Socialist Worker

Bankers pile pressure on Greece as Syriza challenges European Union

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2440

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras meets European Parliament president Martin Schulz last week

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras meets European Parliament president Martin Schulz last week (Pic: European Parliament/Flickr)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras laid out his government’s policy on Sunday of last week, as parliament opened for the first time since the elections.

MPs were expected to endorse the programme of Tsipras’ radical left party Syriza on Tuesday of this week.

Its measures include an increase in the minimum wage, the rehiring of thousands of public sector workers sacked by the old government, and the repeal of a hated land tax.

Some of these are now happening more slowly or with more conditions attached than when first announced.

But Tsipras said it was an “irreversible decision” that the government fulfil its promises “in their entirety”. 

It was a different story when Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis met his German counterpart Martin Schauble on Thursday of last week.

He said campaign promises could be overturned for the sake of a deal with Greece’s creditors—and that the majority of the reforms forced through with the bailout needn’t ever be repealed.

Syriza was elected last month on a programme of rejecting the austerity that has been forced on Greece as part of European-led “bailouts” of its government bank debts.

The current bailout agreement expires this month. And Tsipras refuses to apply for an extension. 

But his government has also made clear it won’t default on the debt or leave the euro.

In a series of meetings with European leaders last week Varoufakis offered a “debt swap” that would mean Greece would keep paying the debt for decades.

Members of German radical party Die Linke hold solidarity protest as Varoufakis met Schauble

Members of German radical party Die Linke hold solidarity protest as Varoufakis met Schauble (Pic: Uwe Hilsch/Flickr)


But German chancellor Angela Merkel and her allies recognise that granting a compromise to Syriza could open the doors to revolts against austerity elsewhere.

As Varoufakis was meeting Schauble, the European Central Bank (ECB) cut off support for Greek banks. It ruled that Greece’s government bonds were no longer acceptable as collateral.

Panos Garganas, editor of Socialist Worker’s sister paper Workers’ Solidarity, said, “It’s a completely arbitrary move, and very provocative. It has no reason other than putting pressure on the Greek government.

“But Syriza is trapped by its position that there will be no break with the European Union, no unilateral moves. Each time it makes a compromise the other side responds with more pressure.”

Protests were called last week through social media, in an attempt to revive the movement of square occupations that took place in 2011—but this time in more or less critical support of the government.

Protester Dimitra Spyridopoulou was on the Athens demonstration. She said, “The decision by the ECB demonstrates the pressure on Greece, but that’s nothing compared to the problems of people who are starving or suicidal.”

Panos said, “There is a mood where people feel they’ve had a victory against the parties of austerity, so how dare the ECB tell them to forget that.

“There’s a debate about what direction that could take. Some say you have to support the government, others that you must support the demands of workers. The unions haven’t taken action yet—if they had called the protests they would have been massive. But nor have any workers agreed to put their demands on ice to help the government come to a deal.”

Key European summits this week were to be one of the last chances for Syriza to get a deal from Greece’s creditors before its bailout expires. But the forces of austerity show no sign of backing down without a fight that Syriza alone won’t lead.

Anti-fascists protesting in Piraeus last week

Anti-fascists protesting in Piraeus last week (Pic: Workers Solidarity)

‘We need to break with the racist agenda’

Anti-fascists protested in the Keratsini district of Piraeus on Saturday of last week following clashes with the fascist Golden Dawn on election day.

Anti-fascists and anti-racists across Greece are gearing up for a protest on Saturday 21 March against Golden Dawn and the racist agenda that fuelled their rise.

Petros Constantinou, coordinator of the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (Keerfa), told Socialist Worker, “Campaigning has really got going since the election. People are organising meetings and rallies in their neighbourhoods, trade unions, schools and universities.

“There’s a sense of optimism after the election. The new government has pledged to bring in citizenship for the children of immigrants. They will be leading the march to make sure it happens. And the courts have finalised the charges against Golden Dawn, and are expected to set a date for the trial very soon.”

But he warned, “It doesn’t look like Syriza will be closing the detention camps for migrants. And Golden Dawn wants to be the opposition to a Syriza government. 

“We don’t want to see the police protecting Golden Dawn rallies—as has already happened once since the election. We need to push ahead with their trial and break with the racist agenda of Fortress Europe.”

New president could be a Tory

The Greek parliament is set to vote on a new president this week. Syriza is expected to put forward a Tory opposition figure after prime minister Alexis Tsipras declared a “government of national salvation”. Former Athens mayor turned EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is considered one of the most likely candidates.

Workers demand their jobs back

Workers at state broadcaster ERT were set to protest on Wednesday of this week demanding their jobs and services are reinstated. They have kept broadcasting under workers’ control since former Tory prime minister Antonis Samaras sacked them in 2011. Tsipras has pledged to reopen ERT—but with no guarantee of restoring all channels and jobs.

Syriza to sink hated treaty

New deputy minister for administrative reform Georgios Katrougkalos pledged that Syriza would never ratify the proposed TTIP treaty. This could be the final nail in the treaty’s coffin, as it would need to be ratified by all European Union member states.

Solidarity actions in Britain

Solidarity demonstrations have been called in London and Edinburgh this week. There will be a protest outside the Scottish Parliament on Saturday from 12.30pm. Syriza London and other organisations have called a protest on Wednesday of this week at 6.30pm near Big Ben. There will also be a rally this Sunday at 1pm in Trafalgar Square.

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