Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A warning to austerian eurocrats

SYRIZA, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left, has notified through an open letter signed by its president Alexis Tsipras and addressed to heads of Eurogroup member-states, the head of the European Commission Jose Barroso, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, and Martin Schulz head of the European Parliament, that it does not consider the signature of the politically illegitimate government of Greece binding for future Greek governments. Although SYRIZA is at 10-12% at the polls currently, there is a dynamic testified not only internally but by a recent character-assassination piece in Bild and a less rabid but if anything more vitriolic and selective in its narrative piece in Der Spiegel. SYRIZA is now the first Greek party to publicly commit itself to repudiating the terms of the latest loan agreement, as stated in the letter, translated below. Should SYRIZA continue rising in the polls expect the regime to postpone elections:
Hon. Sirs / Mms
I am sending this letter to alert you to a matter of democratic order of urgent importance for Greece. This has to do with the commitments undertaken over the past two days by the Papademos government, headed by Mr. Loukas Papademos. Allow me to remind you that this is an unelected government, which does not enjoy popular support and has consistently and consciously acted against the will of the people of Greece. This government does not have the democratic legitimacy to bind this country and its people for the coming years, the coming generations. This legitimization deficit is in conflict with the rich democratic tradition of your own country. If this continues therefore, it will become a bad precedent for Greece and Europe as a whole, which above all, have a common inheritance of political and democratic traditions, which must be respected. However great the seriousness of the current circumstances might be - over which there is room for a divergence of opinion - they should not in any way cancel democracy.
The lack of democratic legitimacy of the Papademos government arises from the following facts:
  1. The two political parties, which support the government and participate in it do not have a popular mandate to bind Greece to treaties and agreements of this nature. Their representatives were elected in the last national elections on October 2009, based on political programmes at complete odds with the policies that were followed by the previous Papandreou government as well as those being negotiated today with the EU, the troika and the IIF, by the current government. The two parties which constitute the current government have a recorded history of plundering public resources and are responsible for the current economic situation
  2. The people of Greece have been systematically misinformed and deceived about the intensity and the duration of the austerity measures, ever since their first implementation in 2010. Consequently they have withdrawn their confidence in the Greek political establishment. Furthermore, the widely admitted - inside our country and abroad - obvious failure of these measures to successfully face the fiscal problems they were supposed to solve these past two years and the five-year period of  continuously deepening recession, has further legitimated the demand for a change in policy, so as to restore a socially just growth and therefore the prospect of a fiscal rationalization.
  3. More specifically: the unelected Papademos government provides but a minimum of information, sometimes even deceitful, regarding the agreements it is secretly negotiating. It has not initiated nor has it allowed to initiate any public, informational discussion about the extremely serious long term commitments that follow. Greek Democracy has thus been deprived of the constitutionally protected right of a detailed evaluation of the consequences of the signed agreement. The so-called "second rescue" was voted through an emergency ultra fast-track procedure, in the time-frame of one parliamentary session on a Sunday. The main object of this session was the demand by the government of a carte-blanche authorization on almost blank documents, which are supposed to bind the country for years to come
  4. To the degree that there has been no information on these agreements, their content seems to be such as to commit the Greek people for generations to come. For such commitments any government should at least demand a clear and renewed mandate.
  5. To the degree that there has been no information on the government's movements, the will of the Greek people as expressed in a multitude and a variety of ways, is almost unanimous in opposition to them. Specifically, during the last two years the people of Greece, throughout the country are expressing their opposition to government policies through, among other means, repeated general strikes and demonstrations, occupations, letter writing, electronic messages and other forms of personal communication with members of Parliament. The Greek government, not only chose to ignore the voice of its people, but tried indeed to stifle it, at times even violently, so as to continue in a antidemocratic way, the policies that have been proven disastrous for the Greek economy and society.
For all of the above reasons, I  am notifying you that the Greek people, as soon as they restore their right to democratically express their will and regain control of their democratic institutions, will in all likelihood reserve recognition or compliance with these agreements that the current government is planning to assent to. Specifically the Greek people will not accept any loss of sovereignty, foreign involvement in internal matters of Greece or large-scale sale of public companies, land and other assets that the current government is preparing to accept...

