Mike Davis on why support for the new Greek government is vital and in Labour’s interests
Hope, dignity, bread could summarise the slogans of the newly elected Syriza party in Greece. It has been an historic victory, the first radical left party to be democratically elected in Europe since the Second World war. Expectations of the people will be high for the new government. So too will be opposition from banks , corporate capital and neoliberal politicians. Elected on a landslide vote, gaining 149 seats—two short of an absolute majority and 36% of the poll Syriza, led by the 40 year old Alexis Tsipras, has grown from small beginnings ten years ago to replacing the discredited socialist party Pasok as the hope and champion of the Greek people for an end to five years of crippling austerity.
Spain 1936 & Chile 1970
Parallels with the newly elected Spanish popular front republican government of 1936 or the Chilean government of Salvadore Allende in 1970 are not fanciful. The commitments of these two earlier governments to radically redistribute wealth and power, to nationalise the banks and secure a new deal for workers and peasants are not dissimilar to the radical commitments of Syriza to end the debt burden and poverty of a beleaguered people resulting from the harsh conditions of the bailout, to build a ‘bottom-up’ social transformation, and to end corruption and tax avoidance of the corporate and political elites.
The Spanish republic was rapidly immersed in conflict as anti-democratic forces allied with the monarchy and landed gentry took the form of a military insurrection led by General Franco. After a three year civil war the Republic ended in defeat. Salvadore Allende’s radical ‘Marxist’ government was upended in a bloody coup supported by the US CIA. Both reactions led to the deaths and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of workers, socialists, communists and democrats.
There are two striking differences with republican Spain and Greece in 2015. There is no Hitler or Mussolini to aid Greece’s home grown fascists in Golden Dawn and the deep state military which has been licking its wounds since the overthrow of the Colonel’s junta in 1974. Secondly, globalisation. This means a Syriza-led Greece faces a more complex corporate financial opposition in the shape of the neoliberal dominated IMF, European Central Bank and EU. These powerful forces that have already wreaked huge damage on the Greek economy through its compliant governments are now positioning to overturn the democratic will of the Greek people. The forces ranged against the Greek government today are the unaccountable vested interests of global capital, currently in the shape of the Troika. Syriza minister are refusing to negotiate with unelected officials and want only to engage with elected European governments.
Syriza have accommodated. No longer debt cancellation but debt relief is the policy aim. Nationalisation of the banks remains party policy but was not prominent in the recent Thessaloniki programme. The case for ending austerity is compelling. Public services and welfare cuts, privatisation and 30% reduction in wages and pensions has not rebooted the Greek economy. The debt as a proportion of GDP has almost doubled in six years (108 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 176 per cent of GDP in 2015). The E240 billion euro bailout has simply gone to banks and back in interest payments while unemployment has grown to over one in four adults and two out of every three young people. This is no basis for economic recovery let alone paying off a debt or increasing state tax revenues. Austerity only works for the rich and even enlightened capitalists see the inhumanity of such a programme.
Secondly, the people have had enough. This is not just the working class who have seen wages eroded and collective bargaining rights removed but also Greece’s sizeable middle class and small business people many of whom turned to Syriza in the election.
Third, a movement against austerity is gathering force across Europe. Podemos (We Can) the recently formed radical party in Spain came from nowhere to win seats in the European parliament in May. There are similar radical movements in Italy, while in Germany Die Linke and the Green party are growing forces to be reckoned with. Within the traditional social democratic and Labour Parties that have sustained links to the trades unions as in Britain, France and Scandinavia an anti-austerity pro growth sentiment is gathering pace. The Greek result could help swell that opinion. Labour leaders will ignore it at their peril as we approach the May general election.
Labour should see writing on wall
Labour leader Ed Miliband should see the writing on the wall. People are sick of austerity policies. Huge cuts in living standards, privatisation and light touch tax and regulation of corporate capital were never going to restart a sustainable economy working for the many not the few. Unfortunately unless Labour move away from the current austerity-lite agenda its own fate could soon resemble that of other discredited European social democratic parties.
