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European crisis and greek workers’ struggle. An warning call to workers around the world.

I. Europe, new epicenter of the world capitalist crisis 1 – The almost inexorable road to the default of the Greek debt and the explosion of the problems of sovereign debt in Europe, especially in the other countries of southern Europe (Portugal, the Spanish state, Italy) as well as Ireland, although also central countries like […]

Left Voice

May 21, 2010
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I. Europe, new epicenter of the world capitalist crisis

1 – The almost inexorable road to the default of the Greek debt and the explosion of the problems of sovereign debt in Europe, especially in the other countries of southern Europe (Portugal, the Spanish state, Italy) as well as Ireland, although also central countries like England and France, and the strong tendencies to disintegration of the euro zone are a sign that Europe has changed into the epicenter of the second phase of the world capitalist crisis.

Although the announcement of the ‘mega-bailout’ permits gaining time relative to the imminent dangers that were opening about the euro, and, at the same time, about the sustainability of several of the biggest European banks, especially of France and Germany – that have their briefcases full of bonds of the Greek sovereign debt and other heavily indebted countries – this announcement, from which is still lacking more in-depth knowledge about its implementation, still does not resolve the fundamental contradictions of the euro zone, which has exposed the biggest crisis of capitalism since the decade of the 1930s.

2 – This second phase of the capitalist crisis, after the brutal fall of the recession at the end of 2008 and during 2009, is characterized by the crisis in the way that the governments tried to avoid the previous collapse’s becoming a depression, through enormous plans of government bailout of private capital in the framework of the sharp contraction of its revenues as a result of the economic collapse. The gigantic needs of financing of the developed countries, in a framework of greater scarcity of internal savings of the semi-colonial and dependent countries and some imperialist powers like Germany, that in the previous period financed the hyper-indebtedness of the US and the ‘flourishing’ EU countries, like the Spanish state, Ireland, England, Greece, etc., are leading to a war for financing between countries and to the increase of the burden of debt on the weakest or most indebted imperialist countries, that threatens the default of these countries, in addition to increasing the cost of financing in the entire system.

3 – In the context of the fact that the crisis of world overproduction has not been resolved (as shown by the existing over capacity in several branches, in spite of the present economic recovery) and of the persistence of the big imbalances of the international economy before the Great Recession of 2008-2009 (which are seen in the monetary and commercial tensions between the US and China), the exhaustion of the cycle of easy financing could be the coup de grace of the fragile and anemic current recovery of the world economy and could entail the turn to a new recession. Obama’s concern, calling Angela Merkel several times during the weekend in order quickly to repair the situation in Europe that got out of control, and calling Zapatero later, to implement austerity, proves it.

II. A deflationary attack unprecedented since the postwar period: a reality in Greece, that is, however, being prepared throughout Europe

4 – The measures demanded of Greece in exchange for the ‘bailout’ of its sovereign debt constitute the biggest deflationary attack since the end of the Second World War: the reduction of the economic level of the workers through reducing salaries and wages, expanding unemployment, ruining small agrarian producers and the petite bourgeoisie of the cities. In particular, it seeks to destroy historic gains of the Greek workers. The belt-tightening and austerity plan imposed by PASOK, the IMF and the EU, is similar to the plans the bourgeoisie applied in the decade of the 1930’s, during and at the end of the Great Depression. This attack truly involves a significant drop in the standard of living, mainly affecting public workers and retirees, but also employees in the private sector, with the increase in the VAT and the greater ease in dismissing workers. Half a century after its creation, PASOK has abolished an entire series of workers’ gains, like Christmas and Easter bonuses, as well as paid vacations for public employees and retirees, in addition to raising the age and the years of contributions, for a pension, up to 18% less than the present ones for new retirees, beginning in 2011.

5 – These reactionary and anti-worker measures, far from preventing the default, could accelerate it. The problem is that the brutal austerity will cause a deep recession, increasing the fiscal deficit, causing bankruptcies and significant losses, since it would cause lower tax collection and a higher level of non-payment from the population, in the framework of a structural deficit of private savings and the culture of the informal economy existing in the country. An acute part of this scenario of catastrophe that Greece confronts is the situation of extreme fragility in which the banks find themselves, banks that have been enduring a flight of capitals and a run on the banks, that has accelerated. The possibility of their collapse is latent in a moment when there are no longer resources for their nationalization, nor for guaranteeing their deposits, and in the framework of the insufficient contribution set in the EU-IMF plan and the exceptional measures taken by the European Central Bank for support of the Greek financial system. In this way, Greece is coming ever closer to the picture that was seen in Argentina during the 1999-2001 crisis, and that ended with the disorganized default and devaluation at the end of 2001–beginning of 2002. In this case, the crisis took three years to reach its climax. In the case of Greece, in the context of an historic crisis of world capitalism that has not yet finished, its outcome could be much quicker.

