Friday, December 30, 2011

Austerity: the Greek road to hell

A beggar in Syntagma square, Athens, 27.12.2011
As the Euro crisis unfolds, and the European social model remains under attack by the mindless political armies of orthodox neoliberalism, spread across the continent in positions of power, and the bankers they represent, all is hardly well in Greece. The Greeks, having served as lab-rats for extreme-austerity, have come to realize one thing: Austerity is not a fiscal programme. It is a political project: a project of societal and financial sabotage, aiming at a radical upwards redistribution of wealth in an already very unequal country - indeed a whole continent. This is how the austeritarian disaster zone looks like from the ground:

  • Back to the Caves: "Dozens of homeless people in Athens will spend the Christmas holidays in the sheltering caves of Philopappou Hill, away from the rain and the cold weather.
    According to two reports conducted by the Ministry of Health and the Municipality of Athens and published by Real News, there are many new age homeless, who once were businessmen and traders, and are now penniless, lying on the streets.
    The shocking truth is that among those people there are families as well."
  • Homeless in Athens
    Meet the new homeless: With an average age of 47, 11% of Greece’s homeless have a university degree (!) and 23.5% hold a high school diploma, while only 9.3% are illiterate. The new Greek homeless class members have laptops and iPhones, remnants of their “old” lives. “They come to us in suits with their laptops in hand. These citizens a couple of months ago had ordinary lives. They had a job, a home and car,” says Nikitas Kanakis, the head of Doctors Without Borders in Athens. Counselors from the Department of Homeless Services describe a similar situation. “We even have homeless from suburbs like Kifisia and Voula [upper class suburbs of Athens]! They come  here with their laptops and expensive smart phones they once used for their work, shocked and depressed”.
  • Hunger: Athens Mayor George Kaminis told the daily that the city's homeless had increased by around 20 per cent while queues at soup kitchens organised by municipal and church organisations were up 15 per cent."Care workers no longer meet typical homeless people, they meet a person who likely had a perfectly organised life weeks previously," said Kaminis, who has asked for additional state funding for city welfare services."We have noticed a dramatic increase in our mess halls over the recent period," added Chrysostomos Symeonidis, head of the Athens archdiocese poverty fund. "We distribute over 10,000 meals on a daily basis and 250,000 meals are given out nationwide on a weekly basis," Symeonidis said... [oh and Starvation Recipes are all the rage]
  • ...hunger in the schools:  “Our pupils faint due to starvation. We see our pupils coming to school with holes in their shoes. They don’t even have money to buy food from the school canteen”
  • Which then leads to abandoned children: 'Propelled by poverty, 500 families had recently asked to place children in homes run by the charity SOS Children's Villages, according to the Greek daily Kathimerini. One toddler was left at the nursery she attended with a note that read: "I will not return to get Anna. I don't have any money, I can't bring her up. Sorry. Her mother."'
  • The disabled are also victims of the policies pursued: "In August, a five-year-old program providing deaf people with interpreters was suspended after the government abruptly cut its funding to less than half. Overnight, 15,000 deaf people around Greece were left without help to report a crime to the police, rent a house or go to a job interview. Funding cuts have opened up gaps across welfare services, with slashed services and longer waiting times for vulnerable groups including the blind, recovering organ-transplant patients, autistic children, and paraplegics in need of physiotherapy"

  • At the same time the already decrepit health system is further eroded according to The Lancet: "Overall, the picture of health in Greece is concerning. It reminds us that, in an effort to finance debts, ordinary people are paying the ultimate price: losing access to care and preventive services, facing higher risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and in the worst cases losing their lives. Greater attention to health and health-care access is needed to ensure that the Greek crisis does not undermine the ultimate source of the country's wealth—its people". Giving birth is now a luxury activity. I suppose women are expected to give birth at home by themselves - a great way to bring infant and maternal mortality to truly third world levels...
  • And, desperate, people kill themselves at an unprecedented rate:  "Greece's suicide rate has reached a pan-European record high, with experts attributing the rise to the country's economic crisis and painful austerity measures. Statistics from the Greek Ministry of Health show a 40 per cent rise in those taking their own lives between January and May this year compared with the same period in 2010"
And the economy? Surely all those wizards of austerity must have improved the flailing Greek economy, raising its productivity etc. No? Well... No:

  • Greece: heavy industry, desperate measures to survive: Heavy industry in Greece, particularly the sectors that produce steel, concrete, aluminium, copper and paper, are desperately trying to find ways to stem some of the negative effects of the economic crisis the country is going though. Some companies even sell up to 70% of their production abroad at cost price, just to be able to keep producing... Energy-intensive industries in Greece fight a daily battle for their survival on a domestic market that has been in recession for four years, with low liquidity, limited financial resources, rising interest rates and a series of austerity measures that seem to ignore their impact on the real economy, like the high taxes on energy
  • Unemployment is rocketing, reaching fearsome heights:

    The jobless rate rose to 17.7 per cent in the third quarter compared to 16.3 per cent in the previous quarter and 12.4 per cent in the corresponding quarter of 2010, the Hellenic statistical authority said... It added that there were over 878,000 people out of work during the three-month period, most of them women and young employees aged under 30

Things are, in other words, tough. Very tough. The kind of tough one associates with a war or a huge natural disaster. And do not think for a minute that all of this is irrelevant to you: if you live anywhere in Europe, periphery or center (but at this point probably anywhere in the Western world), this is in one form or another the future that has been prepared for you. Greece has been the canary in the coal-mine for social Europe in this crisis, a wretched and sorry bird, to begin with, admittedly, yet an indicator of the way things are going in Europe. Regardless of whether austerity is systemically viable in its own terms (it most probably isn't), the news is that the canary, is slowly yet steadily croaking. It is dying. Greek society is taking blows that will transform it for ever, in a path that no one knows where it takes and it is unraveling. So our suicides here, our untended ill, our abandoned children, our middle-class poor, our new homeless and hungry, they are an omen, a sign of things to come, across Europe. Or that seems to be the plan. The good news is that this society is taking it a lot better than some (I too) initially expected it would. Solidarity networks have cropped up all over Greece, while the support to the striking steel-workers (from Greece but not only), two months now in struggle for their livelihoods and lives, is going strong and their struggle is right now the rallying point of resistance to the destruction of all of our collective lives.
High school students, express solidarity with the steel-workers after having gathered a few Euros from pocket change to contribute to the strikers fund

An interesting thing is happening at the political level: the "unserious" Left is gaining. In a recent poll, the "electoral influence" of the three left of the mainstream parties adds up to 37% - 41 percent if one adds up the smaller parties and the Greens, a number that is unprecedented and apparently rising. Whether this will coalesce to a viable government is doubtful: The communists consider everybody else a capitalist stooge, not serious about systemic change, the Democratic Left, the right splinter group from SYRIZA, seems to be more comfortable discussing a collaboration with PASOK (assuming there will be a PASOK left by the time the elections arrive) than with everybody else. However, popular pressure can work wonders, and one still hopes that  Greece will be the first to throw a political wrench in the working of the austeritarian banksters and their political employees in Europe. That is assuming that the ruling Socialist - Conservative - Far Right coalition under a former ECB vice president, actually deigns to hold elections sometime in the near future as originally promised.

The future remains at this point very opaque. The issue is whether the rest of the European peoples will need to arrive at the point of despair that Greeks have reached, before they react.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Greece on the Brink of Emergency: A Matter of Days

As Greece prepares for a 48 hour general strike, promising to be the largest ever in a series of far from insignificant mobilizations over the past year and a half, there is a sense here that the coming week will be historical, fateful. The success of the strike over the following two days will be hard to measure, though it seems that there is an unutterable goal of toppling the government, which acts as a quasi colonial regime, pressured to surrender the last vestiges of sovereignty, imposing a catastrophic austerity in full knowledge that it is catastrophic.

