Workers braced for new wave of draconian attacks on living standards
Greek workers and their families are bracing themselves for further austerity packages, – the largest seen in the country since World War Two. This will entail huge wage and pension cuts and tax rises.
Talks between the Greek PASOK government, the EU, European Central Bank and the IMF to agree a 120bn euro bailout and austerity measure, are reportedly nearing completion. Leaks of the talks show how drastic the planned social cuts will be. Cuts to public employees wages will amount to a 25% yearly fall. Wages will then be frozen for 3-4 years. Pensions are also under attack. Currently 65% of Greek pensioners live on less than 600 euro a month, and now these parts of the population are being targeted for cuts to their measly income. Value Added Tax is likely to rise to 23-24% that is 4 to 5 percentage points on the prevailing 19%, until a few months ago
Overall, these reported attacks will entail cutting the incomes of public employees by 30% and by around 20% for private sector workers.
Although officially suppose to complete their talks with the EU institutions and the IMF, tonight, April 30, the Pasok government is unlikely to publicly announce the cuts tomorrow on May Day, when thousands of workers and youth will take to the streets. Workers are furious that they are being asked to pay for the crisis of the banks and the system. A 24-hour general strike is planned for 5 May, which could be the largest manifestation of organised workers opposition since the start of 2010.
However, beyond broad opposition to the cuts, the union leaders are not offering anything concrete to workers. There is no clear alternative put forward. Union leaders instead say the cuts should not be carried out in an “unbalanced way” and that the rich should be taxed more. They call for “plans for developing the economy” that would see economic growth and a planned repayment of the debt burden.
The CWI in Greece, Xekinima, demands, ‘Don’t pay the debt!’ and tax the rich (ending tax avoidance and corruption). Xekinima calls for an emergency plan of action, including a massive public works programme that would bring huge numbers of jobs and desperately needed investment for the public sector, public transport and infrastructure. The capitalist system in Greece has failed spectacularly and working people should not have to pay the price for that failure. The key industries and utility companies should be taken into public ownership, nationalised under democratic workers’ control and management. The banking sector should be the first to be nationalised under workers’ control and management. A socialist plan of production would utilise the country’s economy and resources for the benefit of all.
However, the lack of an alternative from the union leaders or any bold call for decisive mass action to defeat the Pasok government attacks means that, at the current time, many workers cannot see a way out of the crisis. Millions of workers will take strike action next week, displaying the potential power of the organised working class. But unless this action is developed, with longer general strikes, leading to an indefinite general strike if the government does not back down, workers understandably do not see a realistic prospect of stopping the Pasok/EU/IMF juggernaut of social cuts. There is a mood of anger mixed with fear and even a sense of shock amongst many workers. Yet the Greek unions are only organising limited rallies and ‘festivals’ for May Day, not the sort of mass protest marches and rallies, across the country ,which the situation demands, as a preparation for the next week’s general strike action.
General strike, 11 March 2010
Parties of the Left
The main parties of the left, the KKE (communist party) and the Syriza offer opposition to the cuts but again no concrete alternative. They do not put forward a clear socialist programme. They do not raise the idea of refusing to pay the debt or even for the nationalisation of the banking system, to say the least. Syriza is organising its own May Day events and on paper the coalition supports nationalisations but its spokes persons do not put this forward to a mass audience through the media.
If the Pasok government manages to get through its cuts package and once they begin to hit working families, the already combustible mood can become highly explosive. A period of intense class struggles will develop, with more strikes and general strikes on the agenda. There can also be an increase in youth street protests and event riots by angry and alienated youth.
Young people have not yet decisively entered the struggle, so far. This partly reflects the exhaustion and partial defeats suffered by students after months of university occupations in 2007 and the dead-end of the mass youth street revolt at the end of 2008. It is also the case that young people in education have not yet been hit directly by the Pasok’s austerity measures, in the present conjuncture. But with thousands of temporary jobs under threat in education, this situation can change quickly and dramatically.
The leaders of the unions and left parties will come under hard scrutiny from the working class and youth over the next period. A new generation of class fighters can quickly develop. Mass consciousness will shift to the left, by leaps and bounds, preparing the way for the development of a mass left force, ready to fight against the system and prepare for its overturn and for the building of a just socialist society, ran in the interests of the working people. This is what Xekinima will be fighting with all its forces for in the next turbulent period in Greek society.