Greece – a struggle for all Europe’s workers

This is the text of Aris Vasilopoulos’ speech to the “Can’t pay, won’t pay: solidarity with the Greek protests” meeting in London on May 26th.Dear friends and comrades,

thank you for the invitation to speak, and I convey you the warmest greetings from Kokkino (Red) and SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left).

The first thing I want to do is to give you a very short view of what’s happening in Greece:

Marx once said that there are occasions where 50 years look like one day, and other occasions where one day is similar to 50 years. This is the feeling we have in Greece after the establishment of the so called support mechanism and the supervision of the Greek economy by the International Monetary Fund- the European Commission and the European Central Bank. This is also our feeling after the 4 general strikes and the most massive mobilisations in Greece over the last 35 years. Just to give you an idea of ordinary people’s anger, for the last two months politicians of PASOK and Nea Dimokratia, whenever they appear, are beaten by ordinary people who call them thieves. What I’m trying to tell you with this is that nothing is the same in Greece anymore. Nothing is the same as before in terms of the social impact of the draconian measures that have been imposed, which is very severe for the workers, nothing in terms of the social resistance which is very intense and widespread, as well as in terms of the political shake up we already experience. This period will be marked by a significant movement of the working class and the emergence of the subordinate classes as a determining political factor.

Let me mention just some of the measures already been taken by the government in order to provide an explanation on why there is so much anger:

  • Public sector pay is frozen until 2014. This will mean a cut of more than 15% in wages since the inflation rate in Greece is 4.8%, the highest in EU.
  • They abolished the Christmas, Easter and summer holiday “bonuses” in the public sector and the pensions, also known as 13th and 14th salaries, which amounts to a 16% loss.
  • They made draconian cuts to public spending (more than 40%), which means less education, health and social security.
  • They plan to raise the retirement age by 5 years and reduce the level of pensions
  • People starting work for the first time will be paid 20% less than the “normal” workers; it will be a kind of apprenticeship where the boss keeps the right to fire them without compensation within 12 months.

Governments and media across Europe are trying hard to convince their peoples that what happens in Greece is a solely Greek phenomenon. They are slandering Greek workers by saying that they are lazy, they are thieves, they have high standards of living etc. They present the Greek economy as a Soviet-style economy with a bloated public sector. This is bullshit, it is black propaganda. According to the National Statistics agency, 22% of Greeks live below the poverty line which is 6,500 Euros per year for one person households.

What they are trying to conceal is that what happens right now in Greece is indicative of the deepening of the capitalist crisis that broke out in 2007 and now takes the form of the debt crisis in almost all the Western economies. They treat Greek workers and youth as laboratory animals in order to discipline the peoples of Europe to accept similar cuts. Austerity measures in Greece are a pilot programme for what has already began taking place in all the European countries, Britain included.

Right now, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, in Portugal in Denmark and Britain, there are plans to make major cuts in the public sector. Yesterday Elizabeth Windsor said that the first priority of the new government must be the reduction of the deficits and the stabilisation of the economy. Of course she could have offered her crown, which is decorated with 2000 diamonds for the reduction of the deficit, but she did not. I think this is the essence of what they are doing. They have declared war on the working class across Europe in order to keep their privileges and their profits intact.

This is why the debt is not a Greek problem; this is why the struggle of the movement in Greece is a struggle for all Europe’s workers. We have entered a period of an escalating class struggle across Europe, where what is at stake is very clear: Will we pay the crisis the capitalists created, or we will force them to pay? Will we provide a socialist alternative and say clearly that their system has failed, or we will keep paying? These are the major questions.

Two points that I think are important:

The first is the political programme the Left has to put forward as an alternative to the cuts, which in our opinion should include three main demands among others:

  • The first is the demand to stop paying the debt.

Greek governments spent 420 billion Euros over the last 5 years in interest payments and handouts to bankers. The debt has not been created by the Greek workers but by capitalists: Just to give you an idea of the scale of the robbery that has taken place in Greece, in the last 5 years the taxation of the big companies was reduced from 40% to 25%, which means more than 30 billion Euros less income for the budget, while the the Olympic games increased the fiscal deficit by 13 billion Euros. We cannot stand it anymore. We must choose between decent wages and the payment of the debt, and we should choose the first, like the people of Iceland did.

  • The second is the nationalisation of the banking system without compensating the big investors.

In Greece banks have been subsidised with more than 50 billion Euros, while they borrow from the ECT with 1% interest. They speculate against the public sector and the working class, so they should come under public control if we want to control the flow of capital for the interests of the majority of the society.

  • The third is the socialisation of the closing enterprises under workers and social control.

This must be our response to the unemployment which is estimated that will rise up to 20% since many enterprises will close. So far there have been a couple of occupations in factories in Greece, where two of them worked for a while under workers’ control. We must help these examples be generalised if we want to save our jobs.

The other point I want to stress is that of the need for unity among the forces of the Left and the labour movement. Despite our differences, that still exist, there is a big question posed to us: in the face of an unprecedented attack by capital, will we be able to form the widest possible front of the forces of the labour movement and the Left, or we will keep taking our own solitary way as we have used to do?

In my opinion, the response to this question will determine to a great extent the outcome of our struggles. This does not mean that we underestimate the existent political differences; it just means that the unity of action of the Left is a sine qua non if we want to win. In Greece now, despite the difficulties, there is a coordination of local labour unions and committees against the measures, which are supported by the majority of the Left forces, and this is very encouraging.

I’d like to end by reminding you that two years ago we surprised and inspired Europe with the December uprising after the assassination of a 16 year old child. I hope we do it again this time and become a source of inspiration for all workers in Europe to resist.

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