6 – However, this will not be only a Greek tragedy, rather it is the future in which all the workers and popular groups in Europe should see themselves. The first ones in the gun sight are Portugal and the Spanish state. Portugal must make progress in tightening up its economy, halting plans for public investment. The Spanish state has been condemned to a ‘budget freeze’ in contrast to the bailout plan for the euro desperately agreed upon among the leaders and finance ministers of the EU on Sunday, May 9, in the early morning, after the German Chancellor Angela Merkel tweaked the ears of the Spanish Prime Minister. At the same time, a profound reform of the labor market is being demanded, with cheap layoffs and increased labor flexibility. And Zapatero responded on Wednesday, May 12: he announced the biggest reduction in public spending since the end of the dictatorship. Not even during the crises of the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, had any government dared to reduce public employees’ wages by 5%. At most, a wage freeze was imposed during Aznar’s time. As well as the end of the ‘baby check’ (new born baby allowance), a reduction of social spending and aid to development.
But if these are the most severe cases, the offensive of all the EU governments seeks to do away with or lessen fundamental rights, like early retirement, free health care, unemployment benefits.

III. May 5th in Athens and other Greek cities demonstrated that it won’t be easy to implement the planed austerity measures

7 – The massive general strike on May 5th, in the principle cities of Greece, and the attempt to attack the Athens Parliament building demonstrates that implementing these draconian plans will not be easy for the European bourgeois governments. Although these actions didn’t kept the PASOK members of parliament and some rightwing members of parliament from passing the austerity plan the following day, they have scared the Greek, European, and North American bourgeois, (with a fleeting market plunge on Wall Street) who fear that these violent actions would take place again in Greece and other European countries if the only future that lies ahead for the workers and the youth is permanent austerity measures.

8 – The main obstacle for a forceful response from the masses is the bureaucratic and reformist union leaders, like the Greek National Union Confederation, GSEE (organizes the private sector), who at the beginning of the crisis acted more like representatives of the government then representatives of the workers, by refusing to call for a general strike, and justifying it by saying that the private sector wouldn’t be affected by the austerity measures. Previously, the third and most brutal austerity measure, which the government decided on May 2nd, forced the Confederation along with the public sector union, ADDEY, to call for a united national strike on May 5th. In the ADDEY Secretary General’s words, the austerity measures “have exceeded the threshold of society’s tolerance and nobody can foresee what will happen next”. But showing his placate character and the role that the union leaders are playing in there attempt to contain and to change the course of the masses’ mobilization, he expressed the main reason that the PASOK is supporting the austerity measures: “the unions will do whatever they can to pressure for their demand for a fair distribution of the austerity measure costs, but they don’t have any intentions to help the speculators that are betting on a Greek default”. In other words, a complete justification of the need for the austerity measures and do whatever is necessary to help resolve the fiscal deficit.

9 – Both leaderships have condemned the workers’ attempt to stop the Parliament voting, thus joining the reactionary line that accuses “the violent people” of pushing Greece to the border of collapse. This policy is trying to create a separation between the vanguard and the masses, at the same time some of the masses support the austerity measures and are terrified by the prospect of bankruptcy, which the government flaunts as a possibility if they don’t accept the brutal cuts. However, the magnitude of the crisis and the lack of improvements, even if it’s just partial for a few months or years (The director of the IMF said 10 years!), could damage the base of support that the government has held onto since the beginning of the crisis and within the framework of a deflationary plan, with repeated direct attacks on the masses by implementing budget cuts. These circumstances are generating conditions for a mobilization comparable to the revolutionary days like Argentina, Bolivia and other Latin American countries went through at the beginning of the decade, and with the possibility that this time the working class could play an even bigger role.

IV. In Opposition to the Austerity Measures against the Workers,
We Must Deflate the Profits of the Bourgeoisie

10 – The plans of PASOK, the IMF and the EU, condemn Greece to a colossal transference of income to the international creditors, the same as the lost decade suffered by Latin America in the 1980’s. The workers and masses of Greece must oppose this ominous perspective which would condemn them to mortgage the present and future of many generations to come with the demand for the non-payment of the foreign debt and rejecting all plans of privatization, demanding at the same time to break with all international organizations like the IMF and the EU, who act like dictators over the Greek people.

