Mass poverty in Greece, it’s what awaits us all
As February came to an end the Greek parliament rushed through a further package of wage and pension cuts as part of yet another round of measures required to secure a second international tranche of bailout loans. The working class in Greece is being subjected to another vicious round of assaults on its living standards. But it is not alone. On the day this article was written (18/2/12) there were demonstrations in dozens of locations across Europe, and as far away as New York. With slogans such as “We are all Greeks now”, “In solidarity with the Greek people, One world, One revolution” and others, the demos expressed a basic solidarity, and an elemental acknowledgement that there are no national struggles in the epoch of a global capitalist crisis.
Facing the umpteenth austerity plan imposed on the Greek population, anger again erupted on the streets. Between 80,000 and 200,000 people gathered outside parliament in Syntagma Square, during the voting for the latest measures on the night of February 12 to 13, and clashed with riot police. The basic balance sheet of what the media called "night of the urban guerrilla" included 48 buildings that were set on fire and 150 shops that were looted. There were also a hundred injured and 130 arrests. The images of these scenes of violence and of Athens in flames, and later the smoking ruins filmed in the early morning, were used by the media, with constant references to the ravages of war, to impress and frighten the rest of the world. But, according to numerous witnesses on the web, nearly 300,000 people could not reach the Greek parliament, being caught by the police in the adjacent streets or at the exits to the underground. And it was the police who threw tear gas to disperse the crowd into small groups throughout the city centre. The media talked about young thugs but you could see many older women and men participating in or encouraging violence. Whether the fires and looting were the work of provocateurs or the product of desperate acts, the rage of the people was undeniable as demonstrated by the images of those throwing stones or Molotov cocktails at the forces of repression.
Unprecedented austerity measures in a situation of impasse for the bourgeoisie
The final set of measures imposed by the "troika" (International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank) is particularly intolerable. All the protesters were calling out the same thing: we can no longer feed our families or care for our children; we no longer want to continue being suffocated like this. Judge for yourself:
- Reduction in the minimum wage by 22% (reduced from 750 to 480 euros) and a 32% cut for those under 25, with knock on effects for those whose income is determined in relation to the minimum wage – for most workers this means wages have been cut in half;
- The cutting of 150,000 civil servants, over the next two years with an immediate cut to 60% of their current salary;
- Reduction in pensions;
- Unemployment benefit limited to just one year;
- The abolition of automatic wage increases, including those based on seniority;
- Reducing the social security budget, depriving a large segment of the population of any reimbursement of care costs;
- The limitation to three years for collective agreements on wage agreements.
And this list is not exhaustive. The official unemployment rate in November 2011 was 20.9% (up 48.7% year on year). The unemployment rate for youth between 18 and 25 is around 50%.
In two years, the number of homeless has increased by 25%. Hunger has become a daily concern for many, as in the days of the occupation during World War II.
The testimony of a doctor from an NGO was reported in the French daily Libération (30/1/12): "I started to worry when I had one consultation, then two, then ten children who came for treatment on an empty stomach, without having had any meal the day before.”
The number of suicides has doubled in two years, particularly among young people. Every second person suffers from depression as the level of household debt explodes.
The almost unanimous rejection of the latest austerity plan was such that at the time of the vote a hundred deputies abstained or opposed it, including some forty belonging to the two major parties of the right and left, dissociating themselves from the discipline of the party vote. The situation is increasingly chaotic as the two traditional major parties are completely discredited, with opinion polls indicating massive desertion by those who previously supported them. In this climate, the bourgeoisie will have the greatest difficulty in organising the forthcoming parliamentary elections announced for April.
And Greece is one link in this chain of brutal austerity that already surrounds many European countries. After Greece, the "troika" has moved to Portugal to send the same notice. Ireland will be in the spotlight after that. Then comes the turn of Spain and Italy. Even the new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, put in power to administer the same bitter medicine, is concerned about what the future holds for his country, questioning the ”harshness with which Greece is treated.” France, whose economy falters more and more, will be soon on the list. In Germany itself, despite all the praise for its health and economic strength, we see an increasing proportion of its population, especially students, sinking into poverty. Europe is not and will not be the only affected area and no country in the world will be spared. There is no solution to a global crisis that openly reveals the total bankruptcy of the capitalist system.
How to fight against the attacks?
A desperate teacher said: "Before the crisis, I had about 1,200 euros a month, now it’s more like 760. For each day on strike, that’s another 80 euros and there are retroactive measures: this month I took home 280 euros. It is not worth working, better to go and smash everything so they understand we're not going to let it go on. "
This frustration and anger is further strengthened by the proven sterility and impotence of the sequence of days of general strikes against austerity of 24 or 48 hours over the last 2 years that have been called by the two main unions, ADEDY (public sector) and GSEE (private sector - related to PASOK) which share the work with the PAME (arm of the Greek Stalinists) to divide and undermine workers’ struggles
In this situation, social unrest in Greece leads towards solidarity and attempts to organise. Meetings have been held in neighbourhoods, in cities and villages. Food kitchens and distribution has been undertaken. The occupation of the University of Novicki has served as a forum for discussion. There were occupations of ministries (Labour, Economy, Health), regional councils (in the Ionian Islands and in Thessaly), the Megalopolis power plant, the town hall in Holargos. Producers have distributed milk and potatoes. Workers have occupied the newspaper Eleftherotypia that employs 800 people. While on strike they have published their own newspaper.
But the most significant reaction which shows the determination of the movement in Greece also illustrates all its weaknesses and illusions. It took place at the hospital in Kilkis in Central Macedonia in northern Greece. Hospital staff in a general meeting decided to go on strike and occupy the hospital to demand their unpaid wages while taking the initiative to continue to operate emergency services and provide free care for the poor. These workers have launched an appeal to other workers, declaring that “the only legitimate authority to make administrative decisions will be the General Assembly of the workers.” We are republishing this call which shows a clear desire not to remain isolated, not only by appealing to other hospitals but to all workers in all sectors to join in the fight. However, this call also reflects many democratic illusions, in seeking to rely on a "citizens’ reaction" and an amorphous notion of "workers’ unions", or of the “collaboration of all unions and progressive political organisations and the media with goodwill.” It is also heavily imbued with patriotism and nationalism: "We are determined to continue until the traitors who have sold our country have gone”. This is real poison for the future of the struggle.
This is the main factor in the decay of the “popular” movement in Greece. It is stuck in the trap of nationalism and national divisions that politicians and unions use every means to promote. All parties and unions increasingly inveigh against "violated national pride" Prime exponents of this populist demagogy are the Greek Stalinists (KKE), which plays the same role as nationalists of left and right everywhere, and continues to spread its chauvinistic propaganda, accusing the government of selling off the country, of being a traitor to the defence of the nation etc. They put forward the idea that the root of the situation is not the capitalist system itself, but is the fault of Europe, of Germany or the United States.
This poison puts the class struggle on the terrain of rotten national divisions which are the product of specifically capitalist competition. It’s not only a dead end but it a major obstacle to the necessary development of proletarian internationalism. We have no national interest to defend. Our struggle must grow and unite beyond national frontiers. It is vital that the proletarians of other countries enter into struggle and show that the response of the exploited around the world faced with the attacks of capitalism is not and cannot be on a national terrain.
 However the statement by the occupation of the Athens Law School, which we are also publishing on our site, directly attacks all nationalist and state capitalist ‘solutions’ to the debacle of debt in Greek, which it correctly identifies as an expression of capitalism’s global crisis. Such positions no doubt reflect the views of a minority in the present social movement, but it seems to be a growing minority.