The situation is reaching a critical point and I reproduce below, as a general intro, a brief analysis on the current situation that Aris Leonas has been kind enough to send me, with minor edits:

Greece on the Brink of Emergency: A Matter of Days

by Aris Leonas

[Note: This text is part of a longer article about the global crisis and resistance that is being written by Kolya Abramsky, and will explore questions of the emerging worldwide political struggle which is the latest stage of the crisis’ development; the limits of political reformism; control of key means of production and reproduction; and the question of force. It was hoped that this longer article could be finished already by now, but this has not been possible. However, due to the urgency of the situation in Greece, and the fact that the situation can change radically in the next few days, he has decided, together with Aris Leonas, who is the main author of this text on Greece, to send this part out separately].

In Greece a number of factors stand out, suggesting that Greece is on the verge of some major changes. The disruption of basic operations of the state in conjunction with the widespread certainty that the Greek debt cannot be controlled (constant rumours of default in the coming period) compose a picture of political instability and crisis which seems to be the precursor of a more generalized political crisis to be spread to the rest of the south European regimes first and possibly to the heart of the Eurozone given the accelerated tensions of the financial crisis and the disagreements among current leaderships in the Eurozone. The remaining days leading up to the summit of the EU leaders, on the 23rd October, and the G20 summit in the first week of November are considered crucial. Something has to give, and soon. And, it could go in many different directions, for better, or for worse. Rumours, which may or may not be true, are circulating regarding possible deployment of the EU EuroGendFor (Euro Gendamerie Force) military personell being called to Greece in the days ahead...

On the one hand, there has been an incredible level of political activity and mobilization from very broad layers of society. This has continued to intensify, bringing in ever greater numbers and becoming more and more continuous as the crisis has deepened much further since 2009. The sequence of movements follows this general scheme: broad student movement and riots during 2006-07 before the official announcement of the Greek debt crisis; weeks of urban rioting that took place in December 2008 as young people responded to the police killing of a teenager; mass demonstrations; 13 general strikes since the IMF deal; most political form of the movement of indignados (compared to the similar movement in Spain); the last step in this series of resistances is expressed through occupations of public spaces and buildings, and strikes in key industries such as transport or railways.

On the other hand, this high level of mobilization has not stopped or even slowed down the pace of austerity measures, nor the plans for mass privatizations, and repression has been growing. Protests have been met with extreme police violence, and increasingly strikes are being declared illegal.

Despite high levels of organizing, people report a profound sense of despair, and no clear sense of alternatives being built by people. There is widespread panic and a general sense of economic, political and mainly social collapse. Increasingly the reproduction of massive parts of the society is becoming more and more difficult, as society’s functioning grinds to a halt. Nothing is working, neither public services nor private deals.

Political organisations, such as parties on the left side of the spectrum to groups in the anti-authoritarian or autonomous spectrum, are under enormous pressure. The acceleration of the economic crisis has resulted in a serious political crisis and the complete lack of a concrete alternative is obvious. Voices on the left spectrum have begun whispering about the need to form a left government constituted by a broad coalition of the left parties and smaller groupings. However, they have been unable to articulate this idea in such a way as to inspire the broad movements and struggles which have appeared in a very sudden and decentralized way. This, despite the fact that these parties are actually potentially very strong, as they account for 26% in the polls, while the party in government accounts for only 15%, with almost 50% of the voters having declared that they will abstain from voting in any future elections. The range of left parties includes: Syriza, a left coalition born after the decade of Social Forums; the Communist Party – a traditional communist party with its own unions, that are widely criticized for being reluctant to join with the rest of the left in some type of coalition; Antarsia, a small coalition of anti-capitalist groups; and the Ecologists-Greens, a relatively new party linked to the European Greens).

People are under huge pressure. Increasing sections of the population are unable to pay taxes, pay back loans or even ensure the satisfaction of their basic subsistence needs, such as electricity, health services, housing etc.

Unemployment is increasing fast, and is expected to reach an average of 25% in the first semester of 2012. High taxes are being imposed through electricity bills, and the economy has contracted fast, and fear, or even panic, reigns among large parts of the active population. All of this has created a fluid mass of ex-workers, as well as over-exploited and insecure employees. These people are not connected to the traditional trade unions (these are the unions which have traditionally been, for the most part, attached to the two main political parties, i.e. the ruling PASOK party, and Nea Dimokratia, which was in power until it lost the elections in 2009). Unemployment and insecurity mainly affect the younger generations, which are forced to emigrate (mostly to North and Central Europe, and also Australia and Canada). This is especially so for high-skilled workers and those with with university degrees.

Current situation:

The level and intensity of struggles has grown rapidly since the summer and during the first weeks of October. The Greek version of the indignados movement (“Aganaktismenoi” in Greek), which ended with riots in June to mid July, seems to have completed its first cycle of existence, leaving behind a space for a broad basis for interaction among different movements and groups across the country. This has expressed itself in the form of many decentralized and spontaneous activities such as strikes and occupations in the public sector, as well as mass demonstrations and rioting. During this period, new forms of committees of struggle have emerged, increasing the number of participants and showing a willingness to unite behind the call for a 48-hour strike which was issued by the General Confederation of Workers (GSEE) and the Confederation of public servants (ADEDY) for the 19th-20th October. Although these committees are still very new, they have already shown themselves to be highly stable. They vary both in the form and place of struggle, ranging from low level unions in workplaces, to assemblies that organize occupations and neighbourhood assemblies that organize local struggles and unite during major calls, such as calls for demonstrations in the centre of Athens.

Several new forms of struggle have been born during this period. This includes occupations of (8) ministries and government offices, disruption of operations at different levels of the state, from local authorities all the way to state services such as tax offices and courts etc., the occupation of productive infrastructure (means of public transport, railways, occupations from the powerful union of workers in the Public Power Corporation). Every day smaller protests also disrupt the regular functioning of commercial, economic and social life. However, this high level of mobilization has, until now, as we mentioned, not managed to stop or slow down the pace of austerity measures, nor derail mass privatizations. Furthermore, the efforts at creating a concrete and broad organizing umbrella of all these movements has, so far, not given rise to any kind of new institutional form. Left parties, activists and workers meet during these struggles in a rather chaotic way. It is becoming increasingly important to try to ensure that these committees which have emerged become legitimate focal points for building and defending mass based popular power through struggle.

Until now the government has been trying to avoid any uncontrollable explosion from below (such as the ongoing occupations in the public power corporation, strike of workers in the cleaning sectors of the local authorities). Repression has been growing. Street protests are met with increasing levels of violence from the police. More and more strikes are declared illegal, and private companies are being hired by the government to take over tasks that are not being carried out due to occupations and strikes in the public sector etc. The army has even been called in to clean city streets, as cleaners are on strike.

Things are now coming to crisis point, and it is matter of days. In the run up to the summits mentioned above, the movement from below is intensifying its actions through strikes and demonstrations across the country. At the same time as mass activities are increasing, the government is also making moves from above, apparently in preparation for what will follow should the current government resign, and these plans are taking the antidemocratic measures to new levels, based around a state of emergency.