The stakes are high. The populist right also talks anti austerity. In fact Syriza has agreed coalition terms with a right-wing party (Independent Greeks) to secure its parliamentary majority. Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale in France welcomed the Syriza victory., (as did Socialist President Hollande). Britain’s home-grown right-wing populists in the form of UKIP also talk anti-austerity. So the socialist and democratic left must be quick and determined in getting the message of Greece. The left has the initiative with Syriza’s victory. It must capitalise on it. An Early Day motion in the British House of Commons (EDM 729) welcoming the Syriza victory and its economic and social plans should be endorsed by the whole parliamentary Labour party.
The arguments for a debt amnesty and renegotiation have precedents. Germany, the main bulwark for fiscal discipline itself enjoyed a debt pardon in 1953 when a London conference of Western world leaders agreed to write off a crippling debt burden that opened the doors to the German ‘economic miracle’. Having undergone Italian fascist and Nazi occupation Greece emerged from the Second World War into a civil war. By the end its economy was shattered. No reparations have been paid by Germany to Greece. War losses at the hands of the Nazis included: demolition of a quarter of all buildings; annihilation of 2,000 villages; destruction of 66% of motor transport, 75% of the merchant fleet, 90% of railway rolling stock and all main road bridges; and deportation, slaughter or starvation of around 700,000 people, including the murder of 60,000 Jews.
Further the Greek people have endured six years of military dictatorship (1967-74) followed by over 40 years of rule that has largely only benefitted the corrupt political elites, corporate and shipping oligarchs who enjoyed a tax free regime.
With a 50% debt cancellation and restructuring of the remainder the government will be able to restart the economy on a sustainable growth course, with new jobs and a clean progressive tax system.
In Britain the Greece Solidarity Campaign has coordinated activity in support of the anti-austerity movement in Greece and sought to raise awareness. WE recognise thestruggle of the Greek people is our fight. It has established Medical Aid for Greece, organised fact finding delegations to Athens with Labour MPs and MEPs, trade union leaders and local activists, organised local publicity initiatives, the latest being at the British Museum to lobby Angela Merkel on her recent visit.
Australian trade unionists have campaigned to ‘Let Greece Breathe’. TUC leader Frances O’Grady has put out a powerful call for Solidarity with Syriza. Letters to the press and an Early Day Motion signed by a cross –party group of MPs have called for active support. For Labour and trade union activists there are basic forms of solidarity: Pass a resolution through your union, political party, faith or community group (see below). Lobby your MP or MEP to support debt relief and the democratic mandate of the Greek government in Europe and Westminster. The Campaign aims to extend its activities into establishing a cross-party parliamentary support group. GSC is not a charity and recognises that the best way to support the Greek people is to end austerity policies in our own countries. That would be the best gift we could exchange with our Greek compatriots.
Mike Davis is CHARTIST‘s Editor and Press Office for the Greek Solidarity Campaign.
Greece solidarity model resolution
We welcome the formation of the new Syriza government in Greece that places people at the heart of its programme of change.
We note the crippling bail-out package imposed through the EU/IMF Memorandum has created enormous hardship. As well as damaging society these policies have failed to reboot the Greek economy. The public debt in relation to GDP is now far greater than it was before the programme started in 2010.
Greek people have chosen a new path. They have chosen a government committed to ending the austerity programme. They have voted for immediate debt repudiation and renegotiation. They have voted for the humanitarian crisis to be addressed as the top priority. The government are taking immediate steps to support those suffering the most under the austerity measures and to restore basic rights.
The Greek election results have implications for the UK and the whole of Europe. Austerity policies have been a choice by those in power, and they have failed. Greece reminds us that different economics and politics are possible.
Undoubtedly there will be pressure on the new Syriza Government from the EU, the banks and their friends not to deliver their promises
Solidarity with Greece at this time is an imperative for Greeks and for all European working people.
We applaud the courage of the people of Greece in choosing hope and a new direction in policy that can start to rebuild a sustainable Greek economy and faith in politics.
We resolve to
Defend the right for Greece to end austerity
Support the action on debt being called for by the new government of Greece
Call on our political representatives to exercise their vote within official sector finance agencies, within the European Parliament and pursue other diplomatic activities that will support debt reform
Sign the open letter of support to the Greek anti-austerity movement (GSC website)
Call on prospective parliamentary candidates standing in the coming Westminster elections to support the Greek’s anti-austerity policy
Affiliate to the Greek Solidarity Campaign (delete if already affiliated)
Contribute £X to the Medical Aid for Greece appeal. Every penny raised is sent to support the Solidarity Health Clinics (delete if already contributing)