Alexis Tsipras
President of the SYRIZA parliamentary team

Monday, February 20, 2012

Declaration for the Defense of Society and Democracy

I reproduce here the text of the Declaration for the Defense of Society and Democracy, organized by a group of progressive Greek intellectuals as an instrument to raise awareness about the predicament Greece is in, but also the dangers that this implies for Europe as a whole... In order to sign this document send an e-mail with your name and organization (optional) to (signatories thus far)

The following declaration (original here) is the product of an initiative undertaken by a group of citizens from different backgrounds who have agreed on the necessity of sounding a coherent and massive critical voice inside Greece as well as internationally. We have agreed that an intervention is necessary, which will forcefully highlight to Greek and European public opinion three major issues, in a conjuncture when the dominant dilemma "austerity or bankruptcy" has given it's place to the absolutely negative sum of "both austerity and bankruptcy":
1. The collapse of the social welfare state and the intensification of social inequalities
2. The subversion of democratic institutions and civil rights
3. The dissolution of the European vision and the decay of European unity
This initiative does not aim to produce yet another petition and a collection of signatories, despite its having originated on that basis. It aims to produce wider concurrences and spread the message everywhere that the "Greek problem" is simply a warning about the danger that fundamental European social and political values are in. Therefore it concerns us all.
It is our goal that everyone who signs this petition involve themselves, if they so wish, into social action, in a potential collaboration with organizations and collective entities who know firsthand, better than all of us, what is really happening in Greece today, and who are interested in working for a social and democratic Europe. In this crisis no one is alone. The answer to exclusion is participation. The answer to defeatism and pessimism is action...

Greek society is suffering both from the crisis and the responses to it, which have reached a dead-end. Major social and political institutions that were created with enormous struggles and sacrifices in post-War Greece – social security, the public health care system, public education, public transport, the natural and urban environment, the right to live a safe existence, and various elemental goods and services that underwrite the very existence of an already curtailed and devalued Greek state – are all being utterly dismantled so that Greek society is now dying of asphyxiation.

These dead-end responses rest on the blackmailing dilemma: austerity or bankruptcy? Yet, this is hardly a dilemma – it is rather a negative aggregate: both austerity and bankruptcy. The tri-monthly threat to expel Greece from the Eurozone constitutes an ethical alienation and an economic catastrophe, precisely because it strengthens the profound recession, turning the whole of Europe into an agent of uncertainty, financial instability, and proliferation of the crisis. It is Europe itself that is producing the conditions that make it impossible for Greece to fulfill its debt obligations.

It is becoming clearer every day that the specific political response to the crisis, which culminated in the parliamentary approval of the Second Memorandum, is not a viable process of overcoming the crisis or alleviating the long term pathologies of the Greek political and economic system, but a catastrophic process that deepens already existing terms of social injustice. The crisis is not experienced by those who exploited the state and public interest for decades, but by the most vulnerable social constituencies. We are confronted with an unprecedented initiative of an upwards redistribution of wealth and power that subverts the European social model by exacerbating the most extreme economic and social inequities, while simultaneously empowering the return of nationalism and the intensification of racism and xenophobia.

The falsified use of the notion of “reform” is indicative of the incapacity to overcome the crisis. Even those who did hope that the crisis would signal the opportunity to clean up or radically renovate existing institutions understand now that such imposed “reforms” destroy what is left of the social fabric. The dominant discourse regarding Greece, both within the country and abroad, is moralistic, guilt-ridden, and punitive. Every sort of disagreement or critique is dismissed as “populism”, “unionism”, or “anti-Europeanism”. After witnessing the stigmatization of the democratizing process following the fall of the Junta in 1974, we now witness the legitimation of the Far Right, which has been invited to participate in the current government. At the same time, we are bombarded with the demand that government be left in the hands of “Sages”, to coalitions of “technocrats” who will “save” the country. These are powerful autocratic and anti-democratic tendencies that employ an extreme populist rhetoric, to exploit the understandable sentiment of people’s fear-ridden disgust with the now rapidly collapsing old political order. We reject this old order as well, but without, however, subscribing to the shallow “ethnically proud” discourse that uncritically opposes the debt agreements without considering or proposing an alternative plan that can be realistically implemented.

