Greece: Where are mass solidarity protests with Syriza?

Troika must be defied – No more cuts! Don’t pay the debt! Socialist policies would win huge backing from Greek workers

The Greek government has been set a weekend deadline by its creditors, the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF), to make even greater austerity cuts to satisfy the big capitalist institutions, to avoid default and to stay in the eurozone. Greece is due to pay the IMF €1.6bn by next Tuesday. This follows the dismissal of Greek ‘reform’ proposals earlier this week. Although these proposals involved new austerity for Greek pensioners and workers and a rise in VAT, this was not enough for the Troika (also known as the ‘Institutions’). These capitalist institutions were incensed that the Greek government also proposed to raise corporation tax and to take other measures against the richest in society, even though they were partial and limited attacks.

It is clear that the Troika not only want to see SYRIZA capitulate over a deal but also want to humiliate the party and Greek people. They want to send a powerful message to the working class of other indebted Eurozone countries, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, and to the working class of the entire continent; any political opposition to the austerity agenda will not be tolerated. Some leading figures from the Troika also appear to be aiming for ‘regime change’ in Greece. They are trying to help prepare the ground for the creation of a new government made up of the right of SYRIZA and other right wing parties, which can better carry out austerity against a population that has voted against it.

In this situation, SYRIZA spokespeople have taken to the media in Greece to lament that Greek people are not coming on to the streets in bigger numbers in support of the SYRIZA government. But as Eleni Mitsou explains below, the Greek masses were told to sit back passively by SYRIZA leaders for months and to leave it to SYRIZA leaders to negotiate a good deal with the Troika. This policy has failed spectacularly and confused and even demoralized sections of the working class.

Yet the battle with the Troika is far from over. Greek workers would respond enthusiastically and actively to a clear class appeal from the SYRIZA government, which refused to bend to the dictates of the Troika or to pay the unsustainable debt. A socialist programme would put in place capital controls and nationalize the main pillars of the Greek economy under democratic workers’ control and management. This would end austerity and start to see a transformation in the living conditions of the long suffering Greeks. It would have a powerful effect across austerity-wrecked Europe and be an inspiration to workers and youth to follow.

Many cadres from the leadership of SYRIZA, including members of the government cabinet, ask the question, including on radio broadcasts, “Why don’t the Greek people come out on the streets to support the government?”

Indeed, although SYRIZA maintains a lead over the right wing opposition New Democracy in all the polls, and still has the support of the majority of the population, it was not able to mobilize any large numbers in the recent rallies in Syntagma square and elsewhere. These rallies were relatively small (around 5,000 on 17 June, and around 8,000-9,000 on the second, on 21 June) and were made up of mainly SYRIZA members and from far left groups. The masses were not present. It is also important to note that the mood was not good and morale was low.

“Why should the people come out on the streets?”

One should actually reverse the question of the SYRIZA cadres and ask: "Why should the people come out on the streets"?

To defend SYRIZA’s self-declared “red lines”? But these red lines are not defended even by the government. Since February until today, the SYRIZA government is in a continuous of retreat under the pressure of the lenders.

To defend the pre-election programme of SYRIZA, the “programme of Salonica”? But this programme has not only not been applied, but essentially it has been abandoned – with the exception of the reemployment of sacked cleaners, school guards and workers at the national broadcaster, ERT. On all the major issues, SYRIZA has backed down.

So, for what reason can Greek workers have to come out to defend the government? The government agrees with the ‘Institutions’ (formerly known as the Troika – ECB, EU and IMF) to pay back the entire debt? The environmentally damaging goldmining in Halkidiki continues and whenever local people try to mobilize against it they are being beaten up by riot police? TAIPED (the body which has been set up to organize the sale of public companies and natural resources) has not been abolished, as promised by SYRIZA before the elections. Greece’s main port at Piraeus has been put up for sale. All the country’s local airports are being sold by the government. The hiring of workers through contractors and all forms of ‘flexible’-labour continue, despite all the pre-election promises. Campaigns to "refuse payment" have been transformed into "pay higher road tolls" and " pay the property tax both for 2015 and 2016". At all the public utility companies, the ministries, and, in general in the public sector, the old managers appointed by PASOK and New Democracy continue to rule.

During the last few years Greek workers came out in great numbers in protests and strikes fought major struggles against the ND and PASOK governments to defend all that was being stolen from them. Workers had confidence in a SYRIZA government coming to power. They believed that “hope” was arriving or at least "some hope" was on the way. And what followed? The Syriza government “negotiated” with the Institutions but the Greek people did not really know what was being discussed. The government did not inform them in a serious way (not even the Syriza party!) about what it was actually being negotiated and the various alternatives that existed. Since February all Greek people were told by Syriza leaders that "we are optimistic…we are approaching a deal" and that "the lenders will retreat" etc.

As a result, the Greek working class was waiting for a deal with the Institutions. This is what the government asked workers to do. This is what ministers said to the trade unions and the workers delegations that visited them with demands and when the government would act on their pre-election promises.

As long as Greek people waited, the leadership of SYRIZA used this to justify its retreats. Many in the SYRIZA leadership asked: "What can we do? The people are not ready for a rupture with the eurozone” and “The people are not ready for radical left policies”. More than often, Syriza leaders would blame the masses for not taking a bold stand against the Troikans. The leadership of SYRIZA put society "on hold" and then blamed society for its their own conservatism and lack of boldness!

Now the leadership of SYRIZA is asking, "Why do the people not come out and support us against the lenders?”. The answer is very simple: The SYRIZA leadership has disappointed the masses and long ago “sent them home”. The mass movement is not a tap to turn on and off whenever the leadership needs it!

When will the people come out?

SYRIZA’s "tough bargaining" ended up with the Greek government retreating all the way, proposing a package of €7.9 billion cuts. But the greedy lenders demand more.

In defense of their position, SYRIZA leaders say their negotiating package is milder and not as bad as what would have been imposed by ND or PASOK government. We will not disagree that under ND and PASOK things would have been worse for workers, pensioners etc. But this is not the issue. SYRIZA did not promise to "not be as bad as ND and PASOK." Nor is this what Greek people expected from SYRIZA. "Not as bad and as painful measures as PASOK and ND could impose” is not a sufficient reason for the movement to come out onto the streets.

For Greek workers to come out on the streets in great masses, SYRIZA must decide to fight back. Even now it is not too late! Even at this last minute, if Prime Minister and SYRIZA leader, Alex Tsipras, decided to turn his back on the vengeful and greedy EU and IMF institutions and to appeal to Greek working people, calling on Greek workers to defy and to oppose the Institutions, he would get a tremendous response. By asking Greek people to (possibly by means of a referendum or new elections) to exit from the euro and for a socialist plan to pull the country out of the crisis – starting with explicitly stating the unjust and unpayable debt will not be paid, capital controls will be imposed and the major parts of the economy will be taken into public democratic ownership and control – the cadres of SYRIZA, who currently wonder "Where are the people?", would not believe their eyes. The magnificent, colossal energy for struggle of the determined and heroic Greek workers would be unleashed.

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