Greece: Prime Minister George Papandreou forced out of office

New ’National unity’ government = ‘austerity coalition’

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou was forced to leave office last weekend and for his PASOK government be replaced by a ’national unity’ coalition government. This new PASOK/New Democracy ‘austerity coalition’ will agree a bailout package which entails yet more punishing cuts that are driving millions of Greeks into poverty.

Papandreou was forced to stand down after days of upheaval caused by his decision – now scrapped – to hold a referendum on the EU plan to bail out debt-ridden Greece.

Possible new prime ministers include candidates with proven austerity cuts reputations – Lukas Papademos, a former deputy president of the European Central Bank, and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos. The new coalition government is due to step down for new elections, likely to be held next February.

The deal agreed with the ECB, EU and IMF (the ‘Troika’), last month, would give the indebted Greek government 130bn euros, see a 50% write-off on private holders of Greek debts, and bring in yet more deeply unpopular austerity measures.

Economy shrinks by 15%

Troika policies have already shrunk the Greek economy by a staggering 15%, over the last 3 years. The PASOK government passed a series of laws under the directives of the Troika that push two thirds of Greek people into poverty. The salaries of public sector workers have been cut by about 50% (compared to what they were at beginning of 2010) and the minimum "legal" wage will go down to 500 euro per month (but even this, with “collective bargaining” abolished, is not binding on the employers. Over 40% of youth are unemployed. The Troika demand that 250,000 people are sacked from the civil service – more than one third of the workforce. Public services are taking a battering. Hospitals beds have already been reduced by 30% and a further 20% reduction is intended (to take it down to 50%). New taxes, together with the cuts in wages and benefits, mean the loss of hundreds of euro, every month, for many workers and their families. Children go to school complaining of hunger, with some fainting in class. Even the previously relatively well-off ’middle layers’ are now being driven into deprivation.

Papandreou made his desperate referendum proposal because the resistance of the Greek people to his cuts policies is so overwhelming. He realised that the PASOK government was in danger of total collapse. On 19 October, Greece saw the biggest 48 hour general strike and union demonstration in its post-war history. On 28 October, an annual day of "national pride" and parades commemorating Greece’s occupation during WW2, turned into angry anti-government demonstrations.

Student snubs officials


The former prime minister’s referendum was an attempt to blackmail the Greek people, by putting to them, ‘you either vote for the 26th October ’bail -out’ or Greece goes bankrupt, leaves the euro-zone, and you will all go hungry".

But the former Greek prime minister’s referendum plans soon came under enormous pressure from EU leaders, particularly Germany and France. They denounced the referendum believing it would see the Greek crisis spread risk to other EU economies, particularly vulnerable Italy.

In an act of blackmailing of their own, the German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozi demanded that the referendum should be held on whether Greece wanted to be part of the EU or not. The next tranche of Greece’s existing bailout, amounting to 8 billion euro, was also put on hold, to exert extra pressure on Papandreou to drop his proposal.

Merkel and Sarkozy

There were huge divisions inside the ruling Greek PASOK party over the referendum plan, with Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, and other key figures from the government, publicly opposing it and stating on 4 November that the referendum is scrapped. Members of the cabinet demanded Papandreou’s resignation in favor of a government of ‘national unity’.

After these fatal political blows, Papandreou survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on 4 November but only on the basis that he would visit the President on the following morning and hand in his own resignation in favor of a coalition government headed by a new (unelected) prime minister. Papandreou duly resigned on 5 November. This was an indication of the extremely deep crisis at the top of the Greek ‘political class’ and Establishment.

On Sunday night, PASOK and the opposition New Democracy (which previously refused offers to form a coalition government with PASOK) agreed to go on a coalition government, led by a third “personality”, for a period of a few months and then to hold new elections. The coalition government will be made up of the two main pro-capitalist parties and two smaller parties, one being the far right, populist LAOS.

Relentless propaganda

Greek workers and the middle classes also came under relentless propaganda pressure from the EU, Greek bosses and media over the referendum. They were told that unless they accept new more cuts, Greece would be forced out of the euro zone and the EU, and would suffer an even greater collapse of living standards.

The main Left parties, like the KKE (Greek communist party) and SYRIZA (a broad left party) did not put forward a viable alternative to this ferocious pro-capitalist propaganda assault.

All this has had an impact on the outlook of Greek people. Opinion polls showed that a large majority of Greeks were against holding a referendum. Moods changed after the massive propaganda by the ruling class and its mass media. A large majority, over two thirds, also favoured staying in the euro-zone and not more than about 15% stated that they prefer to leave (a number of different telephone polls were held, so there is no accurate figures, but the trends are the same in all).