Certain moves from within the government show that this week is probably the most crucial of the crisis period in Greece. Especially important in this regard is a long article signed by three important ministers on Sunday the 16th October, and supported by the assistant PM and Minister of Finance E. Venizelos. This article asks people to loyally follow the policies agreed with the IMF, and to establish the consent of the silent majority against, the so-called vocal minorities who are disrupting the country’s political functioning. This is full of incredibly antidemocratic and authoritarian overtones, suggesting the urgency of the situation. Another important factor that adds to the image of a collapsing government is that increasing numbers of important trade unions and very large numbers of party members have been withdrawing from the ruling PASOK party, as well as one member of parliament. Rumours are rife about what scenarios might develop in the next-days, and it is virtually impossible to know which have their basis in fact and which do not. This includes the rumour that some kind of new antidemocratic social and political compromise will be established among the different centre-right parties, in the form of a national unity government, or the installation of a government of technocrats, or the installation of a state of emergency etc., in order to pre-empt the threat of an even worse scenario unfolding, a threat which remains unspoken from all sides. Presumably, this unspoken threat, which established political authorities understand all to well, is the threat of revolution from below. The question of political power in on the table, and the political crisis will be resolved in the struggles in the days and weeks ahead, in one way or the other.

This is a call for people in Europe, and other parts of the world, to watch closely the developments in Greece, and to be ready for the next stages in the development of this political crisis, which will soon spread, in all probability first to other parts of Southern Europe, and later to the European Union as a whole. The political crisis in Greece has taken approximately two years to reach its climax, and this time frame is likely to be greatly reduced in other countries as the European and global crisis accelerates. There is no time to lose.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Questions From a Worker Who Reads - from an iPad

Questions From a Worker Who Reads, Bertold Brecht, 1935

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Year's War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man?
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.

[General idea first posted in Greek in Ιστολόγιον, more links added in this English version - cross-posted at the European Tribune]

Monday, September 26, 2011

This is what austerity looks like

Police used massive and disproportionate violence to prevent a peaceful gathering of protesters against its indiscriminate and irrational tax policies in Syntagma square yesterday. It is obvious that the right to peaceful assembly is compromised in this country. The TV channels (private and public - all *state TV* though - downplayed the event and did not show images from the protest and its violent dispersal. The government intervened yesterday to prevent student protesters who stormed Greek public TV studios, from stating their grievances on public TV. The right to free speech is also being mediated to insignificance in this country... The way to the pauperisation of the population is the police state... The rest of the EU should heed the Greek guinea-pig's trials as a warning... This is the New European Democracy. Human rights are but a secondary concern to doctrinaire fiscal policy. Ms.Merkel, Mr.Trichet this is your police force. But beware, even they are enraged..

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Roubini on the crisis and Marx - WSJ

WSJ: (~4:00) So you painted a bleak picture of sub-par economic growth going forward, with an increased risk of another recession in the near future. That sounds awful. What can government and what can businesses do to get the economy going again or is it just sit and wait and gut it out?

Roubini: Businesses are not doing anything. They're not actually helping. All this risk made them more nervous. There's a value in waiting. They claim they're doing cutbacks because there's excess capacity and not adding workers because there's not enough final demand, but there's a paradox, a Catch-22. If you're not hiring workers, there's not enough labor income, enough consumer confidence, enough consumption, not enough final demand. In the last two or three years, we've actually had a worsening because we've had a massive redistribution of income from labor to capital, from wages to profits, and the inequality of income has increased and the marginal propensity to spend of a household is greater than the marginal propensity of a firm because they have a greater propensity to save, that is firms compared to households. So the redistribution of income and wealth makes the problem of inadequate aggregate demand even worse.

Karl Marx had it right. At some point, Capitalism can destroy itself. You cannot keep on shifting income from labor to Capital without having an excess capacity and a lack of aggregate demand. That's what has happened. We thought that markets worked. They're not working. The individual can be rational. The firm, to survive and thrive, can push labor costs more and more down, but labor costs are someone else's income and consumption. That's why it's a self-destructive process.

He then goes on to say many startling things (well for the WSJ readership I imagine) like:

Calling [the UK rioters] just criminals is ignoring the fact that these are poor & desperate people, and poor and desparate people whether in Egypt or the UK tend to riot, and eventually this inequality together with no jons and no income and no growth in the economy can lead to indstability in any country...

And generally the man sounds like a dangerous radical. The end of days. Surely.

[1] [transcript via MeFi]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Greek crisis, #imfgr @eurotrib

If it seems that I'm not posting enough here lately, it's because I've been mostly doing that on the European Tribune, where some of the last remnants of various threads of the European Left blog together as neoliberal doom is already upon us. I'm posting the links here (diaries and major comments together with related stuff I have posted on this blog) for completeness sake, since I realized that they are forming a corpus of commentaries on the Greek Crisis and its reality, that might conceivably be considered useful, by someone, somewhere, somehow (posts/diaries in bold):

- 10.12.09(comment): Doom and gloom: The way it looks from the ground (in thread "Potential Greek default - how doomed is the euro?")
- 10.02.10 (comment): Pigs on parade + pig irony
- 27.04.10 (comment) Re: Resisting the Neoliberal Empire? (in thread: Resisting the Neoliberal Empire?)
- 06.05.10 (comment) Re: Getting ugly in Greece (1) and Re: Getting ugly in Greece (2 - the 5/5 demo) (in thread: Getting ugly in Greece)
- 14.05.10: Some sort of semi-coherent collage of notes on the Greek situation (1)
- 25.05.10 Some somewhat more coherent notes on the Greek crisis: debunking IMF propaganda (2)
- 29.06.10 (comment) Re: Is this it? (In thread: Is this it?)
- 02.11.10 (comment) Re: Europe
- 08.11.10 Greece: The unlocal elections
- 15.11.10 (comment) Re: Europe
- 19.11.10 (expanded comment): A comment on the alleged lack of productivity of Greek workers
- 25.11.10 (comment) Re: The Banksters (In thread: Relief)
- 26.11.10 Vampire policy makers of the IMF (and the ECB)
- 26.11.10 (comment) Re: The word from the Serious People (In thread: The word from the Serious People)
- 15.12.10 Greek general strike today: anger and violence
- 19.12.10 The Greek Economy on a Crucifix: IMF lies and misrepresents yet again
- 02.02.11 (comment): Re: Merkel's New (Old) Two-Speed Europe (In thread: Merkel's New (Old) Two-Speed Europe)
- 04.02.11 (comment): Re: Irish pushback strategy - we get mail (In thread: Irish pushback strategy - we get mail)
- 18.02.11 High Drama: Greece under the "troika"
- 04.04.11 Jake's Greek LTE, questions and discussion
- 14.04.11 (comment) Re: Why 2013 (In thread: Three months that will test the Eurozone)
- 19.04.11 (comment) On the Greek black economy (In thread: What's Happening in the Black Economy?)
- 06.05.11 The revelations of Strauss Kahn
- 11.05.11 (comment) Athens Strike / Demo
- 14.05.11 Kristallnacht in Athens
- 17.05.11 (comment) Re:Europe (about state sector participation etc)
- 18.05.11 Merkel's racist lies
- 20.05.11 (comments) Re: LQD: "Tahrir Virus" comes to Europe, Re: No One Expects the Spanish Revolution? (In thread: No One Expects the Spanish Revolution?
- 25.05.11 (comment) Re: Europe (on the indignants 1st day)
- 25.05.11 (comment) Re: Did Greeks wake up? Tina, Tara and other girls (In thread: Did Greeks wake up? Tina, Tara and other girls)
- 25.05.11 Here be dragons: Lies, horror populi and subversion amidst hope and chaos - reposted at Eurotrib and then reposted at Daily Kos as "Greece Shock Therapy update - WSJ lies debunked"
- 30.05.11 The Greek Colony
- 05.06.11 (comment) The Greek crisis explained on TV
- 15.06.11 Greece: if austerity doesn't work... Try more austerity!
- 29.06.11 Flash brief from the #greekrevolution
- 12.07.11 Greece: No other plan but plunder

