Greek workers are at the centre of the global battle to decide which class will pay for the economic crisis.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU) are moving in to police another massive wave of cuts. That is their price for arranging a loan so that the Greek government can fend off the bailiffs for another few months.
And the Greek ruling class is eagerly enforcing the move. Britain is not at the same pitch of crisis yet—but do not rule it out after the election.
Figures last week showed rises in unemployment and inflation in Britain—and anaemic economic growth. Despite this, the main political parties are acting like medieval doctors by prescribing further bloodletting for the ashen patient.
A Financial Times analysis suggested that implementing the cuts implied by both Tory and Labour policies would mean utter devastation for many services (see box below).
Greece is an example of such strategies. Its government has to offer interest rates up to 10 percent more than those of other European countries in order to borrow money. This drains money from public services towards the bankers.
If the belief grows that the Greeks will not be able to pay back £6 billion of loans that are due on 19 May, then the instability will become even worse.
It will put at risk several German and French banks that hold large portions of Greek debt. The disease will also spread to Portugal, which has massive debts, and perhaps to Spain.
Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Münchau wrote this week that this “is Europe’s equivalent of the US subprime crisis. Unless we hear some implausibly good news from Athens by Friday, it will soon blow up.”
So most European leaders are prepared to see the EU and IMF advance emergency funds to Greece, although sections oppose the move.
All the leading politicians agree that the assault on wages, jobs and pensions that has already provoked a series of general strikes did not satisfy the bankers. They demand Greek workers must accept still greater cuts.
The IMF’s medicine of “structural adjustment”—loans with conditions such as cuts and privatisation—is spreading from the world’s poorest to the next tier of the poor.
The policies inflicted mainly on the Global South in the 1980s have recently been enforced, disastrously, in Lithuania and Hungary. Now they are to be imposed at the centre of Europe.
But there is also resistance.
Thousands of workers and students marched on the Greek parliament on Thursday of last week beating drums and chanting: “No more illusions, war against the rich.” The protest was part of a strike by public sector workers.
Pensioner Aspasia Aretaki said, “The rich and the corrupt politicians should pay for the crisis, not me.”
On Monday shipping workers struck for 24 hours and on Tuesday Athens public transport workers brought the city to a standstill.
Trade union leaders are half expressing the popular anger, and half holding it back. They are calling strikes, but not on a scale that can match the crisis.
The ADEDY and GSEE union federations have called another general strike for Wednesday of next week. Teachers and media workers will strike for two days next week.
“Opposition to the cuts is increasing since the IMF announcement,” said Panos Garganas of Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece. “It is significant that more sections of workers are striking on their own initiative.”
Greek and British workers are engaged in the same process, even if they are at different points along it. We need to organise for the fightback—urgently.