Both Greece and Europe are sinking into a co-dependent crisis that demonstrates, not only the institutional weaknesses of the EU but the unacceptable crisis management by conservative national leaderships with neoliberal statutes and projections. No matter how difficult it seems, we owe it to ourselves to work together for a democratic European society that will continue to project its historical and political values, and provide new content to globalization. In any case, no solution can ever be reached at a national level; it must come to terms with the broader circumstances that affect the entire continent and even beyond. Today, Greeks are being humiliated, tomorrow other peoples, in a process of spreading suspicion and hatred among all. We are facing a catastrophic moment in European history. In this respect, solidarity with the Greek people underlines a major political wager for all of progressive Europe.

Against an uncritical class-based discourse, we owe it to ourselves to respond with critical thought drawn from the daily experience of citizens’ needs, especially those who are targeted unjustly by the crisis. We, the undersigned, are declaring our commitment to engage in the formation of a powerful front for the defense of society and democracy. We are forming a broad coalition that will bring together people from a multitude of political domains with the objective to restore the real meaning of words against an abusive language of self-interest, to help produce more creative modes of communication among social spaces and citizens with different affiliations, who share the elemental values of justice, solidarity, and democracy, in other words, the constitutive identities of citizens in a free-thinking and democratic polity.

Rejecting the logic of the “one-way street”, the ahistorical stereotypes that vilify Greek society thus shredding our collective dignity, we take up the task of elucidating, the real consequences of this crisis, both within Greece and abroad. The Greek crisis is part of a broader crisis that is changing the foundations of our current historical times. In this transitional period it becomes essential to understand that the very meaning of society, and certainly the meaning of democracy and of citizenry, are under threat of being dismantled and must be defended at all cost.

e-mail to

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Debts, promises and coups

Schäuble tyrannus

Master and servant
“In Greece the realisation that something has to change, and dramatically, still has to take place among many,” said Schäuble yesterday.
This gem of wisdom, comes from someone who supposedly is in charge of the Greek experiment, the chief of the German economy. I'm not sure how he forms an opinion on what is occurring in Greece, the effects his austerity programmes have on society and the population as a whole, nor do I understand what sort of people advise him on the mindset of the Greek population as a whole. But this didactic tone, coming from someone who obviously, from the effects of the policy he supervises, has not the faintest clue of either the society, or the economy he is helping to demolish and on which he is imposing a developing humanitarian disaster, is colonial in its contempt for the natives.

The Irish Times article linked to in the quotation above, describes Schäuble as one of the negotiators of Germany’s unification treaty, a process which he apparently considers a success and a model for Greece. I leave aside the astonishing idea that the Greek economy is anything like the East German economy was and how terrifying it is that the man running Greece, for all practical purposes, considers it to be a similar project in any meaningful way. I have no first-hand opinion on the matter of course, but it does strike me as odd that the net result is a region which seems to overwhelmingly prefer life under one of the most repressive, intrusive and harsh dictatorships in the Eastern Block, to what Schäuble achieved. So that is what the man calls success: creating mass yearning for dictatorship. I have no doubt that the corrupt and inefficient Third Greek Democracy, ending now, will be remembered with similar nostalgia should current plans persist.

The German leaders' uninformed, yet unabashed shows of contempt, bordering on the racist against Greece and the southerners are, most likely, political theater aimed to please the unthinking Bild readership,vile in its arrogance, but with a broader political aim of enforcing austerity and destroying social Europe as we know it well beyond the Greek borders. Yet one wonders: can they be as cynical as all that? Might the need to make a moralizing argument make them blind and selective as to the sort of "news" and ideas they have about what is happening in the south? I'm not sure... Could it be that it's not just that this is a policy aimed primarily at consolidating the Bild readership, but also a policy informed by Bild?