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Here be dragons: Lies, horror populi and subversion amidst hope and chaos

Takis Michas' article in the WSJ, written a month ago, about Greece and what he describes as its Descent into Anarchy (full article reproduced here) is a stunning piece of disinformation on the situation in Greece, an outlandish view of the disaster unfolding in the country, tainted by class prejudices and ideolepsy. It is so utterly unrooted in reality, that, were it published in Greece anonymously, it would be unclear whether this was perhaps a parody. This is the pinnacle of a genre of alarmist anti-left writings that seem to pop-up regularly in the local MSM to lecture the restless natives on the vileness of resistance to Authority and its true Prophet, the IMF, and blame the Left as sole instigator of all sorts of violence: A"violence" however, which on closer inspection mostly consists of jeering a corrupt politician or two, staging a protest against the pauperization of this or that social group, peaceful civil disobedience and strikes. In a zoology of militantly conformist, fear-mongering tall tales on display in the government-friendly media (and that's 90% of all MSM media), Michas piece is Godzilla. That's why it was perhaps too tall for the Greek press and required a global newspaper to print it.

The WSJ readership of course, needs this potent injection of fear-mongering anyway, as the plebes in the US are rapidly becoming unruly themselves, faced with shouldering the costs of the banker bailout and this cautionary tale form the exotic Near East, complete with leftist dragons, is perfectly timed for domestic use.

As I said, if this was published in a Greek newspaper, in Greek, it would offer a hilarious peek at the paranoia that the crisis has bread among the country's upper classes, and would not merit a response significantly different from "you should go out more often". Since it is published in English, in a paper as broadly read among ruling elites as the WSJ, and might skew the perception of what is actually happening in Greece, it requires debunking, especially as I have seen the article being referred to on the www as some sort of authoritative picture of Greek "anarchy", since its publication. In the process it will provide an opportunity to relate the true story of the budding, if still incoherent, mass resistance to the ECB/IMF fiscal stormtroopers and their caretaker government in this peripheral ECB province I'm writing from, but also the truly darker side of collapsing neighbourhoods, mindless violence and general despair that is emerging from the deep cracks that the prolonged ECB/IMF induced depression has carved on the already decrepit social body. This panoramic view of civil discontent and societal unrest that answering Michas' article must include, and the true dangers lurking as the crisis deepens will be the major theme of this post, along with a discussion of things that have happened after the publication of this article: it has been a month thick with events.

Austerity? What austerity?

Michas begins by lamenting the demise of "the rule of law" in Greece and chiding the government for its inability to "to maintain order and implement its own legislation". While the debt crisis is briefly mentioned, Michas avoids pointing to a rather crucial piece of background info: the developments he "describes" (and misrepresents) are happening as Greece is plunged into the deepest recession in living memory, as unemployment is skyrocketing along with part-time and uninsured jobs, as even nominal wages are collapsing, as a quarter of small businesses have either gone bankrupt or are preparing to do so, as indirect taxes soar and inflation persists. But all this does not impress Michas
"Many argue that Greece’s disintegration is the unavoidable consequence of the government’s attempt to enforce economic austerity. This seems doubtful".
Now why it seems doubtful to Takis Michas, he won't say. It certainly doesn't seem doubtful to the vast majority of people in the country, as the percentage of Greeks expecting social conflict in the next few months as a result of government policies reached 84% three months ago [poll links in Greek, I'm afraid], while when asked to describe their feelings towards these policies in another poll, 35,5% mentioned "anger", 33% "disappointment", and 21% "fear". Pollsters warn that the Greek political system has "passed the point of no return", and is facing a drastic overhaul...

I don't think there is a country in the world were the population can (or should) be expected to passively accept its own impoverishment and the annihilation of lives and prospects. Society is still paralyzed from the Shock Therapy the German Bankers and their local overseers have imposed and are still, to an extent, under the spell of the neoliberal mantra: There Is No Alternative. There are movements however on the ground, local and nation-wide that resist this destruction, stemming both from a sense of injustice and a practical inability to pay for much more than basic necessities. These movements are widely accepted and approved of by the Greek population. However, for Michas to admit to large scale societal desperation, rage and depression would be to accept that there are valid reasons for this anger. But that would by ideologically problematic for a large part of the neoliberal right that he represents and, anyway, it would stand in the way of red-baiting which is the object of this article. Thus Michas proceeds to a string of accusations against the left that are blatantly outrageous and viciously false. They are the kind of accusations an authoritarian government levels against dissident groups. It is highly unlikely that Michas is so secluded and deluded that he doesn't know this already, so this is IMHO inexcusable disinformation.

All protest is lawlessness?

SYRIZA members harass pro-market politician

Michas starts his description of the Evil Greek Left with an impressive piece of disinformation:

The country is at the mercy of militant activists, who are mostly inspired by various factions of Greece’s hard left. The heaviest hitters are Greece’s Communist Party and the anarcho-Stalinist Coalition of the Radical Left, which is comprised of the Ecosocialists of Greece, the “Roza” Radical Left Group and the Internationalist Workers’ Left, to name a few. Their followers, with total impunity, have taken to harassing citizens and destroying public property, even taking over whole villages.

First if all let's start with this fact: The "militant activists" of these parties are responsible for zero (0) acts of real physical violence against anyone. They have "harassed" no citizens that I'm aware of, unless "harass citizens" means "demonstrate against politicians" perhaps, they have not destroyed public property as far as I'm aware of, and they have certainly not taken over any villages, at least since the Greek Civil War in the 1940s.

Beware of Stalinists bearing flags
The Communist Party is an ossified relic of a sovietophilic old-school stalinist party, whose intransigence and militancy in workers' movements as well as its historic role in the Greek resistance have guaranteed it a permanent place in parliament - and which is growing stronger by the day as the protest party par excellence. Its actions include the usual old-school labor actions, i.e. ship-workers and sailors blocking ports. The party has no loose canons and has a horror of things getting out of control. No police officers worry about attending a KKE demonstration. Ever.

Rabid SYRIZA Members armed with deadly pickets
The description of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SY.RIZ.A in Greek) again is, well, somewhat idiosyncratic. It is indeed a coalition, a block of left and green parties from left social-democracy to post-maoist groups. The three parties Michas chooses to enumerate are however not quite representative of the alliance. It is like saying that "the Italian peninsula is comprised among others of the Vatican and San Marino". The missing elephant, the core political and parliamentary entity around which the alliance was built, is the Coalition of the Left and Ecology (even the similar name sort of gives the deal away) a member of the Party of the European Left (along with Die Linke, Bloco, Sinn Fein, PCF etc.). Interestingly, despite Michas' claims regarding their dastardly final objectives, this party participated in two Greek governments in the late 80s early 90s (along with the Communists - with the Conservatives first and then in a emergency government): there were no gulags built. Kim Il Sung does not seem to feature among the guiding lights of either party... About "Anarchostalinism" I can only say that it is a term that has no proper place outside satire, so I'll leave it at that.

Those evil commies then, have activists who apparently "direct physical attacks primarily at politicians and journalists who support open societies and market economies". Now, the three "attacks" Michas mentions have indeed happened (as have many more like them); in fact politicians and establishment figures are currently feeling rather unsafe walking around in public without heavy escort. But that isn't because they are "for open societies and market economies" but rather because they are part of a corrupt and/or incompetent political two-party system that has thrown Greece into an unsustainable debt maelstorm, through cronyism, clientilism and theft. This opinion about the two governing parties is shared by a vast majority of the population - 93% of Greeks feel that corrupt politicians should go to jail. According to last year's Transparency International survey, Greeks were the people who ranked their political parties with the highest marks for corruption in the world. A recent poll shows that 40% of the population are for (and 56% against) violent heckling of governing politicians. As the Greek economy collapses even the "official" narrative for the crisis makes people who are facing destitution rather angry.

