In less than two months with three general strikes against the harsh austerity measures adopted by the Socialist government, Greece has become the most flagrant of the European stage where the working class with the youth tries to refute the bourgeois offensive to Greek and European want to make him pay for the effects of the crisis that they themselves generated.
First looted the country to the brink of economic abyss, and now impose harsh remedies that crawl the popular classes further impoverishment, unemployment and loss of economic and social rights.
Today Greece is the weakest link of European imperialism. Its deficit is 12.7% of its GDP (gross domestic product), four times more than European standards consent, while its debt (300 billion) is of more than 112% of its GDP and is expected to reach 130% in 2013. In 2009 Greece suffered a 1.6% decrease in GDP and its industrial production fell by 24.5%. Unemployment rose last year from 7.8% to 10.6% of the workforce; according to the labor minister, this level may soon reach 20%, producing a million unemployed in a country of 11 million inhabitants. And when with all these horrific data the country reached the point of being unable to pay even the interest on its debt, the European Union, with Germany and France to the head, began to impose to the Greek government conditions to “save” Greece of bankruptcy ; actually, almost 60% of Greece’s debt is to British, German and French private banks.
Now the newly elected PASOK government of socialist Prime Minister, George Papandreou, resolved to reduce wages by 5% in the public sector (12% in “bonuses” which are extra payments to compensate for low wages) , extend the retirement age of 63 years to 67 until 2015, cut pensions, increase the VAT from 19% to 21%, impose new direct taxes on the mass consumption articles (tobacco, alcohol, gasoline, etc. .) With these measures, the Government intends to save 4.8 billion Euros to decrease the deficit down to 8.7% of its GDP this year and continue to pay the debt. However, that scenario seems highly unlikely, since, to give one example, only the International High Court fine on the Greek stock company Acropolis in 2007 for stealing pension funds mount to 5.5 billion Euros. And according to economists it’s expected a further fall of 5% of Greek GDP in 2010; thus the assault of the Government and the EU on the Greek people is nothing more than a beginning.
Bases of the crisis
Everyone was shocked when it’s learned that the former conservative government of New Democracy party of Konstantinos Karamanlis manipulated official data on debt and the Greek economy. However, the first who faked the numbers was PASOK government in late 1990; the Socialist prime minister, Costas Simitis, fumbled the statistics to fit the Greek economy to “euro-criteria.” However, the EU powers turned a blind eye to this fraud to absorb Greece in the European imperialist front, to privatize the whole economy and open Greek markets to German and French exports.
By these policies Greek agriculture was devastated (from 13.5% of GDP in 1984 to 3.4% in 2009) and the industry began to disappear (from 30.3% in 1984 to 20.8% in 2009), while services, particularly in the tourism sector, increased from 56% of GDP in 2004 to 75.8% in 2009. So the productive sectors of the Greek economy were destructed and the country became the “beach” for world tourism. Multinational companies, especially Germany and France ones invaded the economy controlling important sectors such as telecommunication, energy and transport networks.
Meanwhile the European funds that flowed to Greece ended up in the vaults of the Greek bourgeoisie as cheap credit, which in turn converted the economy to a paradise for speculation and looting. The banks received loans with zero interest from the State and then bought government bonds offering up to 6% interest. With those easy “gains” Greek banks also invested in the financial sector in Turkey and the countries of Eastern Europe; however, when countries such as Lithuania and Ukraine were dragged into crisis, the benefits of the banks fell sharply. In 2009 the government of Karamanlis helped the banks with 28 billion euros, turning the debt of private banks into government debt. With the Greek government’s guarantee, the banks received loans from European Central Bank with a 1% interest to lend this money toGreek government with 4% interest. The looting was so scandalous that even the director of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet, said they would cut the credits to Greek banks.
European imperialism’s weak link
But those who sacked the Greek economy were not only the Greek banks. Only 30% of the securities issued by Greece are in the hands of the Greek enterprises; the bulk of the debt passes through German and French banks. Precisely, when Papandreou’s government formalized his country’s inability to pay the debt, Merkel and Sarkozy moved a battery of meetings with him to make him implement austerity measures against the Greek workers. At present the EU does not offer any direct aid to Greece, but “political solidarity” for the Greek socialist government in its duty to crush the labor movement in order to save the European banks. “The crisis in Greece is not a problem only of Greece,” said Klaus Baader, second European economist of the General Society in London, “but a particular problem for the entire banking sector in Europe. This explains the interest of the Ministers of Finance throughout the Union. ”
On the other hand, the speculators also of the other side of the Atlantic are operating on the Greek economy. Investment funds like Soros Fund Management, SAC Capital Advisers or well-known banks such as Goldman Sachs are speculating heavily on the euro and the Greek finance since the end of the last year. With the huge funds they have on hand and through joint operations these speculators decreased the value of the euro against the dollar to pocket millions and also to raise the level of interest that the Greek government should pay for debt.
The crisis that is ravaging Greece is so deep that even tensions arose between the Greek bourgeoisie and the European powers. Greek banks want direct EU aid to Greek government, which in turn can pass these loans to the banks, and so that everything can continue as before; however, especially Merkel and Sarkozy call PASOK government to implement brutal cuts against the people to pay the debt . The dispute has reached the point where one of the representatives of the multinational International Marfin Group -owner of Olympic Airlines, several banks, private hospitals, etc .- raised the alternative of Greece’s leaving the euro zone for a while.
