Greece on a knife’s edge

When NO meant YES

In a referendum on the 5 July 2015, 62% of the Greek people rejected the latest proposed bail-out deal between the Syriza government and the Troika, comprising the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Prime Minister Tsipras urged the Greek parliament to vote for austerity measures that, less than a week earlier, he had campaigned for voters to reject. The Syriza regime thereby capitulated completely to the Troika against the wishes of a big democratic majority of the Greek people.

To complete the shame, the support of New Democracy and PASOK was needed to vote the bail-out deal into law; the very parties that Syriza had defeated in the 25 January elections just under six months earlier on an anti-austerity electoral programme. The Syriza leadership, prior to the referendum, even agreed bail-out terms with its Troika ‘partners’ behind the backs of its own working class supporters.

The words of a 37-year old Greek coffee shop worker captured well the sense of astonishment and betrayal of at least 3,5 million NO-voters: “People are starting to lose their minds. I’m so confused myself… I voted for ‘no,’ but in fact it meant ‘yes.’ Is this some kind of joke?”

The terms of betrayal

The new bail-out agreement includes R197-billion in austerity measures, R60-billion more than earlier EU proposals. The new ‘reforms’ will wreak further destruction on the working class and sections of the middle class, already devastated by the terms of the first two bail-outs. The average living standards of Greeks has already fallen by 50%.

Syriza has agreed to further cuts in social services. Pensioners will be especially affected, with an increase in the pension age to 67 years, a further cut in the pension pay-out and a 50% decrease in health care for pensioners.

VAT, a highly regressive tax that affects the poor most, will increase to 23% on many goods. Small businesses, home-owners and the self-employed face big tax increases; while fuel subsidies for farmers have been cut.

Public sector wages face further cuts while the stalled privatisation of ports and airports will now proceed, leaving affected workers disappointed and disgruntled especially with possible retrenchments looming.

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The Tsipras regime also voted for additional attacks on labour, including: the further erosion of collective bargaining and the right to strike, as well as the lifting of restrictions on hiring and firing by the bosses.
The deal was a class deal and the referendum a class vote: a deal by a capitalist government to serve the interests of the ruling bourgeoisie of Europe; and a vote against austerity by the working class in defence of its interests.

The party is over

Syriza is a relatively new parliamentary party and – unlike the KKE or PASOK – it has no strong historical or organic roots within the working class. It emerged as a coalition of at least seventeen political tendencies or groups and therefore its political programme has always been somewhat vague and amorphous.

In 2007 Syriza won 3,3% of the vote; in 2012 it rose sharply to 27%; and in January this year it won the election with 36% of the votes.  In other words, within eight years it increased its share of the vote by more than ten times. This sudden surge corresponded precisely with the mass anti-austerity struggles of the working class over the years 2010, 2011 and 2012.  Clearly then, Syriza rode into power on the back of the anti-austerity struggles.

Furthermore, the Tsipras majority faction stubbornly pursued a policy of staying within the European Union while, at the same time, seeking a rescheduling of the Greek debt and concessions on austerity. As is now clear, it had no plan B.
Under pressure from its mass base, the Tsipras leadership issued the call for a referendum, hoping the outcome would be YES. Now the NO vote and the betrayal by the Tsipras leadership put a seal on the fate of Syriza as a party.
While the threat of expulsion of members of Syriza’s left wing hangs in the air, its Central Committee has scheduled a special congress in September to bring matters to a head. In the course of the meeting 17 left-wing MPs resigned in protest and they, together with others, were chided for behaving like a party within a party. Furthermore, the Deputy Prime Minister, supporting Tsipras, envisaged a parting of the ways and hoped that the special congress would see a “refoundation of the party”.

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What next?

Syriza pulled off a remarkable victory at the September 20 Greek election. Although burdened by its acceptance of the draconian austerity measures in the third memorandum imposed by Greece’s creditors and eight months of rule in the midst of recession, closed banks and capital controls, SYRIZA’s vote fell by only 0.88% and its parliamentary seats by just four. On September 20, Syriza won 35.46% and 145 seats.

The shift from being against to pro-austerity has thrown the Syriza regime into crisis and a sharp polarisation within the party has occurred. Party radicals left after Tsipras caved in to demands of austerity to win bail-out from the euro zone.  We can anticipate mass mobilisation against the imposition of the new austerity measures and significant political realignment within the ranks of the working class. Heightened class antagonism will also express itself in repressive action on the part of the Syriza regime, as well as a rising fascist threat from Golden Dawn.

The NO vote campaign succeeded through the kind of mass mobilisation reminiscent of the period from 2010 to 2012. The next step is surely united mass resistance to the Syriza-imposed austerity, involving all affected constituencies of the working class.  Already a meeting of the left, involving activists from both inside and outside Syriza, has been held to prepare for a joint programme of action including the establishment of “No until the end committees”. Hundreds of unionists and activists have already signed up to the call.

However, it will not be enough to repeat a cycle of mass protests. Now a clear anti-austerity programme of action is required that rallies both the Greek working class and its European and global counterparts and breaks with the imperialist Troika and the capitalist system; and these tasks surely require both a new party and a new government of and for the working class in Greece.

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