Greece: Syriza’s first months in power

The working class and social movements must enter the struggle for their rights

On Wednesday 11 February and Sunday 15 February, Syntagma Square in Athens and the central squares of other cities (around 40 all over Greece) were filled in by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. These mobilisations were aiming to send a message of resistance to the threats of EU, IMF and the German ruling class.

On Friday 20 February there were 500 demonstrators at Syntagma Square in Athens and 150 at Lefkos Pyrgos in Thessaloniki. Some commentators interpreted this plummet of numbers on the fact that Monday 23/2 was a bank holiday and workers took a long weekend. This interpretation is an insult to intelligence! We are not talking about a certain reduction in numbers – we are talking about utter failure! And this can only be interpreted politically: workers were not willing to go to the squares, again, to demonstrate! (Of course this doesn’t mean that it will not be possible to have successful mass mobilisations of a similar character in the future, but this is something that depends firstly and mainly on the path that the Syriza government takes in the period ahead).

Syriza keeps being supported by the vast majority of the Greek people. And Syriza keeps reflecting the hopes for better days after the disaster of New Democracy and PASOK. But the difference between Friday 20 February and Sunday 15 February is that, literally and without any exaggeration, the enthusiasm that Syriza had “planted” during the first 20 days of its governance disappeared.

What changed?

Two factors played a defining role in the psychology of the mass movement, of the “activists” and of society at the beginning of the previous week (Monday and Tuesday 16 and 17 February).

One was the hard resistance by Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s Federal Minister of Finance, and many others of similar thinking in the EU, and the clarification of the picture that Syriza was entering a procedure of “bloody” retreats and compromises. The second factor was the election of the right wing Pavlopoulos to the presidency of the Greek Republic.

Of course the most important and defining factor is the former, but it is worth to have a quick look into the second. The proposal and election of Pavlopoulos did not bring people around Syriza like its leadership would like to believe. What did that was the clash with Schäuble and his ilk. The Pavlopoulos incident confused people, generally, that couldn’t contemplate it, but especially the people of the Left were disappointed, as it was a clear indication of the tendency of retreat and adjustment of the government.

Hard landing

The clash with Schäuble and the clique that directs the EU landed in a very hard way the Syriza leadership that began its negotiations with the Troika in a very “relaxed” manner or even a bit “giddy”. However, as we had predicted (in one of our many articles of a similar content) Syriza government’s attempts to change the policies of the Troika in Greece wouldn’t be met with “friendly negotiations” by the EU directorate, but with “war”.

Indicatively, a few days before the elections we wrote (article on Greek website, www.xekinima.org, 23 January 2015):

“The Syriza leadership does not believe that the whole system is wrong but that the EU and the Troika are applying wrong policies which Syriza can force them to change by applying pressure, so that the latter will revert to the implementation of socially sensitive policies. We do not share this kind of “optimism” at all. We are of the opinion that the Troika along with the Greek ruling class and the “markets” will put huge pressure on Syriza to force it to back down on its prelection promises and to implement their own policies.

“And if the Syriza government insists to resist to their pressure and to apply policies that overthrow austerity, and in this way they become the “bad” example for the peoples of the rest of Europe (Spanish, Portuguese, Irish, Italians, Cypriots etc) then they will go into a full scale ‘war’ against Syriza so as to either make it bend to their demands, or, otherwise make sure it is kicked out of office.

“’War’ means economic sabotage, ie; refusing to fund the deficits of the Greek state by the Troika, refusing to provide liquidity by the ECB (resulting into drastic limitations to withdrawals) capital run from the country by the big businesses, ending of investment by the big capital, lay-offs, pushing the economy into a deeper crisis”.

The 20th February compromise

This is exactly what happened. The European directorate gave an ultimatum to the Syriza government that from the beginnings of the week starting on 24 February it would stop the liquidity of the banks. This was the first step towards the exit from the euro. So, what we had was not “negotiations”, it was “war”. Let the Syriza leadership draw its conclusions from this and keep these conclusions for the future.

Schäuble and the rest of the clique that govern Europe were willing to give some minor concessions to Syriza and in exchange asking Syriza to accept the bulk of their demands. The Syriza government folded and ended up with the compromise of Friday 20 February.

What was basically agreed is:

The Greek government committed to pay off every single euro of the sovereign debt. Thus the position of “cancelling the biggest part of the debt” has been abandoned.

