From Socialist Voice, June 2010

The spectre that is haunting the EU

“Peoples of Europe, rise up!”

The banner on the Acropolis urged “Peoples of Europe, rise up.” And that is the spectre that is haunting the European Union.
     On 20 May hundreds of thousands of Greek workers, self-employed and small farmers demonstrated, while millions took part in the ninth strike in five months against the savage policies imposed by the social-democratic PASOK government at the behest of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. In Greece, popular discontent has spilled over into militant mass opposition.
     Is this part of the same democratic process that led to the vote against the “European Constitution” by the peoples of France and the Netherlands in 2005 and the vote against the Lisbon Treaty in the referendum in the Republic on 12 June 2008?
     “Yes,” say the most advanced of the popular forces in Greece, led by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the All-Workers’ Militant Front (PAME), the All-Greek Anti-Monopoly Rally of the Self-Employed and Small Tradesmen (PASEVE), the All-Peasants’ Militant Rally (PASY), and the Students’ Militant Front (MAS); and they identify the 2005 and 2008 votes against further integration of the European Union as part of a growing tendency in all member-states to “dispute the EU.”
     The raft of measures being resisted by large sections of the Greek people represents a fundamental attack on the social rights and general standard of living of the overwhelming majority of the population. As well as increasing the retirement age and requiring people to work longer, the measures reduce pensions and cut benefits and also include such provisions as the abolition of categories of hazardous occupations that traditionally require special protection for those engaged in them.
     And all this from a governing “socialist” party that only last year was hosting an international conference on the theme “Socialism or barbarism,” at which the keynote speaker was George Papandreou!
     The political message from Greece could not be more direct. The economic crisis is not about issues such as the management of the system but is about the contradictions that are inherent in the very system itself. As workers and low-income families didn’t cause the crisis, they will not sacrifice themselves for the benefits of big business or to line the pockets of speculators.
     One of the major causes of Greek debt is the result of the way that big capital avoids paying taxes through tax evasion (some €15 billion) and offshore operations (€500 billion). The assets of the large banks increased from €275 billion in 2004 to €579 billion in 2009. Stock-market profits were €11.8 billion in 2009.
     Notwithstanding this, wage-earners and the retired are still left to bear some 50.1 per cent of the total income-tax burden.
     According to research by the Central Bank of Greece in 2008, for 16 per cent of workers’ families the cost of repaying loans represents more than 40 per cent of their total income, and the percentage of households that can no longer pay their credit bills is rising each year, reaching 16.8 per cent in 2007, compared with 14.9 per cent in 2005.
     In addition, Greece ranks second among the members of NATO in military spending as a percentage of GDP (2.8 per cent). Even the Green Party leader in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, was forced to concede that this was totally unacceptable, especially in the light of the fact that the current NATO programme for 2006–2015 is expected to require expenditure in excess of €26.7 billion.
     The Communist Party of Greece has called for an Anti-Imperialist, Anti-Monopoly, Democratic Front for People’s Power and Economy. The general secretary of the Communist Party, Aleka Papariga, has spelt out its aims.
     “The first is the struggle which includes resistance, attrition and undermining of the barbaric measures that the government and its allies are trying to push through” . . . but “a struggle of attrition is not enough: some small or bigger victories must be won. However, the most important task of the front must be creative, to liberate a popular militant standpoint, militant optimism and dignity, class patriotism and internationalism, popular action and initiative that can transform the front into a widespread current for change . . .” that would advance as a principal slogan “Socialisation of the monopolies, nationwide planning, with workers’ and people’s control from the bottom up.”
     She further stated that the Greek public debt crisis will not be solved through loans combined with the Stability and Development Pact, because, as she makes clear, “the debt is not merely a Greek issue.
     “Many capitalist countries, including developed ones, have a rising public debt. It is not an issue of management capabilities but is rather the result of a gradual long-term decline of domestic Greek manufacturing and agricultural production and also a sharpening of antagonisms at the level of the EU and internationally.
     “Because of their small share, the industrial branches that were developed in Greece in energy, telecommunications and other specific branches of manufacturing were not able to compensate for the shrinkage of manufacturing as a whole.”
     She identifies the causes of the debt crisis as arising from “enormous tax breaks given to business, state funding of big capital, enormous expenditure on NATO weapons programmes, capitalist competition under conditions of the EU, and counterproductive expenditure for the Olympic Games.”
     Capitalist competition and intra-imperialist rivalry has also led to a sharpening of the crisis, in that American, Arab, Chinese and Russian capital are engaged in intense competition in Greece, given its position as an entrepôt to Europe.
     But perhaps the most significant cause of the crisis is the fact that monetary union has removed or limited the freedom to set monetary and fiscal policy, thus forcing the pressures of economic adjustment onto the labour market. Guided by EU policy, euro-zone countries are in a race to the bottom, encouraging flexibility, wage restraint, and part-time work. Labour has lost out to capital throughout the euro zone. The race has been won by Germany, squeezing its workers hard in the aftermath of German reunification.
     The euro zone has become an area of entrenched current-account surplus for Germany, financed by current-account deficits for countries such as Greece. Confronted with a public debt crisis, peripheral countries have been forced by the euro zone to impose harsh austerity.
     Greek workers have recognised that alternatives are available, but that they involve radical social and economic change.

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