On 30 January Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Dutch finance minister and chair of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, awkwardly shook hands with Greece’s new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, at a press conference after they had met in Athens, and whispered...”you have just killed the [EU/ ECB/ IMF] Troika”. Varoufakis responded: “Wow!”
That felt good. It did not feel as good when Tsipras subsequently committed himself to the “fulfilling of our debt obligations towards the ECB and the IMF”. It did not feel as good when Yanis Varoufakis said on 1 February in Paris that the Greek government is willing to “pay both principal and interest to the creditors”. It did not feel as good when Varoufakis stated that “personally this [privatisation of the port of Piraeus] has my full support” (BBC Newsnight, 31 January).
It felt good that on Saturday 31 January, at the first anti-fascist demonstration under the Syriza-led government, the police were unarmed. It did not feel as good when Panousis, the Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection, characterised counter-terrorism as a wonderful service.
It felt good when Minister of Reconstruction Panayiotis Lafazanis stated that he is going to halt the further privatization of DEPA and DEH. It did not feel as good when he did not commit to the full nationalisation of DEH.
It felt good when the government took symbolic actions such as a visit to the memorial for resistance fighters against the Nazis, refusing to take religious oaths, removing barriers to the Unknown Soldier, auctioning off the luxurious state car, and reinstating sacked ministry cleaners and school guards.
It did not feel as good when Dragasakis stated the government’s commitment to the “proper functioning of banks and an increase in their shareholder value”. It did not feel as good when Dragasakis stated that the government is preparing a “catalogue of opportunities for investors”. It did not feel as good when Syriza went for a coalition government with ANEL and indicated it would nominate a right-wing politician as President of the Republic.
It felt good when the new government reaffirmed that it would adhere to the Thessaloniki declaration: the restoration of the minimum wage and collective bargaining, an increase in pensions, the cancellation of privatisation, abolition of the new “Enfia” property tax, re-hiring of sacked public employees, elimination of important counter-reforms in education and health, and the legalization of “second-generation” immigrants.
However, the revolutionary left should warn that the attempt to implement these basic measures, in order to improve the living standards of the working class people, should be part of a program that will remove the economic and political power of the ruling class. If we stay on the treacherous ground of capitalism, every pro-labour reform will eventually founder.
Assume, even, that the new government eventually does negotiate a “haircut” of the debt. In current capitalist conditions the new government will still need to follow a permanent austerity policy in order to stop the debt becoming again “unsustainable” and to reassure the “markets” (i.e. local and foreign big capital).
Only if a government nationalises the banking system and large companies (and the giant property holdings of the Greek Orthodox Church) under workers’ and social management and control, and urges solidarity with European workers and common struggle for such a policy across Europe, can it ensure the necessary resources to exert significant and sustainable pro-working class politics.
We need to redirect the money from the bankers to ordinary people. We need to impose heavy taxation on the profits of capitalists and mega rich who saw their profits soaring up during the austerity years. The only way to ensure that the money will not “fly”, that there is not going to be a bank run, is the nationalisation of banks –which have been “bailed out” and “recapitalised” repeatedly- under workers’ control.
Workers in both the public and the private sector should now demand their jobs back. This imperative cannot wait for the approval of the “markets” or the Troika or the European Commission. We should demand that any business that cannot or does not want to operate its factory be confiscated and placed under workers’ management and control.
Syriza’s commitments to change in the state, predominantly to combat corruption and the democratisation of the police, cannot be applied within the framework of Greece’s current organically authoritarian and corrupt state apparatus. No democratic minister, no matter how morally irreproachable, can convert the police force and the riot police into protectors of the citizens.
The current security forces are specifically structured and trained for the suppression of the people’s struggles. They must be dissolved and re-founded on a truly democratic basis, under the democratic control of the mass organisations.
The anti-fascist counter-demonstration on 31 January was a good starting point. It had over 5,000 people, despite the fact that it was called in a few days, immediately after the election, in response to Golden Dawn’s annual commemoration of three Greek navy officers who died in a Greek-Turkish conflict over the uninhabited islets of Imia in 1996.
The demonstration drew together unaffiliated leftists and people from Antarsya (mainly from Aran, Okde Spartakos, NAR), Syriza, Xekinima, EEK, anarchist groups, and anti-fascist committees from the whole of Attika.
In contrast, Golden Dawn’s major regular public rally had barely 1,000 people. The number is very small considering that Golden Dawn is the third party in parliament, with 388,447 votes nationwide and 130,000 in Attica (the region around Athens). Golden Dawn, although can win voters, is as yet far from being a fascist movement powerful on the streets. We should not let them catch breath.
We must demand that the new government and the Minister of Justice take all necessary measures to start as soon as possible the trial of a number of Nazi leaders such as Michaloliakos, Lagos, and Pappas.
New Democracy prime minister Antonis Samaras began his term by talking about the “recapture of the cities from immigrants”. Immigrants were hit twice, by the crisis and by racist attacks. The left should demand:
• Legalisation of all immigrants, and without prohibitive conditions
• Citizenship for all the 200,000 children of immigrants who were born or grew up in Greece
• Asylum, shelter and full rights to all refugees
• Remove all the racist measures and institutions that the EU has imposed. Open borders to refugees.
