The capitalist classes of Europe are now cranking up the pressure on the Greek working class, trying to blackmail it
In Britain, as in every country of Europe, millions of working people are following events in Greece with baited breath. In part this is because of fear of what the deepening economic crisis in the eurozone could mean for workers in Britain. But it is not the only reason. It is also because workers are inspired by the defiance of the Greek population.
Seventeen general strikes have shaken Greece in the course of the last two years as Greek workers have refused to accept the mass impoverishment demanded of them. And now the Greek working and middle classes have shouted their defiance in the elections – shattering the electoral base of the previous establishment parties – Pasok and New Democracy – and voting for those who opposed austerity.
Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) was the biggest beneficiary of the anti-austerity mood in the recent Greek general election, increasing its vote from 4.6% to 16.78%.
Since then Syriza’s principled stand, refusing to join a coalition that accepted more austerity and instead demanding a left government, has led to increasing support in opinion polls – as high as 26% – mostly topping the polls. This also shows the potential for left, anti-cuts candidates to make breakthroughs outside of Greece, including the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in Britain.
The right-wing and fascist Golden Dawn won 21 MPs in the 6 May elections but has since seen its support plummet in the polls. This gives an indication of how support for the far right can be undermined when a credible left alternative emerges. But it is also a warning of what could emerge if Syriza does not lead a battle against austerity.
The capitalist classes of Europe are now cranking up the pressure on the Greek working class, trying to blackmail it into voting ’the right way’ at the recall general election in June.
Typically Cameron has led the charge, crudely sending "a very clear message to the people of Greece: there is a choice – you can vote to stay in the euro, with all the commitments you made, or if you vote another way you’re effectively voting to leave."
Cameron is attempting to turn the general election into a referendum on the euro. He is gambling on the fact that a majority of the Greek population still want to remain in the euro, fearing the prospect of being a small, isolated and impoverished country.
It was not the Greek people that made a "commitment" to endure endless misery. This was done by the previous government parties and, as a result, the Greek population punished them at the polls.
The policies demanded by the troika of the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, and implemented by Greek governments, have left sections of the Greek population destitute and the vast majority in terrible poverty.
The Greek economy has shrunk by 20% in four years, a catastrophe not seen in Europe since the 1930s. Public sector wages have fallen by 40%. The church is now feeding an average of 250,000 people each day as sections of the population literally face starvation.
As the pressure of the axe-men and women mounts on the Greek people to submit, the working class of Britain, along with workers across Europe, needs to send a resounding message to the Greek people: ’We stand 100% with your rejection of austerity. We support your struggle and will step up the battle to stop cuts and defend living conditions in our own countries, as the best means of assisting your struggle. If, as is overwhelmingly likely, the capitalist classes of Europe force you out of the eurozone, you will not be isolated – the workers of Europe stand in solidarity with you.’
What better support could workers in Britain give to workers in Greece than by bringing down the hated Con-Dem government?
It is not only in Greece but across Europe that the working class has rejected austerity on the streets and at the ballot box. The defeat of Sarkozy in France and of Merkel’s party in Germany’s most populous state, the huge vote against the Con-Dem’s in Britain’s local elections, plus the local election results in Italy; are all electoral indications of a growing tidal wave of opposition to austerity.
The battle against austerity must be linked to struggle against capitalism – a system in a profound crisis. It is not the supposed past profligacy of the peoples of Greece, Spain, Ireland or Britain that has led to the current catastrophe but the economic crisis of capitalism, and the past and current profligacy of the financiers and speculators who dominate the economy.
The eurozone has become an austerity zone, where all the problems of the capitalist crisis are intensified. The Socialist always warned that the euro, a single currency for very different economies, would not work on a capitalist basis.
When the world economy was growing it could appear a success, but in a crisis it would become a terrible trap for the working classes of Europe.
The leaders of the eurozone, headed by German capitalism, are trying to overcome the crisis by driving the working class into the dirt.
Cameron is applying the same policy in Britain. But this is exacerbating the economic crisis and is creating a gigantic revolt. It is fear of a deepening of the economic crisis and, above all, of the revolt that is coming, that is forcing the leading representatives of capitalism, including Obama, to put pressure on German capitalism to move towards some measures to stimulate the eurozone’s economies.
The economic crisis is not caused by a lack of profits for big business. The capitalists have huge piles of cash. The Wall Street Journal estimates that in the US, the eurozone, the UK and Japan, some $7.75 trillion in cash, is sitting in the vaults of big business.
Because the capitalists refuse to invest this money, we call for an immediate 50% levy on it, in order for it to be used for a massive programme of investment in public work and job creation. However, there is no prospect of capitalist governments carrying out this kind of serious stimulus, which would create howls of outrage, and opposition, from their big business backers.
Instead, even while the capitalist politicians begin to admit that austerity isn’t working, they continue to hold up Greece as a bogeyman to frighten the working class of Europe into accepting more austerity! ’Submit to cuts in public services, wages, pensions and benefits or you’ll end up like the Greeks’, they shriek.
The fact that the huge cuts have enormously deepened the depression in the Greek economy is conveniently ignored!
The increased support for Syriza starts to give an answer to this rubbish. Syriza does not clearly call for a break with capitalism – but it does demand a moratorium on the debt, nationalisation of the banks, and an end to austerity. The answer to Cameron and Co’s threats that Greek workers will be ejected from the euro if they vote for this plan is to declare that, if that is what is necessary to defend workers’ interests in Greece, then so be it.
A workers’ government would need to respond to ejection from the euro by immediately nationalising all banks and finance institutions and major companies.
It would need to introduce capital and credit controls to prevent a flight of capital from the country. It would cancel all debt repayment to the banks and financial institutions.
An emergency economic programme to reconstruct the country would need to be drawn up democratically as part of a socialist plan. This would enable the living standards of Greek working and middle classes, including help for small businesses, to be put first, instead of the demands of the ’troika’.
A government that implemented such a programme would be the antithesis of a bogeyman for workers across Europe. It would be an enormous inspiration to workers, including here in Britain. The road would be opened to defeating austerity once and for all – and the beginning of building a democratic socialist confederation of Europe.
Build action toward a 24-hour general strike
The general strike in Spain also graphically demonstrated the growing determination to defeat austerity. Here in Britain, it is an indication of the enormous anger that exists that the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called a national demonstration against austerity on 20 October, 2012.
We need to fight to make sure that this is on the same scale as the 750,000-strong TUC demonstration on 26 March, 2011. On that occasion, however, the leadership of the TUC saw the demo as no more than a means to ’let off steam’, and to encourage trade unionists to vote Labour in the local elections shortly afterwards.
As a result there was no effective struggle against the avalanche of cuts that followed, many of them introduced by Labour councils. It was only as a result of pressure from below that the TUC was forced to call the magnificent one-day public sector strike in defence of pensions on 30 November, 2011.
Tragically, the leadership of the TUC did not use this as a springboard for further action, instead calling on unions to sign up to a rotten deal on pensions. However, a number of unions defied this call, and the pensions’ battle is ongoing.
We now need to campaign to make sure that the mistakes of 2011 are not repeated and the 20 October demonstration builds towards action capable of defeating the government. It should be followed by a 24-hour general strike against austerity – involving public and private sector workers – and opposing all of the cuts workers are facing, including to our pensions.