The Troika is “abolished” but… those that make up the Troika (EU, ECB, IMF) will continue to exist, to discuss and to control what is happening in Greece. From now on, however, they will change name, they will not be called “the Troika” but “the Institutions”.

The “loan agreement” (essentially the memorandum, though it is not mentioned by name) is not cancelled but extended for four months. In these four months the next “programme” that the new government will implement will be agreed (if it is agreed).

The “Institutions” will then monitor the precise implementation of the programme (in the same way in essence that the Troika was monitoring the memoranda).

The Greek government agreed that it won’t take any unilateral action. Unilateral action, according to the “Institutions” is anything that has not been discussed and agreed. In other words the Syriza government cannot take a step without the approval of the “Institution” – nor move towards the realisation of the pro-people measures nor cancel memoranda measures and austerity laws and policies.

What has SYRIZA won?

The main gain that Syriza made in this deal is that the “Institutions” agreed to be flexible in relation to the issue of the “primary surpluses”. As we explained in previous articles, the Syriza government asked to reduce the primary surpluses of the next years to 1.5% of GDP from about 4% (on average) for the 2015-2020 period.

This translates into an effort by the Syriza government to save up some billion euros on an annual basis, which it will put towards measures in favour of the poorest strata. The sums that the government is claiming are, roughly putting it, around 6 billion euro on an annual basis. If we assume that there is a compromise between the Greek government and the “Institutions” on this issue (which is possible) then the Syriza government could “win” something around 2.3 or 4 billion euros on an annual basis. These sums would then go into the direction of alleviating the humanitarian crisis and provide some relief to those layers that have been hit hardest hit by the recession. This alleviation of the humanitarian crisis costs, according to Syriza’s pre-election (Salonica) programme, around 2 billion euro.

And then?

The softening of the humanitarian crisis is not at all an unimportant issue. But it does not allow the government to go very far.

The Salonica programme, as a whole, if it was to be implemented would offer a general relief to the working class and the layers hit by the crisis, provide some better pensions, increase the minimum wage to the pre-crisis level and so on. This minimal programme, would cost, based on Syriza’s calculations, 12 billion euro.

Two questions stem from the above: Where will the government find the money for the rest of the measures of the Salonica programme? (on the condition of course that the Institutions do allow the funding of the policies that Syriza wants to apply to tackle the humanitarian crisis). What guarantee is there that the Institutions will allow the implementation of pro-people policies that the government wants to pass

Some of the measures that SYRIZA promised to pass immediately after the elections, emphasising that all of these are “non-negotiable”, are the following?

  • reinstatement of labour relations (including the recognition of collective bargaining/agreeements) to pre-crisis levels
  • reemployment of public sector workers, “sacked unlawfully and unconstitutionally” (estimated to between four and ten thousand);
  • abolition of the so-called “evaluation” imposed by the Troika, according to which 15% of workers in the public sector would by necessity be evaluated, on an annual basis, as “inefficient” and thus be liable to lay off.
  • reinstatement of the minimum wage to 751 euros (gross – about 670 take home) per month
  • Xmas bonus for low pensioners (all below 700 euros gross)
  • abolition of property tax, ending of foreclosures and protection of 1st homes, for those on low incomes, increase of non-tax income to 12,000 euro (gross) annually.
  • ending of privatisations
  • This does not mention all the measures included in the pre-election (Salonica) manifesto but some of the most basic and important.

A clash with the Troika is necessary

As we mentioned above the Salonica programme was budgeted (by Syriza) and around 12 billion euros. Where will Syriza find the rest 8-10 (provided, of course, that the Institutions do provide the 2-3 bn required to tackle the humanitarian crisis)?

Syriza (based on the privisions of the Salonica programme) says it will attack corruption, tax-evasion and tax the rich and thus find the necessary funding for the rest of its programme.

Will Syriza, indeed, do so?

Anyone that says “of course it will” does not fully realise that the essence of this position is that Syriza would have to combat big capital and the rich, taking away a part of their wealth and transfer it to the workers and the popular layers.

What will capital and the rich do in such circumstances? Does anyone think that they will “sit and watch” indifferently an attack on their wealth? Is it not much more logical for them to simply transfer their wealth, capital and investments, elsewhere, to new “profit paradises” and in this way sabotage the Greek economy?

A second point is perhaps even more important; for the EU most of the above measures are like a red rag to a bull, not only for immediate financial reasons but also for political reasons.

