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Greece – from hope to real change?

This article is over 9 years, 3 months old
Dave Sewell reports from Athens on people’s hopes for change after the election of the anti-austerity party Syriza
Issue 2438
Syriza supporters celebrate after the radical left party won Greeces general election last Sunday
Syriza supporters celebrate after the radical left party won Greece’s general election last Sunday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

An electoral landslide for the radical left in Greece has sent shockwaves across Europe. The vote will strike fear in the hearts of bankers and bosses. But it will also give hope to workers living under the cosh of austerity everywhere.

The radical left Syriza party won 36 percent of the vote. It humiliated the Tory New Democracy party that ran the last government—and the Labour-type Pasok that propped it up in coalition. 

Their desperate campaign to sow panic about a Syriza victory failed. One MP was widely mocked for warning that a Syriza victory would quickly mean toilet paper shortages.

The campaign headquarters for New Democracy and Pasok were moribund and almost empty when voting began last Sunday. Syriza’s were a hive of activity, full of enthusiastic volunteers.

One of them was Mina, who joined Syriza as a student during the university occupations in 2010. 

She told Socialist Worker, “I’m with Syriza because 70 percent of young people and 80 percent of young women can’t get a job.

“Austerity means young people can’t enjoy themselves. It’s hard to go to university and make plans in life. Everyone understands, because 

everyone has the same problems. So when we go out campaigning everyone is really friendly—they support Syriza because they want some change in their lives.”

It’s not only the young. At a polling station in Exarchia, a working class district in central Athens, almost everyone told Socialist Worker they were voting Syriza.

Retired teacher and former Pasok voter Elli said, “I believe in Syriza. I don’t have enough money to get by any more. I couldn’t even buy a birthday present for my grandchildren. I’m hoping this will change that.”

The effects of the crisis are visible everywhere in Athens, from the closed shops to the rough sleepers outside them.

In front of one government building eight people shot up heroin in just 15 minutes. Addiction has soared as social care has collapsed and hunger drives the poorest to desperation.

The blame doesn’t stop with New Democracy and Pasok. The “Troika” of the European Central Bank (ECB), European Union and International Monetary Fund have overseen their budgets.

They have insisted that Greece pays the bill for bailing out the bankers. This debt now dominates the Greek economy, and interest payments are as much as the government’s budget.

And ECB chief Mario Draghi has insisted that Greece will be cut off from further credit if it doesn’t agree to further massive cuts.

Faced with this blackmail, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said in his victory speech that the “vicious circle of austerity” is over. The vote had “cancelled out” the memorandum of austerity dictated by the Troika. It’s exactly what many voters wanted to hear.

Nassia has been unemployed for two and a half years. She said, “We want to give someone else a chance, for Europe and for Greece. We don’t have high expectations of Syriza. But if they even do half of what they say it will be a good start.”


Her husband Vasilis added, “We want to say no to austerity measures—and to the bankers. It was sickening to see elected politicians in Europe last week waiting to hear what a banker would tell them they could do. No one elected the bankers, so why should they be in charge?” 

Syriza’s manifesto includes a number of pledges that, if met, will dramatically improve life for large numbers of people. It has promised to boost the minimum wage to €751 (£563) a month—up more than a third—and to invest an extra €11 billion (£8 billion) in welfare. 

Tsipras’ plan to clamp down on tax avoiders will raise some of the money for this. But the key question will be whether he takes on the Troika.

Prominent anti-capitalists are part of Syriza, but it isn’t an anti-capitalist party. And Tsipras gave several reminders of this in the run-up to the election, rolling back a number of Syriza positions.

The police are no longer to be disarmed. Instead they are “part of the working class” and will be given new equipment. The right for same sex couples to adopt has gone—apparently there are “contradictory opinions in the scientific community”.

In his victory speech Tsipras never used the word “left” or even “Syriza”, but repeatedly spoke of the “nation”. One leading Syriza MP called the head of the army to reassure him of the “continuity of the state”. And Syriza has no plans to shrink the defence budget or leave the Nato gang of imperialists.

The reason became clear early on Monday. Syriza had to find a coalition partner as it just missed the number of seats needed for a parliamentary majority. Not for the first time Tsipras went for the nationalist Independent Greeks—a racist, ultra-imperialist party that represents everything many Syriza voters hate.

It was a warning of the pressure to compromise that comes with trying to govern a capitalist economy.

There will be many tests ahead, with a deadline for a new bailout deal barely a month away. All eyes will be on Syriza to see if it kicks out the Troika or if Tsipras blinks first.

At the same time workers will have to keep fighting to make sure they get real change.

