Greece Must Not Stand Alone

Support for the new Greek government is vital and in Labour’s interests, argues MIKE DAVIS.

Syriza flag landscapeHope, 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 10 years ago to replace 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% of GDP in 2008 to 176% of GDP in 2015).

The €240 billion 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.

Thirdly, 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’s 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 more than 40 years of rule that has largely only benefitted the corrupt political elites, corporate and shipping oligarchs who enjoyed a tax free regime.

Greece Solidarity logoWith 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 the struggle 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.

—-

Chartist cover Jan:Feb15Mike Davis is editor of Chartist and press officer for the Greek Solidarity Campaign.

This article first appeared on the Chartist website.

The January/February 2015 edition of Chartist, pictured left, is available to download in pdf format here.

Click here to read Greece Solidarity’s model resolution.


6 Comments

  1. Ernest Jacques
    2 February 2015

    End to Austerity; Unbalanced Britain.
    We can (Podemos) but not without change.

    The rise of Syriza in Greece and of Podemos in Spain has been unexpected, spectacular and hugely encouraging to all who are fed up with growing inequality, workplace exploitation, social exclusion and the trashing of the welfare state – ie. those few (like me) who have never accepted the Tory, Liberal, and Labour mantra that there is no alternative to austerity and free markets; who reject entirely the Mandelson, Blair, Cameron and Osborne spin extolling the virtues of light-touch regulation, privatisation and trickle-down economics; and who are unimpressed by Ed Balls’s economic plan, which charitably might be described as austerity with a human face, but which is fundamentally the status quo, no change and therefore unappealing.

    As Mike Davis suggests, the demise of the governing Greek Pasok (Labour) party has ominous warnings for Labour. After all Labour’s plan is, in many respects, the mirror image of the Pasok party. A former natural party of government and austerity thrashed by Syriza into seventh place with less than 5% of the vote and a rump of 13 seats. A Labour party dumped by an ungrateful electorate who simply didn’t appreciate the wonders done on their behalf by a leadership deemed to be corrupt and in the pockets of plutocrats, big corporations and by those who gambled with other people’s money, i.e. venture capitalists, derivative traders, banks and financial institutions whose greed and criminality brought about the world-wide credit crises and all the misery that followed.

    Although this time around there is no real challenge to the Tory / Labour duopoly, tribal allegiances are nevertheless fragmenting – if the pollsters are to be believed, it seems the irrational Scots are about to do something similar north of the border where party members and traditional Labour voters are abandoning the party in their thousands, despite new (Blairite) leader Jim Murphy promising “things can only get better”. Wonder why?

  2. Ben Saltonstall
    3 February 2015

    I think the situation in the United Kingdom is quite different from Greece.

    In Scotland, there is greater support for active social democracy allied to an independence movement. However, in England, the majority of voters accept austerity as inevitable. Also, the levels of poverty and desperation are quite different from Greece. Most people struggle on and life isn’t that bad.

    Also important, the greater numbers of self-employed (now as numerous as public sector workers) make it more difficult for a party of the Left.

    Where Labour is going wrong is not articulating a hopeful alternative economics and in the centralised and undemocratic machine politics through which it carries out its business. I suspect it was the latter that alienated so many Scottish voters and Miliband’s failure to oppose Tory proposals to deprive Scottish MPs of voting rights in parliament.

    Having said that, articulating a hopeful alternative economics that will actually deliver the goods isn’t that easy, as there isn’t a workable alternative to the market economy. A few good and interesting ideas won’t do the trick of convincing people either, as the mess that the Green party is making of its citizen’s income policy demonstrates. Rather than promoting a new politics, they are helping to bury it.

    I really hope Syriza manage to improve things for people in Greece. References to Spain in 36-9 and Allende are instructive. The last thing the Left needs is another heroic defeat.

  3. Ernie Jacques
    5 February 2015

    I agree with most of what Ben Saltonstall has to say about the differences between the situation in Greece and the UK in terms of the levels of poverty, social exclusion and suffering.

    Also about the fragmentation of a now voiceless UK working class which includes millions of self-employed, most of whom are not your traditional upwardly mobile entrepreneurs in the process becoming SMEs and thriving businesses.

    But while the levels of destitution might not be as severe in the UK as in Greece, the inequality and levels of socially excluded people and working poor is not insignificant. The numbers of working poor is highly significant and growing by the day – a working class who are largely unrepresented and paid peanuts, and who are in debt and living on the margins, in sink estates, sub-standard housing, and who often go hungry and cold, because they struggle cover their mortgages, rent and who are forced to pay top dollar for their energy and other household essentials. Low paid workers who are ruthlessly and mercilessly exploited every which-way in our modern scam and casino economy.

