To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
Date: April 4, 2015
RE: Solidarity with Greek working people
+ Correction to previous posting on Ann Arbor environmental teach-in

 Will Greece escape austerity?

A major confrontation is taking place in Europe. The Greek people voted on January 25 to end austerity, and Alexis Tsipras of the left-wing coalition Syriza became prime minister the next day, heading a coalition government of Syriza and the much smaller rightist party Anel. The Tsipras government immediately announced that it would end austerity, seek a renegotiation of past financial obligations, and carry out a more realistic economic program. This indeed was what Syriza had campaigned on. The European big bourgeoisie immediately said no: elections don’t matter, only what the rich and privileged say matters. The European Central Bank (ECB) acted in March to sabotage the Greek economy by refusing the Greek government the right to take ordinary financial steps, like issuing T-bills. The policy of the Eurogroup (collection of finance ministers of countries using the Euro as currency) is not to try to help Greece, but to tighten the vise on it: do what we say, cut pensions, cut health care, cut education, cut housing, privatize everything, or starve. Meanwhile German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble boasted proudly that he was imposing restrictions on Greece that would embarrass the government.

This struggle has now gone on for more than two months. The Greek government has put on hold most of its proposed measures for the time being, giving negotiations with the Eurogroup a chance. All Europe has watched these negotiations intensely. The European bourgeoisie is afraid that if Greece escapes austerity, or even blunts it, then workers in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and elsewhere will be encouraged to denounce austerity and defy the European financiers and government ministers. Already Irish workers are fighting back against the imposition of water fees, while the conservative Spanish government fears upcoming elections in December. So the European bourgeoisie wants to make Greece an example of what happens when you defy them: they want to hurt Greece as badly as possible. They have no sympathy for the workers, and don’t care if workers lose homes or medical care, or have to search garbage for food. Indeed, all the better to force them to accept lower wages and the removal of all regulations restricting how the capitalists can bully their workers. Thus the European Commission went out of its way to specifically oppose the emergency humanitarian bill passed in Greece on March 18 that targeted relief to the poorest and most desperate of Greeks, reconnecting electricity to their households, providing food stamps, and helping with rent.

But the fate of the workers in Greece doesn’t mainly depend on the details of the negotiations with the European financiers. It depends on whether the Greek people are willing to defy the European big bourgeoisie. Provided the Tsipras government holds firm, it depends on how far the Greek people will support, if the European bourgeoisie refuses to accept any Greek proposals, taking measures in defiance of the troika (the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission). In that case, the only way out of misery for Greece is to be prepared to act independently of the troika and Eurogroup and do without their financial “bailouts”. This might mean such things as repudiating the entire debt, nationalizing the banks, and replacing the Euro with a national currency that the European Central Bank couldn’t sabotage. This would not be easy: it would be a major change, and result in temporary disruptions of economic life. It requires that the working people are ready to suffer additional temporary privation in order to live free and escape long-term disaster.

The fate of Greece also depends on how much support the Greek working people get from other workers in Europe. This is necessary to stay the hands of the European bourgeoisie. But so far, it looks like this support is developing too slowly. Many left-wing parties have declared support for the Greek people, but the demonstrations are moderate in size, and frankly, most of these parties are in crisis themselves. Although the election of the Tsipras government and the sight of the troika stomping on Greece during the negotiations has caused quivers all through Europe, a mass reaction in Greece’s favor hasn’t come fast enough to prevent the European bourgeoisie from planning to present more ultimatums to Greece, possible in the upcoming meetings of deputy finance ministers of the Eurogroup on April 8-9.

A key question will be whether Syriza and the Tsipras government stands up to this pressure. If Greece faces bankruptcy, Tsipras has pledged to put the issue of leaving the Eurozone to a referendum. (The Eurozone is the group of countries that use the Euro as their currency. When you use the Euro, you are subject to various rules from the ECB and other institutions. At present in Greece, leaving the Eurozone would be necessary for repudiating past debts, issuing certain types of government securities, taking over the banks, etc.) The Greek government may find some way to postpone leaving the Eurozone for awhile, leaving time for further negotiations. But whether it occurs on April 8-9 or sometime later, the choice will probably be stark: capitulation and austerity forever or defiance.

The troika may force Greece to leave the Eurozone. If it does so, it won’t be for the sake of the Greek economy, but in hopes that the Greek economy would collapse. They are holding Greece hostage and negotiating in bad faith. The troika isn’t even raping Greece for the sake of the European economy as a whole, for this economy has suffered from the austerity program of the Eurobourgeoisie. Moreover, Greece leaving the Eurozone might cause major repercussions and crisis throughout Europe. The big bourgeoisie appears willing to risk all, because imposing neo-liberalism is its first and foremost priority. Also, neo-liberalism may have hurt the European economy, but it has given new opportunities to rich capitalists, enhanced the inequality in Europe, and eliminated many regulations that had seemed firmly entrenched only a few years ago. All this must seem like paradise to the big exploiters!

So far this year, a big majority of the Greek people have been against continuing austerity, but also against leaving the Eurozone and, presumably, against other measures that decisively split with the European financial institutions. At the same time, they have watched the negotiations between the Tsipras government and the European bourgeoisie, are outraged at what the Eurogroup and the troika are demanding, and for the time being largely back the stand of the Tsipras government. They have seen that the Tsipras government has walked the last mile to come to some agreement with the Eurogroup, and they may come to accept that there is no choice but to tell the Eurogroup and the troika to go to hell.

So if the Tsipras government sticks to its guns, the questions will be: will the Greek people, who have up to now mainly been committed to staying with the Euro and the European financial institutions, decide to leave? Will Greece be able to stand up to the temporary hardships which defying the Eurogroup and suffering its sabotage will entail? And will the workers have the strength to resist the reactionary elements in the Greek police, army, and government bureaucracy who - in league with the Greek big bourgeoisie - may seek to sabotage policies of economic control, or even seek to launch a coup against the Tsipras government?

The European workers deserve the solidarity of American workers. It is another sign of the backward nature of the bureaucrats leading most American unions that they haven’t carried out a major campaign in support of the Greek people, the cancellation of the Greek debt, and the end to the neo-liberal strangling of Greece. They should have been telling workers, a victory in Greece against austerity is a victory that will echo around the world, including in the US. They should also have learned something from the Greek people voting out the two big establishment parties in Greece, the Greek equivalents of the Democrats and Republicans, and voting in a new party, Syriza. Instead the bureaucrats may issue a brief statement or two on Greece, but don’t really care. It’s much more important to them to continue funneling money to Democratic and Republican politicians. We instead should set upon the path of building up independent political movement of the working class.

I hope in a subsequent article to deal with such issues as the nature of Syriza, its strong and weak points.

--by Joseph Green, editor, Communist Voice

Correction to Pete Brown's "Some issues in the Environmental Movement: Report on 'Teach-In = 50' at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor" which appeared in the April 2 DWV list.

In the last paragraph, replace the sentence: "Some were distributing literature against nuclear power, some were collecting signatures for a ban on fracking." with

"Some were distributing literature against nuclear power. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan was there distributing brochures and signing up volunteers to collect signatures for such a ban."

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Posted on April 4, 2015.