Can a Syriza victory end austerity in Greece?

Greece’s snap election on 25 January will almost certainly see left-wing party Syriza take power. This would be an important victory against austerity—but there are immense challenges ahead.

Syriza has been leading in the polls for 14 months, a sign of Greece’s move to the left after a wave of struggle against job cuts and austerity. Greek government debt grew to unsustainable levels when its banks collapsed in the economic crisis after 2008. The IMF and European Central Bank demanded savage austerity measures in return for a series of bailout loans since 2010.

There have been 270,000 lay-offs in the public sector—almost 30 per cent of the workforce. Wages have plummeted across the board by 30 per cent. Health spending has been slashed by 25 per cent and schools spending 30 per cent, with the closure of 1200 schools in the last three years.

These cutbacks have deepened the collapse of Greece’s economy, with unemployment still at Depression-era levels of 26 per cent more than five years after its economy began shrinking.

Austerity has produced social devastation on an enormous scale, symbolised by a doubling in the number of suicides in 2010.

There are high hopes in Greece that a Syriza government will mean an end to all this.

Its support has surged as a result of its promise to end austerity, from less than 5 per cent of the vote in 2009 to first place with 26.5 per cent in last year’s elections to the European parliament. The support of the two major parties has been shattered by their implementation of the austerity measures in government. The combined vote of Pasok, the equivalent of the Labor Party, and New Democracy has plunged from 77 per cent before the crisis to just 31 per cent in recent polls.

In response, as Greek socialist Panos Garganas explains, “The government has gone on the attack with a scare campaign, backed by the media. It has tried to paint a Syriza victory as economic catastrophe.” It says that a Syriza victory would mean a Greek default on its debts. But people are not convinced by this any more.

Syriza’s plans

Syriza says it will re-negotiate the debt with the EU, and demand that part of it be written off so that repayments become sustainable. It has called on the EU and the ECB to respect the Greek people’s democratic wishes if it is elected.

But there is no reason to believe they will do so. Syriza will likely face a choice between agreeing to their demands for continued austerity in return for loans, or unilaterally refusing to pay, with the prospect of being forced out of the EU.

There are signs that, faced with such a choice, Syriza could capitulate. As it has moved closer to power, its leader Alex Tsipras has moved the party to the right. As the business friendly magazine The Economist has noted, “European officials say he is no longer the intransigent firebrand who promised in 2012 to tear up the ‘barbarous memorandum’ if he came to power. Mr Tsipras has quietly tried to reassure potential investors bringing in money from abroad that Greece would be a business-friendly member of the euro zone under a Syriza government.”

Even if it wins the election Syriza may need to form a coalition in order to form government, meaning compromises with parties to its right.

Syriza has promised to boost government spending to reverse cuts in the public sector and provide assistance to the unemployed and those in poverty. But unless it succeeds in re-negotiating the debt such plans will be impossible.

Syriza’s rise has been a product of the enormous wave of struggle in Greece against austerity measures. There have been 32 general strikes since 2010. ERT media workers, cleaners and the ministry of finance, school workers and many others are still fighting to get their jobs back, after being sacked by the government.

Most recently, as Katerina Thoidou, a Greek socialist and candidate for the anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya, told Solidarity, “The government said it would sack 6000 working people in the public sector. But because of mass resistance, it failed. This was a very big achievement.”

These struggles outside parliament hold the key to ensuring a new Syriza government sticks to its promises, and forcing a cancellation of Greek debt.

As Greek socialist Panos Garganas has written, “the anti-capitalist left has to organise pressure from the left and below. People anticipate that a Syriza government will bring real gains for them.”

The challenge is to “make sure that what we’ve been fighting for will actually materialise after the election” through strengthening the struggles from below. The anti-capitalist left in Greece will be at the centre of this struggle.

By James Supple


Solidarity meetings

Latest articles

Read more

Greek Nazis jailed in victory for the anti-fascist movement

The leadership of Greece’s Nazi Golden Dawn party is behind bars, with leader Nikos Michaloliakos and six other former MPs sentenced to 13 years’ jail and another 11 former MPs to between five and seven years.

Pensions battle sees general strike in Greece—against Syriza

An enormous general strike in February saw tens of thousands of people march in Greek cities against an attack on pensions—now coming from the Syriza government.

General strikes in Greece—this time against Syriza’s austerity

The fight against Syriza’s austerity measures in Greece has begun, with workers staging two general strikes in the space of three weeks.