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Greece: concessions and resistance

By: 
Faline Bobier

June 25, 2015

As we go to press Greece faces a critical 24 hours as European leaders hold an emergency summit that they hope will break the deadlock around the country's debt crisis.

But the terms on which European leaders, the IMF and the World Bank want to break the deadlock imply more hardship, less pension security, more unemployment and even lower wages for the Greek working class, who have already suffered years of such treatment in the faint hopes this would restore Greek capitalism to health.

The wave of working class struggle, strikes and ongoing occupations which allowed for the left government Syriza’s sweep to power five months ago is critical now, to push Greek PM Alexis Tsipras to stay true to his tough talk, accusing the IMF of “criminal responsibility.” Tsipras has said that Greece would “never submit” to its, or Europe’s, “irrational demands.”

People vs profits

However, many Greek workers feel that Tsipras has already conceded too much to the bankers and the banks. According to Athens teacher Dimitris Papatheodourou, “Tsipras’s mistake is that he hasn’t toughened his stance. The government has already retreated on so many of its pre-election pledges. The 47-page proposal that it gave lenders [outlining reforms in return for cash] was horrible, a massive retreat.”

The outcome of the this week’s negotiations between Greece and other European leaders, the IMF and the World Bank will not only have massive repercussions for Greek workers, pensioners, the unemployed and the poor, but also for the whole of Europe and workers fighting austerity in other countries, such as Spain.

As Karl Marx wrote famously in The Communist Manifesto over 160 years ago, “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.” Marx understood the working class as an international phenomenon, with workers being divided by the powerful boundaries of nation, gender, race, religion, from seeing their common interest.

Just as victory in one country can have repercussions in other places, so a defeat at this critical juncture can sow the seeds of defeat for workers in other parts of Europe. The mainstream media and mainstream economists try to portray Greek workers and Greece in general as the threat to stability and to workers jobs and living standards in other countries.

This is a lie. The real threat to workers jobs, wages, pensions are the very institutions – the IMF, World Bank, etc. – who are trying to bring Greece to heel. Their mantra is always that those who must pay for the crisis are the working class, the poor – those who have already paid over and over with their pensions, their living conditions, their very lives (the suicide rate, particularly for young people in Greece, has increased drastically since the beginnings of the crisis).

It’s very clear that the neoliberal lie, that some pain now will bring gain later, is not true for most of us. The only people who benefit when we buy their lies are the ruling class and the institutions that control them-the banks and corporations.

The hope is that those on the left inside Syriza and outside Syriza can organize with workers and the poor to reject any backtracking on the part of Tsipras. If the path ahead means a break with the Eurozone and the Euro and defaulting on the debt, this is not a defeat for unity but the only way to ensure that there is any hope of defeating the austerity agenda across Europe and for building a real unity among workers across borders.

Lessons

What lessons can we draw here in Canada from the struggles going on in Greece, as we face an election in the fall of 2015? Many activists are taking heart from the recent victory of the NDP in Alberta, something many thought would never happen. It now seems like a definite possibility that we could serve up defeat to Stephen Harper and his rapidly shrinking band of supporters.

So-called strategic voting (which has in the past led progressives, unions and some on the left to vote for the Liberal Party as the lesser evil) may be much less attractive this time around when voting with your heart and mind seems like it might actually bring the desired result – a government of the social democratic left and the first time an NDP government would form the federal government. It’s hard to see anything progressive about Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who voted whole-heartedly with the Tories on supporting the hated Bill C-51, which threatens to weaken civil liberties for all in this country.

But one thing we need to keep in mind throughout the coming months is that it’s only the struggles of working people and the social movements that will push the NDP, should they come to power, to bring in any of the changes we so desperately need. We know that politicians can’t do it for us. They won’t do it for us, as the history of many social democratic governments in power in various provincial governments has shown us.

Just as in Greece, workers must organize independently should Syriza falter and give in to more demands for working class suffering as the way out for Greek capital.

It’s instructive to keep in mind the guiding principle of the Clyde Workers’ Committee, which they put forward in November 1915: “We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them.”

Or, as Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote: “With the masses—always, with the vacillating leaders—sometimes, but only so long as they stand at the head of the masses. It is necessary to make use of vacillating leaders while the masses are pushing them ahead, without for a moment abandoning criticism of these leaders.”

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