Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Greek Austerity Vote Is Just The Beginning

There was a certain amount of hand-wringing by the business press and politicians internationally that the PASOK government of Greece might not be able to pass the second austerity package in a year. However, it seemed unlikely that more than a handful would revolt against the party when it came down to it. The party that once resisted the Greek military junta had already sold their souls to austerity and neo-liberalism some time ago. As it turned out, just one PASOK MP voted against his party and, in reward, was immediately expelled.

Government agreement to drive down living standards and sell the store for a pack of magic beans - and magic beans would be more effective at reviving the Greek economy than growth destroying austerity and privatizations - is barely the beginning. With around 80 percent of the Greek population opposed to the second austerity package and there having been a year of significant mobilizations, strikes, general strikes and riots, the working class is more radicalized and angry than ever. Indeed, as the votes took place inside the austere parliament, outside tens of thousands of people were battling with cops who attacked them indiscriminately. This is what it looks like to save Europe - tear gas, burning vehicles and hand-to-hand (or baton-to-stave) combat.

Greece is now divided into two clearly defined camps: the minority who favour and want to impose austerity - and who thus represent only the wealthiest Greeks, the banks, the international lending agencies, speculators, corporations, etc. And the people. It is the people vs the machine. The battle would be a quick and decisive one based upon democratic choice or sheer numbers, except that the Greek parliament is not in the service of democracy. And now that the facade of democracy has been lifted, the real source of legitimacy for the Greek state - and by extension the European Union - is made clear - it is armed bodies of men with their sticks and guns and tear gas and shields.

That lesson will not have been missed by the Greek people. The only thing in question is whether there is sufficient confidence and organization to move beyond the symbolic actions of 24 and 48-hour general strikes to action that is powerful enough to counter the threats of international capital and the ratings agencies. The rulers of Greece and Europe must be made afraid - afraid that if they try to impose austerity on Greeks their reward will be the same that Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia received: revolution. Things are moving fast in Greece and, in the coming days, the balance of forces in this battle will become clearer. An interview earlier this week with a Greek socialist gives a flavour of where the struggle may go.

Panos [Garganas] said, “There is now a movement in the unions to extend the strikes beyond Wednesday.
“The power workers are determined to continue until the government backs down. That message is spreading.
“Hellenic post bank workers, who face privatisation, are set to hold a general assembly on Thursday to prolong the strike, as do water workers in Salonica, Greece’s second city."
The irony is that PASOK has more power to negotiate terms than it seems to realize. The global banking sector is on the edge of their seats that a Greek default will lead to a "Lehman moment" - a knock-on effect that will tear through first the European banking system and then world credit markets like a tsunami. When push came to shove, neither the IMF nor the European Central Bank was likely to permit such a massive potential meltdown. Even the Greek Tories, New Democracy, seemed to realize this and have called for a re-negotiation of the terms of this tranche of aid. Why PASOK has completely rolled over and thus likely ensured their defeat for a generation, while creating a dangerous level of social conflict, is unclear. What is clear is that, to paraphrase Orwell, the future lies with the proles.


Greece passes key austerity plan - The Globe and Mail
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