Sunday, February 12, 2012

Greece: They must not pass...

"Martial law has to be imposed for these measures to be implemented"
This loan shark says, make them pay, beat them until they pay everything, but don't beat them so hard that they can't keep paying.  That loan shark says, if you don't make an example of this one, the others won't respect you.  Beat them to death.  And it is between these two poles that the bankers, ratings agencies, and EU leaders oscillate...
How is Greece taking the new loan deal that accompanies the PSI? Most compare it to a dictatorship, a foreign occupation, the kind of terms a victor imposes on a defeated country. No wonder: Two years of the most grinding austerity, has caused a destruction of the Greek economy that has no precedent, in peacetime, as official nominal wages dropped 15%, unemployment passed the 20% mark and, according to polling company VPRC, the bottom 90% of Greek households, suffered in 2011 alone loss of income on average ~45% of their incomes. Greece is already a "labor wasteland" where jobs are near impossible to find and when they materialize they are more likely to be "black", uninsured, well below the poverty threshold.Yet the new loan deals mandate among other things:
- The dismantling of collective bargaining and the annulment of the current collective agreement. "Labor law" in Greece will not be a meaningful subject any more
- Across the board cuts in nearly all of private sector wages and salaries to the tune of 22%. This includes the minimum wage (which will be now around 580 euros net, and under 500 euros if you are a new entrant into the job market). This affects all sort of benefits i.e. the unemployment benefit which is reduced to 369 from 461 euros. This in a country where the cost of living in its capital is still higher than that of Berlin
- Immediate elimination of rent subsidies for the poorer, cuts in pensions, mass privatization at fire sale prices (including the Athens and Thessaloniki water companies, and the lottery/football pool company, whose market price right now is at two years profits) etc. This on top of galloping social destruction, a health system that is going to the dogs (the decay of which is producing even stronger superbugs) and public services being destroyed or annihilated.
- At the same time whatever debt will remain - and it will be huge and unsustainable anyway - will now be under English law, and not Greek law, meaning that the terms of the loans will be draconian.

And much, much more: 650 pages of it that Greek MPs were required to read in 24 hours since they received the package, Saturday, to vote on it on Sunday. The process is illegitimate, and constitutionally questionable yet the two government coalition partners (socialists and conservatives - the far right LAOS rightly figured that this will destroy it electorally and removed its ministers from the government), are extorting their MPs: "pain or destruction" they warned, along with the PM. Everything will be rationed, Greece will leave the euro and remain a third world country for ever. Sane people disagree. But they are not in government.

Τhe political system is shaken: MP after MP from the ruling coalition either resigns (at least 5 now, but probably more, I've lost count) or announces that they will vote against the new plan. These include among others the former economy minister Louka Katseli, and notably Socialist MP and former World Bank and IMF economist Elena Panaritis, who was close to tears in the Parliament commission today, stating that in her 16 year experience of drafting similar deals (and she worked with the World bank in Peru, for chrissakes), she has not seen anything quite as disastrous as the troika's offer.

It is unsurprising then that despite being hammered by the media and the Papademos government (the Prime Minister being the sort of economist that argues in parliament that if workers don't accept huge wage cuts  the unemployed will stay unemployed - this as real wages are collapsing anyway,) most Greeks prefer immediate bankruptcy to this. The colonial attitude of Ollie Rehn and Jean Claude Junker only inflamed public opinion. What seeps through the media from EU and especially establishment opinion on how this is all the Greeks fault and they should suck it up because they are overpaid, lazy etc. has already caused the first instance of German flag-burning and has resulted in the first time ever that the EU as an institution has a negative reception according to a latest poll.

And so Greece strikes and fights back:

The Law school in Athens under occupation by students, the health ministry by mental health doctors who protest the near-total defunding of mental care, the ministry of Labor by workers belonging to the communist union, the electric grid authority in the ministry of environment and energy by the power company workers' union (a couple of days ago they held the minister hostage for a few hours, until he was released by riot police)... also occupied: the Holargos(a suburb of Athens) City Hall, in Larissa, Chania, Veria, Ermoupolis and Corfu the Regional Governor's building, in Rethymnon the City Hall, in Chania and Trikala the prefecture offices.

I'm not sure how many of these occupations are still in effect, and it is likely that they have multiplied. They will serve as a launch pad all over Greece for what promises to be the largest protests ever (despite the weather) outside the parliament building in Athens and in major squares all over Greece. People are angry, no longer "indignant" but "outraged". If this government proceeds to pass this memorandum, all hell will break loose, on a social and a political level. The political system is destabilized, all options are on the table and theoretically elections are less then a couple of months ahead. And despite the rhetoric of this government's apologists, today's demonstrations are in reality the true pro-european demonstrations. In Greece today there will be the first of a series of big battles in defense of the European social contract, of labor. A test case, a guinea pig, because it is obvious that in one form or another this austeritarian disaster will be unleashed around the EU, and the core should not feel safe from harm. Already labor conditions and real wages in the EU southern periphery are converging downwards towards the poorest members of the union.

Today, after three days of huge demonstrations and general strikes, Athens will be filled with rage. A police officer's union has declared that it will refuse to attack its brothers, and threatened the troika members with arrest... People are prepared for the worse anyway though. I'm heading down to Syntagma to topple a foreign imposed bankers' government, gas mask in my pocket and mad as hell. They must not pass. They will not pass...

[The Greek Left Review has said it will have live coverage of demonstrations today]

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