Greece’s government has called a vote of confidence in parliament to be held at midnight tonight (Friday).
The government, which is led by the Labour-style Pasok party, has reached the point where it cannot impose austerity measures being demanded by European powers.
It came to this conclusion because of the strength of the general strikes and mass demonstrations held on Friday 28 October. The anger is now so widespread and active that it realises it can’t continue.
George Papandreou, the prime minister, said on Thursday that there were three alternatives: fresh elections, a referendum or a new coalition government.
The elections option would be dangerous for the Greek ruling class. It is in the middle of negotiations with the banks over the “haircut” on their bond investments. This in itself could trigger a default.
Papandeou had proposed a referendum on the austerity agreement drawn up by the government with the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Union (EU)—collectively known as the “troika”.
If the government won such a referendum, they would be in a good position to isolate those who continued to resist. But the result could also go the wrong way for them.
That was why the referendum plans were called off. There was heavy pressure against the referendum from the EU and the ruling class. They didn’t want to risk asking the people what they thought about austerity.
Papandreou’s third option was to reinforce the government by forming a wider coalition with other parties in parliament. He’s appealing to the right wing New Democracy party to join a coalition, and has even offered to step down to facilitate this.
The New Democracy party has taken a populist attitude to the crisis. It has publicly opposed the agreement between the Greek government and the troika.
But now they say they want the government to sign the agreement. They are edging towards joining a coalition, but are not quite there yet.
There is also no agreement over who the ministers in this proposed coalition government should be. Should they be MPs or technocrats? Who will head it? How long will it last?
Papandreou says the government would need to be in place for six months to finalise a deal. But New Democracy wants a government that would last until December, and then an election.
We now see a weak government on the brink of collapse—without a viable alternative waiting in the wings. This is because of the extent of resistance from below. Both parties are divided because of that pressure.
It’s possible that the government will scrape through tonight. It could plod on for a few weeks until a coalition is agreed.
Or it could collapse in chaos, and we could head for elections—which would probably lead to a default. Everything is quite open.
There is a demonstration outside parliament tonight, partly called by the unions and the far left, partly by the Communist Party.
Our next major day of protest is on 17 November, marking the anniversary of the 1973 polytechnic uprising in Athens against the military dictatorship. This year it will be massive.
And unions are committed to a new strike wave when the government votes on the new budget. It can’t postpone or delay this vote—it is part of the troika agreement.
Union leaders want to wait until a government is in place before calling the strike. But this probably won't prevent the strike from taking place.
There has also been a shift in the way the crisis is being talked about in the media. Until recently Greece was presented as being the problem. It was about dealing with structural problems in the Greek economy.
But now we see governments in crisis around Europe and a plunging stock market. This is clearly not just a Greek problem. It’s a problem for the whole of capitalism.
Panos Garganas is editor of Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece. For more details go to www.ergatiki.gr