11– The deflationary plan of the bourgeoisie, which will exacerbate the recession and the debt, will open up new and stronger expressions of the economic crisis, which will make the reopening of negotiations with the IMF and the EU inevitable and oblige even more draconian attacks than those already planned, like the sacking of public sector workers or the abolition of collective work agreements, seeking ever more for the crisis to be unloaded onto the shoulders of the workers, the youth and the other popular sectors. The workers must stop this unholy machine which seeks to drink up to the last drop of our labour, raising in opposition to this a program for the deflation of the profits of the bourgeoisie and the corrupt politicians who serve it. Wages must not be the variable of the austerity measures, let the rich and the bourgeoisie pay for the crisis. For a wage equal to a family shopping basket. No the pension counter reform. And in the face of the sackings and the inevitable rise in unemployment we should propose the nationalization under workers control of any factory which shuts or fires workers. For the immediate expropriation of the big capitalist groups and the Greek magnates who spend what they steal from us on luxuries and sumptuous consumption.

12 – Although the austerity plan centres on attacking historic conquests of the workers, these are not the only ones affected: the small-scale peasants, the lower sectors of the working class, the youth of the working class districts, etc., will also suffer the violent consequences of these attacks. The workers in struggle should raise a program to win these sectors and so that these do not become influenced by the politics of the right or of new bourgeois variants who in the heat of the crisis and in the face of deflation raise equally terrible “solutions”, like those who argue to leave the EU and return to the Drachma (the old Greek currency). This variant within capitalism can only mean a brutal devaluation which would give a killer blow to the purchasing power of wages as well as pushing the lower sectors of the middle class into even worse ruin either through high inflation or hyperinflation. In opposition to the increase of VAT, we should propose the outright abolition of this regressive tax and the imposition of progressive taxes on big capital. The Greek banks, while they increased the country’s debt contracting foreign loans, used these same loans to act like a secondary imperialism and exploit the Balkan countries for fruitful business opportunities. With the crisis, they have bankrupted the resources of the state to keep themselves afloat through succulent bailouts and now they demand that the workers should pay for their speculation and bad business decisions. We stand for the nationalization of the banks, without any compensation to their old owners, under the control of the workers, as the only way of guaranteeing the savings of the workers and small savers.

We should fight for the continuation and increase of all subsidies to the small peasants as well as demanding that their debts and mortgages be cancelled. It is also necessary to incorporate the youth and unemployed into the struggle by demanding the distribution of the working week between all those available to work, as well as a plan of public works to employ hundreds of thousands of young people with full wages and not the miserable 700 euro minimum wage, now reduced to around 500 euros.

13 – The PASOK government has shown its true anti-working class character and that it does not hesitate to surrender part of the national sovereignty to the IMF and EU. Against their policies of hunger and surrender we should raise the necessity of a plan of struggle culminating in a political general strike to defeat the PASOK, IMF and EU governments. We should force the Greek confederations, the GSEE and ADEDY to break with the government, as well as for PAME, the trade union confederation tied to the Greek Communist Party, to end its policy of isolated actions: More than ever the workers united front is necessary against the government attacks. These calls on the existing trade union leaders must be accompanied with the organization of all the workers in their workplaces in assemblies and factory committees to be co-ordinated regionally and nationally, the only way to prepare an alternative power to the domination of the bourgeoisie. Its parties, PASOK and New Majority, who have always governed, have bankrupted the country. Only a government of the workers and poor peasants can bring Greece out of the mire and give a progressive way out of the crisis.

V. In Opposition to the Crisis of Capitalist Europe, the Only Realistic Perspective is the Struggle for the United Socialist States of Europe

14 – The sharpness of the crisis has brought to light the principal contradiction of the construction of the EU: the incapacity of this to become a supra-state capable of acting collectively in response to the great crises and implementing a common foreign policy (even on a military level). The seriousness of the crisis means that the convergence of interest which the different European governments and bourgeoisies had been achieving since the beginning of the construction of the common community – despite the crises and serious tensions which this had been subjected to in its history -, and whose biggest achievement was the launch and existence of the euro, is now entering into an ever more open contradiction with the particular interests of each national bourgeoisie.

15 – The most palpable example of this is the openly aggressive imperialist policy of Germany towards the heart of the EU. We are seeing a turn from its traditional policy of compromise – in place from the German defeat in WWII until the Maastricht Pact which laid the bases for the creation of the Euro after the increase in German power with the unification in 1990 – towards a more coercive policy which seeks to impose its designs – which is to say a tendency towards semicolonialization – not only upon the peripheral countries of Eastern Europe, but also on some of the weaker imperialisms of the EU. This aggressive orientation of the strongest power of the EU, destabilizes the balance of forces in Europe not only between the strongest and weakest states of the EU, but also between the strongest themselves, like the Franco-German axis. In the end, German imperialism is trying to find a new form of expansion which will allow it to break out of the European cycle of growth of the past decade which has now reached its limit and which was based on the development of German exports to its European neighbours, in comparison to the development of the real estate bubbles and tourism in countries like the Spanish State or Greece, where the German banks financed the development of markets which would absorb its industrial production rather than competing with them on this basis. The journey of Germany’s Chancellor to Russia to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Allied victory in the Second World War, while other leaders like Sarkozy and Berlusconi were absent, occupied with the economic paralysis, is a telling example.