Meaningless promises burn meaningfully

I have chronicled as best as I could the trials and tribulations of Greek society and its economy, both at Histologion and the European Tribune over the past two disastrous years, and noted the disconnect of the persons in charge of "fixing" the Greek economy with its reality. This whole disaster is turning into a disgusting farce, a farce with real human casualties, but a farce nonetheless. "Greece" is being blamed for failing to meet the programme goals and "lying" to the EU officials. The programme itself cannot be at fault (although it is failing everywhere) so it must be it's lax implementation. This is something that apparently is sold as a fact to northern Europeans, along with the idea that this new package is mainly about "reform" and not about abolishing collective bargaining in Greece, forcefully decreasing private sector salaries to well under official poverty levels and reducing labor law to Burmese levels of worker protection - along with the fire sale of important infrastructure such as the Athens and Thessaloniki water companies and valuable assets such as the state lottery and football pools.

The list of "complaints" about Greece's "broken promises" is impressively ridiculous:
Taxes go uncollected, deficit targets are routinely missed, job cuts from the state payroll are postponed, privatisations have barely begun and pharmacies still shut in the middle of the day. Nearly two years into Greece's bailout, so many promises have been broken that international lenders have largely lost faith in the country's will to reform itself and are torn between imposing stricter outside control and cutting Athens loose.
Let's see how valid the complaints mentioned are:
  • Taxes go uncollected:  This is a ridiculous statement. Taxes - flat taxes, and consumption taxes almost all of them- weighed heavily on the poorer and middle class segments of society, have been vastly increased at a time of total economic implosion. You can't collect taxes now, because the capacity of citizens and most businesses is either diminished or non-existent. As household incomes have fallen by ~50% over the past few months, paying last year's taxes for most households becomes an unbearable weight, and for most small businesses an impossibility. The new tax on property including residences, which was supposed to be paid through the electricity bill (or have your electricity cut-off, I kid you not) - has been met with widespread resentment and refusal of payment from an apparently huge percentage of the population, most of which cannot afford to pay the tax, either because they don't have the money (six out of ten households can't afford to even pay the utility bills, much less the extra tax ), or they're not sure that they won't need the money for pressing and basic needs in a climate of total work insecurity, or because they refuse to be blackmailed by an extortionist state. As even the Telegraph rightly notes:
    Greece’s tax revenue from VAT collapsed by 18.7pc in January from a year earlier.
    Nobody can seriously blame tax evasion for this. It has happened because 60,000 small firms and family businesses have gone bankrupt since the summer.
    The VAT rate for food and drink rose from 13pc to 23pc in September to comply with EU-IMF Troika demands. The revenue effect has been overwhelmed by the contraction of the economy.
    Overall tax receipts fell 7pc year-on-year.
    This is a damning indictment of the EU-imposed strategy. Greece is chasing its tail. The budget deficit is stuck near 8pc to 9pc of GDP because the economic base is shrinking so fast.
  •  Deficit targets are routinely missed: They are. Of course. The targets are unrealistic to begin with, they are imposed based on political aims and not on some plan for the Greek economy, and then the austerity prescribed causes a much greater slump than originally calculated, which makes meeting the deficit target impossible without further cuts, which then cause a deeper recession which cause even greater divergences from the set goal, and so on in an infinite vicious circle... This forecasting error is not limited to Greece alone, but rather a feature of all IMF analyses, which are tools of political coercion and not objective technocratic estimates:
    The fact is that the optimistic 2012 forecasts presented in September 2011 whenever realistic. It was quite clear that the fiscal austerity being imposed upon the Eurozone was always going to result in sharp contractions in real growth.
    The IMF has a history of providing overly optimistic growth forecasts at a time when it is bullying national governments to impose fiscal austerity. The opposite is also the case, their growth estimates that typically conservative when governments are introducing fiscal stimulus packages
    Thus deficit targets are routinely missed, because they are set up that way, in an imploding economy that has lost 15% of GDP in 18 months...
  • Job cuts form the state payroll are postponed: This is hogwash. There is a constitutional ban on firing public sector workers so this can't be done legally as easily as the troika pretends it can. A loophole has been invented in that they can be fired if the position they occupy is canceled. Since 2009, the number of public employees has declined from ~700 thousand to ~500.000. Is this bloated? Well no not even in 2008 it wasn't, according to the OECD:
    Greece has one of the lowest rates of public employment among OECD countries, with general government employing just 7.9% of the total labour force in 2008. This is a slight increase from 2000, when the rate was 6.8%.
    The situation remains significantly unchanged as far as the irrelevance of the size of the public sector employment in Greece to its problems is concerned, even if one adds the broader public sector - quasi-privatized, most of it - which is immediately affected by the troika decisions even though it has no immediate budgetary impact. Now this already low number is to be reduced a further 25%, with promises of firing an extra 150 thousand public employees by 2015. This has literally dissolved the public sector, increased corruption, demotivated the public sector workers and has caused all sort of problems, not least of which is the harm inflicted on the health system, corrupt and inefficient to begin with, which now produces higher mortality rates and superbugs.
  •  privatisations have barely begun: This is true. The reason is that interest in privatized enterprises is close to zero, and the goals set were way too ambitious and unrealistic even last year... Now that the Greek economy has tanked they bring diminishing returns. This is aside of any discussion of the social and long-term economic sense and effects of selling-off things such as the water companies. Demanding immediate privatizations now is a demand for allowing the plunder of public resources. That the privatisation plans were not realistic, was noted very early on by many commentators...
  • pharmacies still shut in the middle of the day: This doesn't merit a response. The reason Greece is in an unprecedented depression is certainly not the traditional arrangements on the work schedule of pharmacies. If they mean the liberalization of professions, it is now in effect in Greece in such a drastic and idiotic way in most cases, that it has destroyed the livelyhoods of thousands of people while creating practically no jobs for anybody else.
This is the sort of propaganda that promotes that idea that the reason for this whole Greek disaster, is not the actual policies imposed by the troika, which came to Greece with general blueprints and no idea about the reality of Greece's economy, vindicating Joseph Stiglitz's views on the IMF missions to various part of the world - but now with a local, ECB flavor of ineptitude:

When the IMF decides to assist a country, it dispatches a "mission" of economists. These economists frequently lack extensive experience in the country; they are more likely to have firsthand knowledge of its five-star hotels than of the villages that dot its countryside. They work hard, poring over numbers deep into the night. But their task is impossible. In a period of days or, at most, weeks, they are charged with developing a coherent program sensitive to the needs of the country. Needless to say, a little number-crunching rarely provides adequate insights into the development strategy for an entire nation. Even worse, the number-crunching isn't always that good. The mathematical models the IMF uses are frequently flawed or out-of-date. Critics accuse the institution of taking a cookie-cutter approach to economics, and they're right. Country teams have been known to compose draft reports before visiting. I heard stories of one unfortunate incident when team members copied large parts of the text for one country's report and transferred them wholesale to another. They might have gotten away with it, except the "search and replace" function on the word processor didn't work properly, leaving the original country's name in a few places. Oops.
There is no doubt, in short, that the Greek government, a most obedient group of creditors' overseers, lacks credibility. First and foremost it lacks credibility among its population. All polls show, and Sunday's demos proved, that this is a government that has lost all real political legitimacy, and the two parties that support it are in free fall. But the reason it lacks this legitimacy, the reason that they are ineffective tools for the implementation of the IMF/ECB programme is exactly because they are trying to implement a political project of mass pauperization and destruction of the minimal social state that existed in Greece before the arrival of the troika. This is not only an unjust and violent plan, but also a plan fraught with contradictions, misdiagnoses, and ideological fixations that apart from destructive also make it unworkable. It is, I admit, a display of evil political genius, that this impossibility is used to reinforce its brutality, at least as far as the other suckers in this mass bank bailout that is sold under the guise of Greece's bankruptcy, are concerned, namely the taxpayers of the loaning countries. Money given to "Greece" in fact will end up a. feeding Greek banks, already bailed out lavishly on taxpayer money, though their ownership structure will be preserved, with sums that are two orders of magnitude larger than their current market evaluation b. To the PSI participants c. To pay of already existing debt. There is no d. It bodes ill for the future of Greece that the memorandum (which parliament approved in a few hours, in a draft version that had blanks on actual sums of money involved, to be filled after its approval!) is a straight jacket that in practice commandeers the Greek economy for the benefit of bankers and other creditors, to the detriment of its population. That is why the Greek government lacks credibility even to lenders: a democratically  illegitimate government facing elections soon, is not credible because it is not stable. Which brings us to recent developments

