In late March European Union leaders announced a joint rescue package with the IMF to stop Greece defaulting on its debts.
They have promised Greece €22 billion in case it fails to refinance its loans on the international money market.
But the rescue package would impose further savage budget cuts—to be paid for by ordinary people. The Greek government has already been rocked by massive resistance to existing austerity measures, undertaken by the supposedly left wing PASOK party to please global financial markets.
A third general strike within a month on March 11 was the biggest yet. It came in response to a further €4.8 in public spending cuts announced since the previous general strike in February.
Public sector workers are facing pay cuts of 7 per cent and cuts to holiday bonuses, pensions are to be frozen and the GST and fuel taxes increased.
According to Guy Smallman in Greece, “The protest was perhaps twice the size of the one during the general strike of 24 February”. Ninety per cent of workplaces across the country took part. Services across the country from flights to schools, hospitals and public transport were paralysed once again.
Train services ran only to take workers to and from the demonstration.
The union leadership has deferred decisions on further action until after the Easter break. But Panos Garganas, editor of Greek socialist newspaper Workers Solidarity says that “each day sees groups of workers holding protests against the cuts” with the latest being a doctor’s strike over cuts to wages and to force the government to keep its promise to hire 2000 new doctors.
The rescue package came about for two linked reasons. On one hand the governments of the EU, especially Germany, are concerned about the destabilising effect if Greece defaulted on its debts.
The EU faces the risk of a wave of defaults. Total government debt in Italy is at 114 per cent of its GDP, a level that is actually higher than Greece, whose debt is currently 112.6 per cent of GDP.
If you look at annual budget deficits as a percentage of GDP, the UK at 13 per cent is actually greater than that of Greece which sits at 12.5 per cent, with Spain and Ireland not far behind with 11.25 and 10.75 per cent respectively.
As economist Costas Lapavitsas points out, Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is not immune from the economic crisis that is engulfing the Eurozone:
“German investment has been weak, and productivity generally rose less than in peripheral countries. In the past the exchange rates of these countries would have fallen, allowing them to improve their exports. But the euro makes this impossible.”
The second reason for the so-called rescue package is to apply financial discipline on the Greek government.
The involvement of the IMF at the behest of Germany, despite initial French opposition, is part of the EU’s attempts to ensure that the Greek government places the burden of the crisis onto Greece’s workers.
Heavy conditions attached to the package mean the €22 billion will be provided only if the government follows through on strict financial austerity measures. That means a cap on government spending, such as the current freeze in wage rises and government pensions and cuts to public services.
In effect, the EU and the IMF are demanding that the profits of the global financial institutions are guaranteed.
Costas Lapavitsas points out a more successful alternative would be, “restoring some fiscal freedom to member states, expanding the European budget, instituting fiscal transfers from rich to poor, and introducing a minimum wage and unemployment insurance. The ECB [European Central Bank] might also be allowed to buy state debt.”
The inspiring resistance in Greece needs to continue, and to escalate if it is to force the Government to back down on it austerity drive.
As Greek socialist Garganas argues, a way to take things further would be for “individual unions to go for all-out strikes, which is a possibility for those in power, telecoms, schools and local government”. The resistance in Greece is an example of the kind of action needed to stop workers being made to pay for the ongoing economic crisis.
By Stephen Martin