    And because many don’t earn enough to pay national insurance and build up any kind of pension pot, they and their families face a mean and unattractive old age as the welfare state is dismantled bit by bit by a coalition government that doesn’t give a shit. And while Westminster Labour is good on warm words and political spin its policy agenda all too often ends up being self-serving and little different to that of the nasty party.

    So if you are destitute and unable to change your circumstances in any meaningful way, and haven’t a voice and champion in parliament and the wider society, it doesn’t really matter where you live in the UK or Europe, your situation is desperate. And if Labour will not or cannot focus on bringing about significant change and challenging perceptions on fairness, balance and inclusion, who will?

    Scotland
    Ben is correct also about the situation in Scotland where support for social democracy has historically been stronger than south of the border, and where dissatisfaction with the Labour party (for all sorts of reasons) is more pronounced, and where there is the powerful mix of Scottish nationalism. But it is hardly insignificant that on bread and butter issues and on weapons-of-mass-destruction, the SNP is much more social democratic, inclusive and left-wing than One Nation Labour party.

    Hoovering-Up Economics
    Again, I think Ben is right to say there is hardly a workable alternative to the market economy. But as all the supporters and apologists for neoliberalism know full well, there simply isn’t a market in key areas such as housing, rents, wages, finance, and many other areas where the system is rigged in favour of the few and against the plebs. And we know, don’t we, that the idea that the super-rich share their wealth to the benefit of the nation and those less fortunate, and that trickle-down economics works, is pure hogwash.

    This sort of thinking should be renamed Hoovering-up economics because it is Mr and Mrs average and the working poor and deprived neighbourhood communities who create the wealth and end up subsidising the rich and who pay for all sorts of vanity projects dreamed up by powerful people and their political allies.

    Kafkaesque Horror Story
    We now have a situation where in London and in other big cities across the UK, the land grab by investors and foreigners is unprecedented and unimpeded with vast tracts of public land being flogged off to the highest bidder by government and by local councils. With over 70% of new builds in London being sold to foreigners, oligarchs, Chinese and far eastern property developers, and by thieves and money launderers across the globe.

    Shelter estimates it would now take two average wage earners in London 26 years to save for a deposit on a London home. With the proportion of income needed to cover rent or mortgage increasing exponentially and becoming ever more problematic insofar as it is money that is hovered out of the hands of the needed and into the bank accounts of the wealthy, the Non Doms and the tax avoiders.

    A Kafkaesque horror story that happens every day but because it doesn’t involve celebrities or important, powerful and influential people, it usually goes unreported by the tabloid press and mainstream media.

    Rigged Market
    A rigged housing market then that is pricing hundreds of thousands of poor and middle income earners out of their homes and the communities they grew up in and love and where their friends and family live. An investment in gentrification, gated communities, second homes and investment portfolios which linked to the dearth of social houses means that in cities, towns and villages across the UK social cleaning is occurring on a shocking scale. An example of social exclusion often facilitated by the very councils (of all political persuasions) who’s raison d’être should be the residents they are elected to represent.

    Here in the lovely North Yorkshire and the city of York, I feel very fortunate to live in such a beautiful city and to own my own home and have a living wage pension. But for most citizens of working age, where wages are low, mostly part-time, opportunities few and where zero hour contracts proliferate the chances of the young getting on the housing ladder or accessing social housing is increasing difficult. And like many other desirable areas when houses are sold they are now increasing snapped up by the buy-to-let investors who don’t give a fig about the predicament of local people and the tenants who live in their homes or the fact that their rental income is subsidised by the taxpayer.

    Citizen champion (not)
    But this is not something that seems to be of concern to local (Blairite) Labour MP and recently benighted Sir Hugh Nigel Edward Bayley, honoured for his services to NATO. A Labour politician who is remarkable silent about the predicament of York’s working poor and those reliant on charity and food-banks. It would be nice to report that in York we have a Labour champion of the homeless and the working poor and a politician not afraid to support trade unionist fighting workplace exploitation and bullying, job loss and the dole and a determined campaigner on behalf of York citizens unable to afford to live in their city of birth. But I can’t. No change there then.

    Quantitative Easing
    The irony is that much of the inward investment used to rigged the housing market, trillions of pounds, has been shovelled into the bank accounts of the super-rich, courtesy of (no-more-boom-and-bust) Gordon Brown and subsequent Chancellors, Alistair Darling, George Osborne via Quantitative Easing. Money ungratefully received by the banks, venture capitalists, commodity and currency gamblers whose greed, immorality and criminality knows no bounds and who brought about the credit crisis and the excuse needed to bash the poor, privatise just about everything and to trash our welfare state.