An EU coup?

The severity of the measures and the blatant breach of any sort of national sovereignty by the new loan deal, coupled with the growing strength of the actual left in Greece, has created a climate of insecurity for the powers that be in the EU - powers, I should add that are already seen as enemies by much of the Greek population. Thus the German Finance Minister and the EPP axis of austerity around him are apparently considering an ultimatum, or is it blackmail? call it what you will:
There were signs a group of triple A-rated governments, including Germany, Finland and the Netherlands, were hardening their stance towards Athens. During a conference call among eurozone finance minsters, the three countries suggested they may want additional letters from other smaller Greek parties and openly discussed the possibility of postponing Greek elections.
Ahead of the call, Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, said in a radio interview Greece might delay its polls and install a technocratic government that does not include politicians like Mr Venizelos and Mr Samaras, similar to the model currently in place in Italy.
So elections should be put off, according to the debtors wishes, despite the fact that Samaras has guaranteed elections will be held in April and that it is blatantly obvious that the current government is totally at odds with the popular sentiment, as is the parliament. This is not a democratic union anymore. This is a tyranny where political leaders are extorted into signing letters of submission and adherence to a dead-end policy, that has failed in multiple parts of the world. This is the neoliberal cancellation of democracy, the emergence of the European Central Bank as an instrument of transformation of the European Project to some sort of market-driven dystopia. This is not tolerable, and it's not just about Greece anymore.

It seems that the Greek debacle, the realisation of the extent to which European elites are ready to use the debt crisis as an instrument for the neoliberal transformation of the EU has stirred popular forces around the world. From England, to France, to Spain, , Belgium, Italy, even as far away as San Francisco, a lot of people realize that the fight in Greece is more than about fiscal rectitude and balancing budgets, it is the first in a series of battles that will decide the way the debt crises will unfold in Europe and beyond, whether the EU will become another labor wasteland and whether Social Europe as we have known it will continue to exist and develop.

That is the battle we're fighting here, not just for our own skins, although we're trying to avert a descent to a humanitarian disaster, but also the first battle in a world-wide social war over the debt, over who controls the economy and whom it should benefit...
[A briefer and more focused version of this story can be found at the European Tribune]

Monday, February 13, 2012

The battle around Syntagma square

Around 11, I tried to return to the protests. I had to turn back. It was impossible to reach down-town. ~50 buildings have been set on fire and the smell of tear gas is overpowering. A few minutes ago a police precinct was attacked. A bank in Volos was burned to the ground, while MPs offices were attacked in Corfu, Western Greece and Crete...

The mobilization was unprecedented. By 5 o'clock Syntagma was full, so was Omonia square, and almost all of the surrounding streets - but it's difficult to gauge participation though because as soon as the square started to fill up the police attacked the protesters with large amounts of teargas... There is an estimate around the tweetosphere of 500.000, this is not unrealistic. Bear in mind though that after the first chemicals people, especially older people,  decided not to show up, or attempt to approach Syntagma.

