Victory for Greece

Alexis Tsipras and supporters of Syriza. Photo: Agence France-Presse
Alexis Tsipras and supporters of Syriza. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Syriza, Greece’s party of the left, triumphed in Sunday’s elections. The party fell just short of a majority in parliament, winning 149 seats out of 300. Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, is now prime minister in a coalition government made up of his party and a conservative nationalist party called Independent Greeks, which holds 13 seats in parliament. The leader of the latter party, Panos Kammenos, will be minister of defense. That will give pause to anyone who knows the history of military rule in Greece (or anyone who has seen the film Z). On the other hand, Independent Greeks have little public support on their own. They are also anti-austerity and regard the German government as the main enemy of their nationalist ideas. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, was a leading culprit in forcing budget cuts on Greece, so the fight against German economic imperialism offers a basis for cooperation.

There is better news in the appointment of economist Yanis Varoufakis as finance minister. Varoufakis has referred to austerity policies as “a kind of fiscal waterboarding” that made Greece “a debt colony.” He and Tsipras are sticking to their demand for renegotiation of Greece’s debt. Syriza has also pledged to re-build the Greek economy and deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by austerity. The party has promised to provide free meals for 300,000 of the poor and to provide medical care for unemployed citizens who lack health insurance.

Tsipras’s team recognizes that Greece’s dire economic-growth figures are largely due to a lack of consumption spending by everyday people who went broke during the current crisis. They have committed to increasing the minimum wage and providing partial debt relief to individuals in poverty. That will help those who have suffered most in recent years, as well as the national economy.

Also on the agenda is the abolition of the unified property tax, which hit middle-income families hard, and which will be replaced by a tax on large estates and luxury homes. Syriza also plans to deal with tax evasion by the wealthy, which is rife.

You can read the party’s full program here.

Greece’s problems are severe (for a thorough account, see this 2011 piece by Stathis Kouvelakis), but the old policies made the situation much worse.

Threats to Greece, internal and external, are not hard to find. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party finished third (although a distant third) in the elections and saw their percentage of the vote reduced slightly to 6.3%. They remain a serious threat, due most of all to their infiltration of police and military forces.

Workers everywhere should watch the situation in Greece carefully and pressure their governments to cooperate with the Tsipras administration. That is especially true for German workers, who hold a high standard of living due to strong unions and a welfare state that is almost uniquely generous. The goal of bankers in throttling Greece and other debt-strapped countries in Europe (Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain), is to destroy labor unions and public services in those countries. That will create a large, new cheap-labor zone within the European Union. If that happens (and things have been moving quickly in that direction since the 2008 crash), good-paying jobs in countries such as Germany will disappear, re-appearing in the cheap-labor zone at much lower wages and smaller benefits.

Decades ago, the U.S. government obeyed the wishes of big business by following a similar plan, intervening to crush workers in countries such as Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, and Indonesia. Big business said “thank you” to Uncle Sam and moved American jobs to low-wage countries impoverished by repressive U.S. policies. The suffering of workers in those countries thereby spread to American workers. That dynamic continues to create misery to this day. High-paid workers in Northern Europe and elsewhere must recognize that if the economic destruction of Greece is completed, their economic destruction will follow.