A sacked government cleaner in Athens
A sacked government cleaner in Athens (Pic: Guy Smallman)

‘It’s a turning point for democracy and we need a revolution to finish it’

 Celebrations erupted all over Greece after Syriza’s victory became clear.

One of the most significant was in north Athens. This is where media workers were sacked when state broadcaster ERT closed in 2013, and who are now broadcasting under workers’ control.

Their colleagues elsewhere are still occupying ERT property. This struggle helped push the last government to breaking point.

Producer Depi Vretou told Socialist Worker, “I’m happy at last. After 20 months of struggle it’s very important to have this victory of the left. It’s a great result not just for Greece but for the whole of Europe.”

ERT worker Tasos said, “We’ve turned Greece to the left by about 30 degrees. Now I want to turn it 90 degrees left. We’ve made a turning point for democracy and we need a revolution to finish it.”

Aglaia Kyritsi became the face of the ERT struggle when she presented its first report after being attacked by riot police. Now she has been elected as a Syriza MP.

“The election doesn’t mean struggle is over,” she told Socialist Worker. “It just means I have to fight in parliament as well as here.”

The European establishment is demanding Greece pays back the cost of the bankers’ bailout, whatever the cost to ordinary people.

But Aglaia said, “Our first priority has to be the humanitarian crisis that austerity has caused, the misery and the poverty of people. 

“Without the people, the economy may as well be dead.

“The people won’t give Syriza a ‘blank cheque’. And they will be watching us closely every day.”

Outside the ministry of finance sacked cleaners have picketed 24 hours a day for almost two years. 

Giorgia Ekonomou told Socialist Worker, “The politicians never thought we would fight. 

“But we are strong women. We had to be—most of us are over 50 and didn’t think we would find other jobs.

“Tsipras will give us our jobs back. And if he doesn’t, we will be right outside Syriza’s HQ to keep protesting there.”

ERT worker Irini Foteli stood for Antarsya in the election. She told Socialist Worker, “We’re happy to have a left government—and it can’t call itself a left government if it doesn’t reopen ERT and bring back our jobs. 

“We’re trying to organise a mass rally here to get back into the building.”

Depi said, “It will be very difficult for Syriza. There will be many problems. But it’s not just for Syriza to overcome them. It’s for all of us.”

Fascist Golden Dawn is still a threat

The vote of the fascist Golden Dawn barely dropped since the last election. 

This is despite its leadership being unmasked and jailed to await trial for masterminding violent attacks on migrants and the left.

Golden Dawn thugs loitered outside many polling stations to intimidate voters and the left. 

In Keratsini, Syriza and Antarsya activists united to push the Nazis back into the protection of the police. Golden Dawn members murdered anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas there two years ago.

Student Giorgos told Socialist Worker, “People are very angry at the government. For some of them voting Golden Dawn is a way to tell them ‘stop this or we will do something that really hurts you’. 

“But this is a hardcore Nazi party and a threat to everyone. It needs to be stopped.”

Pandelis Gavriilidis was leafleting for the anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya and for an upcoming demonstration against racism on 21 March. 

He told Socialist Worker, “Last year Golden Dawn called an open air rally and 700 locals mobilised to stop it happening. The 

anti-fascist movement exposed Golden Dawn’s leaders and got them jailed. 

“That’s why there are seven Golden Dawn people here today, rather than 20 like before. 

“It’s important that we don’t let them intimidate us and that we build the anti-fascist movement.”

Anti-capitalist Antarsya doubles its vote

The Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the anti-capitalist left coalition Antarsya both increased their vote.

The KKE’s rhetoric is well to the left of Syriza. But instead of offering an alternative, it is cynical about winning change.

Antarsya, supported by the Socialist Workers Party (SEK) in Greece, almost doubled its vote since 2012. Over 100,000 workers voted for rejecting the debt and fighting back now. It was a vote against capitalism. 

Antarsya has won a lot of support because it campaigns against racism.

Afghan refugee Nasruddin recently joined SEK and campaigned for Antarsya.

He said, “I came here fleeing war. But instead of peace I found the Golden Dawn and a government that locks up migrants in camps. 

“Antarsya supports migrants so I support Antarsya.”

Many who voted tactically for Syriza also back Antarsya.

Nurse Angela Georgokopolou told Socialist Worker, “I voted Antarsya before and will probably vote Antarsya again. But I had to give Syriza its chance. We need a change.”

But Vivi Pareskevi said, “Strikes are the only way out of a crisis this deep. 

“We need more revolutionary voices to say that. That’s why I voted Antarsya.”


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