• Close the detention camps
• Places of worship for Muslims
Minister of Productive Reconstruction Panagiotis Lafazanis has announced cancellation of the process of privatisation of DEH [the state electricity utility]. He also cancelled the previous government’s civil mobilisation orders and granted free electricity to 300,000 households from the most vulnerable social groups.
Lafazanis said: “DEH will operate as a state company having as its sole criterion environment-friendly productive development”. Additionally, Lafazanis stated that the new government is against the previous government’s policy of “investment at all costs” and reconfirmed the government’s opposition to the gold mining activities of Eldorado Gold at Skouries Chalkidiki.
Minister of Shipping Theodoros Dritsas said: “The public nature of the port of Piraeus is preserved. The privatisation of the port stops here”.
Predictably “Communist” China denounced the Syriza-led government, and called for support the agreement made by the right-wing previous Greek government for a deal over Piraeus port with Chinese company Cosco.
“We intend to ask the Greek government to protect the rights and legitimate interests of Chinese companies in Greece, among them Cosco” said Shen Ntaniangk, spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. The Syriza-led government should now go a step further and renationalise Pier 3 of Piraeus port, which was practically given away to Cosco by the ND government in 2009. Port Employees Federation of Greece (OMYLE) secretariat member Anastasia Frantzeskaki said that returning control to the Piraeus Port Authority would mean immediate gains for dock and port workers.
“The day after the privatisation of Pier 3, a new situation emerged in the port concerning labour relations. Something like 500 colleagues of mine were out of jobs the day after. At the same time Cosco was granted the right to use people in the area who were not categorised as dock workers, so they didn’t have a collective bargaining agreement or dockworkers’ rights.”
Working conditions at Pier 3 are abysmal, with health and safety measures neglected and workers on call 24/7.
“They find out only an hour or two before that they are going to work a certain shift,” she explains, adding that shifts could end up being anything from two to 14 hours. A dockworker’s phone might go off any day of the week, regardless of whether they took the day off or not.
Syriza’s commitment to revoke all unconstitutional dismissals was reiterated by the new Deputy Minister of Administrative Reform Giorgos Katrougalos. He stated that all public sector and council workers that have been unconstitutionally dismissed will be re-employed, he stated his commitment to get rid of “reserve employment” (lay-offs pending dismissal).
He committed himself to reinstate immediately the 594 cleaners of the ministry of finance, who persevered for 18 months in their defiant struggle to get their jobs back. (But not with an 8-hour stable and permanent job; instead, under their previous terms, i.e. four hours and flexible employment). Furthermore, he committed to immediately reinstate the school guards and teachers in technical education.
However, in his first meeting with the public-sector trade union leadership workers Adedy, he stated that public sector wages, which have been reduced by up to 40% during the memoranda years, cannot be increased during 2015.
The imminent resetting of the minimum wage to 751 euros was announced by the Minister of Labour and Social Solidarity, Panos Skourletis.
“Within the first bills, there are those related to the reinstatement of the collective bargaining agreements, the law on banning conscriptions and civil mobilisation orders [used to force strikers back to work by decreeing them as under military discipline] and those associated with the protection of workers against employers’ lock-outs and collective redundancies and to restore the minimum wage to 751 euros,”
The reintroduction of the “13th month” of pensions was announced by the Minister of Social Insurance, Dimitris Stratoulis. The new government will:
1. Restore the public, social and redistributive nature of the insurance system.
2. Scrap the memoranda commitments to reduce pensions and raise the age limit.
3. Abolish the death clause and zero deficit clause in supplementary pensions.
4. Gradually restore pensions.
The Deputy Minister of Finance, Nadia Valavani, has asked for the resignation of the chairman of the board and the CEO of Taiped (the official privatisation fund). She stated that the government’s intends to stop the privatization process, at least in the form of Taiped.
The new government has prioritised cancellation of the tendering process for “selling off” the 14 regional airports.
The educational system will be restructured as announced by the Deputy Minister of Education, Tasos Courakis. The main measures will be:
1. The abolition of the nationwide type exams in the first and second grade,
2. More opportunities for students to study at their local universities, facilitation of university transfers
3. Abolition of the law of expulsion of university students for exceeding the maximum allowed years of study. Every undergraduate and postgraduate student is free to study for as many years as she or he likes.
4. Reinstatement of the university administrative workers that were placed in reserve employment
5. Reinstatement of all school teachers of technical colleges and all school guards that were fired
When asked whether the police forces should be disarmed, the new interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, reiterated Syriza’s position that the 1996 legislative framework in place states that it is recommended that during demonstrations and sporting events the police should be unarmed.
Citizenship for all 200,000 children of immigrants born or raised in Greece has been announced by the Deputy Minister of Immigration Policy, Tasia Christodoulopoulou. Christodoulopoulou also stated that the government will end the refugee detention camps created by the memoranda government.
But the minister of National Defence, ANEL leader Panos Kammenos, stated: “Greece will respect European immigration policies. If the rules of the Dublin agreements are applicable throughout Europe, and therefore also in Greece, we should apply the principle that illegal immigrants should be repelled and return to their countries”
New health minister Panagiotis Kourouplis said that his first priority would be the development of primary health care, aiming both to better serve the citizens and to decongest the hospitals.
The new Deputy Minister of Health, Andreas Xanthos, said that the payment of five euros for hospital outpatient appointments and one euro for each prescription would be eliminated.
They both stated that the government would guarantee full access for all uninsured citizens to public health services, tests, medications and hospitalisation in need.