BY Stathis Trachanatzis & Vangelis Lagos During the last fifteen years, the social characteristics of the governmental economic policies throughout the European Union were becoming increasingly blurred. Cuts of social benefits, reduction or abolish …

Walton Pantland

BY Stathis Trachanatzis & Vangelis Lagos

During the last fifteen years, the social characteristics of the governmental economic policies throughout the European Union were becoming increasingly blurred. Cuts of social benefits, reduction or abolishment of social goods, flexibilisation of labour relations through “flexicurity”, reduction, or at best, freeze on salary increases and increased retirement age, were implemented in many EU countries. The speed and the fierceness of these, detrimental to the workers, measures’ implementation as well as their specific quantitative and qualitative characteristics differ among European countries. However, one thing is certain; the American social model has set foot in Europe for good.

Even in this context of the European model’s Americanization, the shock-measures imposed on Greece during the last two years and despite the 30 general and the hundreds of sectoral and local strikes, are phenomenal not only among European countries but also globally. Never before and nowhere in the world have there been so hard economic measures against an entire people.

The policy of people’s impoverishment

After the systematic dismantling of workers’ minimal labour and social security rights by the IMF-EC-ECB troika and the Greek governments of the past two years, Greece can today be compared to a social wasteland. The social and humanitarian catastrophe that the country now experiences is not only due to the measures themselves or to their violent implementation, but also to the fact that the country was lacking social infrastructure and services existing in other European countries. Thus, the dissolution of the already anemic framework of labor and social security rights inGreeceimmediately immersed in misery hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

For example, although official unemployment rate has rocketed to more than 21% due to the imposed austerity, the Greek government has cut the unemployment benefit from 460 to 360 euros/month. While public and private sector wages have been dramatically cut (from 20%-40%), the prices of the basic foodstuffs are constantly increasing. At the same time gasoline prices have doubled within a year forcing employees to use all the more the public transport, the ticket prices of which have increased by 40% while their routes have been significantly limited due to the staff reduction policies.

All these happen while the direct and indirect taxation of the working and middle classes’ income is increasing while those who have plundered the public budget and deceived the tax agencies for decades are protected. Instead of combating tax evasion and money laundering Greece’s (inter)national saviours are planning new wage and pension cuts by 20% in June.

The Greek workers have been delivered at the mercy of their employers. The recent labor reforms abolish all possibilities for collective bargaining and agreements forcing employees to accept individual contracts that aim at even greater wage cuts and the destruction of labor unions for which collective bargaining and agreements have been at the center of their existence and functioning.

The socio-political cost of austerity

The social fabric in Greece is now on the verge of collapse: galloping unemployment, hundreds of thousands in the poor rations, rising psychosocial pathologies, school students who faint from hunger in their classrooms, parents abandoning their children to charity institutions because they cannot afford their children’s everyday food, tens of thousands of homeless and poor living from garbage while street crime for a few euros has become an everyday phenomenon in many parts of Athens’s center.

But this policy is destroying not only society but also democracy. Greece and Italy are facing today a sharp problem of democratic functioning, since their respective governments have not been elected, but they have been imposed by other European governments and the bankers. For example, in the Greek case, none of the parties that had been from the beginning supporting these extremely antisocial policies (the social-democratic PASOK and the far-right LAOS) or have lately joined the “austerity bloc” (the conservative New Democracy), had had in their political platforms any of the austerity measures they are implementing.

On the contrary, they have counterfeited the popular mandate which they had received in the 2009 national elections and they have deceived their voters, whom they have been violently suppressing from the moment they joined the other protesting citizens and started denouncing their MPs as liars, thieves and traitors.

As poverty and misery expand, fascist, racist and paramilitary groups attempt to channel the people’s desperation and rage against immigrant workers while the Greek government prepares to set up concentration camps for the immigrants. The danger of authoritarianism and totalitarianism sharpens as the unthinkable threatens to become reality: for the first time a pure Nazi-racist organization could be represented in the Greek Parliament after the forthcoming national elections.

The meaning of it all

The violent character of the imposed austerity makes clear that the political and economic system inEuropeand beyond has abandoned the model of limited concessions to the working classes in order to reproduce its own rule. Today, it attempts to resolve its internal contradictions and antagonisms among businesses, banks and governments through the subjugation of workers and the complete abolition of social goods and labor rights.

The vast majority of Greek citizens reject the policy of the peoples’ impoverishment and the country’s selling off. They understand that the so-called “Greek bailouts” are actually saving the European bankrupt bankers’ private property through the robbery of European workers’ income, pensions and rights. For, this is precisely the only purpose of the imposed austerity: shifting the cost of rescuing European bankrupt banks at the expense of the peoples’ jobs, income, pensions, rights and even lives, while the bankers are retaining their private property. This is also the reason why the ECB has been continuously printing money and lending it at low interest rates to the banks which then lend them at high interest to the governments. These loans are borne by the European governments’ budgets and will be paid by workers and pensioners. Everywhere in Europe recapitalizing the banks means the violent transfer of wealth from the poorer to the richer.

An international struggle

Greecewas just the beginning. Today the future of European peoples is taking shape in the ravaged by the austerity Greece, but also in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France, UK, Belgium, Hungary, the Balkans and Eastern Europe, where the EC, the IMF and the bankocratic European governments threaten entire societies with social devastation.

The Greek labour unions, despite their defeats to date and the tragic circumstances they face, they are determined to continue and to strengthen the struggle against the emerging authoritarian-and-plutocratic Europe. They know that the fight will last long and that it exceeds Greece’s or the European South’s borders. It is a struggle that involves all European workers and needs urgently to be widely internationalized and coordinated.

In this respect, USI can be a powerful tool and a great opportunity to connecting and coordinating workers’ struggles in a global scale, internationalizing resistance and shaping labour’s response to global neoliberalism. It creates a new mobilization and cooperation space and framework that will strengthen labour unions in their struggles. The Greek labour unions can have an important contribution in this, sharing their experience and coordinating and mobilizing with their international counterparts.

Before it’s too late.

Before the “Greek experiment” can be exported to all European countries. 

Stathis Trachanatzis
Vice President of Athens Labour Unions Organization (EKA)

Vangelis Lagos

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
Author avatar

Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

Read All Articles