. Al Jazeera said on March 5: “Greece's new left-wing government wants to abolish detention centres for migrants who entered illegally.”

Below Yiannis Bournous, a member of SYRIZA's political secretariat and of the executive board of the Party of the European Left, explains the difficult situation the radical left party faces, and its attempt to win progress on its anti-austerity program.

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The SYRIZA-led government’s February 24 agreement with the Eurogroup (made up of European Union finance ministers) is not the end of negotiations. It doesn’t even postpone conflict. On the contrary, it opens up a long new period full of sharp clashes inside and outside our country.

These clashes have never occurred before, because the previous pro-austerity governments not only agreed on everything with the Troika (European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund), but in many cases outdid them in the severity of the austerity measures they put in place.

The basic aim of the European neoliberal elite and its political representatives was ― and still is ― to lock SYRIZA into a framework that stops it from constituting a real alternative to neoliberal hegemony.

They tried ― and will keep trying ― to imprison the Greek government and SYRIZA in a defensive position, where we would be forced into mere damage control, without any ability to undertake our own alternatives.

The whole framework of negotiations was worked out by our opponents with the aim of leading the government to collapse or ridicule.

Nonetheless, the Greek government's stance ruined their plans. It unmasked the false blackmail circulated by Greek and foreign circles with the goal, in the case of disagreement from the Greek side, of forcing our country into economic collapse and forced exit from the Eurozone.

The fact that we managed to overcome those dangers and gain crucial time is very important. Furthermore, it is also very important that we managed to cancel all the painful austerity measures that the previous government had committed to apply, even before the elections.

The Greek government has signed an agreement that, in substance, reflects the reality that from now on every further step will be a part of the underlying conflict.

The agreement is far from what any of us consider ideal. It includes roadblocks and restrictions that force us to postpone or re-formulate parts of our governmental program.

Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs for the next period. These include the return of politics to the front stage of the European process, the first political schisms produced at a European level after the election victory of SYRIZA and the overall stance of the Greek government of social salvation.

This stance changed the framework of discussion throughout Europe, creating, in parallel, an unprecedentedly large solidarity movement.

From the perspective of reinforcing pan-European social struggles and changing the balance of power in Europe, this strengthening of solidarity among the peoples of Europe is of utmost importance.

The transparency with which the new government acted in negotiations constitutes another qualitative difference with the previous governments of New Democracy and PASOK. We have nothing to be afraid of, as long as we continue to address the Greek people with sincerity about both possibilities and problems.

The basic factor that will determine the fate of the next stages of our confrontation with opponents is whether the government can keep open the split within the totally dominant neoliberalism.

If we achieve victories, large or small, in the next period, political developments in Europe accelerate, since the dogma of TINA (“there-is-no-alternative”) will collapse.

If we also take into account the November Spanish national election, in which anti-austerity party Podemos is polling strongly, we can easily understand why the neoliberal forces of the EU will escalate their offensive against us.

In assuming its historical responsibility, the Greek government must immediately work hard to avoid any possibility of new austerity measures and, at the same time, improve public finances by making the rich pay.

A first positive step in this direction is that treasury prosecutors investigating lists of Greek account-holders who have illegally transferred money to Swiss and other foreign banks have already blocked €404 million found in 17 bank accounts.

At the same time, we will be judged on our moves to democratise the political system and public sphere, in the war against corruption and in tackling the humanitarian crisis.

The government has already presented its first bill, which includes free electricity (300 Kwh a month) for households in extreme poverty, housing rent allowances (€70 per person or €220 per family per month) for 30,000 households, as well as a nutrition allowance for citizens living in extreme poverty.

In these four months, we should make decisive steps to improve our position vis-a-vis the coming confrontations. These steps can be made providing a large part of the society is determined to support the government of social salvation and not simply wait.

The existence of this unprecedented popular goodwill is of fundamental importance for our party. This was expressed in the first post-election opinion polls. But principally it was expressed in the unprecedented mobilisations in support of the demands of the government.

Today, when the dogma that “everyone is the same” is collapsing and politics is returning as the way to change our lives, our party should maximise its internal unity. This should not mean suppressing diversity, but its inclusion in our collective reflection and common goals.

Criticism and debate among viewpoints in the decision-making processes of the bodies of a multi-tendency left party are fair and just, so long as they don’t jeopardise our internal solidarity or distort our official decisions.

SYRIZA must now open its doors to embrace all people who wish to fight collectively and unselfishly to win back dignity.

Our planning, procedures and actions should mirror our determination to create the “collective intellectual” who will build a new collective consciousness in the Greek society. A new conception of common sense, based on collectivity, solidarity, and fulfilling social needs.

As the president of SYRIZA recently said, at this new beginning our shared slogan must be: less words, more work.

[Green Left's European correspondent Dick Nichols, who was in Athens for SYRIZA's election, is in the middle of a "Greece eyewitness" speaking tour across the country. Over the next few weeks, he will speak in Hobart, Sydney, Newcastle, Armidale, Brisbane, Cairns and Perth. See details here.]

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