Monday, July 13, 2015

Confusion and despair hits Greeks as Tsipras seeks "honest compromise" with thieves

Tsipras calls for a "No" vote on the eve of the referendum
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Writing from afar I can only imagine the mood of despair, demoralization and all out confusion that must be consuming the majority of the Greek population at this time.  On June 27th, Alex Tsipras the leader of Syriza made an impassioned speech calling on Greeks to vote “No” in a referendum on further austerity measures demanded by Germany’s Angela Merkel and European capital.  Yet over the weekend, Tsipras has agreed to a deal that is worse than the one the Greeks rejected two weeks ago.

“People are starting to lose their minds,” one worker tells the Wall Street Journal,….. “I’m so confused myself, I talk to all the customers, we have the news on all day, but I’m at a loss.”  “So I voted for ‘no,’ but in fact it meant ‘yes,’ ”,  she adds, “Is this some kind of joke?”

Unfortunately it is no joke.

I commented on Tsipras’ passionate speech calling for a “No” vote on the eve of the referendum. Missing from that speech was any suggestion of what was to be done if Merkel and co. dug in their heels. It is now clear that there was no plan B. Tsipras took the baton and handed it over to Merkel.

Weakness invites aggression in times of all out war and aggression is what the Greeks have gotten as the deal before them now is worse than the one they voted no on. The threatens to split Syriza as a number of the party’s legislators voted against giving Tsipras the authority to offer the proposals to the creditors in Brussels and the left abstained. Subsequently, Syriza lost its parliamentary majority but opposition parties have come to the rescue.  There is a possibility that Tsipras will “seek a fresh direct mandate from the Greek people” people close to Tsipras tell the WSJ. 

A mandate seems like an exercise in futility as Tsipras simply ignored the last one. But for those of us familiar with trade union struggles and the treacherous role the union bureaucracy plays at contract time, it’s all too familiar.  The strategy is to repeatedly place concessionary proposals before them until they are worn down and faced with only two alternatives, accept defeat or wage an open fight against their own leaders’ capitulation to capital.  The latter is a long road to hoe especially when there is no alternative leadership rooted in the rank and file with a clear, detailed plan of action.  The former is the easier route and unless objective conditions force people in to action it is more often than not taken which is the goal of this strategy-----------“Democracy has worked, the people have spoken” say the capitulators.

The deal on the table for the Greeks is further austerity. As the WSJ puts it,The measures laid out in Sunday’s statement go beyond those rejected in last weekend’s vote. They include changes to labor laws that would make it easier to fire workers, as well as the further liberalization of markets for products such as pharmaceuticals, milk and baked goods, the statement said. Greece also would have to privatize state assets, including the electricity network operator.”

The moneylenders have also demanded the creation of an “external and independent fund”, an account that would hold as much as $50 billion in public assets “slated” for privatization in the next period. This property of the Greek people will be managed by Greek authorities, which means representatives of Greek capitalism, but under the supervision of “the relevant European institutions”

After the referendum Tsipras announced that he was “ready for an honest compromise” and he got it. The Greek working class has been weakened further and humiliated in the process, “treated like a stepchild” as we say here in the US. But it is not a dislike of the Greek people that has forced the mostly northern European moneylenders to treat them this way. This humiliating defeat is a warning to the workers of Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other European countries that have already conceded to the austerity agenda or are considering doing so.

It is not easy for those of us on the outside to determine what will happen next. In my own mind I would love to see a Europe wide revolt of the working class against European capital and the neo-liberal agenda, but this would mean the working class overcoming the obstacle of its own leaders. Despite various criticisms of Tsipras and Syriza form the left, I am not so sure the record of the left in general is too impressive when faced with an open battle with capital. 

One issue that concerns me is whether or not this blatant betrayal of the Greek working class by a left party will strengthen the Greek Fascist party, Golden Dawn.  From where I sit I have no idea but it can be times like these, a political vacuum, that can drive workers to seek a solution from the right. The humiliating response form Germany in particular could well fuel the flame of nationalism, although the Greek workers have along and proud history of fighting fascism.

These events confirm what the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote decades ago, the crisis of the working class is a crisis of leadership. The working class internationally is stronger today than ever before and women have swelled its ranks, particularly in Asia.

From the French General Strike of 1968, to the British miners strike of the eighties, the huge strikes in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and various struggles throughout Latin America, workers have shown extreme heroism and willingness to fight but like comparable struggles on a national basis, are left isolated, limited to one country or region. We live in the epoch of capitalist globalization and international working class solidarity and unity in action is what is necessary in these times and a requirement for that is a leadership with an internationalist perspective.

In all struggles lessons are learned and the Greek one is no exception and is not yet over. The neo-liberal agenda being forced on the Greeks is the same agenda being forced on US workers as well.  We have seen the disarming of potentially powerful workers’ organizations like the United Auto Workers as wages and benefits in auto have been savaged by the auto bosses with the help of the UAW national leadership. The public sector, highly unionized compared to the private, is under assault on all fronts as state assets are being privatized and jobs eliminated and even the right to a union threatened. Like Syriza’s Tsipras, the US trade union leaders at the highest levels are obsessed with reaching an “honest compromise” that comes at the expense of their own members’ living standards as the employer must be helped a all costs.

Of one thing I am certain. We live in extremely volatile times.  There are struggles taking place throughout the world as the working class internationally fights back.  Here in the US the potential for an explosion is considerable as living standards and social services, limited as they already are here, are under further assault and numerous campaigns and independent struggles are sprouting up everywhere around jobs, housing, health care and the environment.

There is much to be optimistic about.

note: see other article on Greece under Greece label or in popular posts on the right. 
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