Even so, the conservative politician mentioned was most certainly not attacked by organized leftist activists (of any kind). Kostis Hatzidakis, MP and former transport minister, not involved in any personal scandals, was attacked by a couple of elderly men during a huge union demonstration, one carrying an umbrella which he used against the former minister, as other protesters from the crowd protected the MP.

Hadzidakis attacked
No one credible has, to my knowledge, seriously suggested that the attackers were members of any party. Their photos and the relevant video has travelled around the Greek web and the media many times. Were the perpetrators members of any left party, the MS media, quick to indulge in all sort of wild accusations against those "irresponsible leftists" would no-doubt have unearthed it.  They haven't.

Keratea burning
The same is true for both other cases (and there are many more instances of public, intense disapproval, voiced all over Greece and abroad wherever government members appear in public, on a daily basis by now, most of which have nothing to do with physical violence). In one case Michas mentions, we know for a fact that the person that threw yogurt (yogurt! how deadly can you get?) against the Vice-Premier was a voter of the far-right LAOS party, (and we know this because he gave an interview in a Greek newspaper). He was acting as a citizen of Keratea, a town whose inhabitants have immersed themselves in an insurgency against the creation of a landfill next to their homes. The town was a rather conservative - if anything - electoral municipality. This is the only instance of anything that might be legitimately called an insurrection in Greece, and it is very local in its scope. Theodoros Pangalos, the Vice Premier, elected from that particular electoral periphery, had spoken against the locals and for Law and Order, as is par for the course. Again, since local politicians of all colours and stripes have expressed their sympathies with the locals, and the whole town was behind the demonstrations, the claim that the locals were "supported by anarchist 'freedom fighters'” is ridiculous - not to mention in contradiction with the claim that the village was taken over by leftist activists. Keratea is a case study in state intimidation since from day one the government chose to use sticks - not carrots: the police have shown incredible ferocity against the inhabitants of Keratea, including Gaza-style home invasions and violence against the elderly, on orders to support tooth and claw a project that the citizens of Keratea insist is a contract awarded to politically connected construction companies. This is not the first time in Greece or in Europe, where locals have found being forced to live next to a toxic landfill violently unpalatable. Only previously, no one would have thought it necessary to invoke a conspiracy of anarchostalinists to explain it away. As for Pangalos, who has distinguished himself in heaping scorn against Greek citizens, a recent poll has shown that a full 79% of those questioned agreed with the deprecation and the jeers directed against him. By the way: it seems that these protests might yet have borne fruit... with all that this fact might have to teach us.

Raw terror at the toll booths
Similarly, the "Won't pay" movement, far from being some sort of bloodthirsty extremist group (in fact they are completely non-violent) is a citizens' initiative, mostly, but not solely, from areas where the government has set up toll booths that force the inhabitants of towns to pay in order to be able to leave their towns. At the same time, the toll fee prices had been hiked originally, exactly as general nominal income is steeply declining and inflation is charging on at 4-5%. Frequent commuters find it too much of a drain for their precarious finances to pay extra for driving to and from work, on incomplete roads constructed by the "national" contractors whose contracts are generally believed to be the product of their owners' political "entanglement". The Left certainly supported these movements but hardly initiated them. The movements had managed to win a promise of across the board reduction on toll fees (which it seems now the government has no intention of carrying out). They have also opened up with their actions, both on the road and in the courts, a new area of public inquiry, regarding the enormous costs that Greek roads seem to have incurred, as part of the corrupt relationships between some construction companies' owners and government cadres from both ruling parties...And it's far more than the voters of the Left who are furious with the toll prices: 66% of the public consider that the Minister of Infrastructure is a tool for the contractors. 52% suppport the "Won't pay" activists (vs 33% against). These people are not ideologues of any sort of "hard left" Michas is terrified of. They are people at the edge of bankruptcy and disaster. Even the regional chambers of commerce for Pieria and Thessaloniki are participating actively in these protests. So much for wild-eyed radicals...A similar story pertains to the metro/bus ticket boycott: fares went up by 40% this January, meeting a determined resistance from many commuters who have refused to pay these price hikes. In both cases the government legislated draconian measures to break these movements, and it is rumored that the toll companies are paying police officers and police departments to be present at the toll stations and force payment on anyone who denies payment, while they have tried to scare ticket dodgers with heavy penalties and fines - and even jail for a 1,4 Euro ticket!

Then there is the Marfin Bank incident last May, where, in one of the largest union rallies ever in Athens, a group of hooded "anarchists" threw molotov cocktails inside a bank, a mind-bogglingly criminal act that resulted in the death of three bank employees, who were trapped inside. This was a depraved act, no doubt about it, but the fire-bombers, who were possibly not aware of the fact that there were people inside the shuttered bank, were a small group (3-4 people strong) acting around the main demo, with no connection to Michas' "hard left" at all. Michas' claim, that activists of the main parliamentary leftist parties go after "people who refuse to participate in strikes and demonstrations" stating that: "In May 2010 three employees of the private bank Marfin suffocated to death when a hard-left mob fire-bombed their offices during a riot" is slanderous and dishonest.  

The ghost of Greek liberals past

This tale of nefarious leftists firebombing villages and occupying banks or whatever, is of course par for the course for the socialist government and its supporters in the media as well as the ultra-right wing LAOS party.This is not the only policy area where the "serious" parties converge: This January the government, the conservative opposition and the extreme right were trying to outdo each other in anti-immigrant, xenophobic and racist rhetoric when 300 (mainly North African) "illegal" workers went on a hunger strike to demand that they have the opportunity to employ themselves legally. Seeing this as a rare opportunity to gain popular points, the government rode the xenophobic horse almost until the end when, faced with the prospect of dozens of dead hunger strikers, as one after the other were fading in critical condition in Greek hospitals, they accepted some sort of deal - which after the hunger strike was over they made sure to reinterpret. The compliant government-dependent media moguls and their TV stations went on what can only be described as a week of inciting racist hatred: the intensity of rhetoric was at KKK levels and it was truly scary to realize that one was witnessing what amounted to a immigrant hate-fest in the most mainstream of Greek TV news shows. This was unfolding in an already ominous context of sky-rocketing unemployment and Dublin II, an EU treaty on migration which guarantees that Greece is and will remain a massive EU immigrant detention camp for the forseeable future, with a desperate, unemployed and hopeless detainee population that is now dying to get out of the country on top of dying to get in...   The Democratic Alliance, the party which Mr. Michas writes as a representative of in the WSJ article, was a very vocal part of that broad coalition of xenophobia. Note that as an independent journalist Michas showed a libertarian bend, and it is doubly astonishing to read such calls to authoritarianism by him especially...