    Brown, Balls, Murdoch and NHS Privatisation
    For those who might be tempted to put their faith in the economic plan of Ed Balls, if only on the basis that any Labour government is better than the return of the nasty party, you might want to read the book ‘Hack Attack’ by Nick Davies (Guardian reporter) who blew the lid on the scandal hacking and hideous behaviour by senior managers at News International. In addition to the bullying behaviour and criminal behaviour by the editors and senior management team at the News of the World and the Sun newspapers he details Murdoch’s toxic influence on policy development within the Blair government. In this regard, pages 214 * 216 outline how in November 2001 the Sun’s political editor (Trevor Kavanagh) negotiated with Gordon Brown and Ed Balls the price for the tabloids continued support was “for the NHS to start buying in services from private medical businesses”. Brown and Balls conceded and the rest is history vis-à-vis the privatising our NHS.

    So there you have it, Labour leaders who claim to be motivated by Labour values made policy on the hoof for narrow political advantage and the short-term blessing of the Murdoch press. Brilliant!

    Conservative Culture
    Sadly Ben is also right also when he states that a majority of voters accept austerity as inevitable. But living in a conservative culture without an alternative narrative and a busted electoral and parliamentary system it’s unsurprising that reactionary ideas about strivers, skivers, affordability and austerity proliferate. That people tend to accept the argument that it’s market conditions that determines that those at the top of big corporations and those running public services, local government, mutuals and charities should be rewarded handsomely while those at the bottom with limited skills must work for peanuts and be screwed, bullied and exploited every-which-way.

    In the past the job of challenging free market economics and unfairness and of promoting social democracy and the benefits of cooperation, collective support programmes and social inclusion was undertaken, in different ways, by the trade unions, colleges of further education, the Labour Party, communists, ILP, Workers Education Association, faith groups, etc. But because – post-Thatcher – economic and social conditions associated with these agencies have changed with the triumph of neoliberalism and globalisation it doesn’t mean that inequality, greed, criminality and the denial of basic human rights is acceptable, sustainable and unavoidable.

    And it doesn’t help either that for far too many Labour MPs and shadow cabinet members the election strategy boils down to warm words and negativity (If you don’t want the Tories, vote Labour) on the basis that Osborne’s austerity agenda is more severe than Labour’s and in the hope that the electorate will forget about their previous record and failed promises in the hope that they can sneak back into office on the basis of Buggins’ turn.

    Syriza, EU & Labour
    And while it is accepted that Rome was not built is a day, is it so idealistic to expect Labour to return to its roots and support working people and trade unionists who challenge work place exploitation and the armies of bullies that proliferate throughout the world of work or when they try (usually unsuccessfully like the miners in 1984) to defend their jobs and their standard of living?

    Is it wrong to ask Ed Miliband and his wannabe cabinet ministers to promote, without equivocation, fairness and rights in key areas such as education, training, employment, a living wage, decent housing, a fully funded NHS, a generous and a compassionate welfare state (after all most of us are just a heartbeat or a blood clot away from disaster) with community care for the most vulnerable?

    If not is it not legitimate to ask “what is the point of the Labour Party” and what if anything is the alternative? And to posit the question that today’s career focused and machine driven Labour Party might be incapable of change and of addressing austerity and unbalance and is part of the problem and the answer to unfairness and social inclusion?

    Ben finished by wishing the Greek people and the Syiza government well as it attempts to take on the EU’s austerity heavy weights. But while a few Labour MPs signed a supportive EDM and wished the Greek people well in their Sisyphus endeavours, the vast majority had nothing to say and apparently are happy with the status quo and for the plutocrats and big money corporations and interests to trump democracy.