On the other hand there are other bourgeois sectors that pose the possibility of asking the IMF for help. Obviously IMF surveillance would impose severe conditions to lend money, and that favors the interests of the debtor banks. However, the entry of the IMF in the euro area would reveal the weakness of the European currency and the European Central Bank (ECB); so now the leaders of the EU, project the creation of a European Monetary Fund with the same powers of control over the member states. Meanwhile, the European Commission and the ECB sent technical teams to inspect the Greek public finance to find out the real situation in the country’s accounting. Euro Empire sees Greece as the “ill man of Europe” of the XXI century.
The struggle continues
When the Papandreou government in early February launched its first plans for a 10% cut on government spending in a tough adjustment of the public spending, workers answered this immediately. On 10th of February, the Civil Servants Federation (ADEDY, the State officials union with 375 thousand members, allied to PASOK) called the government workers to a general strike that paralyzed much of the public services, with a massive following of 85%. The workers of civil aviation and the air traffic controllers also joined the strike. Daily activities in big cities were paralyzed and there have been street protests against government plans. The next day stroke the taxi drivers.
Two weeks later, on 24th of February, the working class held its second general strike called by ADEDY, GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers, the majority union in private sector, with a million members and socialistic) and PAME (the fraction of the communist party KKE in the GSEE) with 80% follow up. The participation in the shipyards and refineries was 100%. Banks, schools, colleges and universities, public offices, post offices, electricity and railways services
stopped completely.Also ferries between the islands and domestic and international flights were stopped. The unions organized marches and demonstrations in the streets of the major cities (in Athens about 50 thousand demonstrators in two concentrations) with slogans like “That the rich pay the crisis ” and “The people are more important than the markets.” GSEE General Secretary, Gianis Panagopulos, defined the purpose of the strike as the cancellation of the austerity measures adopted by the Government.
On 5th of March, when the Greek parliament approved the government’s harsh austerity plan (higher taxes, public spending cuts, pensions freezing and lowering of the salaries of the State workers) and while Papandreou visited Germany for talks with Merkel, the workers walked out to a new strike that paralyzed the transport and the air traffic in the cities. Schools and administration offices were also closed. The railway employees, teachers and even the police joined the demonstrations in the public sector. Demonstrators burned European flags at the EU headquarters and several young men stoned the banks.
And the 11th of March, the unions of public and private sectors joined forces again to call a new general strike throughout the country to fight off the Government measures. With 90% participation the strike paralyzed the airports, colleges and universities, hospitals, transport services, public offices; bank workers, firefighters and journalists also joined the strike. Thousands of people attended the demonstration in the morning convened by the PAME with slogans like “War of the capitalists is the response of the workers”, “Let the plutocrats pay the crisis” and “Down with unpopular measures.” In the afternoon in a much more massive demonstration (more than 20 thousand), called by GSEE and ADEDY, there have been clashes between the organizers and the police who fired tear gas at young people who threw stones at the banks. The riots continued in front of the Parliament building, with several injuries and arrests.
There are many of workers and economically ruined middle class people who begin to confront directly to the EU as an imperialist tool against the Greek people. The rejection of the EU is progressive, although the Greek government and the rightwing opposition can use this as a nationalist language, criticizing the EU of not helping directly to Greece to get out of the crisis. They use these arguments to divert the anger of the people from the capitalist measures that they themselves are applying, and also to pressure the EU to make it more “generous” and less demanding on the Greek bourgeoisie. Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos said in an interview with the BBC, that “Germany has no right to criticize Athens, because she herself sank the Greek economy and killed hundreds of thousands during the Nazi occupation.” These speeches can strengthen the fascist and xenophobic currents and to divert anti-imperialist sentiments of the masses. The Left has the task to respond to this bourgeois demagoguery slogans with specific objectives and clear slogans against the crisis: No to the European Union, the Europe of capital; fight for a Europe of the workers and peoples!
Solidarity with the Greek workers
The Greek working class and youth are responding in an exemplary way with class methods, the crisis that is devastating their country and totally pro-capitalist measures of their Government and the EU. In this way Greece has become a European test scenario between the popular resistance against the offensive of the governments that want the workers to pay the crisis and imperialist determination to punish the masses to save the banks and multinational companies.
There is an extreme interest in isolating the response of the Greek working class from the rest of the European working class. The approach taken by the bourgeoisie is not different from that they apply against the struggles in each company: isolating each source of resistance so that they don’t generalize. They know that our unity is our strength. Employers, governments and European Commission are united on an anti-worker plan, but as workers we lack the mechanisms to present an international class front. In each state the government is trying to explain that that its situation is different from of the Greek, and therefore what happens in the Hellenic country has nothing to do with the reality of its working class. The European trade union and national union leaders also help the governments in the same direction. But the reality is the opposite: if the adjustment plans advance in Greece with more forces, they will fall upon other European workers. So as the International Liaison Committee (ILC), we give all our support to the struggle of the Greek workers and the youth in their just demands, and we call on the need of a class struggle unity in Europe:
– No to payment of the debt to the bankers and international speculators.
– Defense of wages, pensions and public services.
– Nationalization of the banks.
– Nationalization under workers’ control of all the privatized companies and all the key sectors of the Greek economy.
– For a of workers and popular government.
– Solidarity and coordination between all struggles in Europe.
Writer: International Liaison Committee (ILC), 18th of March, 2010