The immigrant hunger strike was the most obvious example of the "respectable" part of the political spectrum seeming to have decided that, in the face of mass popular delegitimization of the political system, the proper response is to move ever rightwards on social issues. This is some sort of a collective "Sarkozy strategy", which ignores, among other things, how this is currently playing out in France. The marriage of neoliberal economics with extreme conservative, nationalist and xenophobic currents, seems to be a viable vehicle for preserving elite privilege. This has the effect of further strengthening an already empowered extreme right: the Nazi party (not a metaphor - the actual Nazi party) is polling at 1,5% according to a recent poll, ten times its historical size, and the original xenophobic extreme right-wingers at LAOS have also shown signs of a significant rise in the polls. Since Michas' article, the Nazis and the mainstream apologists for xenophobia who have fanned the flames of the racism that feeds them, have gone on an anti-immigrant rampage, a pogrom of real and horrific criminal violence, illustrating where the danger of blind and mindless destruction and societal dissolution come from and where criminal intent really is indiscernible from the effects of a programmatically antidemocratic platform. These events happened a month after Michas' aricle in the WSJ, and the trend was visible well before then. Strangely Michas' libertarianism was blind to this actual rather than invented rise of political violence. 

What is even more worrying is the fact that these pogroms happened under the indifferent eye of the police, and they were then only peripherally highlighted and lightly condemned by mainstream media. What is more: as the Minister of Public Protection mumbled a few words about dissolving the nuclei of neonazi sympathizers in the police force, "serious" newspapers, the conservative and far-right opposition, members of his own "socialist" party and pundits of every sort, actually protested against "starting witch hunts" in the police force and "hurting an already diminished morale". Thus it is plainly clear that the toleration of the far right is a reasoned choice for sections of the Greek elite.

This will not be the first time the Greek liberal right and center and the elites that run them, will have allied themselves with the extreme right: During the civil war in Greece the "traditional" parties allied themselves with Nazi collaborators, black-marketeers and goons, and proceeded to impose a national security state that, with varying ferocity, continued until 1974, after attempts at democratization were quashed by royalist parliamentary coups and then the brutal military junta of 1967-74. Thus it is truly ironic for Michas to dangle the spectre of an imaginary authoritarian left: in Greece it is the liberal and not too liberal center and conservative parties that have a history of violence, using the extreme right as their "muscle". The parties Michas slanders and their ideological forebears, have been fighting for more not less democracy in Greece over the last 60 years. Kim Il Sung would feel much more comfortable with the government's LAOS allies than he would with the independent (to say the least) minded members of the components of SYRIZA's coalition. much less of course an anarchist of any sort...

Societal Tensions

There are other things happening in Greek society, as well, other ways in which the current increasingly desperate situation expresses itself. Suicide rates have shot up in 2010, and continue unabated in 2011, a quarter of shops in downtown Athens are now empty, people are leaving Athens in panic to become farmers, organized crime is booming, while unemployment almost reached 16% this February, homelessness has become a visible issue, soup kitchens almost cannot serve all the needy...

This collapse has created hopelessness, anger and violence. Criminal violence, racist and nazi violence, police violence and anarchist / protest violence. The events of the past weeks I have described elsewhere, but a day after the brutal and murderous police attack against peaceful demonstrators - a practice so entrenched and widespread that it suggests a permanent strategy of intimidation in order to "discourage" participation -  a gang of anarchists attacked a central police station with molotov cocktails, running through a street market full of people. In the ensuing mess, three bystanders were burned by the fire bombs and one was until yesterday in serious condition, fighting for his life in a hospital...

So this explains somewhat the results that Public Issue, a polling company, published, of a survey that reported that:
- 62% of Greeks think that the memorandum with the troika has harmed the country and the same percentage is against it (13% it benefited the country - 15 support it),
- 16% think that there is no alternative (69% think there are alternatives).
- 77% do not trust the Prime Minister to manage the economy (22% trust him).
- 75% have a negative view of the IMF (69% last year), and 74% of DSK (49% last year).
- 69% believe that the IMF must leave Greece now (up 4% from 6 months ago).
- Only 52% have a negative view of the ECB (vs 33% positive) and 61% of Trichet. 59% have a positive view of the EU (up three points from 6 months ago).
- 53% want to bargain and default on at least a part of the public debt. 17% want to default completely and unilaterally.
- 33% think that the country needs a revolution and 56% deep changes.
- Greeks support strikes (74 - 20) and protests & marches (69 - 25) and are marginally not supportive of electoral abstention (45 - 54) and public deprecation and jeering of politicians (43 - 54)...
- 78% vs 21, believe that a social explosion is impending...
- 29% feel mainly angry, 18% dissapointed, 15% anxious, 11% shamed,  8% sadness and 13% all of the above.

Interestingly 48% believes that the stage is set for a successful far right party to emerge, versus 27% for a far left.

Thus contrary to Michas' assertions this is not about a leftist coup d' etat: The natives are restless and unhappy because of the, probably unprecedented during peacetime, drop of living standards they are suffering, with large swathes of the population being pushed to extremes of poverty that were unimaginable a few years ago, at the same time as prices rise, with incredibly high inflation due to a continuous barrage of indirect taxes and the backbone of state services and companies is being privatized in a gigantic sell out:  Schools are being shut down, hospitals are in jeopardy (while corruption in and around them is still rife), as per yesterday the electric utility, the healthiest bank in the country, the state gambling and betting monopolies (very profitable), the power company (again profitable), petroleum, water services etc - are on sale, a true sell out that will happen at fire-sale prices (the depression has driven the Athens stock market at an all time low, it will be interesting in a morbid way to see how low will the sell out prices go). The sad thing about the left in these circumstances is not that it does to much. But that it is still doing too little to stop the asset stripping and the destruction of a whole generation of Greeks. If only they were as dangerous as Michas claims!

Yet this work of political fiction Michas has concocted must serve a purpose. I fear it is one of creating alibis. "If you see us rolling out the tanks, rescinding a few articles of the constitution, or if you see demonstrators being trampled, beaten like it's Mubarak's Tahrir Square, Manama, or Baniya, Syria", signals Michas to US and global elites, "it's OK": It's only communists and "anarchostalinists" who are being punished for their love of Kim Il Sung. Everybody else just loves being reduced to poverty and insecurity.

P.S: And so it was until the #spanishrevolution. There are as we speak twenty or more facebook groups planning  #greekrevolution gatherings around the country, today 25/5/11. Let's see how succesful and how nonviolent these turn out to be. Unlike the #spanishrevolution however, everybody expects the #greekrevolution right now...

Monday, March 14, 2011

In other news...

European austerity and other madness:

- Portugal: Precarious generation on the march:

The Precarious Generation Manifesto

We, unemployed, “five hundred-eurists” and other underpaid workers, disguised slaves,those who are underemployment or on fixed term contracts, self employed, casual workers, trainees, scholarship holders, working students, students, mothers, fathers and young people of Portugal.

We, who have up to now been complacent about the conditions imposed upon us, stand here, today, to contribute to a qualitative change in our country. We stand here, today, because we can no longer accept the situation that we have been dragged into. We stand here, today, because every day, we strive hard to be deemed worthy of a dignified future, with stability and safety in all areas of our lives.

We protest so that those responsible for our uncertain situation – politicians, employers, and ourselves – act together towards a rapid change in this reality that has become unsustainable.


a) The present is betrayed because we are not given the chance to show our potential, thus blocking the improvement of the country’s social and economic conditions. The aspirations of a whole generation, which cannot prosper, are wasted.

b) The past is insulted, because previous generations have worked hard for our rights, our access to education, our security, labour rights and our freedom. Decades of effort, investment and dedication, risk being compromised.

c) The future is morgaged , and we foresee it without quality education for all and no fair retirement pensions for those who have worked their whole lives. The resources and skills that could put the country back on track of economic tsuccess will be wasted.

We are the highest-qualified generation in the history of our country. So do not let us down with the prospect of exhaustion, frustration or lack of future perspectives. We do believe we have all the resources and tools to provide a bright future for our country and ourselves.

