Working people in Greece are facing increasingly attacks on their living standards and civil liberties. The radical left coalition SYRIZA came close to winning government in June elections on an anti-austerity program, but fascist forces are are growing out of the despair. Afrodity Giannakis, a member of the International Workers' Left (DEA), which is part of SYRIZA, spoke to Green Left Weekly's Stuart Munckton about the situation.
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An agreement was signed in February by the Greek government and the “troika” of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which provides bail-out funds in return for austerity measures. The agreement, still to be passed through parliament, included spending cuts. Can you describe what extra measures are being introduced and what they mean for working people?
The measures are more or less the same as in the agreement, affecting wages and pensions and promoting extreme privatisation. But it has been dragging on. The measures were going to be finalised in August, but they keep getting postponed.
They kept asking for more and more austerity measures, and both the troika and the government are in on it. The government is serving its internal and external friends.
No one really knew, from the start, how much these cuts would come to. They said about 11.5 billion euros, and then it was 14 billion euros, then 19 billion euros. For the moment, more than 10 billion euros will come out of ordinary people's incomes and go to the lenders and to the banks. It will go to the big enterprises in Greece. About 7.5 billion euros will come out of wages and pensions, and over 3 billion euros will come through new taxes.
At the same time, there are going to be huge cuts in welfare, and in funds to schools, hospitals and municipal councils. For example, the municipal councils will lose about four billion euros. There will also be a very large-scale program of privatisation.
There is also a terrible attack on workers' rights. There has been talk of increasing work time to 13 hours a day, six days a week. Cutting back or completely cutting out dismissal compensation and sacking people without notice are also on the agenda. Working conditions have been gradually eroded anyway, but now the rulers want to take back all these rights people won through struggle.
If you think of all the cutbacks before this latest package, which were 49 billion euros since the first memorandum [signed with the troika in 2010], it is really unbearable.
You mentioned this is a transfer of wealth to the banks and big business. Is this how it is viewed by ordinary people in Greece?
Yes. Things are quite clear now, most people can see what is going on. But that doesn't mean they have really developed a left-wing consciousness, because much more is needed for that.
The coalition government formed after the last elections in June, after SYRIZA came close to winning on an anti-austerity program. The government was formed by the right-wing New Democracy, which won the most votes, and the traditionally social democratic PASOK and Democratic Left, a right-wing split from SYRIZA. How is it holding up in the face of widespread despair and anger at austerity?
They are very determined, very arrogant and very hard. They want to carry out their plans regardless of what the people think. But it is very clear to most people they have not kept their promises, even though the coalition government has been saying: “We can't do much more because the troika is very demanding, and we do our best to negotiate and spread the austerity over many years.” For the first time, they put on a show of negotiating, before Prime Minister Samaras declared the end of the "negotiations" on October 30.
The argument about spreading out the austerity package does not really hold water; the cost to the people of Greece is going to be extreme, whether it all happens in one go or is spread out.
Now they have started talking about development and they are talking all sorts of lies. On the one hand they are dismantling everything, such as collective agreements and workers' rights, on the other they are talking about new development projects with high wages. Maybe some people still believe these kinds of things, but many people are very disappointed the government has not kept its promises.
They said they would renegotiate with the troika. All three parties [in the new government] said the new package would not affect wages and pensions, and other lies like these. Before they formed the government, they made an agreement between them with a series of pro-people points, but they didn't follow through on any of them, it was just to win popular support.
The government has lost popular support in record time.
It also has internal problems, with MPs leaving the coalition government or threatening not to vote in favour of the measures. The measures are to be brought before parliament as one article, so the MPs will not have the option of voting against parts of the package.
The measures are to be voted on any day now, possibly on Monday, November 5. The two major public and private sector workers' federations have called a 48-hour general strike for November 6 and 7.
What has the popular response been?
There are many actions happening. It has become more intense. There were two general strikes in September and in October. People have started to mobilise even more, it is picking up. There are a lot of actions happening in many unions. For example, in the electricity company, in municipal councils, in banks, hospitals, in the media and on universities.
However, top union leaders are not necessarily supportive of these actions. They only call for strikes when they are forced to by the pressure of the rank-and-file.