  4. Harry Barnes
    6 February 2015

    Amongst the Parliamentary Groups in the European Union is the Party of European Socialists (PSE). Labour is a member and so is PASOK from Greece. The PASOK situation, however, arises from the past as they have traditionally held seats in the European Parliament. However, the following report on the PSE web-site reflects a hopeful stance from a section of the PSE following the Greek electoral success of Syriza –
    http://pes.cor.europa.eu/NEWS/Pages/150126_Greekelections.aspx

    The approach of the new Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has indicated that he is not interested in just going down to a heroic defeat. A document called “A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Eurozone Crisis” was issued by Varoufakis along with Stuart Holland and James K Galbraith in November 2010. It is worth an examination as an illustration of the approach of Varoufakis and the need to tackle problems that don’t just affect Greece, but operate right across the European Union. See –
    http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/euro-crisis/modest-proposal/

    There is nothing in Labour’s existing collection of policies which runs counter to its involvement through the PSE in helping to improve the democratic, social and economic deficits across (and within) the European Union. Whilst Labour’s policies are far from ideal, they have three sets of policy commitments as follows, which could at least fit in with the approach taken by Varoufakis and his various associates. See –
    http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/labours-electoral-programme-part-1.html
    http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/labours-electoral-programme-part-2.html
    http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/labours-electoral-programme-part-3.html

    I am not rubber stamping everything Syriza, Labour and the PSE are currently committed to, but there is scope for them to work together to nudge matters in an improving direction. After joining the Labour Party in 1957, I have long since learnt not to expect perfection.

  5. Ben Saltonstall
    8 February 2015

    I’d like to thank Ernie for his comprehensive reply to my post. I doubt if my offhand ramblings deserved so full a response.

    I can’t possibly react to every point he makes with such eloquence. There are one or two things I’d like to pick up on though.

    I entirely agree that the numbers of socially excluded and poor, including the swelling numbers of the working poor, are not insignificant. I note that we are on the same page about the fragmentation of the working class. I share Ernie’s concern, indeed his disgust, at the social cleansing of the working class. Whilst there are a lot of left wingers happy to talk about co-operatives, and grow misty eyed about Syriza, few take up the theme of social cleansing, even though it often sits in their own backyard. And Ernie is spot on when he says that it’s not just the poor working class who are feeling the effects of a rigged housing market, middle income earners are as well.

    Whatever febrile ‘recovery’ may be emanating from the South-East’s over-heated housing market, it is, as Ernie rightly said, based on an influx of foreign capital, some of it from questionable sources. My brother is a security guard living in Shepherd’s bush, his Italian wife is a self-employed cleaner, Their house is now worth nearly a million. They say they are surrounded by rich Greeks who have taken their money out of their austerity-stricken homeland and bought a pad in London, which is guaranteed to spiral in value.

    So I believe Ernie is right to condemn the housing market and to say that other markets in the economy are rigged against poor and middle income earners in favour of the rich.

    The obvious first step for the Left is to try to make those markets fair and in some cases this will require direct state intervention. Even some Labour candidates with Blairite credentials are now talking about substantial social house building programmes and trying to provide more support for self-employed people (not necessarily the rare entrepreneurial superstars, but the ones who plug away everyday for modest reward): for instance, Peter Kyle, Labour candidate in Hove http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/01/26/we-should-not-try-to-to-out-green-the-greens/ I don’t like or support everything he says, but he’s also got a point about buses, which should be regulated in ‘the provinces’ as they are in London.

    The general message from Ed Miliband has been in tune with this theme of tackling rigged markets and tax avoidance. He has recently made announcements about co-ops and workers control that chime in with the hopes of democratic socialists. Yet he is surrounded by a crew of Blairites/Brownites who either stab him in the back or who are clueless when called upon to offer him support: https://www.independentlabour.org.uk/main/2015/02/07/miliband-promises-new-rights-to-co-op-ownership/

    But the corrupt politics of the Labour Party is hardly new (and I mean corrupt in the sense of diseased, rather than in relation to financial misfeasance, though there has been some of that recently too). Former ILP-ers Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden cut the benefits of the unemployed in 1931 to appease the markets. The ILP disaffiliated from the Labour Party. The next phrase commonly used is ‘and the rest is history’ but what happened is that the ILP largely became history, though it kept going just about and still has relevant things to say that few others do.

    The point is that we can’t abandon Labour, particularly now that a decent person is leader, trying to address the issues we care about most. If we do, and he loses the next general election, the knives will be out for him. And Miliband Labour won’t be replaced by a British Syriza, it’ll be back to Blair, probably in the form of Chuka Umunna or Yvette Cooper.

    Plus we get a Tory government and the experience of the last five years is that the response to that In England is unlikely to be a move to the Left.

  6. Harry Barnes
    16 February 2015

    German Trade Unionists are running a campaign to support the efforts of Syriza to tackle the social and economic crisis which Greece finds itself in. This campaign is being pressed by “Labour Start” in this country. To support the campaign use the link that is provided below. It is mainly translated into English, but the odd bit of German might have to be tackled. http://wp.europa-neu-begruenden.de/griechenland-chance-fuer-europa/greece-after-the-election-not-a-threat-but-an-opportunity-for-europe/

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