This is not a protest against other generations. Quite simply, we are not, nor do we want to, wait passively for problems to sort themselves out. We protest because we want a solution, and we want to be part of it.
- France: 10% unempoyment
- Angela Merkel's Grab for Power
Spiralling into the Moussaka (Which I should give more space to, since it pretty much spells out how doomed we are over here, as I have been pointing out in most of my latest posts, but I'm posting here for reference puroposes):

But that is not the worst of it. As I explained in my recent post on Europe's continuing mess, Greece was always going to be in trouble as soon as there was an economic downturn in Europe because they are trapped between the domestic policies of Germany and the inflexibility of the monetary system they signed up to when they joined the Euro. The austerity package is failing, but it is only failing to fix the symptoms. Without currency deflation the only possible outcome is lower wages for the Greeks, which will inevitably lead to default on loans, the exact thing the Germans and French are attempting to stop happening.
However I have to ask exactly what the EU are hoping to achieve. Let us for a minute pretend that the Austerity package does work without the collapse of the Euro banks and the Greeks accept the fact that they need to move onto a lower pay structure. Once the debt is cleared away Greece will suddenly appear as modern stable well educated economy with a low wage base that is extremely attractive to international companies. Under these conditions they may even become a net exporter into Europe.
Does anyone think that this will be acceptable to the French or the Germans ?
-  Call for a European Conference against Austerity, Cuts and Privatisation and in Defence of the Welfare State:
We... call for a European Conference against Austerity, to take place in London provisionally on Saturday 1st October, with delegations and representatives from trade-unions, social movements and progressive organisations across Europe
 -  The creaking European austerity machine

Class War in the USA

- A table is worth 1000 words
Financial dismantling of the American middle class in 8 charts
- 100.000 protesters in Wisconsin against the law that quashes union rights
- From American Dream to American Nightmare
U.S. job gains concentrated in low-wage industries (A model for future "recoveries" elsewhere?)
25 graphics showing upward redistribution of income and wealth in USA since 1979

The World as a System
- Immanuel Wallerstein: Structural Crisis in the World-System: Where Do We Go from Here?
- The great World Liquid Fuel Supply gap
Polar ice loss quickens, raising seas
- P.Patnaik: The World food crisis:
Per capita foodgrain absorption, taking direct and indirect absorption together, has declined in India since the beginning of "liberalisation", first gently and of late precipitously, so much so that the level in 2008 itself was lower than in any year after 1953. In China too, there was a sharp decline in per capita total absorption of foodgrains between 1996 and 2003. It improved thereafter but even by 2005 had not reached the 1996 level; it could not have jumped suddenly in 2008. Since the population growth in both these countries has come down substantially, even their absolute absorption in 2008 could not have been much higher than in say the mid-nineties...
... An argument is often advanced that to overcome the world food shortage, agriculture everywhere should be opened up for corporate capital. Even if we assume for argument's sake that such a move will augment food output, it will only compound world hunger by imposing a massive squeeze on the purchasing power of the peasants and agricultural labourers who will get uprooted to make way for corporate agriculture. There is no escape therefore from the fact that overcoming the world food crisis requires a revamping of peasant agriculture, through land reforms, through State support, through protection from encroachment by corporate and MNC capital, and through State-funded transfers and welfare expenditures for improving the quality of rural life. The point is: will neo-liberalism allow it?
The Great Arab Revolt of 2011
Saudi Arabia, now
- And investors don't like it:
Fears of sectarian uprisings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have set off the first serious wave of investor flight from the Gulf
- Lenin's Tomb on Libya: Libya and Transnational Solidarity and The Revival of Imperialist Ideology


China reports largest trade deficit in 7 years
- China's Coal Reserves "Will Make it New Middle East", Says Energy Chief
Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday said China had set a lower than usual economic growth target and pledged to contain soaring prices as concern over runaway growth mounts.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

High Drama: Greece under the IMF - the series

Translation of a poster by the king of Greek web agit-prop, Antista-chef

A couple of weeks ago a rather obscure dairy company, Neogal, based in the town of Drama, near the Greek-Bulgarian border, received a phone call from a representative of the troika (Greece's ruling authority, comprised of representatives of the IMF, the ECB and the EU Comission) - others say that they actually visited the town, but that's probably not true. They wanted to ask a few questions regarding the wage deal it had agreed with its workers.

A month earlier Neogal was the first company to announce that it would take advantage of the special company contracts mandated by the troika, a blunt instrument of destruction of Greece's supposedly stringent, but in practice rather laxly enforced, labor laws, and cut wages 9% beyond the collectively bargained levels. In return it promised not to cut back on any jobs. This was the neoliberal programme to further depress Greece's laughably low (private sector) wages was all about...

Anyway back to Drama: Neogal soon found out that the uproar against its wage decrease in the broader area of Northern Greece and the negative publicity it was receiving, was bad for business, so they went back on that agreement, especially after the Labour Inspectors [in Greek] noticed that they were a profit-making company with an improving balance sheet. Despite the fact that it could unilaterally impose it's "agreement" with the terrified workers (based as it was in an area where unemployment is over 30%), they decided to keep wages at current levels (which is a wage-cut anyway since inflation thanks to our IMF overlords is running at 5% annually - possibly more on a bare necessity budget) and promised to not fire anyone for the next two years, anyway.

This worried the IMF/ECB inspectors, whose main duty here seems to be overseeing the impoverishment of as great a slice of the population as possible, so they went calling to find if this was a result of any government pressure. It turns out that it wasn't, the Greek government was not subverting the troika's carefully planned disaster. All was well - no, not well, because those damn wages wouldn't free-fall fast enough. Apparently the troika members (known as "i troikani" - "troikans" - in Greece) had some other aces up their sleeves: It seems that they first demanded cutting across the board what amounts to 2/14 of Greek private sector salaries (Greek annual salaries are paid in 15 installments - one extra during Christmas and 50% of a salary on Easter and before summer leave). These they called "bonuses" when they demanded their elimination in the public sector, but really are part and parcel of already meager annual wages. This would have been a mandated wage cut in the private sector across the board. So much for state intervention in the economy.

We haven't escaped that danger yet. However it seems that the government has managed to appease the troikans: They are planning instead to abolish what little is left of collective bargaining (shreds of bargaining on a company level mainly) after their latest attack last autumn, and are aiming for generalized individual labor agreements, fewer and cheaper layoff remunerations (2d round), and diminished overtime pay. These measures they hope, will have the same effect...


The Commissioner [Olli Rehn] said Greece, Sweden and Latvia were examples of countries that have managed to promote bold reforms without consideration of any political costs.

Lets see what the reforms they're praising actually mean for the populace and what it is that makes them "bold". Here are some of the results that their implementation has inflicted over a very brief period of time:

- Recently, the Greek Statistical Authority (NSA) published its unemployment data for November 2010: Unemployment reached 13,9%, the highest I think I ever remember it at, up from 10,6 in November 09, and from 13,4 in October 2010. Youth unemployment in the country has reached 35,6%. At this pace, unemployment might reach 15% in 2011.

- Yesterday the NSA also published some more data:
Greece's economy slumped more than expected last year and will stay in recession for a third straight year in 2011 with economists seeing little hope for a strong recovery even after that.
The 230 billion euro economy shrank at an annual 6.6 percent pace in the last quarter of 2010, as the austerity-induced recession deepened from a revised 5.7 percent decline in the previous quarter, data showed on Tuesday.
Flash Eurostat estimates showed the downturn in economic activity for the whole of 2010 was 4.52 percent, worse than the government's forecast decline of 4.2 percent, as it struggled to cut deficits and tackle debt

The IMF's forecast in May was at 4% and the government's forecast in June was for an under 4% contraction (the low 3% range being hyped up by various banks' economic analysts).