These poll results are really an expression of desperation in desperate times – a ’hope against hope’ that somehow a new coalition government will find a way out of Greece’s deep economic crisis. In truth, most workers see no end to the crisis or cuts and any illusions section of the population have in the new coalition will most likely be short lived. Recent polls show that consistently 90% of the Greek people are against PASOK government cuts – policies which will be continued by the ‘national unity’ government.

Greek workers have shown many times since the crisis began in 2008/2009 that they are willing to fight-back against cuts and for an alternative to the crisis ridden system. Thirteen general strikes (two of which 48 hour general strikes) have taken place over a period of less than two years, as well as student strikes, sit-ins and occupations of public serviced buildings and schools, and mass non-payment campaigns against unjust taxes. Industrial action and mass protests culminating in the magnificent 48 hour general strike on 19 October. Around 500,000-800,000 people were on the streets of Athens on that day – the biggest post-war union demonstration in Greece.

Protest infront of parliament during 48 hour general strike

But the bureaucratic, conservative trade union leaders have not used the huge power of the organised working class to step up mass resistance to decisively finish off the PASOK government, to halt all cuts and to strive for a government of working people. The union tops only called for action in the last 18 months under the intense pressure of the masses – they have no plan or strategy to win, not to mention an alternative political programme.

Occupations and industrial action

Since the 19 October, occupations and sector-based strikes have receded. But this does not mean an end to industrial mass struggles, just a temporary pause after months of hectic strike and other mass activities. Youth and working people may now look to other forms of mass resistance. The mass non-payment campaigns against household taxes can take on new life, as can mass protests over environmental issues. The new wave of cuts promised by the ’austerity coalition’ means that class struggle is inevitable and new rounds of industrial action.

Some unions, involving council workers, primary school teachers, railway workers and the telecommunications workers, fought more determinedly and have broken their connections with PASOK. A section of the union movement is moving in a more radical, combative direction. Although these unions are splitting away from PASOK, their leaders are not giving their members a clear and bold plan of action. CWI in Greece (Xekhinima) appeals to the rank and file workers of these unions to make a definitive break from PASOK and to help build a new workers’ party, on bold socialist policies.

Xekinima opposes the new ’national unity’ government of PASOK and New Democracy. This will be a coalition of yet more deep cuts and poverty. The policies the new coalition government will apply will be the same as has been applied up until now. The new government will obey the directives of Merkel and Sarkozy, to the last iota. There is nothing “positive” in this government apart from the fact that, one might say, New Democracy will be exposed before all Greeks as also responsible for austerity policies. Up until now, the ND leader, Samaras, has cynically adopted a populist role, criticizing government policies and blaming PASOK for not putting up resistance to the EU directives.

Political space for Left

Illusions amongst some sections of the population that things might get a ‘bit better’ under the ‘national unity’ coalition will not last long. In the political situation that will open up, the parties of the Left will have a unique and historic opportunity to grow and to play a decisive role. But to bring about the kind of fundamental changes that are required to provide real and lasting solutions to the deep problems faced by the Greek workers and the whole of society, requires the Left adopting a socialist programme and to fight decisively for system change. Up until now, the main, traditional parties of the Greek Left – the KKE (communist party) and SYN (Synaspismos – Coalition of the Left of Movements and Ecology) – refuse to move in this direction. The need to build and develop the mass movements, and to build new forces of the Left, with radical, socialist policies, is more starkly posed than ever.

Xekinima puts forward a socialist perspective and policies. Xekinima say, do not pay the debt and no more cuts! Xekinima calls for a government representing working people, the impoverished middle classes, the poor and youth. A workers’ government would mean jobs, affordable housing, a properly funded education and health service. It would take the major planks of the economy into democratic public ownership and control, for the benefit of the majority not the wealthy elite.

Xekinima reject the argument that Greeks must endure the destruction of their living standards so as to remain in the eurozone. Xekinima also argues against sowing illusions in a so-called "progressive and sovereign national currency policy" that sections of the Greek Left put forward. There are no solutions on a national and capitalist basis. Xekinima calls for genuine internationalism – for a workers’ alternative to capitalist crisis and austerity across Europe. Only with the prospect of common struggle with the workers in the rest of Europe can we find an alternative to the Europe of big capital, the bankers and the IMF and fight for a socialist Europe!

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November 2011