Greece’s creditors and the institutions that represent them keep sending one message, “Patience is running out”.
The institutions are the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission. They met in Berlin last week with the leaders of Germany and France to hammer out the toughest terms for continuing a bailout.
Despite some diplomatic language about not giving an ultimatum, they appear to have done just that. The IMF withdrew from any further talks.
Greece’s Syriza-led government is being pressurised into a deal that includes more cuts in pensions and more taxation—including a 10 percent surcharge on electricity bills.
This is the bitter conclusion of a five month period of negotiations since the left’s electoral victory in Greece.
Syriza’s hopes that it might exploit differences between the IMF and the European Union (EU) proved false.
The IMF accepts that Greece’s debt is not sustainable. But the EU will not accept a “haircut” of the debt and its ECB is now the major holder of Greek debt.
So the only solution it can suggest is tougher austerity so that the Greek budget can produce bigger surpluses to service the debt.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras was left vainly appealing to the French and German leaders for a “political solution”.
According to this, the EU and the IMF would agree to better terms in exchange for the Greek government offering naval facilities for patrolling the eastern Mediterranean. This would be to exert a stabilising influence in Macedonia and Albania.
The Independent Greeks, the right wing junior partner in the government, is very keen. Greece’s ruling class would applaud any upgrading of its strategic importance.
But it is self defeating for the left to bank on such deals.
Despite the pain caused by the ultimatum of the Berlin meeting, Tsipras said he would sign a deal as long as it is “viable”. That means increasing the budget surplus from under 1 percent to around 3.5 percent over the next few years.
These calculations miss out one very important factor—the response of workers in Greece. The slogan “Patience is running out” was heard on the streets of Athens too.
It was painted on a banner carried by people from Halkidiki, northern Greece who were opposing a gold-mining operation that is destroying the local environment.
Syriza had promised to halt this. Solidarity with the struggle in Halkidiki played a crucial role in the swing to the left in traditionally conservative northern Greece.
This is not an isolated example. Unions in Piraeus port are running a campaign against privatisation.
They have the support of the campaign of trade unionists that organised in solidarity with ERT media workers, women cleaners and other groups facing redundancies under the previous government.
On Thursday of last week there were large demonstrations against signing a new austerity agreement organised by the trade unions that are linked to the Communist Party.
At the same time the ERT media workers’ union Pospert and the campaign were holding a rally at the broadcaster’s main building.
It was two years to the day since the Tory led government had shut down ERT—equivalent to the BBC—sacking all its workers. The rally celebrated their return to work and pledged that the fight goes on.
This spirit is the best guarantee that any new austerity agreement imposed by the EU and the IMF will not pass unopposed—even if Tsipras adds his name to it.