The EU represents the interests of European multinational capital that wants to enter Greece in order to take advantage of the cheap labour, to buy the huge wealth of the country (public utility companies, natural resources, land etc) for peanuts and to have the workers working under “Chinese conditions”.

Why would the EU (or the Institutions) accept the reinstatement of the labour relations and collective bargaining, the increase in the minimum wage, the ending of privatisations and the taxing the rich, the ending of the pillaging of the natural resources of the country, when it can simply put an end to all these with a “nein” by Schäuble, since the agreement signed by the government of Syriza concedes precisely this power to Schäuble, the German ruling class and the EU directorate?

Syriza’s retreats are such that, in reality, they have undercut/undermined the Salonica programme. Precisely the programme that Syriza emphasised that it was non-negotiable and that its funding would be easy and irrespective of any “agreement” with the lenders (a point which we stressed, right from the beginning, was mistaken).

Putting the economy back on a growth trajectory

It is very possible that the Institutions will allow Syriza to fund a set of measures to partially tackle the poverty and the misery that the memoranda have caused (by agreeing that smaller primary surpluses should be produced and go for the pay-off of the debt).

But these sums will not solve the problem of “under-development” and of the economic crisis. They are not enough and they cannot set the economy on a growth trajectory. And without growth, the problems of unemployment, generalised impoverishment and non-existent welfare state will not be solved.

Therefore Syriza’s leadership should not “celebrate” the result of the agreements with the EU, the ECB and the IMF. They have made major concessions and have put their signature under a document that still allows the Institutions to decide for anything that the government will legislate.

Of course we should say that they forced the EU to leave some space for measures that will partially relieve the situation of the poorest and most hard hit layers. This gives hope to the poorest layers, the unemployed, the poorest pensioners and the low-waged workers and thus some breathing space or grace period to the government. But this period will not last long.

At some stage, sooner rather than later, the government will have to face the central challenge, i.e. to put the economy back into growth so as to be able, even if gradually, to provide solutions to the huge social problems that have been accumulated. The policies that are necessary for this task are being widely discussed in large sections of the left and even the popular masses – indeed to a large extent they are included in Syriza’s conference decisions (despite them not being included in the Salonica programme). These basically are: the nationalisation of the banks, social and workers’ control and management, nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, the creation of democratically elected bodies to run different sections of industry and of the economy, the democratic planning of the economy, as a whole, to serve the interests of the majority etc. These are socialist measures/policies and are absolutely necessary and the only way for the economy and for Greek society to come out of the catastrophic slump. And, of course, the application of these kinds of policies must be combined with internationalist class appeals to the workers of the rest of Europe, so that we all move, on a continental basis, to a common target and a common course: which is to build an “alternative Europe” which can only take form a “socialist Europe”.

Of course these measures mean a frontal clash with the national and foreign capital as well as with the Institutions. And that means being kicked out of the Eurozone – which will demand controls on capital flows and a public control of the foreign trade to protect the economy from the attack of the “markets”.

The movements

This is the kind of battle that is required in order for Greek society to see light at the end of the tunnel.

The Syriza leadership claims that no clash is necessary but only a mutually beneficiary “negotiation” with the EU and the “institutions. The recent “compromise” of the government, on February 20, showed that this was not, in reality, possible.

There is, however, time to change the course already taken. In the course of the next weeks and months, the SYRIZA government will still have the support of the mass of the Greek people for a frontal clash with the Institutions. Will it do it?

This question does not concern so much Syriza’s leadership, as society – the working class and the social movements. The mass movement should not just wait for the government to “draw its conclusions” and then “decide”. The working class and the social movements must enter the struggle for their rights. To start with, for those that Syriza has already promised: a 750 euro minimum wage, the ending of precarious employment, the cancelation of “renting out workers”, long term and permanent employment contracts, the reemployment of those that were laid-off, the ending of privatisations, the ending of the selling-off of public wealth and natural resources, for Eldorado Gold to be kicked out of the Halkidiki (gold mines in North Greece) and the abolition of the property tax for low incomes etc.

In this way the mass movement can push Syriza to the left. And to the extent that this happens, then inevitably the issue of the euro will be posed. The decision on this issue will have to be taken by the Greek people themselves, either by means of a referendum or new elections. In either case we have no doubt whatsoever about what the outcome will be.

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