What comes next in Greece?

August 12, 2011

Panos Petrou, a member of the socialist group Internationalist Workers Left, explains what comes next in the struggle against austerity in Greece.

THE NEW bailout of Greece announced on July 21 was presented by the government as a major success that we should celebrate. But the only people who have some reason to be satisfied are the bankers who hold Greek bonds. Working people have no reason to celebrate.

The new $227 billion bailout includes a "soft" debt restructuring--under which bondholders will lose 21 percent of the value of the hold toxic bonds, but will be issued new ones guaranteed by the European Financial Stability Fund--plus a rollover of old loans to new ones to be repaid at lower interest rates over the next 30 years.

But this only serves to make sure creditors won't lose all their money, as they would if Greece went into full devfult--and to avoid, at least for now, a domino effect that was threatening the whole eurozone.

In terms of the overall Greek debt crisis, the results of the deal are insignificant. Even Prime Minister George Papandreou admits that the restructuring will only reduce the debt only by about $38 billion--less 10 percent of the total. In the meantime, the new loans to repay the older ones will keep pushing the debt upward, toward 150 percent of the gross domestic product, according to estimate.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou at a July 21 emergency meeting to arrange for a second bailout
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou at a July 21 emergency meeting to arrange for a second bailout

The bailout deal is not some act of "European solidarity." When she returned from the July 21 meeting to Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that whatever her country provided for the bailout, it would get back more in the end.

And in exchange for the deal, Papandreou promised a 30-year-long program of harsh austerity for workers in Greece. Some of these measures were already part of the first bailout agreed to in 2010 with the European Central Bank, European Union and International Monetary Fund, and were voted through the Greek parliament at the end of June. But media reports say the new agreement has even tougher terms that may be announced in September.

The Papandreou government has already unveiled a blitzkrieg-style attack on living standards. A new law that would effective wreck public universities is to be voted on by September. Many hospitals are to be "merged"--a polite term for shutting down a number of them--in the coming weeks and months. Public-sector workers will suffer another drastic salary reduction in August. Plus, a massive program of privatization of public enterprises and property is underway, and will speed up the coming months.

Papandreou made his intentions clear, speaking to the members of his cabinet: "We will open all fronts, even if this means they will bring us down."

THIS IS the challenge we are facing today in Greece. The resistance movement that rocked the government in previous months needs to escalate its actions bring it down.

The "movement of the squares"--the occupations of public squares in Athens and other cities by mainly youth demonstrators--ebbed after the 48-hour general strike and mass demonstrations at the end of June. Everyone realized that the passage of the austerity measures by parliament signaled the end of "round one."

But everyone is also aware that "round two" is coming. And everyone knows that nothing will be the same after the upheaval in May and June--that the people who took part in the mass movement won't go back to "business as usual." For more than a month, hundreds of thousands of people took a stand by demonstrating, taking part in assemblies and confronting the police. This wave of militancy and solidarity--and the massive changes in people's ideas--won't just disappear.

During those days of struggle, in addition to the occupations of the squares, many people's assemblies were set up in the neighborhoods of cities. After a short "summer break," these assemblies plan to restart their actions at the end of August.

The occupation of Syntagma Square in central Athens--the center of the squares movement--was shut down by police at the end of July after only a few people were left. So a demonstration on September 3, decided on weeks ago to "open the season," is now much more important--it becomes the day that the movement will reclaim Syntagma Square.

There is also a traditional union demonstration outside the Thessaloniki International Fair, where the prime minister always announces his planned policies for the coming months. Every year, the success of this demonstration is an important test for the working class movement and sets the tone for the coming months. Thus, September 10 is another big date for the movement--it will be very important for the mass of people who took part in the "squares movement" to demonstrate hand in hand with the unions.

But along with these big days of action, it is even more important to organize everyday resistance in the neighborhoods and in the workplaces--to "bring the squares to every workplace," as socialists have called for.

During the summer, local committees, neighborhood assemblies and the doctors' and nurses' unions organized joint actions in many hospitals around Greece to fight attempts to shut them down or "merge" them. This kind of coordination must escalate and spread everywhere.

The attack on public universities could provoke a militant response from the student movement, which was an explosive force during its massive struggles from 2006 to 2008, but which has been quieter lately.

Plus, of course, the powerful unions for the public sector will be forced to take action as the privatization program speeds up.

We can't predict how and when the next wave of struggle will burst out, but this much is certain--the attacks people are facing are so brutal that the government won't be able to rely on a durable "social peace." For example, even now--in August, traditionally a very quiet time in Greece--Papandreou is facing another bitter struggle: cab drivers are on an indefinite strike, and they are blockading highways, airports and ports.

So the possibilities exist. The squares movement, the workers movement and the student movement need to coordinate. The example of joint actions to defend public hospitals is useful for every public university, every enterprise or social service that is to be privatized, and for every workplace where workers are being laid off.

The government knows that it is one thing to vote for a law in the parliament--and a totally different thing to implement it. The good news is that thousands of people have come to realize the same thing--that a voted through by parliament is not necessarily a good law that deserves to be respected.

So we are facing a prolonged struggle to block implementation of the austerity measures--and the idea of mass disobedience and resistance to the laws parliament passes is gaining ground.

ORGANIZING THE coming struggles and escalating the action won't happen easily or spontaneously. It will require organization--with networks of activists working together on that goal and debating tactics and strategies.

During the spring struggles, a committee was set up under the slogan: "We don't owe anything, we won't sell anything, we won't pay anything." Unions, local committees, popular assemblies from the squares occupations, activists from civil disobedience movements, rank-and-file unionists and others were united under this umbrella.

The committee played an important role in the effort to create a left wing in the squares movement--to connect the squares with the unions to give the resistance movement a radical direction. In the coming months, it can play an part in the organization of the everyday struggle and the creation of a network of resistance.

What's more, this committee provides a common ground for activists of different organizations of the radical left to discuss tactics and act in unity. It shows the way toward the kind of broad united front we need to fight back successfully.

But social struggles alone aren't enough. The fight we face is also a political one. Every struggle that challenges austerity will eventually face the task of challenging mainstream politics and providing a different solution to the political status quo.

A united front of the left involving the Communist Party, the Coalition of the Radical Left SYRIZA and the smaller coalition of the far left ANTARSYA can be a very important factor.

The slogan "We don't owe anything, we won't sell anything, we won't pay anything" summarizes the platform for such a front. Its demands should include tesistance to debt repayments with the aim of canceling the debt; a redistribution of wealth from the rich, with increases in wages and pensions, and more money for social spending; the defense of the public healthcare, education and social security; and nationalization of the banking system, along with an end to the privatization of public enterprises.

Achieving these demands will mean confronting the European Union. It is obvious that the euro-bureaucrats and European governments, whether social democratic or right wing, are working together to save European capital and ruin the lives of the working classes. So the slogan "No obedience to the EU, not a single sacrifice for the euro" is also important for the radical left.

The euro crisis is far from over. The sovereign debt crisis is not just a Greek phenomenon, but is spiraling out of control in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy--and is evening threatening France. Recently, Italy came under pressure from the financial markets over its ability to repay its debts, causing panic and leading the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi to push through a massive austerity program.

The troubles for European capitalism are not over, and they can become even worse in the near future. And we know they will keep hammering the working class in order to save the eurozone.

We need to fight back internationally. As we prepare for a "hot autumn" in Greece, we hope that the autumn will be equally sweltering in Italy, Spain, France, Britain and beyond.

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