Even the orderly and robust communist union's block didn't make it to Syntagma although they attempted an approach from three different directions. The Syriza block attempted many times to reach parliament. They were pushed back, and the block was attacked around 10 - 10:30.

The cops were throwing tear gas canisters in the middle of huge but peaceful crowds. The number of people injured and taken to the hospital tonight officially is 75, but in reality it's much more, the makeshift first aid stations around Syntagma (some of which I hear were attacked by the police) treated scores of people....

Among the first to be hit were Greek resistance icon Manolis Glezos and music composer Mikis Theodorakis (89 and 91 years old respectively), giving a signal that the police was not about to spare anyone. It was obvious that they had orders to keep Syntagma square clear and they did it with extreme brutality.

After that, things got wild, either through some sort of concerted black-block action, or whatever, one after the other buildings were set on fire, banks initially but then other buildings: coffee shops, and cinemas among them - grand old buildings of great contemporary historical significance sadly.
As I write this Athens is still ablaze, and I fear this might be the start of a trend, not just an explosion. Certainly the number of people despising both the police and the current government skyrocketed today and as the state is reduced more and more to shows of police brutality anti-authoritarian or even just blind violence will grow more frequent.

About the vote: As expected. The two leaders, the political and electoral nullity (8% approval rate) of George Papandreou and Antonis Samaras (soon to follow him in disrepute) threw out a total of 41 MPs from their parties. The two teams of expelled MPs are strong enough to create two new parties: one at PASOK's left perhaps (although most of them are also in disrepute exactly for following the PASOK leadership's orders for so long) and one at ND's populist right. Panos Kammenos, an economic populist (and virulent nationalist , it has to be said) is said to be preparing such a party, though not all of the MPs who were expelled would feel comfortable in such a political environment.

The left will gain: Democratic Left as a more "moderate" left is receiving a huge inflow of moderate PASOK voters, looking for a less damaged political roof, but also SYRIZA and KKE have stabilized at very high numbers and the current climate of popular unrest will probably strengthen them. All three of these parties voted against the memorandum and SYRIZA and KKE have promised to undo all of its measures one by one, on constitutional grounds...

There is talk of a continuous general strike planned for most of the country's public enterprises, and a continuous series of strikes in the rest of the public and private sector. I think it is labor now, more than any other part of the Greek population that will carry the torch of the popular battle...

I would also like to point out that those who are building a Europe of solidarity, a real European Union? well it's not Merkel...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Greece: They must not pass...

"Martial law has to be imposed for these measures to be implemented"
This loan shark says, make them pay, beat them until they pay everything, but don't beat them so hard that they can't keep paying.  That loan shark says, if you don't make an example of this one, the others won't respect you.  Beat them to death.  And it is between these two poles that the bankers, ratings agencies, and EU leaders oscillate...
How is Greece taking the new loan deal that accompanies the PSI? Most compare it to a dictatorship, a foreign occupation, the kind of terms a victor imposes on a defeated country. No wonder: Two years of the most grinding austerity, has caused a destruction of the Greek economy that has no precedent, in peacetime, as official nominal wages dropped 15%, unemployment passed the 20% mark and, according to polling company VPRC, the bottom 90% of Greek households, suffered in 2011 alone loss of income on average ~45% of their incomes. Greece is already a "labor wasteland" where jobs are near impossible to find and when they materialize they are more likely to be "black", uninsured, well below the poverty threshold.Yet the new loan deals mandate among other things:
- The dismantling of collective bargaining and the annulment of the current collective agreement. "Labor law" in Greece will not be a meaningful subject any more
- Across the board cuts in nearly all of private sector wages and salaries to the tune of 22%. This includes the minimum wage (which will be now around 580 euros net, and under 500 euros if you are a new entrant into the job market). This affects all sort of benefits i.e. the unemployment benefit which is reduced to 369 from 461 euros. This in a country where the cost of living in its capital is still higher than that of Berlin
- Immediate elimination of rent subsidies for the poorer, cuts in pensions, mass privatization at fire sale prices (including the Athens and Thessaloniki water companies, and the lottery/football pool company, whose market price right now is at two years profits) etc. This on top of galloping social destruction, a health system that is going to the dogs (the decay of which is producing even stronger superbugs) and public services being destroyed or annihilated.
- At the same time whatever debt will remain - and it will be huge and unsustainable anyway - will now be under English law, and not Greek law, meaning that the terms of the loans will be draconian.

