Greece / Ireland: Socialist MEP Joe Higgins brings solidarity to striking Greek workers

“Full support for Greek and Irish workers resisting crimes of the speculators”

Today, 11 March, workers in Greece are once again taking general strike action, called to protest at the government’s new draconian austerity measures. The mass action has ground planes and stopped public services and transport.

Protest rallies will be held in Athens, organized by the GSEE union and the civil servants’ union ADEDY, and another organized by the Communist-affiliated PAME union.

Below we carry an article by Joe Higgins Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) Member of the European Parliament (MEP), from the Daily Mail newspaper (Irish edition), who visited Greece, last week, meeting workers that are taking strike action and left activists.

Reports of today’s general strike will follow.

Being in Greece for three days for meetings organised by members of the Left party, Syriza, I was on the streets of Athens with thousands of workers on Friday last. There was a four hour strike in protest at the savage cuts in public sector workers’ wages, an increase in the pension age and sharp tax increases.  Just as in Ireland, Greek workers are being called upon to pay for the economic crimes of others.

Street protests in Greece can be tempestuous. Police used tear gas which burns the eyes and throat leaving you feeling quite dizzy. Greek colleagues tell me that the Greek riot police often need little reason to unleash their gas grenades. On this occasion there were some sharp clashes with a small minority of ‘black block’ activists who pointlessly smashed up some property, public and private. The big majority, however, although enraged by the policies of the Pasok government, protested in a disciplined fashion.

But how is the anger and protests of the Greek working class related to an exclusive dinner held thousands of miles away in a New York restaurant on February 8th last?  Quite intimately, in fact.

The Wall St. Journal carried details of this dinner attended by representatives of eighteen US hedge funds. It should have sparked off a massive worldwide debate because of its implications, but was hardly noted by the Irish media.

A hedge fund is simply an investment fund open only to super rich individuals and corporations who commit vast sums of money to be operated by the fund managers in playing the Stock Exchanges and financial markets around the world seeking quick and massive profits by speculation.

Examples of hedge funds are Soros Fund Management which controls an estimated €20 billion and SAC Capital Advisers with a fund of €9 billion. Brevan Howard hedge fund, based in London, controls a fund of about €19 billion. They are just three of the bigger of about 10,000 such funds controlling €2,200 billion  with their operators based mainly in the East Coast of the US and London, and their funds registered in offshore financial havens.

With such huge funds at their disposal for speculation, when  eighteen of them meet, including Soros Management and SAC, their conclusions can have worldwide repercussions if, for example, they agree that they would coincide in directing funds at a similar project. And there is a strong suspicion that there was agreement that there should be massive speculation with the Euro as a currency particularly in light of the financial difficulties in a number of EU Member States such as Spain and Portugal but most especially Greece.

In fact, hedge fund operators and so called prestigious banks like Goldman Sachs were busily speculating on the Euro and Greece’s finances from the end of last year. Using the vast amount of funds at their disposal they can rig the financial markets to make billions on such speculation and by pushing interest rates for the borrowing of a country like Greece to twice the rate paid by Germany.

The Greek Deputy Foreign Minister said recently that this difference means that Greece would have to pay €750 million more interest on a €5 billion loan than Germany. And it is here that the machinations of the dining hedge fund operators acutely interact with Greek workers because it is these workers who are being hammered to pay for their manipulation and rack-renting loans.

The hedge fund operators and big banks involved in this kind of speculation should properly be described as racketeers and their activities as racketeering. However, in the world media they are instead referred to as ‘the markets’, as in ‘How will the markets react to the austerity programme of the Irish or Greek governments? Will they convince the markets?’ and so on.

These questions should be put more honestly. For example, ‘Will the racketeers who speculate with hedge funds be satisfied that working people will be sufficiently savaged with cuts and taxes to redirect public funds instead to their profits?’  Like 38 year old nurse Alex Douvanas, interviewed by the Athens Plus newspaper, who described trying to survive on a monthly wage of €1,200 including allowances, now getting that waged savaged and paying an incredible €1.40 per litre for petrol.

Right wing political leaders have been bending the knee to the speculators for the past two years. They have bailed them out when they got burned.  Working people and the poor are paying the price. How can it be anything but totally reasonable that these financial institutions ruled by a few thousand people with disastrous consequences for literally billions of human beings should be taken into public ownership and democratic control? And should there not be full support for Greek and Irish workers who are resisting the crimes of the speculators being foisted on them?



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March 2010