16 – In the short term, this German policy has gone further than what was expected, provoking an economic disaster which threatens to sink all the states in question. It is within this context that Germany accepted, through gritted teeth, the decision of the Twenty-Seven, with the exception of the UK, to create a mechanism of financial help of 750,000 million euros to re-establish confidence in he single currency. But anyone who thinks that from this extraordinary measure there will emerge a model of economic government of the EU and that therefore a barrier to the formation of a supranational state has been overcome is seeing things. Not only has the situation of potential insolvency of the south of Europe not changed at all with the millions of dollars which have been promised to be thrown at it, but in addition the plan will effectively deepen the deflationary effects in the EU countries as a whole, especially the most affected, multiplying the problems which Greece is already suffering to a good part of Europe. In this context, although the plan does buy some time, structurally it does not resolve any of the problems of the EU and the Eurozone itself, which is cut across by persistent structural disequilibrium which the governments of the EU refuse to see and much less to resolve. At the same time, this plan could have liquidated, as the fall of the Euro shows, any perspective that the Euro could compete as a global reserve currency with the dollar. It is still possible that, once the storm has receded – if it does -, Germany may again seek a restructuring of the Eurozone more in line with its growing ambitions of hegemony, which could unleash a new ascent of different nationalisms in the heart of Europe. Of course within this equation, the class struggle in Greece and of the working class in general, is spanner in the works for any attempts at imperialist advance of the existing EU or of a reformed EU with a greater weight of Germany.

17– Taking advantage of the strategic impasse of the working class as a consequence of the Stalinist and social-democratic control of the workers movement after the 2nd world war, and afterwards, due to the demoralization of said workers movement after the neoliberal restoration, the bourgeoisie of different imperialist European countries managed to advance more than expected along the road of construction of European unity. But the limitations which its national interests have imposed on this process keep proving to be insuperable, generating at each step sharper contradictions which threaten to wreck the pillars of the project, like the creation of the Euro. In this context, in the face of the current crisis of capitalist Europe or the reactionary plans which the strongest imperialisms are following and which could exacerbate the chauvinist poison at the heart of Europe, as was shown recently with the anti-Greek campaign in the German press and by many German politicians – and which ended up working against Merkel herself as the defeat of her coalition with the liberals in the elections of North Rhineland show -, the only realistic perspective is the struggle for a United Socialist States of Europe. The re-emergence of a workers movement not contaminated by the cancer which Stalinism and Social-Democracy represented, with the latter having passed openly into the camp of social liberalism and in many cases of normal bourgeois parties, makes this perspective more strategically probable, once the workers through struggle and their own experience have managed to throw off various decades of pre-eminence of conservative ideology. This perspective makes all the more urgent the need to construct genuinely revolutionary parties inserted in the working class and not opportunist lash-ups like the Coalition of the Radical Left (SY.RIZ.A) of Greece, the Left Block of Portugal or the New Anticapitalist Party of France, which will only lead the vanguard to new frustrating defeats. A failure to advance with this perspective could allow the crisis to be taken advantage of by xenophobic currents of the far right, who blame immigrants for the social disaster.

VI. For Active Solidarity With the Greek Workers and a Struggle Against the Austerity Measures of Each Imperialist Government and Bourgeoisie

18 – The political general strike of the Greek workers against the austerity plan of PASOK, the IMF and the EU is a symptom of the struggles to come in Europe and globally. All the workers and youth of the vanguard should show active solidarity with the Greek workers, the vanguard of the struggle against the austerity measures which are being prepared in Europe and other imperialist countries like the EU in the face of the uncontrolled growth of the fiscal deficit, a legacy of the first phase of the crisis.

19 – But alongside this, they should prepare to confront their own governments and national bourgeoisie’s and their austerity plans. The fact is that the weakening of the imperialist governments in their own country is the best weapon to weaken the pressure of the strongest imperialist countries who are subordinating the workers of the weakest imperialist countries like Greece. This can only be done by breaking with all national chauvinism and raising high the banner of genuine proletarian internationalism. The banner hung from the Pantheon “Workers of Europe Rise Up” is a call not only to the workers of Europe, but to the workers of the whole world.

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.


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