And much, much more: 650 pages of it that Greek MPs were required to read in 24 hours since they received the package, Saturday, to vote on it on Sunday. The process is illegitimate, and constitutionally questionable yet the two government coalition partners (socialists and conservatives - the far right LAOS rightly figured that this will destroy it electorally and removed its ministers from the government), are extorting their MPs: "pain or destruction" they warned, along with the PM. Everything will be rationed, Greece will leave the euro and remain a third world country for ever. Sane people disagree. But they are not in government.

Τhe political system is shaken: MP after MP from the ruling coalition either resigns (at least 5 now, but probably more, I've lost count) or announces that they will vote against the new plan. These include among others the former economy minister Louka Katseli, and notably Socialist MP and former World Bank and IMF economist Elena Panaritis, who was close to tears in the Parliament commission today, stating that in her 16 year experience of drafting similar deals (and she worked with the World bank in Peru, for chrissakes), she has not seen anything quite as disastrous as the troika's offer.

It is unsurprising then that despite being hammered by the media and the Papademos government (the Prime Minister being the sort of economist that argues in parliament that if workers don't accept huge wage cuts  the unemployed will stay unemployed - this as real wages are collapsing anyway,) most Greeks prefer immediate bankruptcy to this. The colonial attitude of Ollie Rehn and Jean Claude Junker only inflamed public opinion. What seeps through the media from EU and especially establishment opinion on how this is all the Greeks fault and they should suck it up because they are overpaid, lazy etc. has already caused the first instance of German flag-burning and has resulted in the first time ever that the EU as an institution has a negative reception according to a latest poll.

And so Greece strikes and fights back:

The Law school in Athens under occupation by students, the health ministry by mental health doctors who protest the near-total defunding of mental care, the ministry of Labor by workers belonging to the communist union, the electric grid authority in the ministry of environment and energy by the power company workers' union (a couple of days ago they held the minister hostage for a few hours, until he was released by riot police)... also occupied: the Holargos(a suburb of Athens) City Hall, in Larissa, Chania, Veria, Ermoupolis and Corfu the Regional Governor's building, in Rethymnon the City Hall, in Chania and Trikala the prefecture offices.

I'm not sure how many of these occupations are still in effect, and it is likely that they have multiplied. They will serve as a launch pad all over Greece for what promises to be the largest protests ever (despite the weather) outside the parliament building in Athens and in major squares all over Greece. People are angry, no longer "indignant" but "outraged". If this government proceeds to pass this memorandum, all hell will break loose, on a social and a political level. The political system is destabilized, all options are on the table and theoretically elections are less then a couple of months ahead. And despite the rhetoric of this government's apologists, today's demonstrations are in reality the true pro-european demonstrations. In Greece today there will be the first of a series of big battles in defense of the European social contract, of labor. A test case, a guinea pig, because it is obvious that in one form or another this austeritarian disaster will be unleashed around the EU, and the core should not feel safe from harm. Already labor conditions and real wages in the EU southern periphery are converging downwards towards the poorest members of the union.

Today, after three days of huge demonstrations and general strikes, Athens will be filled with rage. A police officer's union has declared that it will refuse to attack its brothers, and threatened the troika members with arrest... People are prepared for the worse anyway though. I'm heading down to Syntagma to topple a foreign imposed bankers' government, gas mask in my pocket and mad as hell. They must not pass. They will not pass...

[The Greek Left Review has said it will have live coverage of demonstrations today]