The austerity measures imposed on Greek workers to reduce the deficits are nothing but a prelude of what may happen to the other European countries. The Greek crisis demonstrates the divisions in the ruling class on the strategies to adopt.
For the second time since December 2008, Greece is at the heart of politics in Europe. Since the Greek social-democratic party PASOK’s election, and the revelations of the disguising of deficit figures (the previous right-wing government had falsified the figures to publicize a lower deficit than the real level, which allowed it to continue to borrow at low interest rates on the markets), a kind of Greek tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes. The social democrats have very quickly abandoned their electoral promises and announced the inevitability of the austerity measures. The German press is conducting a campaign to denigrate the Greek population. Greek Prime Minister Papandreou is touring the main capitals of Europe to beg for a European rescue. In the bourgeois press, the debate on whether to save the Greek government rages on. On the financial markets, the euro slides due to speculation linked to Greek deficits, making its architects nervous. In Greece itself, one austerity plan after another is announced at dizzying speed (the January plan didn’t suffice to calm big financial investors, requiring supplementary measures on a far larger scale announced in February), strikes are multiplying, and the fear of a new Greek December is haunting Europe.
The Greek crisis is indicative of the situation in several European countries. First of all, it reflects the divisions among those who rule our societies. That is what is revealed by the debate on the aid that Europe may furnish Greece. Some do not wish to hear a word said about even a cent of aid for Greece. “Germany will not give a cent to Greece,” declared German Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle, a member of the liberal-democratic FDP, which is part of the coalition government with Merkel’s CDU. The FDP liberals and the CSU Bavarians are fiercely opposed to saving Greece. They are waging a campaign to get the Greek government to put its fiscal house in order and make workers pay the entire bill for that through austerity measures. On the other hand, others want to prevent the Greek government from defaulting at all costs; among them are a good number of European bankers who have massively lent to Greece and would again find themselves in a very tight spot if the country didn’t pay its debts. That’s what explains the Deutsche Bank boss’s visit to Athens in late February, with the aim of negotiating with the Greek government for possible German support.
In this situation, Papandreou is trying to paly all his cards in order to pressure the German government. After his visits to Berlin on the 5th of March and to Paris on the 7th, he met Barack Obama in Washington on Monday, bringing up the possibility of aid from the IMF. The European leaders do not want to hear about that. Such a solution would demonstrate the EU’s inability to manage its problems on its own. Rather than seeing the IMF intervene, they would do it themselves.
What’s at stake in all these rows: how the burden of Greek deficits will be distributed. It’s arm-wrestling among the European ruling classes. But their chief cause is the inability of the Greek government to make Greek workers pay for the budget pots broken by the crisis. After all, if Papandreou were in a position to impose necessary austerity to rapidly reduce the deficits and calm financial investors, there would be no need for any European support. That’s what the German “hawks” are demanding.
Behind Greece, a group of other countries are waiting to take their turns. The Greek deficits aren’t much higher than those of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, or even Great Britain. Except the last, the others are part of the euro zone. If Greece receives aid, it’s a signal that the major European powers — especially Germany, the top European economic power — will do the same for others. That would diminish the pressures put on them to impose austerity measures.
In this way, therefore, the ongoing struggle of Greek workers has a Europe-wide implication. The more successful their resistance to the austerity measures, the more favorable the conditions for workers of other European countries in their struggle against the austerity plans which will not be late in coming.
Afficher Les manifestations du 23 mars 2010 sur une carte plus grande
Besides, already in some countries public-sector workers are taking action. On 8-9 March, British civil servants struck against the reduction of their redundancy pay. In Portugal, public-sector workers went on strike on Thursday, 5 March against the wage freeze, a measure taken to reduce the Portuguese deficits. In Spain, Tuesday, 2 March was a day of action against the raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67. In France, 23 March will be a day of joint action of trade unions.
The Greek crisis will surely become a European crisis when other governments adopt similar measures. The resistance of Greek workers must become a European resistance, too.
The original article “Grèce : ce n’est qu’un début !” was published by the Web site of the New Anti-Capitalist Party on 10 March 2010. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).