After negotiations with the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank, the Greek government got parliamentary backing for a further array of austerity measures. Following last year’s bailout and a previous a wave of cuts in jobs, wages and pensions, the new 28 billion Euro package of cuts includes a further 15% cut in wages and 150,000 jobs for public sector workers, cuts in benefits, and in government services. Despite the addition of taxes for lower paid workers who’d previously been excluded, and some other new taxes including a ‘solidarity levy’, there is still anxiety throughout the bourgeoisies of Europe that Greek state capitalism could default on its loans and that the country might have to leave the Euro.
The responses to the blows from the economic crisis and the attacks by the state have varied. For example, Greece used to be noted for its low suicide rate, but over the last couple of years suicides have gone up 40% as people have failed to cope with debt and unemployment. On the other hand, the initial impulses of those who occupied squares across Greece and held assemblies to discuss what could be done were a healthy response to the situation. However, after the early days of the occupations the assemblies have become more formalised, with more invited speakers and much less discussion. Yes, all politicians are routinely denounced as ‘thieves’, but the suspicion of politics has not prevented meetings being increasingly influenced by leftist and liberal demagogues.
Even more significantly, the unions (despite their links and support for the governing PASOK party) have been re-establishing their influence. Last year, there were seven one-day general strikes; this year there have already been five, including one 48-hour strike. With the addition of the minority who bring along flares and other weaponry there have been some spectacular confrontations, but these have been played out as so many theatrical rituals in which the police are prepared to play their part. At the time of key parliamentary votes the police used greater force than usual along with tear gas, while some anarchists attacked the finance ministry and a branch of a major bank. Events outside parliament choreographed to go with the melodrama inside.
The role of the unions is crucial for Greek capitalism. It relies on them to recuperate, divide and divert struggles. There is a great deal of anger in the ranks of Greek workers, but the unions have so far ensured that this anger is not being transformed into anything effective. For example, included in the package of measures are plans for the privatisation of 50 billion Euros worth of assets. This programme is fiercely contested by unions and their leftist supporters. The campaign against privatisation is a classic diversion. Workers are already suffering from the attacks undertaken by public sector institutions, but the left/unions try to persuade workers to defend the state and government employers.
The economic crisis that has driven the ruling class in Greece to attack so brutally the working and living standards of the working class is the same crisis that led to the need to bailout Ireland and Portugal and with it the imposition of their austerity regimes. It’s not all a plot by the EU/IMF/ECB; it’s a desperate response to a crisis that has an international reality. The working class is also international. The assemblies that occupied squares in Greece were partly inspired by events in Spain. The bourgeoisie is worried about a domino effect if the economy of one country in the Euro should collapse, but they’re even more worried that they will not be able to contain any future struggles within the frontiers of a single country.