Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Greek bailout package the finger in the dike

The next few weeks are crucial for the workers of Greece and throughout the world.  Representatives of the Troika, the IMF, the European Commission and the EU hammered out a deal early this (Tuesday) morning that will include a second bailout of $171.9 billion.  The Greek parliament, voting under the protection of thousands of heavily armed riot police agreed to further austerity measures in order to satisfy the requirements forced on the Greek people by the international bankers.

Greek workers and youth have already faced severe pay cuts and attacks on their living standards.  Some 150,000 public sector jobs are expected to be cut over the next two years and part of the latest deal is for the minimum wage to be cut a further 22%. According to reports, the Greek government has no more than a week to implement it's prior austerity actions and include passing legislation that would create what is called a "blocked account" that would guarantee that the loans/money Greece is receiving from the IMF and the EU is handed over to moneylenders in interests payments (debt service) rather than going toward services, wages, pensions and other social needs.

The Greek government has no popular support and there is a concern throughout Europe that the pressure and social unrest is so great Greek politicians will not be able to implement the promised cuts. There is no faith that in the event of elections politicians and/or parties that supported the austerity measures could get elected.  As Julie Hyland reported on the WSWS website, "This assault cannot be achieved by democratic means. The latest opinion polls show that support for the coalition parties has plunged to a record low, with New Democracy on 19 percent, PASOK 13 percent and LAOS down to 5 percent." Further assaults on Greek sovereignty and democratic rights are likely.

What we are witnessing here is the working class of a small nation state facing a united global offensive on the part of finance capital. The Wall Street Journal reported today that Dutch finance minister Jan Kees De Jager has called for an increased presence in the Greek government's affairs of the EC and IMF. De Jager wants a "permanent presence of the Troika in Athens" writes the Journal,"Not every three months but more permanent."   This is, as one BBC commentator said, a “humiliating and unprecedented intrusion into Greece’s sovereignty.” The thing is, Greek wages have fallen some 30% but by most accounts the Greeks will have to face five more years or so of further cuts to please the moneylenders.  There is doubt that such measures can be pulled off in the face of increasing resistance from the Greek working  class; the new measures are not yet in place and the previous agreed cuts are still not fully implemented. But Greece has a $14 billion interest payment in a month that the bailout could cover.
Spain protests

The other problem is that it is not guaranteed that Greek type resistance won't break out in other Eurozone countries in dire straits like Portugal, Italy or Spain for example.  We are hearing the same arguments in the mass media as to the necessary changes that have to be made to solve the problem in Greece that we hear with regard to disputes between individual employers and bosses.  Greek workers have  "Become more competitive" says the WSJ.  Olli Rehn, an EU official assails Greece for "living beyond its means" and must suffer wage cuts in order to make Greek workers more "competitive" to restore economic growth. The idea that we have to compete has to be rejkected in our own minds if we are serious about repelling the capitalist offensive.

As most of us are now aware, homelessness, hunger and poverty are becoming extremely severe in Greece with some urban residents retreating to the countryside and the hills in order to hopefully live off the land. As the video we put on the blog a few days ago revealed, others are heading in to the woods to gather firewood to heat their homes.  Yet amid this scenario, Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and finance minister Evangelos Venizelos applauded the increased austerity measures for "avoiding a nightmare scenario".  These comments should not be misconstrued.  Greece is already a nightmare scenario for workers and youth.  The nightmare scenario these politicians are referring to is a collapse of capitalism in the face of a generalized assault by the Greek and European working class on their interests.

The Greeks aren't alone with regard to an invasion of their sovereignty.  Ireland's President Enda Kenny was in New York earlier this month pleading with investors to throw some money Ireland's way. He had Bill Clinton with him who urged the moneymen present to "Invest in Ireland...where property is a steal." The crisis has been very good on the whole for huge sections of the capitalist class. Wasn't it Rahm Immanuel who said that a good crisis shouldn't go to waste. That property was someone's home. The Irish have had an austerity program of their own imposed on them by global finance capital that has reduced Labor costs by 12% in the past two years and has seen through this crisis the largest emigration of citizens since the 19th century according to Business Week.

Ireland up to this point has not seen the resistance to the cuts that Greece has but there is no rosy picture on the horizon.  In the event that the working class does not offer a democratic socialist alternative to the madness of the market, capitalism will emerge from this crisis as it has in the past, but it does not emerge in its previous form.  The situation is very volatile and those of us that have determined the present period to be one which demands a certain amount of unconditional analysis are correct to recognize that we do not have pat answers. The perspectives for Greece cannot rule out the ascendancy of reaction and the return of nationalist sentiments.

There is no doubt in my opinion that socialists and anti-capitalists of all stripes find ourselves in the most favorable objective situation for some time.  But endless protests or even general strikes cannot guarantee success or the defeat of reaction if the question of state power does not enter the scene, one side or the other must prevail.  The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explained a long time ago that the crisis of the working class is a crisis of leadership.  We have seen this to be true time and time again, from Spain to Chile and in the present situation.

In the aftermath of a historic rise of the Arab masses we have the pro-capitalist free market Muslim Brotherhood in a commanding position in Egypt, though it opposed the uprising initially and played no real part in it, and rival militias battling each other for territory and influence in Libya in the face of a weak and impotent state apparatus. There has been no unified leadership or organization to emerge as yet that can pull all these movements together in a united global working class offensive in the streets, workplaces and communities and political sphere.

There is more to come including in the US where workers and the middle class are facing an offensive intent on driving us back to the days before the rise of the CIO.  Greece nor any other nation can drive back this assault independently. The building of this global workers' movement is crucial if we are to prevent defeat; united we stand divided we fall has real meaning when we put it like that.

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