The Greek capital of Athens exploded amid the parliamentary debate over adoption of yet another round of austerity measures. The world capitalist crisis has hit the European state with a vengeance., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Greeks struggle against a new colonialism
By G. Dunkel
Published Feb 29, 2012 9:17 PM
While the stock markets in the United States and Europe have recovered — a bit — and the Greek workers have not had a general strike and massive protests for a few weeks, the struggle is far from over.
The Troika — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — which is the group directing Greece’s second “bailout,” will have permanent financial monitoring groups in Athens. Some 160 German tax collectors will be in Greece shortly to supervise tax collections. (democraticunderground.com)
That German officials will have direct control of Greece’s internal affairs is evidence for the charge that German imperialism is treating Greece like its colony. Those making this charge also observe that life in Greece for working people is as bad as or worse than it was during the World War II German occupation.
While the popular anger over this arrangement is strong, major sectors of the Greek capitalist ruling class (banks, construction, tourism, the shipping industry, energy) are openly supporting the strategy of imposing austerity.
These new and very harsh austerity measures include cutting government employment by 15,000, lowering the minimum wage, and slashing pensions and social services. Some economists estimate these cuts will drive the Greek economy, which contracted about 7 percent in 2011, only deeper into recession. Even these bourgeois analysts see Greece heading for a third “bailout.”
Hospital workers take over
The vicious attacks coming down on Greek workers have pushed hospital workers in Kilkis, a small city north of Salonika, to seize their facility. Like many Greek medical workers in the state-run system, the Kilkis workers have not been getting paid regularly.
According to an open letter by Leta Zotaki, president of the doctors’ union in Kilkis and a member of the General Assembly running the hospital, some of the staff got only $5.40 or $12.00 in mid-February for a month’s work. One worker, who instead of getting her $1,070 salary got a demand to pay back $225 if she wanted to keep her job, had a heart attack.
Who the ‘bailout’ really helps
The Troika’s requirements for Greece are strict. They are quickly installing monitors to ensure that all the requirements are rigorously followed. Yet it’s unclear exactly how much money the Greek government is borrowing and how much it must pay back. What is clear is that the loans Greece must pay back go directly to the banks that hold the bonds.
Eurogroup, the official name of the Troika directing Greece’s finances, says: “The Eurogroup also welcomes Greece’s intention to put in place a mechanism … paying an amount corresponding to the coming quarter’s debt service directly to a segregated account of Greece’s paying agent.” This money would come from what was borrowed and from Greece’s own funds. (zerohedge.com, a market blog to which the New York Times links.)
The Troika also requires Greece to change its constitution so that debt service takes top priority in state expenses. Thus, the Greek nation is reduced to a mechanism for bailing out the big European banks.
Greek’s toxic debt
The corporate media distort the explanation of the debt crisis, by repeating over and over that Greece “borrowed beyond its means.” (New York Times, Feb 26) In reality, much of the borrowing was imposed on the Greek people.
In an illuminating article, Eric Toussaint of the Committee to Abolish Third World Debt describes some of the components of Greece’s public debt, which stretches back to the 1970s, when Greece was ruled by a military junta. Public debt quadrupled between 1965 and 1974. (tinyurl.com/4zq4hxn)
After the junta was overthrown, successive governments borrowed heavily to pay for the tax cuts they gave to the big companies and the rich supposedly in an attempt to stimulate the economy.
Greece was also one of the major customers for the French, German and U.S. arms suppliers, spending far more in relation to its economy’s size than any other EU country.
Major infrastructure projects, both for military equipment and to modernize Greece’s telecommunications, saw huge cost overruns and equally huge bribes paid mainly by the big German firm Siemens.
And, of course, there were the 2004 Olympic Games, for which “Greece had spent some $14.2 billion, pushing the country’s budget deficit to record levels.” (tinyurl.com/8678npl)
While there is no reason the Greek workers should be held responsible for any part of the capitalist debt crisis, large parts of the Greek debt are “toxic” even under capitalist law, as described above. An investigation could show just how much the Greek workers’ suffering is due to open capitalist theft.
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