Opposition to austerity in Greece forces Syriza back to the polls

After capitulating to Europe’s rulers and signing a new austerity deal worse that any before, Greece’s Syriza Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a snap election for 20 September.

This is a product of opposition to Syriza’s embrace of the harsh new austerity package.

Tsipras was forced to rely on the votes of right-wing parties to get the new measures through parliament. In the third vote in parliament, the number of Syriza MPs opposed to the deal increased, with 32 voting no and 11 more abstaining. This meant Tsipras no longer had a majority in the Greek parliament.

The election is a gamble. Tsipras knows that the austerity he has agreed to is hated and will provoke resistance. He’s right. The new agreement means the fire-sale privatisation of €50 billion of public infrastructure, “labour-market reform” by October, pension cuts and VAT (like our GST) increases.

All of the progressive changes made since Syriza won power—such as the re-hiring of the cleaners from the Ministry of Finance (who protested for two years to win back their jobs) or the reinstatement of the public broadcaster ERT (after workers’ heroic occupation)—will be reversed.

Tsipras has rushed to the polls with the aim of holding elections before the new cuts bite. He hopes to exploit every last ounce of the goodwill towards Syriza after it was elected as the first government promising to stand up to austerity.

During the negotiations with Greece’s creditors Tsipras’ popularity grew as he talked of standing up to austerity. But in reality he was preparing for surrender. Immediately after the magnificent landslide “No” vote in the referendum it was the former Prime Minister Antonio Samaras who had to resign as leader of the right-wing New Democracy party. Those, like Samaras, who had been the face of the “Yes” campaign were completely discredited. With a historic popularity of 70 per cent, it seemed that Tsipras was the only electoral force in Greek politics.

But things are moving very fast. Tsipras’ plan to face voters before his standing is dented by austerity seems to be failing. His popularity has dropped to 30 per cent.

Polls in early September show Syriza neck and neck with the right-wing New Democracy on 25 per cent of the vote. It should come as no surprise that Syriza’s right-turn gives oxygen to the Right who always said there was “no alternative” to the Troika’s demands.

Syriza splits

The pressure from Tspiras’s left has also been crucial in forcing him to the polls. Now 27 MPs and hundreds of others from the party have split to form a new party, Popular Unity (PU). Having only just formed, Popular Unity is now racing to build an electoral profile on a platform of anti-austerity and a willingness to leave the Eurozone.

As Panos Garganas from the Greek Socialist Workers Party explained, “This is a positive development. It is a clear breakaway to the left by people who refuse to vote for the bailout agreement and austerity.

“It confirms that pressure on the government comes from the left. And it reinforces the confidence of working people to fight austerity.”

But Popular Unity has not fully broken with Syria’s politics. It maintains a reformist approach, promising a parliamentary solution to Greece’s crisis. This vision of change through the existing state structures dangerously underestimates the current stakes. The political and economic “waterboarding” of Syriza by IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank during the “negotiations”, freezing funding to Greece’s banks so that they were threatened with collapse, is only a taste of what the corporate elite in Greece and across Europe are prepared to do to impose continued austerity.

This is why Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras argues that there was no alternative but to accept the shocking bailout terms offered by the EU. The left must be able to show how workers’ living standards could maintained through a process of defaulting on the debt and leaving the EU.

But the leading figures of Popular Unity argue confronting austerity means only breaking from the Euro currency, not the EU. They also argue this will be beneficial to Greek capitalism.

Without anti-capitalist measures that involve taking back the profits and wealth of Greek business, workers will pay a severe price in such a transition.

It is only the anti-capitalist coalition, Antarsya, that argues for such an alternative. And it looks to workers’ own struggles, through strikes, demonstrations and workplace occupations, as they key to implementing such a program.

Whichever party manages to form the next government will face continued workers’ resistance. It is here that the basis for an anti-capitalist solution to the crisis lies.

By Jean Parker


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