International experts with the task of compiling a crucial review of Greece’s fiscal progress ran into trouble before they could even start the job as public-sector workers protesting against wage cuts, layoffs and higher taxes locked them out of office buildings.
Inspectors from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank were greeted on Thursday with banners deploring the “barbaric measures” the so-called “troika” has meted out in exchange for propping up the moribund Greek economy. At the finance ministry – the hub of talks between the debt-stricken country and creditors – protesters shouted “take your bailout and leave” and prevented auditors from entering the building.
“We are sending a loud message to the government and the European Union that we have reached our limits, that it is the workers in our country and especially workers in the public domain who have carried the burden [of cost-cutting policies],” said Costas Tsikrikas, president of Adedy, the union of civil servants.
Following the socialist government’s announcement of a new wave of austerity measures last week, the total drop in purchasing power for public-sector employees would exceed 50%, he added.
It was an embarrassing start to discussions that had been suspended in a row over missed budget targets earlier this month. The monitors’ review is critical to Greece receiving the further aid needed if it is to avert bankruptcy.
The government, in a step that highlighted lenders’ distrust of Greece over a year after it secured €110bn (£95bn) in rescue funds, had been required to outline new deficit cuts in a letter to the EU and IMF before the inspectors agreed to return. The written assurance is believed to have contained a promise that the country would push ahead with privatisations.
But the surprise sit-ins, which began with civil servants declaring that they had taken over six ministries at 7am, meant that Evangelos Venizelos, the finance minister, was forced to hold the talks on the 2012 budget elsewhere.”The measures being pursued by the government are totally counter-productive. It is obvious to everyone that they have failed … all they have achieved is the impoverishment of Greeks,” said a member of Adedy’s executive board. “These occupations are symbolic but what is not is our determination to overturn policies that have driven us into deadlock. In the last two years 300,000 small and medium-sized businesses have closed and by December we estimate there will be one and a half million unemployed. That’s one person per family.”
Unions, including Adedy, which represents more than 800,000 civil servants have vowed to step up resistance to the measures. A general strike and other protests have been planned for October.
Did you catch the “socialist government” characterization? If the Greek government was truly socialist this surrender to the IMF/EU wouldn’t be happening. This is a hardcore capitalist government.
PS. If purchasing power goes down by 50%, what do you think will happen to the economy? Hint: growth won’t begin with a positive sign.
No, not here but in Greece. The Guardian reports:
Greece is facing major disruption on Tuesday as unions begin a 48-hour general strike before a parliamentary vote on harsh austerity measures demanded in return for international rescue loans. Protest rallies in Athens are due to converge on parliament as industrial action called in protest against tax hikes was expected to disrupt or halt most public services. More than 5,000 police have been deployed to guard central Athens where anti-austerity demonstrations earlier this month ended in scenes of violence as protesters clashed with riot officers.
“We expect a dynamic and massive participation in the strike and the march to the centre of Athens. We will have 48 hours of working people, unemployed, young people in the streets,” Spyros Papaspyros, leader of public sector union ADEDY, told Reuters. Doctors, paramedics, journalists, postal workers and private sector employees were all expected to join the protest. Stoppages by Greek air traffic controllers are likely to disrupt flights and ferry departures from Athens are also expected to be hit. The unions are angry that the proposed austerity package would raise taxes on minimum wage earners and other Greeks in addition to earlier cuts that have driven unemployment past 16%.
Parliament must approve and implement the programme this week if Greece is to receive a scheduled bailout loan of €110bn from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Without the loan Greece risks becoming the first eurozone country to default on its debts – an event that could trigger a crisis in other economically weak European countries and have major global consequences. “These measures are a massacre for workers’ rights. It will truly be hell for the working man. The strike must bring everything to a standstill,” Thanassis Pafilis, a member of parliament for the pro-strike Greek Communist party, told Associated Press.
The fight for Europe’s future is being waged in Athens and other Greek cities to resist financial demands that are the 21st century’s version of an outright military attack. The threat of bank overlordship is not the kind of economy-killing policy that affords opportunities for heroism in armed battle, to be sure. Destructive financial policies are more like an exercise in the banality of evil – in this case, the pro-creditor assumptions of the European Central Bank (ECB), EU and IMF (egged on by the U.S. Treasury).
As Vladimir Putin pointed out some years ago, the neoliberal reforms put in Boris Yeltsin’s hands by the Harvard Boys in the 1990s caused Russia to suffer lower birth rates, shortening life spans and emigration – the greatest loss in population growth since World War II. Capital flight is another consequence of financial austerity. The ECB’s proposed “solution” to Greece’s debt problem is thus self-defeating. It only buys time for the ECB to take on yet more Greek government debt, leaving all EU taxpayers to get the bill. It is to avoid this shift of bank losses onto taxpayers that Angela Merkel in Germany has insisted that private bondholders must absorb some of the loss resulting from their bad investments.
The bankers are trying to get a windfall by using the debt hammer to achieve what warfare did in times past. They are demanding privatization of public assets (on credit, with tax deductibility for interest so as to leave more cash flow to pay the bankers). This transfer of land, public utilities and interest as financial booty and tribute to creditor economies is what makes financial austerity like war in its effect.
The Greek crowds demonstrating before Parliament in Syntagma Square are providing their counterpart to “Arab spring.” But what really can they do, short of violence – as long as the police and military side with the government that itself is siding with foreign creditors?
The most effective tactic is to demand a national referendum on whether to accept the ECB’s terms for austerity, tax increases, public spending cutbacks and selloffs. This is how Iceland’s President stopped his country’s Social Democratic leadership from committing the economy to ruinous (and legally unnecessary) payments to Gordon Brown’s Labour Party demands and those of the Dutch for the Icesave and even the Kaupthing bailouts.
The only legal basis for demanding payment of the EU’s bailout of French and German banks – and U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s demand that debts be sacrosanct, not the lives of citizens – is public acceptance and acquiescence in such policy. Otherwise the imposition of debt may be treated simply as an act of financial warfare.
National economies have the right to defend themselves against such aggression. The crowd’s leaders can insist that in the absence of a referendum, they intend to elect a political slate committed to outright debt annulment. Across the board, including the Greek banks as well as foreign banks, the IMF and EU central planners. International law prohibits nations from treating their own nationals differently from foreigners, so all debts in specified categories would have to be annulled to create a Clean Slate. (The German Monetary Reform of 1947 imposed by the Allied Powers was the most successful Clean Slate in modern times. Freeing the German economy from debt, it became the basis of that nation’s economic miracle.)