Greece: stop the privatisation drive!

Submitted by Matthew on 21 November, 2012 - 11:09

Greece’s government is trying to pass a law to bypass the need for parliament to approve each privatisation.

The government is determined to proceed with the privatisation of all public utilities. It has already abolished the rule which obliges the state to maintain a minimum 51% share of the main public utilities.

Yet all experience of the privatisations of public utilities and services shows that they harm both service users and workers. The only beneficiaries are the capitalists who make quick and safe profits out of human misery.

Michael Sandel, the American professor who addressed Labour Party conference 2012, has written: “The use of markets to allocate health, education... and other social goods was for the most part unheard of 30 years ago. Today, we take them largely for granted.

“Why worry that we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale? For two reasons: one is about inequality; the other is about corruption. Consider inequality. In a society where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means...

“Where all good things are bought and sold, having money makes all the difference in the world.

“The second reason we should hesitate to put everything up for sale is more difficult to describe. It is not about inequality and fairness but about the corrosive tendency of markets... Markets leave their mark. Sometimes, market values crowd out non-market values worth caring about”.

The obligation to wholesale privatisation as a precondition for bailout funds has been restated again and again by the EU-ECB-IMF “Troika”. The three government coalition parties shed some crocodile tears for the chopping of wages, pensions, and welfare provision, but boast of how they will reduce the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the Greece state.

Set for privatisation are energy and power, water, post office services, the agricultural bank, petroleum, natural gas, OSE (railways), and much more. The schedule is 4.5 billion worth of privatisations to take place by the end of 2012, another 7.5 billion by the end of 2013 and the rest by 2015.

The expected revenues from privatisation at a time of massive devaluation of all Greek assets are meagre, and the short-term boost to state revenues will be offset by the losses of revenue from the state companies which are still profitable.

ND and Pasok, over the last two decades, have sold off the Scaramanga shipyard and almost the entire shipbuilding industry, OTE (telecommunications), more than 90% of the banking sector, the port of Piraeus, Olympic Airways, the Corinth Canal, and more.

Far from privatisations being the magic pill to rescue Greek capitalism from its ills, between 2000 and 2011 Greek government debt increased by 164%.

An ideological war against public sector workers (portrayed as a privileged section) has been escalated during the last three years. Public sector workers are portrayed as corrupt, lazy, inefficient, and hired through nepotism. The stereotype of “olive spitting, ouzo guzzling, lazy Greek public sector workers who refuse to put in a full day’s work, retire when they are teenagers, and pocket pensions fit for a pasha” is being propagated by government representatives and mainstream media.

The aim of privatisation is not “to let a crisis go to waste”. The aim is to transfer more wealth from the working class to the capitalist class. Their aim is to grab as much as they can, via the privatisation spree and the selling off the Greek assets and public wealth for peanuts and to create a “business-friendly habitat”. They aim for a defeated, little-unionised working class with restricted workers rights and poverty wages.

The myth of the inefficient, expensive and corrupt functioning of the public sector has some elements of truth in it, but the corruption and inefficiency is not because it is nationalised but on the contrary because it works within the framework of the capitalist system and under a competitive environment, the majority of the public sector is shaped by the sub-contractors, pharmaceutical companies and other capitalist entrepreneurs that make profits out of it.

We are not defending the existing public sector. We are defending the achievement of welfare state and provisions that are a product of the post second world war working class struggles. We are defending the welfare state and the “social wage”.

The big losers of every privatisation are always the workers. They lose jobs or have their wages severely cut down and their rights compromised. OSE (the railways), which is in a long process of privatisation, has fired 55% of its staff and reduced the wages of the remaining staff by 45%.

Defending the public utility workers against the governments attack and fighting against privatisation does not mean that we defend the current public sector with its maladministration, political favouritism, and corruption. Instead, we need to fight for a public sector under workers control which will operate in the people’s interest, with administrators and officials paid the average worker’s wage.

It is the duty of the left to explain what is currently at stake. At stake is not whether we are satisfied with the current state of the public sector that is interrelated with corporations, contractors and corruption. At stake is whether in memorandum Greece water, electricity, telephone, internet, transport and other public goods will be guaranteed by the state for its citizens, or left them at the mercy of private companies.

If the individual consumer is the model of capitalism, the collective producer and citizen is the hero of the socialism of tomorrow. The need and potential for a strong, united front of the left in order to win the battle against privatisation is apparent and urgent at the same time.

Syriza has pledged to declare all the privatisation illegal and unconstitutional and to reverse all privatisations with no compensation to the privateers and rehire all sacked workers. Rightly so.

But to get to that point there is a necessary precondition. Not to allow defeatism to be spread after the voting through parliament of the third memorandum.

To follow up on all the battles of the last three years, and with strikes, occupations and neighbourhood mobilisations to ensure than the coalition government is overthrown.

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