Sunday, February 12, 2012

Greece: You Say You Want A Revolution?

It's hard to make sense of the hubris and cruelty of European Union leaders towards Greece, unless their goal is to goad the Greek population into overthrowing their government. Why else would they demand from the Greeks ever greater levels of austerity, poverty and unemployment and then, when the government turtles and capitulates to their demands, tell them it isn't enough?

Just look at the most recent round of austerity - a 22% cut in the minimum wage, 150,000 public sector jobs to be cut out of 750,000, further attacks on Greek pensions, weakening labour rights and so on and so forth. They also demanded that the Greek government sign an agreement that no matter who is elected they will implement the austerity. So much for democracy and self-determination.

Of course, from the point of view of the Greek ruling class this is pain that they can accept - since it won't be them who suffers it but, rather, the working class. And, from the opposite end of the spectrum, if there is a "disorderly default" it will be the ruling class who suffers - the banks that won't have access to capital markets, the losses incurred by Greek bond holders, etc.

Of course, there's a certain irony in the militant prickishness of the German ruling class and their toadying, bigoted newspapers with their talk of lazy, overpaid Greeks. The existence of weaker economies inside of the EU keeps the Euro from rising. A lower Euro benefits the German export machine and has allowed the German economy to boom. If Germany were to return to the mark some estimate that it would immediately appreciate by 40%.  Germany thrives on Greece's misery. On the other hand, for the weaker economies, being in the same currency with an advanced economic powerhouse like Germany means that they are stuck with a higher valued Euro, which hobbles their ability to compete. So it is rich for the Germans to gripe about the Greeks. If it weren't for the poverty of the Greeks the German economy wouldn't be chugging along as it is.

Frankly, the Greeks would be better off defaulting and getting the hell out of the Euro, then devaluing their currency so that their goods can sell cheaply abroad(or more deliciously, to Germany herself). The alternative is clear - an endless cycle of austerity generated recession that leads to a contraction in tax income for the state, which leads to a deteriorating debt situation followed by demands for more austerity to receive another bailout. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. You don't have to be a Marxist to make this point, it has been argued cogently by Nouriel Roubini for months.

But the only way that any default will occur that can be worked to the advantage of Greek workers will be if it is one forced upon the Greek state by the Greek working class itself. And this isn't a pipe dream. In the last week there have been back-to-back general strikes - a 24 hour at the beginning of the week, followed by another 48 hour strike on Friday and Saturday. By all accounts both were solid. There is a deepening radicalization amongst Greek workers that has seen support for parties to the left of the Greek Labour Party PASOK growing rapidly so that their combined vote is now the highest for all parties. And the movement is deepening its roots amongst ordinary people, with workers beginning to create alternative sources of power and control where the state and employers have withdrawn.
“We have now been on strike since 22 December because our wages have been left unpaid for seven months,” says Moises [who works for Eleftherotypia, the second largest newspaper in Greece].
“But now we’re launching our own newspaper, The Workers in Eleftherotypia, on Wednesday. This is part of a new wave of radicalism in the workers movement in Greece.”
 And Costas Katarachias, a doctor and union general secretary at Agios Savvas cancer hospital in Athens, tells us about the move towards health workers seizing control of their workplaces.
 “At Kilkis hospital they have already started taking the hospital under workers’ control,” he says. “The procedure is under way, but there are steps to taking full control.”
Of course, the truth is not that the European ruling class wants a revolution in Greece. What they want is to punish and humiliate one of the most militant working classes in Europe as a lesson to every other working class movement. And they want to scare every government on the continent that tries to cut some kind of moderate path. They want absolute subordination to the dictates of the banks - who caused the crisis, after all - and to the market. And they are so contemptuous of ordinary people that they don't believe a revolution will be the result. Let's hope that they have a rude awakening because the alternative is a decade or more of misery for Greek workers. And that painful and destructive experiment won't end in Greece.

BBC News - Greece bailout: PM Lucas Papademos gives final warning:

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