Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Update on the democratic State Revolution in Greece

"Greece: On the Eve of the Prime Minister's Speech to the Parliament
2015-02-03 by Dominique Ferré, reprinted from issue No. 337 of Information Ouvrières, the newsweekly of the Independent Workers Party of France (POI), based on reports from correspondents in Greece and the international press:
Soon after the Tsipras government was constituted -- following an agreement between Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) and ANEL (a small right-wing populist party) -- several government ministers announced the first steps they intend to take. The Greek newspaper Efimerida Ton Syntakton (January 29) listed these first measures:
“Public Service Sector: Employees laid off as a result of the Memoranda will be reinstated to their jobs.
Energy: DEI, Greece’s electricity corporation, will remain a public power utility. . . .
Ports: All layoffs will be halted, and renegotiations with COSCO will take place.[1]
Airports: Appeals to private investors will be frozen and agreements concerning peripheral airports will be reviewed.
Inter-professional Agreements: The minimum wage will be increased to 751 euros; there will be no increase in the retirement age and no reductions in pensions. . . .
Health: Healthcare for all, without exception. Abolition of the 5 euro tax for hospitalization, abolition of the 1 euro co-pay per prescription -- and the costs of medicine will be lowered.”
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was applauded at the ministry by the laid-off cleaning women who had staged a protest encampment, but were now rehired.[2] The government announced the reinstatement of 3,500 public employees who had been laid off in the name of the plan of 15,000 layoffs required by the Memoranda of the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank, IMF).
Did all these announcements have a "controlled" character? Nothing is less certain. On the evening of January 27, the Athens Stock Exchange "plummeted" 9% after the announcement of these measures. This forced Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis to remind the ministers to hold off making any more announcements and to wait for the policy speech on February 7 by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
On the very next day at the Council of Ministers, Tsipras, according to the French daily Libération (January 28), "blew hot and cold, affirming that he wanted to avoid a mutually disastrous rupture" with Greece's partners, while also insisting that he wanted to put an end "to the policies of submission" imposed upon Greece.
Also on January 28, the U.S. rating agency Standard and Poor's placed its ratings on Greece’s debt on “watch for a downgrade,” stating that the measures announced by the new government were "incompatible with the political framework negotiated by the previous government and its official creditors."
Conversely, these announcements were welcomed by large sections of the working class as a partial satisfaction of the demands they had raised in their numerous strikes, occupations and protests in recent years. These were demands that workers had not been able to win on the shop floor in the face of the powerful obstacles placed in their path by the top leaders of the trade union confederations and left political parties.
"My colleagues welcomed the first announcements,” said a teacher in Argos, who is a member of the regional trade union ELME. “On the morning of Monday, January 26, the students chanted ‘Tsipras! Tsipras’ in the courtyard, welcoming in particular the announcement of the withdrawal of an unjust selective examination that had been set up between the 10th and 11th grades."
Themis Kotsifakis, president of the National Union of Secondary School Teachers, OLME, reported a similar mood among his members, adding however that, “the teachers fully expect that the commitments made will be implemented, and they eagerly await the Prime Minister’s speech before the Parliament next week."[3]
In the hospital sector, where policies implemented at the behest of the Troika have wreaked serious damage, the Union of Hospital Workers stressed the inadequacy of the measures abolishing the taxes of one and five euros, at a time when "caregivers are facing every day a shortage of doctors, nurses, equipment and medicines."
Reacting to the announcement by Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis (leader of the "Left Platform” in Syriza) that the privatization of the Greek energy corporation (DEI) would be halted, Nikos Fotopoulos, the former president of the powerful electrical workers’ union (GENOP-DEI) and still a workers' representative on the company’s board, welcomed the "progressive content of the new energy measures.” (Half of DEI had been privatized and outsourced.) Fotopoulos said that the government announcement was the “result of the bitter struggles waged by workers at DEI for the defense of the public character of the corporation.” He insisted that the workers had long fought “for a public DEI at the service of the Greek people."
This, of course, poses the need to reinstate all the workers who lost their jobs as a result of the privatization and outsourcing, just as it poses the need to renationalize DEI.
But how, then, are these legitimate demands of the workers to be met when each of them is seen by the institutions of finance capital as "incompatible" with the commitments made by the politicians who were driven from power by the Greek people on January 25?
For the millions who threw out the "Party of the Memoranda" on January 25, the question that remains posed is the one formulated by a Greek activist following the elections: "There have already been many negotiations over the Greek debt,” he said. “No one can be opposed in principle to negotiations. But what is there to negotiate? If we continue paying back the debt, where will we find the money for health care, housing, and education? And if we must choose between paying workers’ wages and paying back the debt, or between restoring heating in the schools and paying the debt? Wasn’t it precisely to fund people’s needs that we fought in the streets and at the voting booths against the Memoranda?”
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[1] COSCO is a Chinese company in whose interest the port of Piraeus was partially privatized. The handing over of the port to COSCO had been negotiated in 2008 by Panos Kamennos --  the current defense minister (and leader of ANEL).

