By Giorgos Baskozos (member of SYRIZA)
The most critical electoral battle in modern Greece will is taking place this month. May 18 is the first round of the local elections. May 25 is the second round of these as well as the euro-elections will be held. The stakes are huge. Both these elections can give rise to rapid developments and could lead to the fall of the government if SYRIZA comes first.
Greece is confronted with crucial political choices regarding the capitalist crisis and its consequences. A violent plan of wealth and power redistribution is currently being applied against the vast majority of people who live and work in Greece and in favour of capital. The two formerly major parties, the right wing and the social democrats, have formed a coalition government in order to impose the memoranda and ongoing austerity policies.
The consequences of this are well documented and reflect austerity policies being implemented elsewhere in Europe.
However, in Greece these policies are more severe and disastrous. The unparalleled decline of living standards and of social welfare infrastructure, as well as the destruction of the public sector including health and education have brought about an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Greece and within the confines of Europe.
Unemployment has reached 20% and exceeds 50% amongst the youth. The basic salary amounts to 510 Euros; far below the poverty threshold. Yet the bosses are clever and powerful enough to blackmail and force the employees, especially younger employees, to work without insurance and for even lower salaries. This is not merely an unfortunate incident. This is a plan to increase the exploitation of labour. It is beyond the wildest dreams of the old political establishment in Greece.
But they are not doing this unchallenged. Since the outbreak of the capitalist crisis in 2008, Greece has witnessed unprecedented instances of resistance and solidarity. From the young people’s riots in 2008 to the occupy movement of the squares in 2011; from the numerous general strikes to occupations of public buildings; from the first self-managed occupied factories to the people’s solidarity network consisting of social surgeries, groceries and cultural centres the people show their willingness to fight back. And, these struggles impact and are reflected on the overall political scene.
For the first time in its history a radical left wing party, SYRIZA (Coalition of Radical Left), is about to be the leading political force in Greece. It is the political reflection of the people’s struggle against the crisis and a response to the wreckage of PASOK, the traditional social-democratic and neo-liberal party as well as in the serious decline of the other major bourgeois party, New Democracy, whose leader is the current prime minister Samaras. The coalition government clearly lacks legitimacy and popular support and only governs through a marginal parliamentary majority. The last mid-term memorandum was voted for by 150 out of the 300 MPs.
But, the political scene in Greece is more complicated than this. The mix of social unrest, poverty, lack of hope as well as deep-rooted racism and far right ideas has led to the significant rise of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. Anti-communism and far-right ideas are deeply and historically embedded in Greek reality. This explains the tolerance of the Greek state towards the Golden Dawn. Besides, the latter stands as the best reserve of a capitalist state in crisis. Thus, the dilemma of those elections could be ‘struggle, hope and change’ or ‘fear, blind hatred and fascism’?
With the municipal elections the stakes are also high. A wave of privatisations gives away every bit of public property (the land, the sea, the water, the ports and roads) to private companies in order to be exploited for the sake of profit. The local authorities could fight together with the people to stop those privatisations. In addition, local authorities should stand against austerity policies and demand resources from the central government.
But, Greek local authorities have habitually functioned as an ally of the state. However, a local authority for the people could change our lives through policies against unemployment, educational and cultural programmes, protection of households which cannot afford utility bills and are even deprived of electricity as well as through the building of solidarity networks to protect the most vulnerable of us, through ways of promoting people’s participation and by allowing a radical democracy. All of the above could be realised with radical left local authorities and will prove crucial in the case of a government of the left.
The euro-elections could be the turning point. Most opinion polls show SYRIZA in the first place, New Democracy in the second place and PASOK on the verge of failing to make it into the European Parliament.
The symbolic candidacy of Alexis Tsipras as the European Left Party candidate for the European Commission Presidency is an attempt to highlight the role SYRIZA is playing and can further play at European level. It highlights that the struggle of the working people against austerity is common across Europe and that a substantial alternative force is now present in Europe. It has also opened up promising developments for the left in various countries of the EU. But, most importantly, Greek people cannot any longer accept being governed the way they are.
It is indicative that governmental parties avoid public pre-electoral speeches as they are faced with the threat of public outrage. Only the left has held mass public gatherings for the elections. The gathering of forces of the old political regime, namely the mass-media barons, the big construction companies, the bankers, ship owners and leading businessmen is impressive. They try to instil fear in people and make them vote for “stability” rather than change. They have even created political parties consisting of celebrities and businessmen thus proving the political representation crisis currently present in Greece.
Syriza stands for the cancellation of the memorandum and the restoration of wages, the socialisation of the banks that have been bailed out with public money, the immediate restoration of the minimum wage and collective agreements and finally the renegotiation of the debt in order to delete the major part of it. But, the most important immediate action will be to deal with the humanitarian crisis by restoring vital public infrastructure, protecting and supporting every action in solidarity with the people and promoting the democratic organization of society.
SYRIZA stands for a redistribution of wealth against the powerful and in favour of the poor. SYRIZA is, in effect, a radical left wing anti-austerity government in waiting. On the other hand, New Democracy promotes the continuation of the austerity policies in order to lower the cost of production. This amounts to cutting wages, further privatisation, and the search for growth at the expense of the people. Additionally, it imposes a far-right anti-immigrant and anti-social agenda which objectively aids Golden Dawn.
To sum up, Greece is genuinely in the crossroads. Three years of struggles built up the demand for an anti-austerity government of the left. These struggles have revealed that without a central political change there is no place for building an alternative. Overthrowing the current government and supporting a government of the left will not be the end of history, but it is an indispensable step for socialist transformation.
A government of the left could not survive without a mass movement to support it and to force it to implement policies in favour of the people. The people who have been on strike, beaten up by the police, who have inhaled tear-gasses, those who have been fired from their jobs and seen their salaries drop and their children and friends migrating need a victory right now.
This is at stake in these elections. Either Greece will go on with brutal austerity and the working class will count another defeat or for the first time in its history the left will have the opportunity to take office and implement its programme. The rejection of neoliberalism through the municipal election will be critical for everyday people’s lives. At the same time, a victory of SYRIZA in the euro-elections will be the first step towards overthrowing the memoranda and austerity.