This had the, expected, result of pumping up the spreads (again):

The Greek/German 10-year bond yield spread widened by 26 bps to 860 bps as the outright Greek yield climbed to 11.93 percent.

The Reuters report includes the following assessment regarding Greek economy prospects:
"We expect the economy to bottom out in the second half of 2011 but after that we do not see a strong recovery taking hold, rather stagnation with growth rates around zero," said Christian Melzer, euro zone analyst at DekaBank.
"The growth figures are miserable, the situation in the real economy is bad -- 2011 and 2012 are going to be difficult years for the Greek economy," he added

This should be seen in the context of the IMF's original forecast (which the Greek government subscribed to) which stated:
Real GDP growth is expected to contract sharply in 2010–11 and recover thereafter. Growth is expected to follow a V-shaped pattern: the frontloaded fiscal contraction in 2010–11 will suppress domestic demand in the short run; but from 2012 onward, confidence effects, regained market access, and comprehensive structural reforms are expected to lead to a growth recovery. Unemployment is projected to peak at nearly 15 percent by 2012

Note that the 15% unemployment mark seems likely to be reached a year earlier than the IMF said it would and that the Unions' analysts expect that number to reach above or near 20% in a year at most.

The Governor of the Bank of Greece (Greece's Central Bank) expects contraction in 2011 at -3%. This is down from last May's government forecast of 2,6% and is already considered by many to be very optimistic.

- 188.000 jobs were lost during 2010 [in Greek] while one in four Greek businesses (225.000) are in the red, at the brink ready to shut down. Most shopping areas around Athens are full of shops vacant, closing or empty of customers

                                           "70% off, the crisis is shutting us down"

- A quarter of those that do work in the private sector, work uninsured. Thus no benefits, unemployment or otherwise, no pensionable work years, no health coverage. This, in the context of the depression and the undercutting of the economic capabilities of the Greek family which has served as a societal safety net in hard times so far, is slowly creating a new underclass...

- Unrelated to the troika, but indicative of the unfairness of the austerity policies it is imposing through the "Socialist" government, is a story in Spiegel that made the rounds in the Greek press, apparently claiming that the total of (mostly untaxed and unreported) deposits of Greek nationals in Swiss banks reach 600 billion Euros, or 2,5 times the country's GDP. The number might be a bit high, but this is only Switzerland we're talking about. There are estimates floating around stating that total deposits of Greeks in banks around the world (tax and banking havens mostly) might be close to 1 trillion Euros. I note that a 10% tax on the 600 billion would solve most of the country's fiscal problems at a stroke - and we can't have that now, can we...

Sell, sell, sell

This was the situation, until a couple of days ago, when the troika gave a press conference at the end of its latest inspection round, their "Third Review Mission to Greece". In it they suggested, or announced depending on who you ask, that Greece should raise 50 billion euros over the next 5 years by selling assets it owns, including land. Mr. Tomsen of the IMF was also kind enough to inform the Greek public that some of the groups protesting the IMF-inspired "rationalization" measures are doing this only to protect their privileges. In fact he was quite prime-ministerial.

This provoked an angry reaction from the Greek government, it's first ever against the trio. They sounded upset:

Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis told reporters early Saturday that the comments were unacceptable and amounted to interference into Greece's domestic affairs...
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou also issued a statement Saturday saying he has expressed his dismay about the comments in a phone call with IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Spokesman Petalotis said Saturday that while Greece is in need, it also has its limits. He said the Greek government only takes orders from the people of Greece and that no state land would be sold.

One would deduce from this fierce reaction, that was met with ostensible contrition by the triadic overlords themselves, that the Greek government was absolutely not willing to give up a shred of its sacred territory to the fiendish imperial scum who finally made one demand too many.

Well. No:
There is no divergence of views between the Greek government and the European Union/International Monetary Fund/European Central Bank (“Troika”) regarding the essence of an agreement, which includes a EUR50bn privatization program.
In fact:

Greece's harsh criticism of the EU and the IMF over its comments on the need for privatization is unlikely to affect Athens' austerity plans as it was mostly aimed at placating a sensitive domestic audience.
Government officials said on Saturday that the EU and IMF had interfered unacceptably in domestic affairs by announcing a high privatization target for Greece and criticising strikes after its review of progress on the country's 110 billion euro bailout deal.
Greece lashes out at EU/IMF but will stick to reform
Selling public assets is a sensitive issue in Greece, especially for the ruling Socialists. No privatisations have been completed in the party's 16 months in office.
But Athens' harsh comments appear to have been mostly a response to a media outcry and to some ruling socialists being caught out by EU, IMF and ECB officials -- dubbed the 'troika' -- telling a news conference on Friday that Greece should target 50 billion euros in privatisations over the 2011-15 period.
"I don't think this showed any difference on substance between the troika and the government," said Yannis Stournaras, head of the Athens-based Foundation of Economic Research.
"It was a communication error," Stournaras said.
"Perhaps the government did not expect the troika to come out and specify things in detail before parliament, or at least the ministerial council, have been informed."
Indeed, the government admitted in a note circulated shortly after the IMF/EU news conference that it had agreed to the higher target, which became the focus of the week-end uproar.

And then the government went on to claim that the 50 billion sale was its own idea after all, but they were not willing to sell land, actually, but "utilize" it somehow, unless of course the parliament authorized a sale, yet the details pertaining to this miraculous utilization have not been leaked yet. But anyhow they're not going to give up the majority share in DEI, the public power utility. Or water services. Nor sell coastlines.

Now the total value of privatizations over the past 12 years in Greece was around 10 billion Euros. The total value of Greek government land and building assets might be around 300 billion (no one knows for sure yet) but that is assuming someone is willing to buy at nominal values, which is unlikely. Thus, raising 50 billion Euros in 5 years is not feasible really, despite the Greek government's claims, without the intervention of fairies and benevolent deities, unless we are talking about fairly extensive asset stripping. Yet even if a government managed to pawn everything, and indeed raise against all expectations 50 billion in 5 years, this - given the size of the national debt - will barely equal the amount paid as interest alone by the national government to its lenders between 2011 and 2013. Since this will be a one-off payment, it won't go very far.

So what we saw was theater. And rather poorly acted theater at that. The only explanation for such a spectacular plunge into empty rhetoric, is that the Papandreou government is preparing for elections, since it knows that it cannot carry out this agenda of wholesale plunder and misery by itself much longer. Already cabinet members refrain from appearing in any unpoliced public space for fear of their safety. There seems to be a general acceptance of the idea that only a grand coalition ("socialists" and conservatives) might be able to keep up with the increasingly painful measures needed to satisfy the troika's need for blood. In the meantime, Greece is sheepishly supporting Ms. Merkel's plans in the summit and has shown no interest in resisting even the most wildly irrational of the policy choices that are being rammed down people's throats, as the mantra "we are all to blame" plays increasingly unconvincing in the background.

Yet as unions have failed up to now to demonstrate convincing muscle (here the president of the Greek Confederation of Labor is portrayed as "missing"), society is far from calm, its temperature reaching feverish heights, as demonstrated in actions of political disobedience and outright clashes and in the increasing frequency of strikes and labor actions against employers and government policies. At the same time the socialist government is reverting to a law and order agenda flirting with the far-right and xenophobia, while controlling or being in cahoots with practically all of the mainstream media (owned by government contractors and other IMF beneficiaries). Thus the cocktail of personal despair, anger, misinformation, racism and futurelesness, is ominous. In my next post, I'll discuss the faces of public anger, fight-back, despair and moral morbidity that the IMF/ECB/EC is presiding over...

Cross posted at the European Tribune