[2] The same finance minister stated on February 3 that the government would not challenge the privatizations that had already been carried out.

[3] Prime Minister Tsipras is expected to announce his government’s policies in an address to the Parliament on February 7, with discussion and deliberations on the 7th through the 9th, and voting late on February 9.

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"A Series of Visits to Athens to Brandish Both the Carrot and the Stick"
2015-02-03 by Dominique Ferré, reprinted from issue No. 337 of Information Ouvrières, the newsweekly of the Independent Workers Party of France (POI), based on reports from correspondents in Greece and the international press:
From the moment the Tsipras government was constituted, a series of visitors have come to Athens, some wielding carrots, others wielding sticks. On the carrot side, "Socialist" president of the so-called European Parliament, Martin Schulz, came to ask Tsipras to be "pragmatic" in the forthcoming negotiations on the Greek debt with the creditors.
But, as Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis put it, "We are perhaps the government with the least amount of time and the least space to maneuver since the Second World War.” Indeed, Greece is squeezed between the aspirations of millions of Greek people and the demands of Greece’s "creditors" (European Union, IMF, etc.).
Speaking as a true spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who closed the door to any renegotiation of Greece’s debt, Schulz stated upon his return home: "If the Greek government no longer wishes to work effectively with its creditors on the current basis, I find this irresponsible.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)
But apparently contradicting these threatening statements . . . came another voice from what the Agence France-Presse (February 2) called an "unexpected quarters,” referring to U.S. President Barack Obama, who told CNN: "We cannot continue to squeeze countries that are in a deep depression.” While insisting that Greece has "a terrible need for reforms,” Obama added, "What is needed is a growth strategy for Greece to repay its debts.”
British Finance Minister George Osborne, after meeting with his Greek counterpart, announced his fear that the confrontation over the Greek debt might constitute "the greatest threat to the world economy.” Osborne added that, "the euro zone must present a better plan for jobs and growth,” thus “echoing the perspective put forward by the new Greek government.” (France 24)
While insisting on the "need" to impose counter-reforms aimed at lowering labor costs everywhere, the Obamas, Osbornes and others understand one thing: "Most of the Greek debt belongs to the other states of the European Union. It Their governments would be one ones to bear the consequences of a default by Greece, or its exit from the euro zone." (Financial Times editorial, February 3)
For them, it's the entire “world order” and the institutions (IMF, ECB, EU, euro) at the service of the dictatorship of the "financial markets" that are threatened. This is why it will be necessary to make some concessions the new Greek government to ensure that the deadly "reforms" can be continued.
The height of cynicism was reached by the governor of the Bank of France, who called for "an accelerated growth plan . . . that would result from the pursuit of good reforms" – meaning counter-reforms. This is so because, according to this gentleman, "Greece is not in a depression; it is in a period of growth!” These words were uttered at the very moment that the British medical journal BMJ Open published a study on the "significant increase in suicides following the events related to the austerity programs in Greece." . . .
So everyone is now being asked to line up behind Obama to contribute, in one unified voice, to the effort to reach an "agreement." And this means everyone, including Syriza’s strongest supporters worldwide. The editors of L'Humanité, the newspaper of the French Communist Party (February 3), ask: "But what is the democratically elected government calling for? Just a few weeks more to reach an ‘agreement that lays out the current situation and that ties our repayments to growth'." L’Humanité then goes on to point to Obama as the model that [French President François] Hollande must emulate when he discusses with the Greek Prime Minister on February 4 in Paris. Here's how to "help the Greeks," states L'Humanité – by lining up behind Obama, certainly not by organizing the fight in every country against our own governments, all of them beholden to the dictates of the European Union.

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