Cleaners picketing the Ministry of Finance were among some 20,000 sacked public sector workers who prime minister Alex Tsipras pledged to rehire. The cleaners have fought for their jobs for nearly two years.
Cleaner Sophia Tsagaropoulou said, “Finally, we won the battle—Tsipras has shown he has the will to do good things for the Greek people.”
New ministers taking office on Tuesday of last week reiterated promises that would meet the demands of mass protests. They would halt the privatisation of the electricity company and the sell-off of its 67 percent majority stake of the port of Piraeus.
They would repeal the regressive university reforms students were protesting against in November, and grant Greek citizenship to the children of migrants.
This helped offset the disappointment at a new cabinet that includes several right wingers (see right). Activists also pointed out that there are no women in the cabinet. As soon as Syriza announced its reforms, its enemies turned up the pressure.
Within days Greek banks lost almost half their value on the stock market. And top officials at the European Union (EU) and German government insisted there would be no compromises on Greece’s debt.
Greece’s current bailout agreement runs out on 28 February. The EU insists Greek banks can have no further assistance—and could run out of money—unless it agrees to a new one.
This would mean more cuts and attacks on workers to pay for the bankers’ crisis.
In response Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras reiterated that the Greek government won’t take unilateral action. This means many of its promises are on hold until it reaches a compromise with the EU.
The minister of education said new university laws would have to wait to avoid disrupting the academic year. The minister of industry announced that the boss who oversaw privatisation would stay at the top of the electricity company. The minister of labour said the planned minimum wage increase would have to come in stages.
Panos Garganas, editor of Workers’ Solidarity, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece, explained “The new government is trying to balance between two opposite pressures.
“One is very visible—it comes from the markets, the right wing, and the political blackmail of the EU. But the other is just as important—the expectations of people who voted for the left and want it to end austerity.”
Workers at state broadcaster ERT have called a demonstration on Wednesday of next week to overturn its closure and get their jobs back. Anti-racists are preparing to march on 21 March.
Panos said, “There are huge obstacles in the way of workers’ demands. That’s why we are organising to make sure that they are met now, rather than waiting for a consensus with the EU.
“Mobilisations like these will be vitally important in deciding if austerity is overturned in Greece—or if the new government is forced to keep implementing it.”
‘Obligations’ to pay bankers
New Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was in London on Monday to meet Tory chancellor George Osborne.
Osborne, the baron who has slashed billions, “urged the Greek finance minister to act responsibly”. But Varoufakis horrified some of those looking to Syriza for hope when he outlined his plan for a debt restructuring deal to “put the Greek crisis away once and for all”.
He underlined Greece’s “obligations” to pay for the bankers’ bailout. Varoufakis emphasised that the tax-dodging rich should pay the most.
But he also warned that a “budget surplus” to pay the debt would take priority over keeping Syriza’s spending promises.
Cancelling debt not on EU’s agenda
Few are hated in Greece as much as the “Troika”.
This is an alliance of the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund, which hold most of Greece’s debt.
They send an official from each organisation every three months to inspect the government’s progress in making cuts and attacking workers.
If they aren’t satisfied, they can block the bailout money and plunge Greece into bankruptcy.
In a hugely popular move, Syriza is refusing to talk to them. Since being elected, leading Syriza figures have been meeting politicians across Europe.
Syriza wants to talk to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the “eurogroup” of finance ministers.
It has moved the discussions to the highest levels of the institutions of the EU.
They are discussing the amount Greece spends every year servicing its debt. Syriza wants to reduce this from 4.5 percent of Greece’s output to 1 or 2 percent.
The official position of Syriza is that this will be good for everyone because it can make the economy grow faster, encourage investment and “restore social cohesion”.
But what isn’t on the agenda is cancelling the debt. It will take struggle from below to make that possible.
New right wing ministers seek to give reassurances
The new Syriza cabinet includes a few nasty surprises. The leader of the right wing nationalist Independent Greeks was made minister of defence.
The foreign ministry was given to a defector from the social democrat party Pasok who is very vocal about the need for the left to be “patriotic”. The two of them hope to work in tandem to reassure both the generals and the diplomats that there will be no upsets in the new government.
The police will be reassured too. The minister in charge of them is from the right. He is also in charge of immigration—and says he opposes Syriza’s policy of bringing down the new wall on the border with Turkey. His first statement was a pledge to “reconcile the police with citizens” who hate them.
And his first act was to protect a rally of the fascist Golden Dawn last Saturday, with police vehicles blocking the streets.
The date is always a rally for nationalists, including fascists.
It is the anniversary of a dispute in 1996 between Greece and Turkey.
People expected this year to be different. But the only difference was the day started with the defence minister flying over the disputed island in an aggressive stunt.