SYRIZA is calling for all these measures to be abolished. We also want to get rid of this government. SYRIZA is trying to support all these actions. The problem is we don't have a very good connection with working people through the unions. This is logical, since we jumped from 5% of the vote to 27%, so our links with the workers' movement weren't that strong before.
The Communist Party of Greece has stronger links, but it is very isolated. It only wants to take action by itself and it criticises the rest of the left — especially SYRIZA. It is true, sometimes SYRIZA may not be as radical as the circumstances demand, but things could move in a more leftist direction. The leaders are becoming more radical due to the actions of the workers' movement.
But the Communist Party is not helping. It just wants to keep hold of the part of the unions it controls and leave the rest of the left out. We saw this with the steel workers' struggle. If the rest of the left had been allowed to show their support in more concrete ways, the workers might have won. But they were defeated after months of struggle.
There seems to be a big danger with the far right, with fascist forces growing out of the despair caused by the crisis. Recent polls have given neo-Nazi Golden Dawn a 14% support. How serious is this threat?
It is very serious. They have grown fast and played their game in a very clever way. I think they have been preparing for this for many years. They joined the police force in big numbers. Half the police voted for Golden Dawn. They get a lot of support from the police. It has happened many times in the past, but now it's happening in a more open, audacious way.
Recently, there was an organised invasion of migrant shops. They destroyed everything. There was a response from an anarchist group. The police got involved and arrested a lot of the anarchists involved. On top of everything, there are allegations confirmed by doctors that the police actually tortured those they arrested.
It is getting worse. Our democratic rights are being eroded further every day. This is happening because of all the repression they have to apply to enforce the austerity. The government is being assisted by the mere existence of the neo-Nazis. Their views have become more widely accepted and they are opening the way for the government to be more repressive.
A recent example is the police violence and the undemocratic junta-type measures taken by the government against the mobilisation on October 28, commemoration day of the resistance against the German occupation of Greece. For the first time after the military dictatorship [1967-1974], armed soldiers were used. The aim was to keep people away from the site of the customary parade.
Another development reminiscent of the dictatorship is the current persecution of journalists for simply reporting on true facts or expressing their legitimate views.
Many people have responded positively to some of the neo-Nazis' views, but most don't understand what it is all about. People feel very weak and they tend to follow the forces that seem strong.
Also, Golden Dawn has a very anti-memorandum, anti-austerity rhetoric, and I think some people believe that. But their actions show the exact opposite. They support all the austerity measures and they are against the left and the movement in general. They are just helping the government ― we call them the “long arm of the system”.
How much support are the fascists getting from the Greek ruling class? How consciously are they promoting Golden Dawn?
I am sure they are promoting Golden Dawn. They have had links for a long time, the fascists have been used by the bosses. They have been paid by them to do their dirty jobs. The fascists have played a very bad role in strikes.
The fascists have set up an employment program for Greek workers, excluding migrants, and they use it to provide cheap labour for the bosses. They have been part of very shady businesses, working in nightclubs and places like that, some very shady dealings and proven criminal activities. They have committed political crimes too.
There was also a scandal when Golden Dawn supported the handing over of the Agricultural Bank to a friend of the government's. The way it happened was clearly unfair. It will have a devastating impact on ordinary people, including many farmers, who have dealings with the bank.
What are the key tasks of the left in this period?
We have to make sure we counter this rise of the neo-Nazis. The polls show they are gaining support. The left has to be more visibile, so people can come to trust the left. We have to make sure people know what we represent, so they get more politicised.
We need to escalate the resistance, with more demonstrations and strikes. We are calling for a general strike that lasts until we get rid of the government. We need more solidarity, social assistance, with the people. This has been happening a lot through different groups of the left, including SYRIZA. We have set up free doctors surgeries and sell food at very low prices, cutting out the middle person between the producer and consumer.
We try and do this in a political way, to show people you need to fight politically; you cannot solve the problems if wages keep going down. We need to reverse the anti-people measures.
We need a unity of the left, that is the way we will get stronger.
On top of the 48-hour general strike, there is going to be a national strike on November 14, as part of the pan-European day of action.